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Understanding PPE & Masks: Let’s Talk N95 and KN95 

by Expedited PPE |

Before the United States was rocked by the coronavirus pandemic at the beginning of the year, it was highly uncommon for Americans to wander the streets wearing masks. 

Typically, wearing masks is a custom in other countries—specifically, Asian countries—and isn’t a common cultural practice in the states.

Now, in the aftermath of the initial outbreak of the pandemic in the U.S.,  everywhere you turn, people are wearing masks in order to limit the person-to-person spread

And in our opinion, that’s for good reason—masks are instrumental in keeping you (and others) safe.

PPE (personal protective equipment)—a word you may never have heard before this year—is common terminology, a word that’s flowing out of everyone’s mouths, whether they agree with the wearing of masks or not.

But just because PPE, masks, and medical supply products are commonplace and normalized now doesn’t mean they’re any less confusing. If you are feeling out of the loop, a little lost, or totally unsure about PPE, masks, and what the differences between all of them are, know this—you’re not alone.

PPE is a new concept in the U.S., it’s not something many of us are accustomed to. But, with a little information and a lot of options, understanding PPE and masks can be easier than ever.

At Expedited PPE, masks are second nature to us. We’re focused on providing everyone we can with quality, durable, compliant masks that can help as many people as possible stay safe, healthy, and responsible. 

As mask experts, we realize that fancy terminology and tossing around normalized phrases aren’t always the best way to explain masks to people who are brand new to the concept—so we decided to write up this guide to help break down the barriers and the confusion on some of the most common masks out there.

Today, we’re starting with the N95 Mask and the KN95 mask. 

We know, we know—with such similar (and weird) names it sounds pretty complicated. But, trust us, once we dive into it, you’ll get the hang of masks in no time. 



What is the N95 Mask?

The N95 Respirator Mask is a type of PPE mask that is intended to reduce a wearers’ exposure to particles like small particle aerosols and large droplets. 

The N95 face intended to be tight-fitting in order to do what it does best (and what it was named for)—to filter out at least 95% of airborne particles (including large and small). See where the 95 comes from?

Essentially, the N95 masks are the U.S. standard for respirator masks and meet the long list of requirements from the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 

Here’s some more helpful information about the N95 mask:

  • The N95 mask is intended for nurses, first responders, and those with the highest exposure potentials 
  • This mask is FDA Cleared & NIOSH Approved—only masks that have a minimal level of filtration are approved by NIOSH (The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health)
  •  The N95 is meant to be used by those who have the highest exposure potential—in other words, those who have close contact with COVID-19 patients and the highest contamination risk
  • This type of PPE is best used with other medical supply products like face shields, gowns, goggles, protective suits, gloves, and more 

In summary, the N95 mask is one of the most vital pieces of PPE and protects those with the highest risk of exposure. 



What is the KN95 Mask? 

With such similar names, you might think these masks are identical. While they’re not technically the same, they do have several similarities. A KN95 mask also is rated to filter 95% of particles but it is regulated by the Chinese government under their own regulations. 

In April, though—in an effort to expand the availability of general use face masks—the FDA issued guidance authorizing the use of KN95 face masks as a suitable, compliant alternative to the NIOSH approved masks. 

While these masks are thought to do very similar things as the N95s, they have not been NIOSH approved and therefore cannot be used by doctors, nurses, and health experts as their go-to PPE. 

Here’s a little more helpful information about the KN95 mask: 

  • This mask is intended for those who come into regular contact with people every day but don’t necessarily work directly with COVID-19 patients, such as bus and delivery drivers, restaurant staff, janitors, store staff, bank tellers, cashiers, and more
  • The KN95 mask was listed under the FDA EUA on April 4, 2020
  • These masks should be used by those who have a moderate exposure potential and have jobs that may or may not put them in contact with people who have the virus
  • Other PPE that can be worn in conjunction includes face shields and gloves


Still have questions about the differences between these two types of masks? Interested in learning even more about the other types of PPE available? Are you hoping to select the type of PPE that makes the most sense for you, your line of work, and keeping yourself (and those around you) safe? 

Then you’re in the right place.

We encourage you to check out our online learning center right here.

Still have questions? That’s fine with us. Reach out directly to Expedited PPE right here to ask any questions you might have—from shipping inquiries to specific product questions, we’ve got the answers you’re looking for! 

Remember, no mask can ensure that you’re invincible, but when you choose to wear PPE—especially quality, durable, and compliant PPE—you’re choosing to protect yourself, your loved ones, and everyone else around you. 



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