N95 and KN95 masks sound similar, and in some ways, they are.
The N95 masks and KN95 masks consist typically of several layers of a polypropylene plastic polymer, a synthetic material, and they are designed to be worn over the mouth and nose secured by straps.
Both masks are also required to capture and filter out 95% of tiny 0.3 micron particles in the air, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These tiny particles are smaller than the droplets expelled while coughing, talking, or sneezing — making them an effective way to filter out germs, according to health officials.
However, there are some important differences.
Besides an extra consonant in its name, the main difference is how the masks are certified.
“N95 is the U.S. standard, and the KN95 is the China standard,” Sean Kelly, founder of New Jersey-based PPE of America whose company was among those tapped by Connecticut lawmakers to provide personal protective equipment to frontline workers in the state, told Yahoo news.
According to the news site, N95 masks must pass a strict inspection and certification process from a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. However, due to the demand and need for PPE during this pandemic, manufacturers of KN95 masks can get approval from the Food and Drug Administration through an emergency authorization for a foreign certification as long as it meets the 95% filtration requirement, the news site reported. The FDA says the manufacturer of KN95 masks must also provide documentation that the masks and materials used are authentic, the article stated.
To be certified a KN95 mask, it must meet Chinese government requirements with a mask-fit test with less than or equal to 8% leakage when tested, according to several reports.
Although the N95 masks do not have these same requirements, the N95 mask requirements are a bit more stringent regarding the pressure drop in the mask during breathing in, which makes the N95 more breathable than most KN95 masks, Kelly told Yahoo. The N95 masks have similar requirements for exhaling.
The certifications mentioned pertain to the country in which the standards and regulations were created, not where the masks are made, according to Yahoo. Most N95 masks are still made in China, the report stated. Similarly, the CDC has authorized the use of KN95 masks as a suitable alternative to N95 masks for its response to COVID-19.
The masks are not to be worn by children or people with significant facial hair, and unlike cloth masks, they are not reusable. The best N95 masks are only effective when worn once or twice. Here is a list of N95 masks approved by the CDC and KN95 approved by the FDA.