As demand for face masks has soared amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there are now several different styles and options to consider. From homemade to surgical, reusable to disposable, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all of the choices. So what is the difference between an N95 or KN95 face mask and the alternatives? And which should you be using to protect yourself and your family? Here’s the breakdown:


n95 face mask


Alternative Face Masks

There are a few face mask recommendations that offer basic coverage. Let’s take a look at the most common options: surgical masks and homemade masks.


Surgical Face Masks

Surgical face masks are disposable, loose-fitting masks that cover the nose, mouth, and chin. These are the masks that we typically think of when we imagine doctors, nurses, and dentists. They are intended for use by surgeons to avoid spreading germs to the patient during surgery. Surgical masks can only be used once and should be safely discarded after use.

When worn correctly, surgical masks can help block large-particle droplets that contain viruses and bacteria, keeping them from reaching your nose and mouth. And they help to reduce the spread of your respiratory secretions and saliva to others.

The problem with surgical masks is that they don’t filter very small particles in the air that spread through sneezing and coughing (like COVID-19). Because they fit loosely, they leave a lot of room for error, allowing germs and other contaminants to get in.


Homemade Face Masks

The CDC is now recommending that everyone wear a homemade face mask in public places like grocery stores and pharmacies. This could be any sort of cloth that covers your mouth and nose. It could be a t-shirt, bandana, or if you’re really crafty, you can sew some pieces of cotton and fabric together to make your own design. They are reusable and can be thrown in the washing machine to clean after each use.

The idea here is that a homemade mask is better than nothing. They offer minimal protection against coronavirus, but minimal is still better than zero. And since there is a shortage of medical-grade masks, the CDC is urging us to save those masks for healthcare professionals, and protect ourselves however we can. It is still crucial to follow the other guidelines like social distancing and washing our hands.

While both homemade and surgical masks provide basic protection, and they are better than using nothing at all, there is a better mask available.


Man wearing a surgical face mask


N95 & KN95 Face Masks

N95 & KN95 face masks (or respirators) are tightly-fitting masks that filter out 95 percent of very small particles in the air. They are recommended for healthcare providers working directly with COVID-19 patients. Because of their tight fit around the mouth and nose, as well as the very effective filtration system, these masks can protect against coronavirus.

While they are not 100% effective, these are the best face masks to protect yourself and your family against coronavirus. 


N95 and KN95 Masks vs. Alternatives

While the alternative face masks (like surgical masks and homemade masks) provide basic coverage against the virus, N95 and KN95 masks are highly superior and will offer the best chance against contracting coronavirus.


How to Protect Your Family Against COVID-19

If you truly want to protect yourself and your family against coronavirus, it is important to follow all safety measures. Stay home as much as possible! Wear an N95 when you must go outside. Practice social distancing. Avoid touching your face. Wash your hands frequently, and use hand sanitizer. If you follow all of these safety guidelines, you will likely stay safe from the virus.

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