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​Don't Trust Web Sites That Recommend KN95 and Cloth Masks

Posted by The Safety Emporium Support Team on

We've seen dozens of tech sites, syndicated media companies, mommy blogs and others create posts titled along the lines of "The Best KN95's" which feature links directly to those products on Amazon and sites with "N95" (but not "KN95") in their name, most of which never existed before the pandemic. Many try to create a false sense of urgency with "back in stock" and made up "sale" prices to increase your urge to buy.

What most folks may not realize is that these authors are typically not experts in respiratory protection, but they are experts in marketing. In fact, almost without exception, these informative "articles" are really nothing more than advertising, and the site/authors are getting a commission (some might call it a kickback) for "recommending" these substandard products.

Let's be quite clear about this. For most needs, the "gold standard" for respiratory protection is N95 masks that have been tested and approved by NIOSH, an agency of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To gain NIOSH approval, the mask must capture 95% or more of 0.3 micron particles. Why 0.3 micron? Because these are the hardest size to capture. They can't be stopped by physical impact on a fiber, which is all you are getting on a typical cloth mask.

KN95, on the other hand, is a Chinese standard and what you need to know about that is the following:

1. The vast majority of KN95 masks have ear loops rather then the head bands found on NIOSH-approved N95's. Ear loops do not allow the mask to make a tight seal to the face, which is why there are no NIOSH-approved masks with ear loops on them.

It doesn't matter how well the mask material filters if you have gaps around the sides. A KN95 is like bolting the front door and leaving the windows open. Or as a colleague of ours from 3M likes to say, KN95's are like putting a screen door on a submarine.

2. A recent study by ECRI determined that up up to 70% of imported non-NIOSH certified respirators exhibit filtration performance "significantly inferior" to NIOSH-certified N95's. Many don't actually have any certification at all despite calling themselves KN95.

3. The CDC has noted that the market for KN95's is fraught with substandard and counterfeit products and should be considered only when approved alternatives are unavailable. And because NIOSH-approved N95 and N99's are readily available, this means you should never consider an KN95.

But let's get back to those web sites that recommend cloth masks and KN95's. How do we know for sure they don't have your best interests in mind? Because every time we see one of those listicle advertisement articles, we contact the author or site owner and inform them about the issues with KN95 and cloth mask "protection". And we suggest that their readers might more greatly benefit from knowing that Safety Emporium offers NIOSH-approved N95 and N99 masks at prices below those of the inferior masks they recommended. Only two sites have ever responded to these emails, and rather than thanking us for helping to protect their readers or spreading the word about mask efficiency, they asked for a sales commission to list our products on those pages.

A commission. If we were selling general consumer widgets with fat margins, sure we'd consider that. But we're not - we are selling life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE) in the middle of a pandemic and because we recognize the incredible need we are selling them at an exceedingly modest profit. We keep our prices low because it's the Right Thing™ to do, so the only way we could offer a commission is to raise our prices for everyone in order to pay someone whose urge to do the right thing is predicated on getting a cut. No. Not happening.

Safety Emporium offers multiple brands of NIOSH-approved N95 and N99 masks, including two US manufacturers. One of these US brands also has FDA approval for surgical use in addition to the NIOSH approval. And we know our supply chains. We are authorized distributors for ALG Health, BAL Supply, and Protective Health Gear - our masks come directly from them to us. And each of these masks on our site links directly to its NIOSH approval at CDC.

So, the next time you see one of these "articles" that is recommending non-NIOSH protection, you might want to consider asking the authors if they are being compensated, if they know the supply chain of the companies they are promoting, if they have any safety background/experience, and if they can produce certified test results for their products.