N95 vs KN95 face masks

"N95" is a US standard for respirators, while "KN95" is the Chinese equivalent. The two offer a comparable level of protection to wearers.

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With face masks becoming a more and more common sight in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s natural to question which mask to opt for. This is made tricky by the fact that different regions use different certifications. If you see a certification that starts with “KN”, like “KN95”, it will have been designed to the Chinese standard. A certification that starts with simply “N”, like “N95”, will have been designed to the US standard.

However, despite the different standards, the certifications in different regions tend to align, broadly-speaking. KN95 masks offer a comparable level of protection to N95 masks (and the EU standard FFP2 masks), as you can see from the comparison below.

N95 and KN95 respirators compared

N95 KN95
Example an n95 protective face mask a KN95 protective face mask
Conforms to USA: NIOSH (42 CFR 84) CHINA: GB2626
Minimum filter efficiency requirement 95% 95%
Filter efficiency tested using Sodium chloride Sodium chloride
Filter efficiency test flow rate 85l/min 85l/min
Filter efficiency test particle diameter 0.3 microns (approx.) 0.3 microns (approx.)
Maximum total inward leakage requirement N/A 8%
Maximum permitted inhalation resistance 3.43mbar at 85l/min 3.5mbar at 85l/min
Maximum permitted exhalation resistance 2.45mbar at 85l/min 2.5mbar at 85l/min

Sources: Smart Air, 3M

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The verdict

These two certifications are often considered to be equivalents, so there’s not a lot in it. Both offer 95% filter effectiveness against 0.3μm diameter particles, which gives them their names (the “N” refers to the masks being not resistant to oil). On 3 April 2020, with N95 masks in short supply, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also authorised KN95 face masks for use provided they met specific criteria.

Different companies can make the masks, but under testing, they’ll need to stand up to those minimum standards. That means that two N95 masks made by two different companies could offer slightly different levels of protection, for example.

Before you place your order, consider the fit of the mask. The US standard – NIOSH (42 CFR 84) – requires that N95 masks must be “equipped with adjustable and replaceable head harnesses designed and constructed to provide adequate tension during suspension and an even distribution of pressure over the entire area in contact with the face”. Flimsy ear loops aren’t likely to give as good a seal as a sturdy pair of adjustable headbands.

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