Regardless of the mask (even if it’s an N95), everything boils down to a good fit. Make sure that your mask forms a seal around your face without any gaps, stays on easily, doesn’t inhibit your breathing, and includes multiple layers of material to protect you. For added security, you can still double up with a cloth mask on top of your paper mask, or add a filter.
Anything else that’s worth knowing?
Since all of these masks are disposable and meant to be single-use “wear it and toss it” masks, you might wonder how long you can safely wear a mask without taking it off during the day, or if it’s safe to rewear more than once. It’s certainly more cost-effective, and the CDC notes that you can reuse a paper mask so long as you’re going about it the right way.
First, know that the more often you wear the same mask, the more you’re compromising the fit and the filtration quality: You might notice your straps getting a little flimsier or the mask not adhering to your face well.
But if you’re willing to stretch your limits a little, CDC guidelines for health-care facilities state that the same respirator mask can be worn up to five times before throwing it out. It doesn’t put a specific number on hours of continuous use, but suggested using your best judgment if it gets contaminated or dusty.
You can keep a mask clean by storing it in a paper bag in between uses, but to disinfect it, research from Columbia University shows that heating it in the oven at 175 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 degrees will kill any germs without burning it to a crisp or affecting its filtration efficacy. Whatever your chosen method, just try to avoid touching the front of the mask while handling it and remember to wash those hands.
Kimberly Clark’s N95 is a NIOSH-approved mask for non-medical use that features a duck bill silhouette with one colorful stretchy strap that fits over your head. There’s a nice pocket of space in front of your mouth for added breathability. It’s sold in one of the most affordable N95 packs we’re seeing for sale these days, though prices are constantly fluctuating. If you struggle with finding a close fit on these, Kimberly-Clark also sells a smaller version for the same price.
Jackson Safety sells a similar version to the Kimberly Clark model above, with a duck bill-style respirator that secures itself behind your head with two extra-wide straps. It’s NIOSH-certified and claims to be “the most comfortable N95 mask you’ll find” due to its soft lining, though we’ve yet to try it ourselves.
Amcrest sells all-white, NIOSH-approved masks that fit like a cup around your nose and mouth, with a nose clip for keeping them from slipping down. They were already pretty cheap, but on sale, you’re looking at spending less than a dollar per mask.
Fangtian’s NIOSH-certified masks include four layers of protection, an adjustable nose clip, and flexible straps for securing them on your face.
Nicely, this NIOSH-approved, four-layer Benehal mask includes a soft foam inner nose piece that won’t rub up against your nose area, and an adjustable metal piece on the outside to keep it sitting in the right place. The soft elastic straps on it are also secured by green clips on the side for a little extra visual appeal.
Aegle’s five-layer N95s are made by a company based in Brookshire, Texas. Its masks come in 50-packs, and offer five layers of protection. There’s also plenty of anti-counterfeit information on the packaging to confirm that you’re buying a legit NIOSH-certified mask, and not some fake.
Protective Health Gear
If you’re stocking up in bulk, Protective Health Gear’s NIOSH-approved masks — with foam padding that contours around your face—ship in 50-packs.
3M’s N95 face masks got the green light from NIOSH, too: You can adjust the placement thanks to the two straps that circle your head, and there’s a little pocket of space in the front of your mouth for added breathability.
Vida’s been making high-quality masks since the very start of the pandemic, and more recently started selling disposable masks like these N95s that are NIOSH-certified and come in a handsome blue color for kids and adults.
Hotodeal’s surgical-style masks were formerly FDA-authorized for emergency use. Each comes with an adjustable nose clip for securing the mask in place, and offers five layers of protection.
If you prefer brights over neutrals, these KN95s (which were previously FDA-authorized for emergency use) come in a multi-pack of colors.
Here’s another multi-pack of five-ply masks that’s designed for larger faces, and come in a multitude of colors so you can rotate them out.
Here’s a pretty great deal on KN95s if you’re buying in bulk. Byd Care is selling a 50-pack of KN95s for just $24, which nets out to less than 50 cents per mask.
Vida also makes five-layer surgical-style masks in brights and neutrals that you can buy in bulk (up to 1,000 masks at a time).
Supplyaid sells its five-ply surgical-style masks in packs of black or white. Conveniently, you can buy them online or shop them in person at your local Home Depot.
Maskc (pronounced “Mask-see”) surgical-style masks offer five layers of protection, with an adjustable nose bridge for a more secure fit. The brand has restocked a bunch of styles recently and expanded them to include everything from plaid and floral KN95s to splashy tie-dyes and subdued pastels like these.
Evolvetogether’s masks include its signature geographic coordinates in the corner. These masks offer six layers of protection, along with added charcoal in there that the brand claims helps with mask odor. Styles are finally back in stock, if you’ve been eyeing some.
Or, you can shop them in a variety pack of solid colors.
If prints are more your speed, mask and accessory brand D’Aire makes its N95s in prints (like these polka dots) and solids, though you can currently only buy them only in sets of three.
As we mentioned, KF9N4s are Korean masks, so they are Certified by Korean standards, but most of them only entered the market late in the pandemic, and haven’t been up for approval by the NIOSH or FDA. Here are a couple well-reviewed options to peruse.
Flax’s KF94s offer four-layer protection in soft fabrics and individual packaging.
Dr. Puri’s masks are selling out quickly, but you can still find medium and large sizes for adults in white and black colors.
Good Day Korea
Here’s another well-reviewed KF94 model that we like for its secure fit and comfortable ear loops.
Good Day Korea also makes kids-sized versions of the same masks. We’ve tested them first-hand and found them to be a great for smaller faces (without needing to make adjustments), whether for children or adults.
And here’s one that’s better suited for kids and people with small faces. It includes four layers of protection and comes in cute cat-themed packaging for children.
Kleannara’s masks offer four layers of protection, and come very well-reviewed. Shoppers (nearly 900 of them) appreciate that these are so breathable and comfortable, with a bendable nose area for forming a tight seal around your face. If you’re shopping in bulk, Kleannara also sells a 30-pack box for about $1 a mask.
Vida’s KF94 masks come in an assortment of colors for kids and adults (and you can even shop them in bulk!).