N95 vs KN95 face masks: What’s the difference?
If you are thinking about ditching your cloth face mask, be sure to know what you should be replacing it with.
We all know face masks have been important in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but experts are suggesting that the newer Omicron variant needs more than just your standard cloth mask. That's because the droplets being exhaled and inhaled are much smaller than previous variants like Delta, and are much less likely to be trapped by the mask.
Countries like the United States are releasing guidance on which masks are the most effective, with some stores even reportedly refusing entry to customers who are wearing cloth masks.
Unfortunately, there has been little guidance in Australia over what masks people should be wearing, but researchers and scientists are advocating for recommendations on higher-grade masks and respirators such as the N95 and the KN95.
Being so similar in name you could be forgiven for thinking they are same, but there are a couple of key differences.
What is an N95 mask?
The N95 masks form a tight seal around the edges of the mask, meaning air cannot escape around the sides. They filter out about 95% of particles in the air, which is where they get the name, and they filter out particles up to 0.3 microns in size: much better than any cloth mask could manage. These are the masks handed out to those in bushfire-affected areas.
Although there is no official guidance in Australia, the N95s are approved for use by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the US.
What is a KN95 mask?
Essentially, these are the Chinese-made equivalent of the N95. They also filter out 95% of particles, but they look and fit slightly differently.
The KN95s have a tent-like shape, providing more space between your face and the mask. Again, while there is no official guidance on these masks in Australia, the KN95s have not been approved by NIOSH.
How should you be wearing your N95 or KN95 face mask?
High grade face masks like the N95 and KN95 are more protective than regular cloth masks and this is partially down to the way they fit on the face.
As with your regular cloth mask, you should make sure they properly cover the nose and mouth, fitting under the chin and ideally with no gaps between the edges of the mask and your face. These higher-grade masks are tightly fitted to prevent those gaps.
Healthcare professionals will have their masks test fitted to ensure they fit perfectly to their faces, but at home it is up to you to ensure it fits right. Jane Whitelaw from the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH) told ABC News that "if you put a respirator on and your glasses or sunglasses fog up, then that's an example that it's not fitting correctly".
Looking for more COVID-19 information? Keep an eye on our COVID home testing hub.