Where to Buy N95s, KN95s, and Surgical-Style Masks (2024)

The research

  • Why you should trust us
  • What is a medical-style mask, and do you need one?
  • N95 vs. KN95, KF94, FFP2, and surgical masks
  • Our favorite respirator masks
  • Our favorite surgical-style masks
  • How we picked and tested
  • How to reuse disposable face masks
  • Other medical-style masks we like
  • More NIOSH-approved, NIOSH-assessed, or FDA-authorized masks worth considering
  • More masks (that aren’t FDA-authorized or NIOSH-approved)
  • Sources

Why you should trust us

I’ve spent the past several months scrolling through scores of masks online, poring over documents from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the FDA, and puzzling over little certification slips half-written in Chinese (a childhood’s worth of Saturday morning Chinese school has not helped). I’ve done this as part of my reporting for Wirecutter’s guide to cloth face masks but also for personal reasons: My husband, a teacher, and child have been attending school in person since September 2020, before vaccines were available, and we have older parents we’ve been trying to keep safe.

For this guide, I tracked down legitimate respirators and masks, as well as reliable retailers that sell them. My husband and I tested the masks for fit, comfort, and (for those who want to layer up) compatibility with our cloth-mask picks. I also sent the masks to a panel of Wirecutter staffers with different face shapes, and collected their feedback. Besides consulting five scientists, I’ve interviewed five manufacturers, three importers, two retailers, an e-commerce expert, and two government agencies. In all, I’ve so far assessed 25 respirators and 14 surgical-style masks.

What is a medical-style mask, and do you need one?

The term “medical-style mask” refers to the types of masks you typically see in health-care settings. These include respirators, such as those labeled N95 (designed to meet US standards), KN95 (Chinese standards), KF94 (Korean standards), and FFP2 (European standards), as well as surgical-style masks—the pleated variety with ear loops or ties that typically come in boxes of 50 or so. Consisting of high-efficiency filter layers, all of these mask types are designed to protect the wearer in high-risk situations. (Cloth masks, in contrast, were initially intended to protect other people from the wearer, though depending on their materials and design, they can also work the other way around.)

For the best protection against airborne respiratory pathogens, you may consider wearing either a respirator mask or a surgical-style mask modified to form a better seal or layered under a well-fitting cloth mask. In fact, a CDC paper reported that securing a surgical mask to the face (by knotting the ear loops and tucking in the sides, as shown in this video, or by adding a well-fitting cloth face mask over it) can potentially decrease your exposure to possibly infectious tiny airborne droplets called aerosols by about 95%, which is also about how well respirators are expected to perform.

This level of filtration on medical-style masks (assuming they’re genuine) is better than what you can get from almost all masks made from only cloth, said Linsey Marr, a professor of engineering at Virginia Tech who is an expert in the science of aerosols. In fact, when Wirecutter commissioned cloth-mask filtration-efficiency testing, filter-less, double-layer cloth masks filtered (at a flow rate similar to what happens with normal talking volume) around 47% of 0.5-micron particles at best. (Those with incorporated filters, however, such as the Enro Tech and Happy Masks Pro, filtered similarly to N95s, though machine washing and drying diminished their efficacy.)



N95 vs. KN95, KF94, FFP2, and surgical masks

Constructed with multiple layers of nonwoven fabric, an N95 respirator blocks out at least 95% of particles as small as 0.1 micron in diameter. Surgical N95 respirators offer the added benefit of also having passed tests for such factors as fluid resistance, biocompatibility, and flammability. All legitimate N95 masks are approved by NIOSH as respirators; surgical N95 models have undergone additional NIOSH testing to meet specific FDA requirements.

N95 masks fasten snugly to your face with two bands that go around the back of your head. As with cloth face masks, some people find bands to be easier to adjust than ear loops—you can play around with knots and positioning to create a good seal. However, an N95’s elastics tend to be tighter than those on cloth masks, which helps with the seal but may be uncomfortable. Some N95 masks, like Wirecutter’s picks for dealing with smoke and dust, have valves for easier exhalation, but because they let unfiltered air escape, they are not useful in preventing the spread of communicable respiratory diseases.

KN95 masks (China’s N95 equivalent) should block out 95% of 0.3-micron particles; KF94 and FFP2, 94%. All are made with similar layers of high-filtration, nonwoven materials. KN95, KF94, and FFP2 are internationally sourced respirators and therefore don’t undergo the NIOSH approval process. Early in the pandemic, with N95 respirators in short supply, some of these masks—if they met certain criteria—were FDA-cleared for workers in health-care settings under an emergency use authorization (EUA). That authorization has since been revoked (PDF) due to a replenished supply of N95s, but the FDA suggests that these previously authorized respirators (such as our pick, the Powecom) be redistributed for use in nonmedical settings.

Unlike N95 masks, these other respirator masks typically have ear loops instead of headbands. People often encounter good filtration but a bad fit when shopping for a KN95. The same goes for N95 masks that aren’t customized (as they typically would be in a hospital setting). A January 2021 PLOS One article on mask-fit issues reported that a KN95 was a poor fit for all seven study participants, while the five N95 masks in the experiment did little better—failing to fit four out of seven subjects. Even a bit of extra fat in the chin or a few millimeters in the width of the nose can have an impact on a respirator’s fit, the authors noted.

Loretta Fernandez, PhD, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University, found that a poorly fitting KN95 may block 0.3-micron particles only as effectively as a poorly fitting surgical mask—at around 72% efficiency instead of the promised 95%-plus. This level of performance may be problematic for people working in the ICU but perhaps less so for someone doing a quick run to the post office. Still, from an economic perspective, it’s pointless to spend the extra money on a KN95 only to have it work as effectively a much cheaper mask. Fernandez, who has been assessing masks (PDF) since the start of the pandemic, noted an easy fix that a dentist shared with her: By cutting the ear loops on a KN95 mask and reattaching them to form headbands, the dentist was able to achieve a secure enough fit to nudge the filtration back up past 90%.

Surgical masks are medical devices regulated by the FDA. These masks are designed to prevent fluid from penetrating the mask (from, say, splattering as a result of a medical procedure) and potentially harming the wearer. Because they don’t fit close to the face, they’re not designed to protect the wearer from inhaling small, potentially infectious particles. Nevertheless, in order to gain FDA clearance, either through 510(k) or the agency’s emergency use authorization, surgical masks undergo testing to meet voluntary consensus standards set by ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials)—and those standards include achieving a level of filtration efficiency. Level 1 indicates that the mask blocks out 95% of particles at 0.1 to 5 microns in diameter at certain flow rates following another set of challenges. Levels 2 and 3 indicate at least 98% for the same particle-size range.

Regardless of which type of mask you manage to get your hands on, however, you won’t come anywhere close to the stated filtration values in real life unless you secure a perfect seal to your face around the entire perimeter of the mask. “Generally speaking, if you’re fogging up your glasses, it’s not a perfect seal,” said Hana Akselrod, assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at George Washington University School of Medicine. (If you don’t wear glasses, take a big exhale with your mask on—if you feel a puff of air on your skin near the edges of the mask, you need a tighter fit.)

Our favorite respirator masks

We set out to identify and find authentic disposable respirator masks, from reputable sellers, that are reasonably priced and well built. We’re continuing to test these masks for fit and comfort, and we will be trying other options as they become available.

Kimberly-Clark N95 Pouch Respirator

Kimberly-Clark N95 Pouch Respirator

A lightweight, NIOSH-approved N95

This odd-looking, oddly comfortable N95 is a NIOSH-approved respirator meant for nonmedical use. Its headbands are soft yet help form a tight seal, and its long nose-bridge wire reduces glasses fogging.

Buying Options

$42 from Amazon(pack of 50)

What we like: This duckbill-shaped mask is a NIOSH-approved N95 respirator manufactured in the US. It’s also our favorite because it’s the only one of its type that actually fit our testers well, and it felt surprisingly comfortable. Thanks to its soft, flexible construction, the Kimberly-Clark N95 Pouch Respirator should fit most people. Kimberly-Clark is an established manufacturer of diapers, tampons, and other personal-care products that humans use against their bodies, and now the company has leveraged that technology into expanded mask offerings (before the pandemic, Kimberly-Clark’s manufacturing employees had used this mask in-house). Because it’s a nonmedical respirator, this mask is not tested to protect you from potential splatter of bodily fluids.

Soft headbands that easily knot and stretch over various positions on the head form a good seal and are plenty comfortable for long-term wear. A more cavernous cut (about an inch wider on each side compared with the typical respirator) means more filtered air to breathe in. In our experience, a long, sturdy nose-bridge wire helped minimize glasses fogging, too. I was able to place the lower band higher on my head to prevent air from escaping around my chin (a pain point for me with other respirators). This mask doesn’t feel the easiest to breathe through—but that suggests some degree of filtration efficiency. (“I’m always suspicious of masks that have little or no breathing resistance to them,” said Christian L’Orange, the assistant research professor of mechanical engineering who ran our cloth-mask filtration test at Colorado State University.) The Kimberly-Clark mask closes absolutely flat without the need for you to pinch the nose wire closed, as you have to with many other foldable masks, and at around $1 a mask, it’s also the least expensive NIOSH-approved N95 we’ve seen so far.

What we don’t like: This mask looks ridiculous, particularly compared with sleek cloth masks. “Our initial focus was offering performance and comfort over form,” said Rob Hughes, vice president of PPE at Kimberly-Clark Professional. He added that the company is currently evaluating additional designs. Note, too, that this mask is truly for one-time use: With too much wear and tear or rough usage, the bands can rip, and the nose-bridge wire on top can become unstuck.

WellBefore WB-N-200 N95 Respirator Mask (flat fold)

WellBefore WB-N-200 N95 Respirator Mask (flat fold)

A substantial, NIOSH-approved N95

Sturdy headbands and ample clearance over the nose and mouth create a snug fit that still allows for easy breathing. But this flat fold N95 is typically pricier than our other respirator picks.

What we like: Many NIOSH-approved N95s and headband-style KN95s we’ve tried were either too large or too tight. The sturdily constructed flat fold WellBefore WB-N-200 N95 Respirator Mask also felt large on some of our panelists, but a bit less so, and more important, it didn’t feel suffocating despite creating a good seal. This is partly due to the plastic brackets on either side of the mask, which allow you to tighten the headbands as necessary. But it’s also thanks to the ample clearance the mask allows over the nose and mouth, which offers plenty of room for filtered air to circulate. A foam strip over the nose-bridge wire provides some cushioning. This mask is also available in black.

What we don’t like: “This is a lot of mask,” several testers commented, noting the WellBefore’s plastic and foam features, wide headbands, and girth. This mask is also more than twice the price of our other respirator picks, the lighter but odd-looking Kimberly-Clark N95 and the easy-on, easy-off but less-adjustable Powecom KN95. These respirators, sold in packages of five or more, also come individually wrapped (which some people may find beneficial for tossing in a bag or glove box, though others may find it unnecessary).

Powecom KN95 Respirator Mask

Powecom KN95 Respirator Mask (ear loops)

A versatile KN95

This easy-on, easy-off KN95 respirator mask has ear loops that stretch well for a wider fit but also knot easily for a snugger one.

Buying Options

$12 from Bona Fide Masks(pack of 10)

Powecom KN95 Respirator Mask (headbands)

The same mask, with headbands

If you prefer headbands to ear loops, you may find that this ear-friendly respirator mask provides a better fit.

Buying Options

$16 from Bona Fide Masks(pack of 10)

What we like: This formerly FDA-emergency-authorized KN95 mask offers some variety—you can choose from ear loops or headbands, as well as black or white. The ear loops version of this mask also comes in gray, pink, dark blue, light blue, and red. We bought Powecom masks directly from the importer and distributor through Bona Fide Masks, a legit site that’s part of Ball Chain Manufacturing, the largest manufacturer of ball-chain-related products in the world. (You know, the strings of metallic beads that keep keys together, switch lamps on and off, and hold military dog tags.) Thanks to its ball-chain business, the company already had reliable sources in China, who helped it get in touch with a reliable mask maker, Guangzhou Powecom. (Bona Fide Masks is now the exclusive distributor of Powecom KN95s in the US and Canada.)

Powecom has been around since 2009 and is a recognizable name in China for making masks, even before the pandemic. Its KN95 was FDA-cleared under the agency’s emergency use authorization during the N95 shortage. When Chinese authorities updated the KN95 standard this summer, we commissioned Colorado State University’s Center for Energy Development and Health to verify that the Powecom mask sold by Bona Fide Masks maintained its high filtration efficiency. And it did: With a perfect seal, the mask offered more than 99% filtration efficiency for 0.5-micron-diameter particles drawn through a chamber at a rate of 15 liters per minute (similar to the rate that a person would exhale when talking at normal volume). We like that the mask’s fasteners are sturdily attached (more so than most) and that they knot easily for adjustment. Slightly rounded, as opposed to flat, they’re somewhat gentler on the ears, too. We also like that you can choose to buy as few as 10 masks in a pack (though you can order as many as 10,000). The dimensions were neither too large nor too small for most of our testers, yet the mask also accommodated one tester who has a beard (though, of course, facial hair inherently lessens a mask’s seal).

What we don’t like: As some readers have pointed out, the Powecom design’s ear-loop elastics can feel uncomfortably snug. If that’s the case for you, try gently pulling on them to loosen them up a bit before wearing the mask. Smaller faces may have the opposite issue, at least with the ear-loops version of this mask: The straps may be too loose to create a close fit. But that has been the case with almost all the medical-style masks we’ve tried—without cord locks and malleable fabric, respirators just aren’t as adjustable as cloth masks. Knotting the ear loops helped me block the air from escaping at my chin but somehow increased the fog on my glasses. In contrast, headbands provide a snugger fit, though one tester found that the headband version of this mask was too tight for comfort (and strongly preferred the ear-loops version).



Our favorite surgical-style masks

Surgical masks are less expensive and less thick than N95 designs and other respirators, but because they tend to gape at the sides, they require some adjustments for optimal protection. As the CDC recommends, you can knot the ear loops and tuck the sides (this CDC video shows you how) or add an adjustable cloth face mask (like one of our picks) on top. You can also do both. We’ve tried 14 surgical-style masks over the past few months, and for the most part, the differences have been barely discernible. The DemeTech DemeMask Surgical Mask and the Medline ASTM Level 1 Procedure Face Mask with Ear Loops are our favorites because, more than other masks we’ve seen that are reliably in stock, they’re a good value for the level of protection they offer.

DemeTech DemeMask Surgical Mask

DemeTech DemeMask Surgical Mask

A flexible surgical mask with gentle ear loops

Also great for layering, this featherweight surgical mask features notably soft ear loops and foldable edges. It’s costlier than most disposable pleated masks but frequently goes on sale.

Buying Options

$15 from Amazon

$30 from DemeTech(pack of 50)

What we like: Most disposable pleated masks feel and function about the same, but the DemeTech DemeMask Surgical Mask is FDA 510(k)-cleared and meets ASTM Level 3 standards, as it’s capable of blocking 98% of particles as small as 0.1 micron (assuming a good seal). We like its exceptionally soft ear loops, which feel knitted and don’t dig into the ears as most other elastics do. The loops are also firmly attached, so when you’re putting this surgical mask on or taking it off, the fasteners are less likely to pop off (as we’ve found with some cheaper models). With its soft edges, the DemeMask is easy to knot at the ear loops and tuck at the sides (video) for a secure fit. We also like that it comes in a small size, which might work for some bigger kids, and in a tie version, which may be especially helpful for people who wear hearing aids.

What we don’t like: The DemeMask is costlier than most pleated masks you can find online or in a drugstore, though its price is roughly in line with that of masks offering similar filtration credentials, such as the CVS Health Surgical Face Mask, a former pick. If you’re using these masks only occasionally, you can opt instead for a pack of 10 for $7.50. You might also find promotions as a first-time buyer on the DemeTech site.

Medline ASTM Level 1 Procedure Face Mask with Ear Loops

Medline ASTM Level 1 Procedure Face Mask with Ear Loops

Affordable and versatile

The most affordable FDA-authorized disposable mask we’ve seen isn’t particularly soft, but it is sturdy, and it has generous ear loops.

Buying Options

$9 from Medline(pack of 50)

What we like: We’re always down for a bargain, and this box of 50 is available for the best price we’ve seen so far for an FDA-cleared surgical mask. As its name indicates, the Medline ASTM Level 1 Procedure Face Mask with Ear Loops meets ASTM Level 1 standards, which means it blocks at least 95% of particles measuring 0.1 micron in diameter or larger. That’s 3% less than the Level 3 DemeTech masks can block, but unless you’re a health-care provider in a high-risk medical setting, that’s not much of a difference. Medline makes its own masks but also partners with other FDA-cleared manufacturers to avoid stock shortages, a company spokesperson told us. The Medline mask’s ear loops are slightly larger than those on the DemeTech mask (and most other surgical-type masks we’ve seen); this allows them to stretch over wider faces with less tension on the ears. The extra length of elastic also means you can easily seal side gaps by knotting the ear loops and tucking in the sides (video).

What we don’t like: Except for their larger ear loops and FDA clearance, the Medline masks are fairly run-of-the-mill. Their inner lining isn’t particularly tissue-like as with the CVS version we tried, nor are the ear-loop elastics as soft or firmly attached as those on the DemeTech mask. Medline says it partners with other manufacturers besides the one we link to above, but it does not disclose them. You can confirm that its other overseas manufacturing partners are indeed FDA 510(k)–cleared by typing the company name (found on the Certificate of Conformity, a slip of paper enclosed in the box) into the FDA’s device database.

How we picked and tested

Where to Buy N95s, KN95s, and Surgical-Style Masks (7)

Searching for a reliable respirator or surgical-style mask for a decent price, particularly earlier in the pandemic, has been the most difficult shopping experience I’ve ever had. It’s like trying to find the last Lego Star Wars Advent calendar three weeks before Christmas—but infinitely worse. Aside from navigating retailers that have long sold out or are price-gouging, you’re also contending with fraudulent sellers, fraudulent products, or both: The CDC reports that about 60% of KN95 masks sold in the US are fake. What’s more, there are sizing issues. Oh, and whatever you buy is typically nonrefundable.

Almost two years later, the shortages have eased up, but that doesn’t make finding the right mask any easier, particularly when it comes to KN95s. Yes, there’s the counterfeit issue. But also, KN95 and surgical-style masks don’t always fit very well. As Loretta Fernandez, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, explained, “There’s nothing magical about a KN95. The edges still need to form a good seal against the face for it to be protective.” The truth is, any medical-style mask—no matter how superior the filtration—doesn’t do much better than a quality cloth mask if it allows most of the air you’re breathing to go around it rather than through it. Proper fit is critical.

As for disposable pleated masks, every neighborhood store and online vendor seems to sell them these days, but not all of them are actually surgical masks—just surgical-style, which is why they’re often a third or half the price of actual authorized surgical masks. The packaging on most simply says “face mask,” in which case you can’t expect the masks to filter like the kinds of masks that health-care workers wear in hospitals. In fact, Colorado State University’s Christian L’Orange—who has tested thousands of masks, including our picks—told us that the most egregious fails have come from surgical-style masks as opposed to respirators. Some have exhibited a mere 20% filtration rate on small particles (about the same as many of the filterless cotton masks we tested for our guide to cloth face masks), though most of them have demonstrated a slightly less shocking 70% to 80% rate. Others have appeared to be missing layers altogether, he said. One way to detect a fake is to hold it top side up under a dripping faucet: If the droplets soak in instead of completely beading up, it’s not a real surgical mask, which by definition should have some level of water resistance.

We decided to start out with retailers we trust, including Costco, CVS, and Office Depot. We also perused business-news articles online about US-based companies that are manufacturing or selling masks, or both. Virginia Tech’s Linsey Marr suggested buying directly from a reputable supplier whenever possible, not just grabbing whatever you find from a third-party seller (the fewer middlemen, the smaller the chance of mischief). So we checked out each company’s e-commerce site and confirmed that each respirator or surgical mask of interest is included in one of the following:

  • NIOSH maintains a list of approved N95 respirators.
  • The FDA’s Personal Protective Equipment EUAs (emergency use authorizations) Appendix A list of surgical masks and foreign respirator manufacturers indicates that the manufacturer submitted test reports demonstrating that the product met certain performance standards, including filtration efficiency, and that the FDA recognized it. Although health-care workers are now advised to once again use only NIOSH-approved designs, these masks are still helpful in everyday settings.
  • The FDA has a database of devices that have received 510(k) clearance.
  • NIOSH’s International Respirator Assessments evaluate US-sold, foreign-made respirators only; we look for good results on these tests. Although these tests aren’t the same as NIOSH approval, they do give mask buyers a sense of the quality of the materials used.

Sometimes cross-checking wasn’t possible until we received the masks and found the product qualification certificate—the small slip of paper in the packaging that includes the details about the product and its manufacturer, which is usually half written in the language of the country the mask comes from. We also reached out to some of the manufacturers or the sellers to understand the vetting or manufacturing process, especially if we couldn’t find the manufacturing company on any of the above lists.

For masks sold on Amazon, we confirmed with the manufacturer that we had a legit link to the product it was selling, and if we couldn’t reach the manufacturer (and if the mask was sold out everywhere except Amazon), we checked that the mask was both sold and shipped directly by Amazon. Although this factor limits your choices perhaps unnecessarily, as Kathy Cummins, head of marketing and analytics at Hinge Global, pointed out, we like the assurance that a specific inventory of the product has been vetted by Amazon itself, and we appreciate that shipping by Amazon cuts out the middleman and ensures prompt delivery. A caveat: The “same” mask sold by the same company can differ depending on the retailer. For instance, masks manufactured by the Chinese company Winner Medical that we bought on Amazon consisted of thinner, less-soft mask material than we found on the Winner Medical masks once sold by CVS, despite their having the same product name (“Medical Face Mask”), standard certification (ASTM Level 1), and listed materials (“non-woven 66%; melt blown, 34%”) on the certification slips. Winner Medical confirmed to us that it designs masks according to a client’s specifications while still ensuring the same protective effects.

Once we tracked down several masks that we concluded were actually medical-grade, our job had only just begun. We also needed to assess each mask in terms of fit and comfort—something far too individual for anyone to judge in a general sense. Still, we’re doing our best by distributing masks to a diverse group of nine panelists (two of whom are my husband and me).

When we’ve come across masks that fit and feel great but aren’t NIOSH-approved or FDA-cleared, we’ve sent samples to Colorado State University’s Center for Energy Development and Health for filtration efficiency and breathability testing.

As with our guide to cloth face masks, we’ll continue to add to this list of trusted respirator and surgical-style masks as new and better options become available. Stay tuned for future updates.



How to reuse disposable face masks

Safety comes first during a pandemic, which is why experts are urging people to opt for disposable masks with high filtration efficiency when possible. But the environmental impacts of a far larger population—beyond only health-care workers—donning masks made of nonrecyclable materials are significant. The pandemic generates up to an estimated 7,200 tons of medical waste every day, a large portion of which is disposable face masks, according to the authors of a July 2021 study published in BMJ Open. Decontaminating an N95 mask for multiple wears could reduce the amount of pandemic-related environmental waste by 75% or more compared with disposing it after each use, the authors add.

For everyone besides health-care workers, whose risk of exposure is generally far less, there are more sustainable choices, including reusable cloth masks with high filtration efficiencies such as the Enro Tech or Happy Masks Pro, both picks in our guide to the best cloth face masks. Another option is to wear disposable masks more than once.

Yes, outside of the health-care setting, most people can safely reuse some disposable face masks. While health-care workers are typically advised to throw out their masks after a single use, that’s not always necessary for everyone else. This is especially true given the presence of additional layers of protection (such as vaccines, social distancing, and good ventilation). As a result, experts told us, it often makes sense to reuse disposable masks—but carefully, taking cues from what health-care workers did during the N95 respirator shortage earlier in the pandemic.

As the CDC notes, a mask can be reused after it has been stored in a paper bag for a few days. (SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has an expected survival time of 72 hours.)

The CDC guidance, intended for health-care personnel in situations much riskier than what I experience in my day-to-day routine, notes that masks shouldn’t be used more than five times. But masks worn by most people in relatively low-risk situations could probably be worn for considerably longer. “There’s no time limit for how long a filter will work,” explained Ron Shaffer, former research chief at the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory at NIOSH. He advises throwing away a mask when it’s soiled or worn out, when it no longer fits well, or when it’s difficult to breathe through. When in doubt, throw it out. For further details, see our additional guidance on safely reusing masks.

Other medical-style masks we like

These masks stood out from the rest of the competition because of the positive response we received from a relatively broad swath of panelists, as well as their high performance in our filtration-efficiency testing. They aren’t as affordable as our current picks—but depending on your needs, you may find them worth the extra expense.

4CAir AireTrust Nano Mask

This mask is currently out of stock. You can sign up here for inventory alerts.

The 4CAir AireTrust Nano Mask is one of the thinnest KN95-type masks we’ve tried, thanks to its patented nanotechnology. Less like padding and more like paper, the mask feels light on the face and offers arguably better breathability. One panelist wore it to pilates: “My face didn’t sweat underneath it because it’s so light,” they said. “After two minutes, I forgot it was there.” Because this mask hasn’t yet undergone FDA clearance, we did our own filtration testing in collaboration with researchers at Colorado State and confirmed that, as advertised, it has a filtration efficiency of 99% for particles as small as 0.5 micron. Respirators more often than not come in one size, so we like that this one comes in three: small (for kids), medium, and large. The small size even has cord stoppers in the ear loops. All of our panelists found a size that fit them well, though some found the mask more snug around the nose (hence no glasses fog) than at the chin. We would make this mask a pick except that, at more than $3 apiece, it’s much pricier than our picks from Powecom and Kimberly-Clark (each around $1 per mask). But we’d splurge on a five-pack for $17.50 for the infrequent situations where we might especially appreciate a mask that’s lighter than most, such as a lengthy flight or a long doctor’s visit.

Kyungin Flax KF94

Because of KF94 masks’ more structured “boat” shape (a horizontal rectangle that tents up to secure itself over the nose bridge and chin), they’re somewhat harder to adjust, and our panelists had different opinions on which fit best. But if you’d like to try one, the Kyungin Flax KF94 is one of the more affordable models we’ve tried. Like most KF94s, which didn’t arrive in the US until later in the pandemic, the Kyungin Flax mask was never FDA-cleared for emergency use for medical workers. So, in collaboration with Colorado State, we filtration-tested the mask ourselves—and found it to block 99% of particles as small as 0.5 micron.

Overall, most KF94s feel thinner than the N95s and KN95s we tried (except for the Kimberly-Clark mask we recommend and the 4CAir AireTrust Nano Mask we also like), and their boat-like shape provides arguably more-reliable clearance over the nose and mouth. The Kyungin Flax is no different. However, this mask comes in only one (rather large) size—which made it harder for some of our panelists to achieve a solid seal. If you prefer a KF94 mask and have a narrower chin or smaller face, you might have better luck with masks from Dr. Puri, Blue, or Etiqa. Wearing the mask on a cold winter day, we’ve also noticed it collecting more condensation at the inner layer than our picks.



More NIOSH-approved, NIOSH-assessed, or FDA-authorized masks worth considering

The masks in this section have either undergone the stringent NIOSH testing required to earn an official N95 designation or submitted the necessary testing results and paperwork for FDA clearance, whether via a now-revoked emergency use authorization or the 510(k) process.

Folded flat, most cone-shaped respirator masks—like the Powecom KN95—measure about 6 inches vertically unless otherwise noted. Yet each one fits differently depending on how it’s angled around the nose and chin, how pliable the material is, and whether the fasteners are ear loops or headbands.

Some of these masks may be out of stock.

Respirator masks

In our experience, the BYD Care KN95 Respirator sealed well, thanks to its more easily adjustable headband fasteners, but the nose-bridge wire could slide down the nose and block the airway a bit. This may not be the case for people with higher nose bridges, though—so, as we’ve mentioned, we’ll continue evaluating this mask with a diverse panel of testers and update this guide accordingly. The fasteners have ridges, which improve grip. This KN95 had been listed under the FDA’s now-revoked emergency use authorization Appendix A.

BYD Care’s nonmedical N95, sold at Office Depot, is NIOSH-approved and is no longer flagged as “reserved for healthcare workers and first responders.” Compared with the brand’s KN95 respirator, this mask has shorter fasteners, which make for a more snug fit, and a somewhat stouter profile, which allows for more room above the nose and mouth. However, one tester described it as “actually painful to wear,” though that’s also the reason why she “trusts” it for doctor’s appointments at a hospital. (Pre-vaccination, my husband wore this N95 to the New York City public school where he has been teaching in person; he arrived home to find “reassuring” imprints on his face. Not everyone feels the same way about an ultra-snug fit.)

Florida-based wound-care company DemeTech, the maker of our surgical-mask pick, launched its respirator production early on in the pandemic. We like that the NIOSH-approved DemeTech respirators come in two designs (cup and foldable) and each in regular or small size. With their sturdy, ridged headbands, you can play with the positioning of these respirator masks for a better fit. My husband and I tried the regular-size foldable masks, and they stood up slightly less high off our faces, especially near the nose, compared with other masks we tried. But they formed a decent seal and, as other panelists noted, also felt lighter. At $75 for a box of 20, they’re as pricey as another lightweight respirator we tried, the 4CAir AireTrust Nano Mask. If you need just a few, a pack of five is available for less than $20.

Measuring just 5 inches vertically from top to bottom, the Korean-made and NIOSH-approved Dobu Mask 500 N95 is likely best for people with smaller faces; it barely covered my husband’s mouth, and other testers on our panel equated it to wearing a bra cup or hamburger bun on their face. (It fit two panelists perfectly, though.) A bracket keeps the fabric off the face, and a ring of soft, cotton-tee-like material surrounds the nose and mouth while somehow creating a comfortable seal without a nose-wire bridge. Plastic adjusters on each side easily help you tighten the ridged headbands. You can press this mask in half, but because of the bracket, it doesn’t stay folded like the others on this list. It’s also somewhat thicker overall. We’ve confirmed that the mask, available on Amazon (marked “sold and shipped by Dobu Mask”), is legitimate. As expected, the extra hardware makes for a more expensive mask (10 for $40) compared with most we’ve considered.

The much cheaper, foldable NIOSH-approved Dobu Mask 201 N95 fits snug like the BYD Care N95 but with slightly less clearance over the nose and mouth, and arguably a more gentle touch. Unlike the BYD Care N95, “they don’t dig into my eyes,” said one panelist. If you go through N95s on a regular basis (like my husband, who wears one to teach in-person classes every day), the Dobu masks can get pricey (at this writing, they’re nearly $40 for a pack of 25 on Amazon). For a more affordable, similarly shaped mask, consider the Powecom KN95 (sold in a headband option at about $1 per mask). Its elastics feel a bit looser but still create a secure—and generally more comfortable—seal, according to our panelists.

The Dr. Puri Micro-Dust Protection Mask isn’t NIOSH-approved, but a June 2020 filtration test run by NIOSH (PDF) on samples sent to the agency reported that it blocked more than 99% of 0.3-micron particles. It fit most of our panelists, though some testers thought it sat too close to the mouth despite its typical KF94 rectangular boat shape. Some testers said the masks smelled funny (“dusty,” described one panelist); we’d take these masks out of the packaging and let them air out before wearing. We confirmed that the mask sold via this Amazon link (labeled “sold by Dr. Puri Official”) is legitimate, and it’s at a slightly lower price than we’ve seen elsewhere.

FLTR sells the NIOSH-approved manufactured-in-China N95 Round Respirator, which we haven’t tried. Considering that it’s sold only in bulk (100 masks), we thought it was cost-prohibitive for people who’d like to make sure their mask fits before going all-in.

The Harley Commodity N95 Particulate Respirator, sold at Bona Fide Masks, may be a better fit than most for people with larger faces. It measures about a quarter-inch greater vertically, from tip to tip, compared with the 6-inch Powecom KN95—so it hits the corner of my eyes. I can breathe better in it, though, since the nose portion (complete with a nose pad) has a less-steep slope. If it’s the right size for your face, you’re likely to get a decent seal with the ridged, sturdily affixed, elastic headbands. And the mask is NIOSH-approved (see Guangzhou Harley).

The United States Mask Particulate Respirator N95 is manufactured domestically and NIOSH-approved. Similar in size vertically to the Harley Commodity mask (about 6¼ inches), it hits my lower eyelids. Its around-the-head bands are easy to knot for a good seal, assuming the mask fits your face. It also costs less (around $45 for 20 masks) than most other bifold-style N95s, which typically run about $3.50 or more per mask.

The Honeywell DF300 N95 Particulate Disposable Respirator is similar to the BYD KN95: It too offers a more snug fit for small faces than the Harley Commodity and United States Mask models. A piece of foam cushions its sturdy, pliable nose-bridge wire. It’s a bit pricier than our picks but cheaper than most others on this list. It’s also NIOSH-approved.

The Makrite 910 is a duckbill-shaped N95 like the Kimberly-Clark mask we recommend, but it is not nearly as comfortable. The thick material proved much less breathable for our testers, and the headbands looked and felt like thick, albeit smooth, rubber bands. The nose-bridge wire is cushioned by a foam strip, however, and this model is NIOSH-approved. You can play around with the bands for a better seal, but overall we found this mask to be quite restrictive and suffocating.

We were quite excited about the NIOSH-approved RespoKare N95 Respirator Mask’s pretty blue color and comfortable nose-bridge cushion, but some panelists found that the ear straps snapped off easily. While the large size was too large for many panelists (it might be good if you’ve determined that most masks are too small for you), the medium size was much smaller—and, in fact, too small for me. These masks have a strong vinegary smell out of the package, and they cost considerably more than our picks.

Surgical-style masks

We liked the CVS Health Medical Face Mask when we tested it, but consistent stock issues keep it from being a pick in this guide. This mask has a strikingly softer underlayer—much softer than that of most other surgical masks we’ve tried, including our pick from DemeTech. The version we tried met ASTM Level 2 standards, which meant it could filter out at least 98% of 0.1-micron particles, assuming a perfect seal; however, we’ve noticed that the masks are now labeled as meeting ASTM Level 1 standards. The generous ear loops should help this mask fit wider faces, and they’re easily knotted for narrower ones.

More masks (that aren’t FDA-authorized or NIOSH-approved)

Just because a mask isn’t cleared by these agencies doesn’t necessarily mean it performs poorly, though it’s hard to know for sure. FDA clearance and NIOSH approval can take many months and can cost a good amount of money—some companies decide not to bother, while others have submitted the paperwork but are still awaiting a decision.

Some of these masks may be out of stock.

Respirator masks

As with many K94s we tried, the Blue KF94-3D Mask fit some of our panel testers well but left gaps on others. Our panelists agreed, however, that it felt lightweight. According to its packaging and authorized seller Be Healthy (a longtime trusted source for Korean imports), this mask is approved by the Korean Ministry of Food and Safety; for confirmation, we reached out to the makers of Blue masks, as well as to the Korean Ministry of Food and Safety, but we didn’t receive responses. We elected not to send the Blue mask out to Colorado State for filtration-efficiency testing because, besides lacking broad fit appeal, it costs more than the Dr. Puri and Kyungin Flax KN94 masks we prefer—and it is considerably more expensive than our picks.

The Etiqa Airway Round Mask is neither FDA-cleared nor NIOSH-approved, but according to its packaging and seller Be Healthy, it has been approved by the Korean Ministry of Food and Safety. (The colorful variations have not undergone the Korean Ministry of Food and Safety approval process, though the materials are similar.) We didn’t include this mask in our filtration testing, nor did we investigate it further, because too many panelists complained of fit issues (it didn’t grasp the chin very well). And many testers noted that it had a strong scent out of the package that didn’t fade quickly. It sells for a rather pricey $4 a mask and is currently out of stock.

When we tested the FLTR95 Sealing Face Mask it was sold at Costco in a pack of 100. Its third-party lab documentation demonstrated filtration results similar to those of KN95s but blocked out the mask manufacturer’s name, citing proprietary information; in addition, the manufacturer’s name wasn’t translated on the certification slip. These masks, which come in white or black, are similar in shape (measuring 6 inches vertically, tip to tip) and elastic to the Powecom KN95 masks. But they are a tad longer horizontally and come only in an ear-loop option.

Surgical-style masks

Armbrust Surgical Masks are FDA 510(k)-cleared and come in a fun range of color options typically not seen in masks, such as denim, orange, and green. The mask feels a tad softer and thinner than most of the surgical-style masks we’ve tried. The nose-bridge wire feels sturdier, too, and the fasteners knot easily for a good fit. Frequently on sale, these masks are a good choice if you can’t get ahold of the DemeTech or Medline masks, or if you just want to add a burst of color to your mask wardrobe.

At around $12 for 75 masks, the FLTR General Use Face Mask, sold at Costco, is one of the least-expensive surgical-style masks we’ve seen. However, it isn’t FDA-cleared. Like the company’s KN95-style masks, these pleated masks have been tested by a third-party lab and found to meet ASTM Level 1 standards (blocking out at least 95% of 0.1-micron particles). The company redacted the manufacturer’s name in the paperwork, again for “proprietary” reasons. (This mask is currently out of stock on Costco’s site but may be available in some locations when you purchase from Costco via Instacart. We also spotted boxes on Amazon, but those are from third-party sellers we haven’t vetted.)

Unilever previously sold its Lifebuoy Face Mask at Target. A company spokesperson told us that third-party lab testing has shown this mask meets ASTM Level 1 filtration standards (95%), but the company doesn’t share results. At about $20 for 50 masks (at this writing), the pricing isn’t a notable bargain for a non-FDA-cleared box of masks.

Christina Szalinksi contributed reporting.

This article was edited by Tracy Vence and Kalee Thompson.




  1. Hana Akselrod, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases, George Washington University School of Medicine, phone interview, February 23, 2021

  2. Kathy Cummins, head of marketing and overseer of research and data analytics, Hinge Global, phone interview, February 24, 2021

  3. Loretta Fernandez, PhD, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University, phone interview, February 23, 2021

  4. Christian L’Orange, PhD, associate director of the Center for Energy Development and Health, and assistant professor of research in mechanical engineering, Colorado State University, phone interview, February 3, 2021

  5. Linsey Marr, PhD, professor of civil and environmental engineering, Virginia Tech, email interview, February 9, 2021

  6. Nikki McCullough, PhD, global technical services and regulatory director, 3M Personal Safety Division, phone interview, January 19, 2021

  7. Bryan Ormond, PhD, assistant professor of textile engineering, Textile Protection and Comfort Center, Wilson College of Textiles, North Carolina State University, phone interview, June 12, 2020

  8. Kristen Picard, product marketing director, Honeywell, phone interview, February 11, 2021

  9. Chris Plotz, director of education and technical affairs, INDA (Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry), phone interview, March 2, 2021

  10. Nura Sadeghpour, health communications specialist, CDC/NIOSH, email interview, February 24, 2021

  11. Ron Shaffer, PhD, former research branch chief, National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, NIOSH, phone interview, June 29, 2020

  12. Shirley Simson, press officer, FDA, email interview, February 24, 2021

Where to Buy N95s, KN95s, and Surgical-Style Masks (2024)


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