Please ELI5 where to buy an N95 or KN95 face mask online.
September 20, 2021 1:47 PM   Subscribe

It is September 2021. Please explain like I'm five where to buy an N95 or KN95 face mask online that ships to the U.S., that is approved by the CDC or FDA, and is not counterfeit.

There is a lot of information online about which manufacturers have emergency use authorization from the FDA (or CDC?) and then it's later revoked. (And what's the difference between the FDA and CDC recommendations anyway? Should I be looking to one instead of the other? Who knows!) Then there are articles about how to spot counterfeit masks. I've seen videos showing how to pour water through your mask to test it (Are you supposed to do that? Wouldn't it mess up the mask even if it didn't leak?) And there's another government entity (NIOSH) that is involved somehow? Also, there are N95s marked "medical" or "surgical" and some are not? etc etc

I'm overwhelmed and confused and don't want to be cross-referencing a bunch of possibly out-of-date websites to figure this out. I also don't want to get into the weeds of FDA vs CDC vs NIOSH approval. Please just give me a link to an online retailer who has done all this work already and will take my money in exchange for a genuine N95 or KN95 mask that has been deemed acceptable for protection from Coronavirus by the appropriate health agency.

Bonus question: will a KF94 meet the criteria above? If so, please let me know where I can find those too.

posted by fozzie_bear to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
I got this from a previous ask. Zoro is the small business/residential arm of Grainger, who certainly sources their masks directly from 3M.
posted by hwyengr at 1:58 PM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Seconding Zoro. Shipping is FedEx ground, which is slow compared to Amazon, but my confidence is much higher. They have several types in stock depending on your preference.
posted by wnissen at 2:05 PM on September 20, 2021

Protectly in Oregon says they have US made N95 masks in stock now. I ordered from them back in January during the big rush, and shipping to the midwest was pretty darn quick.
posted by soundguy99 at 2:07 PM on September 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

I have ordered kn95 masks from WellBefore which was previously called Honest PPE. The shipping was quick and the masks are individually wrapped. They also sell NIOSH approved N95 masks and the 3D KF94 style masks--the ones they sell are made in China rather than Korea, so are certified to the KN95 standard (KF94 stands for Korean filter, 94% and the ones made in Korea should have a certification from the Korean food and drug ministry; kn95 is the Chinese standard). I find the KF94 style masks more comfortable to wear since they have extra space between my mouth and the mask but still make a good seal with and adjustable nose piece and ear loops.
posted by danielleh at 2:12 PM on September 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

Grainger is what you want. They're a big industrial supplier, and an authorized distributer of 3M products. You probably want the 3M 8200 or 8210 N95 masks. If you get the 8210 there's even a code on the box you can verify with 3M. I trust their supply chain much more than amazon.

They're also cheap - about $1/mask.
posted by unix at 2:34 PM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Zoro is good, so is Bona Fide Masks which sell KN95 in both black and white, with both earloops and headbands. For KF94s, both Be Healthy USA and Kollecte are good sources.

Not all N95s fit the same, and if a mask doesn't properly fit against your face without any gaps, it will not be filtering anywhere near 95%. The vast majority of N95s are fit against large American (aka white) male faces, so there is a lot of interest in KF94s which are designed against a different population (Korean) and designed to be used by the general population as pollution masks. So they come in a much greater range of sizes.

KF94s also usually much easier to breathe through (without losing any filtration ability), probably better than any N95 that isn't made by the three biggest N95 companies (3M, Honeywell, and Moldex).

In response to your other questions:

The whole "emergency authorization" stuff is from early pandemic and is intended for people whose jobs require them to explicitly wear an N95. It's more for people who work in hospitals, construction, factories, and mining. If N95s are not available then these workers are technically not allowed to work without the companies being heavily fined for lack of safety equipment. The emergency authorization says that these KN95s have been tested and are roughly equivalent to the American N95 standard and we'll allow you to issue them to your workers. The recent revocation is not about the quality of KN95s but more about the increased supply of N95s in the market.

NIOSH is a division of the CDC who does all the mask testing. They are the only people in the entire United States that is allowed to say that this mask is certified to the N95 standard, and so is allowed to be used in workplace environments to filter out particulates.

Medical/surgical masks mean that the N95 has another fluid-resistant layer that's designed to protect against fluid sprays. But don't think of that as a cough; think of it more like open arterial spray that you're not likely to experience in normal life.

Ignore all the tests about how to make sure your mask is a "real" N95. Pouring water in an N95 will indeed destroy its filtering capabilities. Being unable to blow out a candle means that the mask is hard to breathe through, or your lungs are weak - it doesn't say anything about the mask's ability to filter. Also, N95s are incredibly cheaply made, far below the standard of consumer goods. I have authentic 3M N95s where the printing is fuzzy and the straps break if you pull on them a little hard. These are designed to be disposable, literally thrown away after a single use. 3M's MSRP (N95 Respirator Pricing) is very low but usually requires you to buy in boxes of 20 or 50.
posted by meowzilla at 2:45 PM on September 20, 2021 [21 favorites]

What I did was look on 3M's page for their "aura," which had a link to a couple of buying options. But I didn't need like 500 of them, so I went to Industrial Safety Products' website and searched there, where I found they're also selling them in boxes of 50.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:17 PM on September 20, 2021

To be clear, "aura" is a model of n95 mask. I wasn't looking for metaphysical or astral qualities of the company.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:18 PM on September 20, 2021 [24 favorites]

I bought these Honeywell N95 masks directly from the manufacturer. $25 for a box of 20.
posted by mbrubeck at 4:06 PM on September 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

I use the same ones as mbrubeck and buying right from Honeywell gives me confidence that it’s not a fake.
posted by advicepig at 5:10 PM on September 20, 2021

McMaster-Carr sells a variety of nice N95 masks with good availability in the $1-$2/mask price range. I like these, which are actually Moldex 2600N95. (Not listing the brand and model even for name-brand products is a McMaster-Carr quirk.)

McMaster-Carr is a respected industrial supplier, and I trust them to keep counterfeits out of their supply chain.
posted by musicinmybrain at 6:49 PM on September 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have ordered kn95 masks from WellBefore which was previously called Honest PPE.

I have also ordered from WellBefore, twice now. It's convenient when you want to try a few different types of N95 masks because you have yet to find the perfect fit.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:51 PM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

DemeTECH is a manufacturer local to me that sells many styles of NIOSH-approved respirators directly.
posted by wierdo at 8:34 PM on September 20, 2021

I use the Wirecutter recommended Powecom KN95s, which you may be able to purchase for in-store pickup from your local Office Depot (though the ones in my area seem to be sold out at present).
posted by mumkin at 9:37 PM on September 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've been using Powecoms from and that's been fine for me. They show up in a week or so and are reasonably priced and vetted.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:52 PM on September 20, 2021

N95 masks made in the US.
posted by coberh at 10:57 PM on September 20, 2021

I've had good success ordering fromBrooklyn Equipment. They ship promptly.

I've been wearing the order of 3M Aura's I bought from them a few weeks ago and they've been great, a real step up from the Powecoms that I'd been getting from them previously. The Auras have a sturdy, soft nose bridge and a horizontally folding design which I much prefer, and they feel a bit easier to breathe in.
posted by BungaDunga at 8:56 AM on September 21, 2021

(The 3Ms I got were individually-wrapped in 3M-branded plastic, but in a plastic bag and not an official 3M box. I believe that's because 3M sells them in pallets of like 500 at a time, so resellers have to repackage them. No indication of being counterfeit or anything)
posted by BungaDunga at 9:04 AM on September 21, 2021

I've used both the previously mentioned powecoms (I prefer the headband model for a tighter fit), as well as recently ordering a box of these Honeywell NIOSH-approved surgical N95s directly from Honeywell (intended use for these is an unavoidable upcoming cross-country flight, where I figure I'll be wearing it for ~8 hours, thus the desire for "direct from manufacturer NIOSH approved option".)
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:08 PM on September 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have purchased from and can recommend Project N95. "Project N95 is a national non profit focused on providing the resources needed for you to live and work safely in your community through the Covid pandemic. Search below for vetted masks, respirators, home-testing equipment and so much more."
posted by Avalow at 9:36 AM on September 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Beware of the black Powecom KN95 headband style masks from elastic is too short and breaks away even when putting them on carefully.
posted by Scram at 5:55 PM on December 21, 2021

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