N95 vs. KN95: What's the Difference?

N95 vs. KN95: What's the Difference?

If you’re in the market for face masks as of the last couple months, or perhaps you’re just an innocent bystander dumbfoundedly watching the chaotic scramble, inevitably you’ve asked yourself (or Google) the question: What is the difference between an N95 mask and a KN95 mask?

Even as an ex-hospital worker, I also was unfamiliar with the KN95 until COVID-19 and the ensuing PPE crisis came to town. When I began to explore the deep technicalities of various face masks to better understand the manufacturing and application of these products, I immediately came to the realization: there is far more to these things than I had ever considered when I was sweating behind an N95 in a patient room…

The good news: I’m familiar with the medical terminology, I’ve done a lot of research, and I have assembled the true and relevant data and de-codified it to help everyone better understand these masks.

I want to start by defining what a respirator is, as both the N95 and KN95 are respirators. A respirator is a special type of face mask that offers a much higher level of protection to the wearer than a standard 3-ply surgical (“medical”) mask (see my other blog for further info on surgical vs respirator masks). Respirators are designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth, forcing inspired air to go through the filter material, which is designed to block a certain percentage of particles from penetrating the mask.

N95s and KN95s must filter out at least 95% of airborne particles (thus the ‘95’ in the name)

Now, when comparing the N95 and KN95, the main difference is simply that the N95 is a U.S. model/standard and the KN95 is a Chinese model/standard. But let me make this clear, this does NOT mean that all N95s are made in the U.S. In fact, the VAST majority of them are made overseas, very much including in China.

[Side Note/Rant: Before you get turned off to the words “Made in China”, please take a moment to contemplate just how much of your life is also “Made in China”…Seriously, go check the bottom of your novelty Starbucks tumbler or the tag on your Nikes. Yes, even your (and my) beloved iPhone…is made in China. So let’s not kid ourselves here, we obviously have a lot of love for Chinese-made products.]

Now, just like with everything else, the U.S. determines and regulates their own standards that must be met when manufacturing these types of masks, and China (as well as other countries) likewise has their own standards and regulations. The N95 and KN95 standards are so closely similar that the FDA has come out and said that the KN95 is an acceptable alternative to the N95, when the latter isn’t available. 3M has also publicly stated this. An explanation of the exact differences between the two respirators involves very minute variances within the technical specifications, which are hard-to-explain scientific testing protocols. If you’re scientifically-inclined, I’ve included below a link to a document from 3M that outlines the technical specifications of both masks (be warned—it’s a bit complicated).

The bottom line: They are both respirators, and both are designed to have very high filtration performance (at least 95%) and minimal air leakage. They are designed for the same purpose, and when manufactured and tested according to regulatory standards, do the same job. Perhaps the only other difference would be that the N95 comes in many different models with different designs, whereas the KN95 only varies slightly in design from manufacturer to manufacturer.

As with anything in life, it’s important to verify sources. A lot of the recent confusion and aversion regarding face masks has stemmed from the fact that there is a lot of fraud going on out there. We go to great lengths here at Banke Global Health to make sure all the products we sell are of premier quality, are from vetted manufacturers, have all proper documentation, and are third-party tested. Though we are a new company, we intend to be around for much longer than the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, so you can trust that we’re invested in our reputation and quality. If you have any further questions about face masks, or about our products specifically, please email me at Kailey@BankeGlobalHealth.com - I’m always happy to offer my professional knowledge!  

Kailey Lareau, BSN, RN


Center for Devices and Radiological Health, F. (2020, May 07). FAQs on Shortages of Surgical Masks and Gowns During COVID-19. Retrieved May 12, 2020, from https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/faqs-shortages-surgical-masks-and-gowns-during-covid-19-pandemic

3M Comparison Table: https://multimedia.3m.com/mws/media/1791500O/comparison-ffp2-kn95-n95-filtering-facepiece-respirator-classes-tb.pdf



Disclaimer: This blog provides general information only. It does not provide medical advice nor is it a substitute for the advice of a physician. Persons are advised to always consult their healthcare provider for any specific information about personal health.

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