Commercial sources for N95-equivalent masks
August 5, 2020 11:29 PM   Subscribe

What sources exist for getting masks that actually protect the wearer and have been government certified in some way? I prefer masks that have nose bridges and firm edges that actually leave a mark on your face. I've looked at KN95 and Korean KF94 masks. Is anyone in the US actually testing these in real-time to see how bad certain brands are? I am open to buying directly from other countries. I really do not want someone to buy a bogus mask that is worse than useless because of a scammer on eBay.

Grumble grumble failed state etc.
posted by benzenedream to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
N95 Mask Co is NIOSH-certified, CDC-approved, and appears on the FDA list of approved manufacturers. They sell KN95 and N95 masks direct to private citizens through their website. And, as discussed in Rolling Stone (?!) you're not causing problems for hospitals by buying them:
“N95 Mask Co. has and continues to prioritize frontline workers and institutions,” she tells Rolling Stone in an email. “By making our products available to consumers, we are able to maintain a consistent level of production at the factory level, evening out the ebbs and flows inherent to the institutional ordering process. In some rare instances, consumer orders may be delayed for short periods if inventory needs to be reallocated to our institutional customers quickly.”

While the technicalities of supply chain management can be complicated, the short answer is that the more production a company can implement at its factories, the more prepared it will be once hospitals and other government institutions come calling. As a rep for N95 Mask Co. explains: “[The company] needs to make a solid commitment to the factory and to UPS as to exactly how many units will be produced and shipped every day.”
posted by caek at 12:07 AM on August 6, 2020 [7 favorites]

This depends largely what type of purchaser you are? Are you looking for small quantities for individual/ small group use, or more significant quantities for ongoing use by larger organization? For the first case your options are rather limited and you'll need to rely on established retail/ distribution companies to do their diligence. For larger quantities there are companies that have more established manufacturing and supply chain relationships that they are using for protective equipment with applicable certification.
posted by zeikka at 12:26 AM on August 6, 2020

Not sure where my local hospitals are resulting from, but the staff are up in arms over the breakage rates and edict from the top that they canning source their own.

Everything I’m seeing on Amazon specifies “non medical”.
posted by tilde at 5:54 AM on August 6, 2020

I wear reusable (non-disposable) masks from Respro, a UK manufacturer that seems to mostly make masks for commuting and sports in urban environments. According to their website, several are N95 equivalent. Most have one-way valves, but you can block the valves by wearing a coffee filter or similar under the mask if you want. I have one that I bought a few years ago to wear during the fires in California: it worked great for that and I’ve been wearing it during the pandemic as well. Most (all?) of their masks have nose bridges. They come in multiple sizes and mine fits super-tightly. They fasten with Velcro, which feels very secure.

I have a hard time gauging mask effectiveness, but I trust Respro because they’ve been in the business for a long time, masks are the only thing they make, they seem super transparent, and honestly also because they’re expensive. (Not sure that’s a great heuristic but 🤷🏻‍♀️.)

Because demand is so high right now they are only taking orders for a day or two, once in a while. Details are on their site. I ordered some of their new ‘street smart’ N99- equivalent masks about six weeks ago; they were dispatched in less than 24 hours but have been stuck with USPS in Chicago ever since. So you would want to factor USPS into your considerations as well. Good luck :)
posted by Susan PG at 6:03 AM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Everything I’m seeing on Amazon specifies “non medical”.
FWIW, a rep at one of the manufacturers we direct-buy PPE from told me that the only difference between their medical/hospital-grade masks and gloves, and their "Not for medical use" gear is that the former has undergone the expensive and time-consuming certification process for that manufacturing lot, while the latter has not. Same item, produced to the same specs on the same equipment; one has gone through a costly and lengthy certification process, and the other has not.

As it was explained to me, part of the reason for the certification process is a certain amount of ass-covering, so that in, say, a surgery theater, if Something Goes Wrong and perhaps a mask falls apart or a glove tears, the hospital can point to its gloves and masks etc and say "Look, all of our gear is certified to meet the required criteria. If there's fault here, it's not ours." If they were using non-certified gear, it could expose them to liability. (IANAL, just a purchasing guy trying to scrounge for whatever PPE he can get, and make sure it's safe.)
posted by xedrik at 6:48 AM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have had a good experience with this vendor. Their customer service is great. I emailed last night around midnight requesting measurements of the small vs large KN95 and they sent photos back within one minute.

They expressed on their social media ad comments that these masks they are distributing have been approved by the UK for public use of PPE and are made of the same material as NIOSH certified N95 but do not involve the fit test. The masks meet some global standard with a bunch of numbers that sounds like a reference to a clinical study, but I don't remember the exact term.

Someone in another thread here mentioned pulse tv, and we ordered some from them that seem fine. I have been wearing it for hours at a time and don't find breathing laborious, where the gaiter I purchased with the PM 2.5 filter definitely makes it harder to breathe.

The KN95 I wear is probably not a perfect seal but unless you will be in an atomizing environment with a covid positive person, it's my understanding that you don't actually need a perfect seal. YMMV etc.
posted by crunchy potato at 7:43 AM on August 6, 2020

GB2626-2006 is the standard I couldn't remember in my previous comment.
posted by crunchy potato at 7:50 AM on August 6, 2020 seems pretty odd. Can't find a mention of a "Mia Sultan" affiliated with PPE terms anywhere else on the internet other than a Yahoo news article that was.bsically the same Rolling Stone article, whichc read like paid content. If you ordered and got stuff, great, but the whole story about why they sell direct to consumers seems like nonsense.
posted by benzenedream at 8:49 AM on August 6, 2020

The article is sponsored content. The links are paid referrals. Businesses advertise. The "story" about selling to consumers to smooth out the flow of rare, large institutional orders makes sense to me FWIW. The resume or Google footprint of the chief marketing officer is not super relevant IMO.

They're FDA and CDC approved N95s. Here's the paperwork (see "Innonix" or "Respokare" here). If going through that process is a con, it’s a pretty long con. If you don't believe that, or you don't trust the FDA/CDC, then I'm not sure what you're looking for, but I wish you luck.
posted by caek at 9:33 AM on August 6, 2020

Thanks for the link in the first place caek. My response was mostly addressing "you're not causing problems for hospitals by buying them", not disbelief in the masks themselves or certifications. But my original question did not address profiteering so it's a derail.
posted by benzenedream at 9:59 AM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Like you, I was worried about the actual ability of the "N95" masks I bought; I have ones which are marked "N95" and are clearly not and do not function as well as the one N95 I have from the Before Times (I can smell things at the supermarket with the counterfeits; I can't with the real N95).

I have successfully purchased Honeywell H801 KN95 respirator masks from The commonly available KN95 masks are earloop, and I have a big giant head so I prefer the headwrap style. The website shows certification of CDC testing for the Honeywell H801, and Honeywell makes the H801 for the US as a N95. The price has gone up from $400/120 respirators to $135/30 in the past two months. I don't have testing equipment, but it feels like the breathing resistance is similar to the genuine N95 I have for comparison, and the masks are a bit more rigid, which I prefer. I haven't taken them to the supermarket yet because I'm saving them for teaching.

They also sell the 3M 9502+, which is less expensive ($379/100 respirators) but doesn't have CDC testing, though it does have an emergency use authorization. And they sell Honeywell N95 H910+ for $250/50 respirators).
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:37 AM on August 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

MIT and the state of Massachusetts have an ongoing project testing all the KN95 masks they can find. The results so far are not terribly encouraging. The results are here (scroll down to KN95 Respirator Test Results, inexplicably presented as a docx file).
posted by range at 5:38 PM on August 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Might be useful to others: NIOSH fake mask list
posted by benzenedream at 8:18 PM on August 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Got masks from I got the ZYB-11 N95 masks. They took a bit over a week to ship, ship directly from China, and have to go through customs. The CA fires have given an easy chance to test them -- can't smell hardly any smoke in them but when you take them off the smoke smell is overpowering. The elastics are not as good as a pre-COVID 3M mask (not quite as tight, and feel a bit flimsy), the mask itself is a little smaller, and the nose bridge metal tends not to hold shape quite as well as the 3M version. But overall the mask is comfortable and works ok. Cost works out to about $10/mask.
posted by benzenedream at 11:03 AM on August 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

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