Masks, masks, masks
December 24, 2021 4:30 PM   Subscribe

I've been using cloth masks the entire pandemic. Now they say they aren't nearly good enough. But how do people get K95s or whatever else is good enough when you literally cannot afford to buy any? Any suggestions? I live in Chicago. Thank you.
posted by tiny frying pan to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah they’re expensive for sure. You can wear them again and again, so they’re not single use. I wonder if anywhere you frequent might be giving them out? My workplace did for a while. Doctor’s office? Sexual health clinic?
posted by nouvelle-personne at 4:32 PM on December 24, 2021

I use Kn95’s for a rare plane trip or similar trip, grocery stores when numbers are really up. Surgical masks are much cheaper and I would use those with cloth masks over then for work shifts. Surgical masks are also easier to find for free in some places such as store entrances etc
posted by raccoon409 at 4:37 PM on December 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

I reuse my KN95's. The advice is to let them dry out in a paper bag for 5 days in between uses. So I have a few 10-packs and I rotate them from day to day. I can't speak for your wallet and the original cost, but it's not horrible to reuse them.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:39 PM on December 24, 2021 [4 favorites]

Sent you memail
posted by Gorgik at 4:45 PM on December 24, 2021 [5 favorites]

Sent you a memail.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:54 PM on December 24, 2021 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I've noticed masks free in some spots but alarmingly the box often says "non-medical masks" which can't be any better than a cloth mask. If anyone knows where in Chicago or in any city a reliable source for free good masks, I would love if this thread was a resource for more people than me. I am stressing for myself but also for everyone right now. This ride has been rough for everyone but bracing for more difficult days ahead.

Thank you for the responses.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:12 PM on December 24, 2021

Best answer: From what I understand, limited reuse of n95s or k95s, is fine. But the reason the CDC currently recommends them is they have multiple layers of filtration, which can successfully block and catch 95% of all potential air-borne virus, as well as all sorts of other particles: pollution, pollan, etc. They also catch key elements of the virus than the cheaper surgery masks and — and this is key — they fit more snugly, so your pricey new mask is not leaking out the sides.

Those layers can't be washed, and you don't want them to fill up with omicron, other germs and viruses, pollution or pollan, and keep on breathing through it for too long.

I, too, thought the cost of n95s was prohibitively high, especially because they're not reusable. I also thought most of the places you buy them are not very consumer-friendly if you're not a medical professional. The nerve-wracking word on the street is a lot of the masks on Amazon are fake.

So after a lot of fretting about this and a ton of research, I used the reviews on to purchase some Black Powecom ® KN95 Respirator Face Masks at A pack of 10 costs about $10, and I may try to combine them with other masks above or below, so I can wear them longer.
posted by Violet Blue at 5:32 PM on December 24, 2021 [34 favorites]

For people who haven't heard the latest wave of news from the past two days, a lot of advice is emerging to NOT use cloth or surgical masks, as in no, they are not good enough. Recommendations are for 5-layer masks, N95 for medical personnel and KN-95 for everyone else.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:45 PM on December 24, 2021 [4 favorites]

Based on this video I ordered these evergreen kf94 masks. They start at around $1.50 if you buy 10 and are less than a dollar if you buy 50 or 100. He also reviews the masks Violet Blue suggested. I'm not sure why I didn't go with them. I think kn95s were harder to find buy at the time.
posted by phil at 6:34 PM on December 24, 2021

Best answer: This article from Scientific American about why we need to upgrade our facemasks also recommends the Powecon KN95 as well as the South Korean version, KF94.

I went for the Bluna FaceFit: 10 masks for $15 (the white version appears to be sold out currently).
posted by maggiemaggie at 6:40 PM on December 24, 2021 [8 favorites]

I got these from a week or two ago (20 masks for ~$25 with shipping) because of a previous AskMe. Fit well and comfortably, shipped quickly, not prohibitively priced, ugly, faint smell of black licorice, really happy with them.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 7:01 PM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: KN95 have to be labeled as non medical in the US because of very specific testing requirements that N95s have to go by for medical use in a hospital or medical setting. But they offer the same filtration and are certified in other markets. There is info in a bunch of articles about them and how to find real ones if you search. So if you DO have access to KN95, those are being recommended for non medical professionals as hospital staff need access to the N95s.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:44 PM on December 24, 2021 [10 favorites]

KF94s and KN95s are usable up to 40 hours according to Aaron Collins. Also ctrl+f "mask rotation" here.
posted by airmail at 7:44 PM on December 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

Perhaps not at your price point, but I found my local paint shop sells n95 3M aura masks for $20/10. They fit well (though they have back-of-the-head straps to do that, which is an annoyance) and the consensus I found with all these masks is that they are reusable until after the point that the elastic dies if you take care not to contaminate them. I rotate them so that they can dry out and any virus they may capture will die off.

If you can't get or afford that sort of mask, microcovid makes it clear that surgical masks are still better than cloth masks. I believe a surgical mask with a cloth mask over it to pull it tight to your face is considered better still.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 7:48 PM on December 24, 2021 [7 favorites]

Crystalinne has the right answer. You definitely want those "non-medical" KN-95 or KF-94 masks over any cloth mask or surgical mask. If you're worried, based on the source, about counterfeit masks, the packaging usually has a serial number on it that you can look up to make sure they're real.
posted by decathecting at 8:31 PM on December 24, 2021

I ordered some from CT Biotech, which I believe was recommended by someone here on AskMefi.

They have all sorts of actual U.S. certified masks at reasonable prices, like some types of 3M N95s for less than a dollar each if you buy 20. They also have masks meeting other certifications that look pretty good and are usually quite a bit cheaper.

I ended up buying these, which are 0.60 each if you buy 50 and have adjustable headbands which both gives a better fit and also is better for re-use purposes.

I just checked and I ordered 10 of these back in August. I have been using these pretty much exclusively and so you can see they hold up pretty good to reuse. I've still got three of the 10 that haven't even been touched. Obviously I'm not using them for many hours out of the week - if you're using them more, like wearing for hours a day at work, you will go through a lot more, of course, but if you mostly need them for running a few errands a week and a few can last quite a long time. For a lot of people, $30 to buy 50 of these might last a whole year. That's still not $0 but it is lot more realistic for many of us then $3 each for single use masks.

My other mask tip is to use body tape - something like this - across the nose area. I split that tape lengthwise in half - making strips about 1/4 inch wide - and put a strip across the top of the mask from the center of the nose area out across the cheek area on each side. What that does is seals the mask very, very well on the top. Leakage is reduced - and more particularly, fog on the glasses greatly reduced. (I suppose you could use the tape to seal the sides & bottom as well - I haven't tried that.)
posted by flug at 9:12 PM on December 24, 2021 [6 favorites]

Sent you a memail.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 9:23 PM on December 24, 2021

Best answer: When we're talking about N95s, "medical" has a very specific definition related to blocking arterial blood spray during surgery. You cannot easily buy medical/surgical N95s, do not worry about saving them for health care workers - it does not matter. There is currently no shortage of N95s.

The main difference between KN95s and N95s are:

- N95s are required to have headbands, KN95s usually have earloops. Headbands usually stay on your face better, but people find them more annoying to deal with.
- N95s are strictly regulated by the US government, so if you sell ones that don't work correctly, or haven't been certified by the US government, or fake ones, you can be fined/go to jail. So the vast majority of N95s are legitimate (in the US). However, there is no enforcement of standards for KN95 so any company can stamp "KN95" on anything. N95s are generally safer to buy.
posted by meowzilla at 9:25 PM on December 24, 2021 [7 favorites]

FWIW, Amazon has now some Honeywell N95's (not KN95, but American N95s) at 50 for $37.28. That's cheaper than most Korean KF94s
posted by kschang at 11:20 PM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: FWIW, the differences among masks mainly differ on who certified them.

N95 masks are certified by NIOSH. These are meant to be used by industrial professionals in high-dust environments such as wood working and so on, but the filter is also good against aerosol and some virus. In current environment it's good to use in public "just in case".

"Surgical masks" are certified by ASTM and are meant to be used in surgeries, and need to be fluid/splash resistant. These are also different from procedural masks which are covered by less stringent standards, and used for nurses and such for more routine procedures. They are meant to be used by medical professionals, or anyone showing COVID symptoms to protect caretakers around them. They are meant to be immediately disposed of after use, not for wearing all day long. So using them all day long would not be advisable and may not protect you.

Everything else is considered "non-medical masks", which includes the Chinese standard KN95, or Korean KF94, or the generic cloth masks sold on Etsy or clothing retailers such as Old Navy. They are better than nothing, and they are mainly to make sure you don't cough on other people.

Latest guidelines from WHO suggests wearing non-medical masks in all public spaces, indoors or outdoors, if social distancing is not possible, and when meeting strangers, indoors or outdoors, esp if there may not be adequate ventilation.

WHO suggests that medical professional, those who suspected COVID exposure and/or awaiting test results, or have confirmed COVID positive test, should wear medical masks.

Anyone who can be severely affected by COVID (medical jargon: co-morbidity), i.e. "at risk population", should also wear medical masks, regardless of vaccination or booster status.

May as well make it easy and wear a mask most of the time until you arrive at home, and only when there are no visitors. :)
posted by kschang at 11:48 PM on December 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I wouldn't buy masks from Amazon - they've been a notorious outlet for fakes (both for masks specifically and for products in general). And if a mask is "shipped by Amazon" you never actually know who the seller is, even if it seems to be the official one, because Amazon mixes together the stock they get from all the different sellers past and present, including themselves.

Based on recommendations on other Asks I've bought KF94 (Korean) masks before from Kollecteusa. You can get 10-packs for around $13-15 and higher quantities for less per mask, and usually you can also buy masks individually through their Sampler section, though that's sold out at the moment. I bought a few different kinds and I think my favorite has been this, though they've all been fine as far as I can tell. If you have some people to split a large order with you could order enough for free shipping. If not, the regular shipping is around 6.95 to Chicago and in my anecdotal experience was unexpectedly fast (3 days across the country, iirc).

For anyone not in the US, they claim to ship internationally, though I haven't tried this yet.

If price is a serious concern and you want a way to make regular surgical and cloth masks more effective (though still not as effective as the n95-ish masks), there's things like this brace (made at UW Madison) that fits on top of your existing masks and is supposed to help ensure a better seal on your face. I've never tried it, though.
posted by trig at 4:08 AM on December 25, 2021 [11 favorites]

Cloth masks are wildly variable and even pretty good ones are a coarse filter, far better than no filter, but not effective at blocking the extremely fine particles that can also carry Covid virus. Medical masks have a layer that's especially 'sticky' for particles and are better than cloth masks.

Wherever you live, there's a health department that serves your area, call them and ask if they have masks for free, or know of a resource that does.
posted by theora55 at 5:50 AM on December 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

I bought my KN95s in 100 pc/boxes at the outset of the pandemic from a construction tool supply place near me. Maybe you can find someone to go in on a larger order? A tool supply place is the sort of business that relies on repeat customers, so I think they'll be less likely to be dealing in counterfeit junk.
posted by brachiopod at 2:37 PM on December 25, 2021

Best answer: If price is a serious concern and you want a way to make regular surgical and cloth masks more effective (though still not as effective as the n95-ish masks), there's things like this brace (made at UW Madison) that fits on top of your existing masks and is supposed to help ensure a better seal on your face. I've never tried it, though.

I've been using this brace since the beginning of 2021 and have found it to be very comfortable and easy to use. I've found it helpful to assess masks using three parameters: seal around the face, filtration and breathability. The brace greatly improves seal. The other two parameters depend on the mask you use it with. If you use the brace with a mask that has good filtration, it can provide close to an N95 level of protection (there's info on that point in the link trig provided).

In case anyone is reading this in Japan, these are the masks I have been using the brace with (which have very good filtration and breathability):

Link in English:

Yamashin also make very good quality filter sheets, that could be inserted into a cloth mask to improve filtration.

I also use N95s and KF94s depending on the situation, but for general daily use the brace + Yamashin mask is my go to.
posted by mydonkeybenjamin at 4:36 PM on December 25, 2021 [2 favorites]

I should add that the masks I use (Zexeed) are for some reason not listed on Yamashin's English website.
posted by mydonkeybenjamin at 4:46 PM on December 25, 2021

In my experience, when you get a good one, it naturally lasts longer because it's not being constantly adjusted etc. Try the 3M Aura if you can.
posted by slidell at 12:02 AM on December 27, 2021

Best answer: I've been buying these Honeywell N-95s direct from the manufacturer at a really low unit price (less than $0.70 per mask if you get enough to get free shipping). Have given out a bunch through mutual aid in Minneapolis, and have organized a few group buys. They fit my large face and my friend's small face as well.
posted by advicepig at 9:20 AM on December 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

FWIW, the ones I linked above from Amazon were Honeywell N-95s. Theys should be here tomorrow, and I'll report back if it's the genuine item.
posted by kschang at 3:00 AM on December 28, 2021

Response by poster: I want to say thank you to everyone who responded and also especially to several MeFites who offered to send me some masks - much appreciated! I also received a generous donation from another MeFite to buy masks, which I accomplished today from Bona Fide and Zoro. I feel safer already. Have a happy and safe new year everyone!
posted by tiny frying pan at 8:46 AM on December 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: (I promise to pay it forward in the future and share any spares I have with anyone who needs one!)
posted by tiny frying pan at 8:46 AM on December 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

FWIW, the package arrived today, Honeywell H910 Plus 50 pack, SKU DF300H910N95. They are made in China under license from Honeywell by Xiamen Lixia Medical Technology Co Ltd, to NIOSH N95 standards, in December 2020.

Same as the one linked by @advicepig above. Though his price is better. :)
posted by kschang at 4:12 PM on December 28, 2021

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