N95 face masks are a hot-ticket item right now. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to obtain them due to shortages and most manufacturers prioritizing shipments to first responders and government agencies over the general public. But there is an alternative: the KN95 mask is the next best thing and effective at filtering out unwanted germs.
According to both healthcare manufacturer 3M and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the KN95 mask is a “suitable replacement” for the N95 mask. Much like the N95, the KN95 can filter 95% of non-oily particles larger than 0.3 microns, offering superior protection over the rectangular paper masks that seem to be popping up at many dollar stores nationwide. While KN95 masks are technically disposable per CDC guidelines, for normal personal use outside of the healthcare community, you may be able to stretch a mask beyond a couple of days — especially if you’re just using it for strolls around the neighborhood or quick grocery store runs.
Paper and cloth masks don’t do much
Stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s are selling out of N95 masks as soon as they come in, with some stores reserving their stocks for local first responders and hospitals. Early on, our local hospital here bought the entire stock of N95 masks from the Home Depot because they were unable to get them through other channels.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a few dollar stores nearby begin to sell the rectangular paper masks. But most are selling them for as much as a $1 per mask, and the protection you get from them is questionable.
While these masks will prevent you from spreading germs to others, they don’t do a good job of filtering out incoming germs. The same goes for cloth masks, which after the CDC’s recommendation a few weeks back have become a lot more popular — plus with the latter, you need to make sure you’re sanitizing them properly.
The bottom line is if you want real protection, you need a mask that not only protects others from your germs but vice versa.
Try these retailers
We’ve found at least two retailers that seem — at least for now — to have a substantial stock of KN95 masks and is committed to not only supply first responders but the general public, as well.
Honest PPE Supply is a recently-launched company with a mission to provide the personal protective equipment (PPE) at an affordable price. In fact, they are selling KN95 masks for only $3 apiece with a minimum order of at least 10 masks. The company also sells surgical disposable 3-ply face masks for $0.60 apiece with a minimum order size of 50 pieces; and face shields for only $4 with a minimum order amount of 10 shields. Their KN95 and 3-ply masks are both FDA registered. They also sell uncertified KN95 masks that are not FDA registered by the FDA for even cheaper at only $2.20 per piece. The company also ships within 24 hours so you don’t have to wait weeks to receive your much-needed masks.
Nomad Goods are better known for their quality smartphone and computer accessories, specially beautiful leather cases. The luxury accessories brand, however, has has decided to put their efforts behind combating COVID-19 by making medical-related supplies available at affordable prices. They are selling a 10-pack of civilian-use KN95 masks (that aren’t FDA registered) for $28, and a 50-pack of 3-ply disposable masks for $28, as well. They also have gloves, hand sanitizers, cleaners and wipes available. The company ships within 24 hours so you can expect your order delivered in days.
N95 Mask Co promises to deliver your masks in just three days and offers packages of 3, 5, 10, 50, and 100. As you buy more, you save more. Unlike Honest PPE, the smallest option is for KN95 masks are three packs, but it’ll cost you $20 for the set, which comes out to a little less than $7 per mask. For the five-pack, you’ll pay $30, the 10-pack $60, and the 50-pack $299 ( about $6 per mask). The 100-pack is the best deal at $5 per mask, but you’ll also have to shell out $499 for it. Supply on smaller bundles often sell out, but the company continues to have stock sets of 10 or more.
Most will not need 10 or more masks at a time, so the five-pack is probably your best bet without breaking the bank unless you’re splitting them with others (which we recommend as your per-mask cost is much less). And if you’re wondering, these prices aren’t significantly higher than pre-pandemic, and shipping is via three-day air. With the latter, and shipping costs adding another $20 or so to the order, we recommend you buy as many as you can afford to get the best deal.
Out of luck?
If you can’t afford this right now, we still recommend making a homemade cloth mask. Some protection is better than none, of course. The CDC has instructions on how to create one. While they don’t offer a substantial amount of protection, you’re at least lessening your risk of getting sick.
The great thing about these masks is that they’re reusable, and sanitary as long as you follow the proper precautions.