Which Face Mask Is Better, N95, KN95, Surgical Or Cloth?


With the COVID-19 vaccine distribution currently underway, the quantity of SARS-CoV-2 infection cases is at last on the decline, which is great news since the record spikes at the start of the year. However, although the vaccinations are underway, the experts are still encouraging that the wearing of face masks is still vital, and even in some cases, the use of double masks. However, between the N95, the KN95, surgical masks, and the cloth masks, things could get a bit overwhelming to distinguish the best choice and for whom.

N95 versus KN95

Although there are several varying options that are available, the most recent reports are that non-valved N95 masks that are fitted are considered the unsurpassed choice for the greatest level of protection, according to an article published in the medical journal Science Advances. However, what really is the major difference between a KN95 and an N95 mask?

The largest benefit of the KN95 or the N95 masks is that both of them will filter up to ninety-five percent of all particulate matter in the atmosphere. Both the N95 and the KN95 are manufactured from quite a few artificial material layers and were made to be worn directly over the mouth and the nose. When worn properly, both masks filter out ninety-five percent of the particles in the air which could possibly be carriers of the novel coronavirus. However, the real difference is that the N95 mask is the only one that has been approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is an organization in the United States with responsibility for mask regulation.

NIOSH has net approved the KN95, however, it has been approved in other countries, in particular China. The KN95 mask has not been through the rigorous approval process that is set in the United States. Back in September 2020, the KN95 mask was reviewed by ECRI and they found that almost seventy percent of the masks manufactured in China were unable to meet the filtering standard set by the NIOSH. However, because the KN95 does not meet the requirements set out by the NIOSH, it might still provide greater protection against the novel coronavirus than a cloth or surgical mask. Regardless, it is still crucially important to understand that it is the proper wearing of the masks that activates its effectiveness. It is also vitally important to recognize that it is the tight seal on your face that allows the N95 that ultimate protection, excluding the authentic high-quality filtering features of the mask itself.

N95 versus Surgical

If the N95 mask or the KN95 mask is not available to you, then your next best option is surgical masks. However, the current update on this from Dr. Fauci is that it might be even better to double up on the surgical masks to enhance the effectiveness. There are numerous differences between the N95 masks and the surgical masks, as according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

The Food and Drug Administration or FDA has cleared the use of surgical masks, while the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), has assessed, tested, and approved the N95. Surgical masks are proven to be liquid resistant and can defend against large droplets, sprays of hazardous or bodily fluids, and splashes, The N95 masks decrease the user’s risk of exposure to particulate matter, which include large droplets and tiny particle aerosols. The N95 masks, once worn correctly, are tight-fitting, while the surgical masks fit quite loosely.

Surgical masks are not required to have fit testing, while it is a requirement for the N95 masks to be fit tested. Likewise, the surgical mask is not required to have a user seal check requirement, however, it is a requirement for the N95 mask to have this user seal check requirement. The N95 masks filter out up to ninety-five percent of all the particles that are airborne, while the surgical masks are not considered to provide the user with an adequate level of protection from tiny particles in the air being inhaled. Surgical masks will leak around the edges when the wearer inhales, however, a properly worn N95 mask will have minimal leakage.

N95 versus Cloth Masks

The final option for face masks is cloth masks. Unfortunately, cloth masks are neither tested nor regulated and for every distinct type of fabric used to make the masks, there is a separate level of filtration. However, a cloth mask is still better than no mask at all. But to ensure the optimum amount of filtration and protection a properly worn N95 or KN95 mask or a doubling up of the surgical masks is recommended and preferred.

According to Dr. Eric Cioe-Pena, the director of global health at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, masks made from cloth are the most permeable and provide the least amount of protection and filtration; however, they are way better than not wearing a mask at all. He further states that the best mask in his opinion is the mask that an individual has on when they are preparing to leave their home. An N95 mask does not offer greater protection than a surgical mask if you continually remove it from your face.


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