Which N95 masks are best?
We’re all now familiar with face masks, and many people continue to rely on N95 masks to keep them protected from illness, smoke, dust, pollen and more. The best, most effective N95 mask keeps the wearer safe from potentially hazardous or unhealthy conditions while helping keep others around them safe from any infectious virus the wearer might have.
There are several factors to consider when choosing the best N95 mask. If you are looking for a secure and breathable option, the Kimberly-Clark Professional N95 Pouch Respirator is great at providing protection from small airborne particles. Not all N95 masks are made with the same quality, which is why it is important to research a few main features so you can make an informed decision. To see the full N95 mask review, visit the BestReviews buying guide.
What to know before you buy an N95 mask
Why wear an N95 mask?
Many people choose to wear an N95 mask as a way to reduce exposure to harmful viruses such as COVID-19, influenza and other airborne viruses. Masks are worn in both medical and public settings.
Those who live in areas that often have wildfire smoke also would benefit from an N95 respirator mask. Due to filtering out both large and small particles, an N95 can help those suffering from respiratory issues avoid problems and irritation caused by smoke and ash.
Others may wear an N95 mask when working in dusty conditions, usually in construction zones or similar environments, to reduce the inhalation of fine particles. N95 masks can even be beneficial for those suffering from seasonal allergies, which is why some people may benefit from wearing an N95 mask while mowing their lawns or performing other types of outdoor maintenance.
How an N95 mask works
An N95 respirator mask uses multiple non-woven layers usually consisting of polypropylene along with other synthetic polymer fibers. These layers, in conjunction with an electrostatic component, help block at least 95 percent of airborne particles and liquid droplets with a diameter greater than .3 microns.
The “N” in the name refers to the mask’s “non-oil” designation, meaning it is not designed for use against oil-based particles. Those looking for protection against chemicals and vapors should use a different style of mask.
When choosing an N95 mask, look for a model that features an NIOSH certification. Those that do not sport an official rating are not guaranteed to filter out the maximum amount of airborne particulates.
What to look for in a quality N95 mask
The seal surrounding the wearer’s nose and mouth should be tight enough so there are no noticeable gaps around the edge. This will allow the air to flow mainly through the filtered layers, providing the most comprehensive protection.
When wearing an N95 mask, it is important to have adequate positive and negative pressure, which is dependent on the quality of the seal. You can check the pressure of your mask by watching to see if the mask itself bends slightly inward on deep inhales and outward on exhales.
Some N95 masks may feature a respirator valve designed to maintain negative and positive pressure while making it easier for the wearer to exhale. Masks featuring a valve are great for protecting the wearer and can be more comfortable for prolonged periods. However, they don’t prevent the expulsion of viral particles into the surrounding air, which can make them ineffective in crowded areas and situations where you’ll be around other exposed people.
Along with the seal, the overall fit of your N95 mask is important. The best N95 masks sometimes feature adjustable elastic straps so you can securely attach them around your ears or back of your head.
Aside from the straps, look for models that feature an adjustable nose piece. Most will be made of bendable metal to help create a tighter and more comfortable seal around the lower half of your face.
Having multiple layers allows your N95 mask to filter out the maximum amount of harmful droplets, particles and dust. Some N95 face mask models include more advanced layers such as a carbon filter, helping to neutralize certain odors.
How much you can expect to spend on an N95 mask
Many N95 masks are sold in bulk packs that range from approximately $10-$40 or more depending on quantity and quality. Individually, N95 masks usually cost $1-$3.
N95 mask FAQ
Can you reuse an N95 mask?
A. The majority of N95 face masks are designed to be thrown away after each use. However, in times of shortage or in emergency situations, you often can reuse them for a limited duration, and they potentially can be decontaminated under certain circumstances.
Can I wear an N95 mask if I have a beard?
A. Facial hair such as beards, mustaches and goatees can have a negative effect on the quality of the seal. If there is too much hair, the mask often does not provide an effective barrier.
What’s the best N95 mask to buy?
Top N95 mask
What you need to know: This bulk pack of breathable N95 respirator masks comes with 50 individual masks, for those who think they need to wear one often.
What you’ll love: Users will appreciate the NIOSH approval as well as the double elastic bands and customizable nose piece to conform to individual face shape. These are known for creating a tight seal.
What you should consider: Some people won’t like the bulky shape of the mask.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top N95 for the money
What you need to know: Designed with a respirator valve, these N95 masks are meant specifically for those who want protection while working in construction zones or while sanding, sawing, sweeping or performing similar activities.
What you’ll love: You won’t end up overheating in these masks, as the valve helps create a cooling airflow compared to standard masks. The bendable nose strip allows you to achieve a comfortable and secure fit.
What you should consider: The strap design may cause confusion among first-time wearers.
Worth checking out
What you need to know: The AccuMed N95 face mask is a great everyday option that can protect you from a variety of airborne particles and pollutants.
What you’ll love: Employing five layers of protection, this comfortable mask easily stores when not in use and utilizes double headband straps that prevent the mask from sliding up and down.
What you should consider: The overall breathability isn’t as ideal as other options.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Matthew Young writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.