A woman wears a KN95 mask outside.Share on Pinterest
When worn properly, KN95 masks offer strong protection against transmission of the coronavirus. Sergio Mendoza Hochmann/Getty Images
  • KN95 masks provide strong protection against transmission of COVID-19.
  • They work well because they can filter out 95 percent of airborne particles.
  • Experts recommend wearing them whenever you are in crowded public spaces.
  • It is important that you wear the mask properly to get the best protection.
  • Fake KN95 masks should be avoided since they may not keep you as safe from the coronavirus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), masking is one of the critical tools we have available that can help prevent transmission of the coronavirus.

Masks are intended to contain any droplets or particles that escape when you breathe, cough, or sneeze. And, if they are worn properly and consistently, they are quite effective at this task.

However, some types of masks are better at this than others, with KN95 masks being one of the most effective that are widely available.

Here’s what you need to know about why these masks are so effective, when you should wear them, how to use them properly, and how to spot fakes.

Shampa Chatterjee, PhD, associate professor of physiology at the Institute for Environmental Medicine and in the department of physiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, as well as a member of the American Physiological Society, said KN95 masks are a type of mask that can capture 95 percent of particles in the air.

“When humans cough, sneeze, or speak, droplets (of size >5 to 10 microns) or aerosols (of size ≤5 microns) are released and these can remain and travel in the air,” said Chatterjee.

She explained that, in people who have COVID-19, these droplets or aerosols contain the coronavirus, and KN95 masks protect wearers against such viral aerosols and droplets.

Chatterjee said KN95 masks have at least 95 percent filtration efficiency for particles sized 0.1 to 0.3 microns.

She further noted that KN95 masks and N95 masks are similar to each other in that they have the same efficacy in capturing droplets and viral aerosols. But there are some subtle differences.

N95 masks undergo a special “mask fit” test on people to ensure a tight fit. The masks are required to adhere to certain requirements for pressure drop when inhaling.

The CDC advises N95 masks should be reserved for use by healthcare professionals due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as they are required to be worn during medical procedures.

Chatterjee said it really boils down to two reasons why KN95 masks are better than other types.

First of all, there is the filter fabric, she said.

“For KN95 and N95, the fabric is made of nylon, cotton, polyester, and polypropylene,” she said. “This makes it possible to filter tiny particles (droplets created when coughing, sneezing, or even talking) that carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

Secondly, KN95 masks fit better over the mouth and nose.

“This ensures that droplets and particles from outside do not go inside the wearer’s nose and that droplets from the wearer do not leak around the mask,” said Chatterjee.

“There may be some discomfort from wearing them over long periods,” she added, “but they are highly effective in containing the spread of variants.”

S. Wesley Long, MD, PhD, a researcher at Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, said, “At this point, KN95 masks are being recommended due to the highly contagious nature of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. I would recommend wearing one anytime you want to wear a mask, especially in crowded indoor spaces where social distancing cannot be maintained.”

Chatterjee agreed you should wear one anytime you venture out into a public space, with them being “absolutely imperative” when traveling.

She further advised that you should wear a mask whenever you are in close contact with people whose COVID-19 status is unknown.

You’ll get the most protection from your mask if you use it properly. It’s especially important that it has a good fit on your face.

Chatterjee suggests going through the following steps when you put on your mask:

  1. Sanitize your hands before picking up the mask so you don’t contaminate it.
  2. Place the mask over your face, with the bottom below your chin and the nosepiece up.
  3. Place the top strap behind your head and the lower strap below your ears.
  4. Press the metal nose clip to mold the material to the shape of your nose.
  5. Readjust the whole thing so your nose and mouth are well covered and the whole mask has a tight fit.

If you are planning to wear an additional mask with the KN95, such as a surgical mask, it should go over the KN95, said Long. You want to put the best quality mask on your face first.

It’s also important to use the right size mask if you are putting one on a child. Kids should use the smaller versions of the KN95 masks, said Chatterjee.

“They shouldn’t be using an adult-size mask because it is often loose and will not protect from aerosols,” she said.

Finally, you want to avoid the many fake masks that have made their way onto the market. They will likely not provide the same degree of protection as genuine KN95 masks.

Long suggests buying from reputable sources and avoiding resellers, third-party sellers, and auction sites.

He also recommends inspecting the quality of the mask and the labeling of the packaging. Fakes are usually poorly made and packaged.

Chatterjee said you can also check the manufacturer’s label for a contact address. A reputable company should provide you with a way to reach them.