Looking for high-filtration face masks for your family, but not sure where to start? Whether you’re looking for N95, KN95, or KF94 masks for adults or kids, we’ve got you covered in this post with our favorite high-quality face masks for families!
Masks. sigh. After first writing about the pandemic just shy of two years ago, I had hoped we wouldn’t still be in the thick of it years later. Alas, here we are. Covid-19 is sadly still raging. We’re now faced with the most contagious version of this terrible virus to date and it’s abundantly clear that high-quality face makes are incredibly important. After all, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
For those that may be new here, my husband is a Professor of Immunology & Virology and I’m a former high school biology teacher. Some of our dearest friends are doctors and nurses who have been seeing the worst this insidious disease inside our hospitals. As such, our family has been very serious about the pandemic and cautious in our approach to pandemic life.
We’ve been sharing all about it and educating others where possible since early March 2020. While masks have been a common accessory for us almost since the pandemic began, we’ve found ourselves getting asked A LOT more mask questions lately – especially with the Omicron variant. So to make it easy for everyone, I decided to just put everything here in one place – sharing our favorite high-quality face masks for families!
What’s Considered a “High-Quality” Face Mask?
What I’m calling “high quality” could be used interchangeably with “high filtration” or “medical-grade masks”. These sorts of masks are sometimes also called “respirator style”. Essentially, we’re talking about masks that have high filtration, meaning that the mask performs well at blocking a high percentage of particles. Part of that is due to being made with multiple layers of filters. Most high-filtration masks are usually 5-layer protection. Unlike surgical masks, high filtration masks are designed to seal around the face (thus protecting the wearer from inhaling particles).
In fact, we did an experiment about this for Little Brother’s science fair project last year. It was abundantly clear that not all face coverings are created equal (neck gaiters are a big no). The high-filtration KN95 mask clearly out-performed everything else.
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After conducting that little experiment (combined with everything we had read from experts), we switched to high quality masks almost exclusively. For us, that has meant wearing N95, KN95, or KF94 masks almost exclusively. Contrary to popular belief, many of these high-quality masks are actually easier to breathe in than many cloth masks.
Which Masks – N95s, KN95s, or KF94s?
All of these are considered high-filtration masks. They differ both in style (shape, etc) and in certification standards. N95 is the standard in the USA, KN95 is the Chinese standard, and KF94 is the Korean standard. There’s also the FFP2 is the European standard, but we haven’t personally tried any specific FFp2 standard masks.
All reputable versions of these masks are very similar in their filtration capabilities. N95s secure to the head with straps that actually go over your head; whereas the KN95 and KF94 have ear loops that go around the ear. The shapes/style of all 3 can differ some and people all have different opinions about what is most comfortable and fits best (relative to face size, nose shape, jaw shape, breathability, etc).
In the photo above, the adults are wearing KN95s and the kids are wearing N95s (when this photo was taken – the adults were vaccinated, but the kids had not yet had the opportunity). None of the N95s we’ve seen are specifically made for kids. However, we’ve found that ones they are wearing (shared below) work really well on a variety of face sizes. There are numerous companies making the KN95 and KF94 styles specifically for kids and smaller faces.
High Filtration Masks Pros & Cons
The obvious pro is the most important for us personally – protection. It’s clear that high filtration masks offer the best protection against aerosols/airborne particles- both from expelling them to everyone around you (and potentially infecting others) and from breathing others’ in. The goal is not breathing in other people’s respiratory droplets or sharing yours with others. That’s what these high-filtration masks really help do.
And this is of course, on top of protection from vaccines! Combining high-quality face masks with being fully vaccinated offers us the best protection from being infected and from severe outcomes. Both of those are things we’d really like to avoid. So, the protection for us outweighs any cons at this stage. But there are indeed some cons.
One downside is that these masks are disposable. While you can often get more than a single day’s use out of these high-filtration masks (more on reusing at the end of the post), they are not washable like cloth masks. So, there is a lot more waste with these. I hate that from an environmental perspective. But we need the high-quality protection right now to saves lives.
Price can also be prohibitive for many. With most high-quality disposable masks costing between $1 and $2 a piece, the cost adds up quickly, especially for families. We’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on masks at this point. That is not a luxury that every family has. So, we’re really hoping to see some more affordable or free options for people on these.
The other big concern right now has to do with availability and authenticity. Finding reputable options can be hard. Sometimes even harder right now is finding them in stock at all. Patience and persistence is key!
How to Find Reputable High-Quality Face Masks?
Finding reputable masks is hugely important to us. No one likes to spend money on a product, especially one for safety, only to find it doesn’t work as promised. So, we’ve been concerned about counterfeit masks since our first purchase. That concern is why we personally have never ordered our masks from places like Amazon. In fact, according to the CDC, 60% of KN95 masks that NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) evaluated did not meet the standards! Ugh!
So, we’ve tried to vet the vendors, tried looking up companies with NIOSH approval, the FDA approval, etc. But it is super time-consuming to attempt to vet everything. Then, I finally heard about Aaron Collins, The Mask Nerd, on social media. He started testing masks to see how good the filtration & quality really are and compiled all of his data for everyone. So, now we check everything on his lists first to help us determine if a particular mask may be worth trying. You can click the links below to view his spreadsheets to see what he’s tested (note: if you scroll all the way over to the right, you will find links to reputable places to buy):
- Mask Nerd Master List for Masks (mostly for teen/adult sizes)
- Mask Nerd Kid Masks Summary (mostly for ages 2-12)
Every mask distributer and manufacturer is not on there. But his lists (and YouTube videos) are great starting points. Projectn95 is also a great resource! This non-profit vets everything they recommend. Their mission is to “protect communities and the people who live and work in them by providing equitable access to the resources they need to stay safe through the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Our Family’s Favorite High-Quality Masks
Now that we’ve covered the basics, I’m sharing our family’s favorite face masks below (ordered by type). A few caveats first…
We are not medical doctors and this is not medical advice. What our family likes best may NOT be what’s best for your family. For example, my kids greatly prefer KN95s. One of my best friend’s kids greatly prefer KF94s. Mask preferences are all impacted by face shape, face size, personal feelings of comfort, personal sensory things, etc.
We are simply sharing our personal recommendation. These are the masks that we wear and like best based on personal preferences and the research done by actual experts (not us!). The list comes with over a year of A LOT of trial and error (we’ve tried A LOT of masks) and money spent trying different things to find the best options for us.
At this point, we’ve spent many hundreds of dollars on masks. Some have been great, some we haven’t liked as much. So, everything you find us sharing here are masks that we have personally purchased, worn, vetted to the best of our ability, and actually like.Hopefully it will give you some ideas of places to try and masks that might work well for your family.
For your reference as you look through our picks, at the time of writing this our family has a 14.5 year old, an 11.5 year old, and a 9.5 year old. All are about average size-wise for their age, with fairly petite faces in the nose/mouth area. I’m only 5’3″ so youth sizes sometimes work for me. Mr. Mom Endeavors on the other hand is 6’4″. So, we have some varying sizes here.
Below are the two N95 masks that we have here and like best. Both are NIOSH approved for at least 95 percent filtration efficiency (and the Mask Nerd’s tests did back up that rating)! The links for these below are to the mask manufacturer sites. From there, you can see who official mask distributers are and go from there.
3M Aura N95
Our absolute favorite N95 mask is the 3M™ Aura™ Particulate Respirator 9205+. This one scores over 99% for filtration efficiency on the Mask Nerd’s tests. And it is one I’m seeing worn frequently by doctors and nurses in social media posts. We like like soft spongy nose grip that helps it fit a variety of faces. While it wasn’t designed for a 9 year old’s face, we found that it was able to fit on the kids really well.
It’s the mask the younger boys were wearing in the group photo above – the only mask they wore out in situations of potential high exposure before being vaccinated. It’s also our mask of choice when going into doctors offices or hospitals. I actually spent a night in the ER this fall (I’m fine) and both Mr. Mom Endeavors & I wore this mask – as did my nurse in the hospital!!
Both Mr. Mom Endeavors and I do find that if wearing this one for a long time, it does start to push/get a little uncomfortable on our nose bridges. But, it was a minor discomfort for us. If you need high level protection, we highly recommend this one!Another nice thing about the 3M Aura is that it can actually be easier to find – even at places like Home Improvement stores. So, you may be able to put in for a curbside pickup at Lowe’s or Home Depot and have them today!
The Respokare® NIOSH N95 Respirator Plus is the other N95 mask we have here. The shape and feel is a little more reminiscent of a KN95, but it does have straps that go over the head like the other N95 models. For me, it’s not as comfortable as the 3M Aura but it does get a VERY tight seal for me on my face. In fact, for seal, this one is the tightest for me of any mask I’ve tried. In the Mask Nerd’s tests, this one scored a 98.3% for filtration efficiency.
Favorite KN95s for Adults
KN95s (specifically the cone-shaped masks) have been our personal favorites (both for the kids and the adults) and our main go-to for approaching two years now. We haven’t found huge variability with the fit on these, so really, as long as you’re buying from a reputable manufacturer/distributor, you should be good to go. But here’s our picks:
The Lutema M95i is essentially a KN95, but instead of being made/tested in China, its been tested by Nelson and Eurofins Labs, independent US based laboratories. There is the real risk of KN95s made in China that are counterfeit – or having some of the fit issues like the the FLTR masks above. So this is a highly rated option that helps to avoid that. According to Mask Nerd, the filtration efficacy rating as worn on these masks is over 97% and with a good nose clip pinch, it does reach the 99%.
FLTR KN95 (from Costco)
These have been the best value we’ve found on reputable KN95s. We’ve bought them multiple times from Costco for about $60 for a box of 100. The last time they had them in stock in 2021, you didn’t have to be a member to purchase online either. So, these were accessible to everyone. The downside is that Costco has had trouble keeping them in stock. So, at various times, they’ve been impossible to find.
According to Mask Nerd, just a basic “as worn” with this one yields only 84.5% filter efficiency, due to the nose bridge. But with a good nose clip pinch, it goes up to 99%. So, the material on these are really good, but the sub-par nose bridge makes it a little tougher to get a great seal. His test was in the Fall of 2020. So, it’s possible the nose bridge has been improved, but I’m not sure on that.
We have found that you do really need to really pinch the nose bridge to get a better seal on these. So, these may not be the absolute best mask. But, if you need a cost effective option that still provides some good protection in general (and you can actually find these in stock at Costco) or you want a big pack of masks, these may be a good option for people. They certainly perform much MUCH better than something like a single layer cloth mask or a surgical mask!
I personally find these to be a little large for my face (and thus are a little big on the younger boys). But they fit Mr. Mom Endeavors pretty well and these are actually Big Brother’s favorites. Desperately hoping not to jinx it, Big Brother has worn one of these every single day to high school (at a high school wear there is no mask mandate and very few people are masked) and he’s manage to remain Covid-free the entire pandemic so far.
Favorite KN95s for Kids
Finding high-quality masks for kids has been the trickiest thing honestly. And we’ve finally found a few really great options!The Mask Nerd Kid Masks Spreadsheet has been such a help in deciding on options to try.
The WellBefore Kids KN95 Petite Regular with Adjustable Earloops is now the younger boys’ absolute favorite mask. The fit of the Petite Regular size is SO good! I also love that each mask is individually wrapped. Again, not great for waste. But, it is SO nice for school. We make sure that everyone has backup masks in their backpacks and having masks that come individually wrapped makes that really easy! The petite regular is perfect for our 9 & 11 year olds. But I actually find that they fit my face well, as does Big Brother. So, if you have more petite-faced adults or teens in your family, trying the petite regular from WellBefore might be a good idea! We really like these!
Not the best picture, but it gives a little feel for how well these fit their faces. There are no big gaps at all. And the boys find them to still be a very breathable fabric. They wear their masks the entire day – for recess, PE, EVERYTHING! And I’m thrilled that these scored high on the Mask Nerd’s tests – over 99% filtration efficacy for the win!!
Lutema M95c/Vida KN95 Kids
We actually first heard about the Vida KN95 kid masks, so those are the first we tried. And then we discovered from The Mask Nerd that the manufacturer for Vida and Lutema are the same (but they’re cheaper from Lutema). And I can confirm with ours here that they do indeed seem to be identical. So, if you’d like to try these, I recommend trying to order the Lutema M95c first! We do find these masks to be a smaller fit than even the petite regular from WellBefore. My 11.5 year old thinks these are too small. But they fit the 9 year old well. So, I’m thinking these may be best for may ages 6-10 depending on the size of the kiddo. Their efficacy rating from Mask Nerd was 98.6%.
These would get a higher rating from me if they were individually wrapped (they come in packs of 5) or if the ear loops were better. They’re not bad, but I think if there was adjustable ear loops on these you could get an even better fit!
For some reason the boat style of the KF94s is just not our favorite. But KF94s are the favorite of The Mask Nerd. For safety and quality (and less counterfeits), it does seem like KF94 masks are the better choice. Part of that is because the KF94s go through rigorous testing in South Korea. The Korean government really does seem to have high standards on this. So, if you are ordering actual Korean KF94s, the first thing to look for is that the packaging is that the masks are actually made in Korea. There are also now American-made KF94-style masks being sold that seem highly rated as well (sometimes these are listed as KN95 3D masks or Boat Style).
Here’s our favorites:
Happy Life Good Day KF94s
We really like the HappyLife GoodDay KF94 Masks Adult and the HappyLife GoodDay KF94 Youth Masks. In fact, I actually prefer the Youth Size as it fits more snuggly on my face. Both performed pretty well in the Mask Nerd’s tests – in the 98 & 99% groups depending on the test. We assume that the smaller child sizes would be good in these as well, but haven’t tried them to know for sure. In addition to fitting our faces well, we again like that these are individually packaged. Makes it very easy to put some in the car, in travel bags, in backpacks for school for back-ups, etc.
WellBefore 3D-Style Masks
On WellBefore’s site, these are listed under KF94 masks or as KN95 3D-Style. We ordered some of the Kids (Petite Faces) KN95 – 3D Style (KF94) Adjustable in the Petite Regular size (just like the KN95 style shown above). Just like the KN95 style, these are individually wrapped and the Petite Regular size really fits the smaller faces in the house well. On Mask Nerd’s data set, it looks like this boat style of WellBefore masks scored at 98.3%.
Now, this one is actually one we do NOT personally like. But, the BOTN KF94 is one of the favorite masks from the Mask Nerd (which did get a VERY high 99.5+% rating). But these are decidedly NOT our favorite. They feel too big or loose or something to us. But again, much of this comes down to personal preferences and face shape. He raves about them, so I did want to mention them in case you want to try them. They may work great for you! We have them still in our mask bin as backups just in case.
Tips for Trying & Buying Good Masks
Hope you found that list helpful! Here’s a few last tips to help you as you try to find masks in stock and actually buy some:
- Trade with friends/family first if possible – If you have local friends and family that you could safely exchange with, I highly recommend this. If you both have purchased different masks, exchange a few with each other before buying in bulk. We have done this with a couple of different friends & family members and it’s been really helpful. It’s really nice to try before you buy!
- Start with small quantities – It is NO fun (ask me how I know) to order a larger quantity of masks that come highly recommended, only to find that you don’t like them or they don’t fit faces of your family members! So, if you’re buying without having had tried the masks first, I recommend starting small – just with a pack of 5 or 10.
- Sign up for alerts or emails – One of the biggest frustrations right now is finding quality masks in stock. With the level of contagiousness of this current virus variant and so many people around the world buying the same masks, the supply chain is taking a hit for sure. Many companies are REALLY struggling to keep things in stock right now. So, signing up for emails & alerts from the companies you’re interested in can help.
- Check the sites often – If there’s a particular mask you really want, check the website daily if possible. We did the small quantity purchase first on the WellBefore Petite Regular masks and when I went to buy more, they were all sold out. We only had enough to get us through 2 weeks of school, so I was a bit concerned about this and I checked the site every single day. By doing this, I got lucky one afternoon and managed to place an order before they sold out again.
- Subscribe & Save – Some of the companies have a subscribe & save option that can be beneficial once you already know what you like. Not only is this likely to save you some money, but it should also help to make sure you’re not out of stock of what you need.
Can I reuse a N95, KN95 or KF94?
This is the other question that we get asked a lot and wanted to address here. The answer seems to be: it depends.
All of these disposable masks were (supposedly) designed to be single use. With that said, we have very rarely used ours as single use masks. According the some of the data from the Mask Nerd, it looks like 30-40 hours of wear is likely to be time range where the efficacy will still hold. This mask reusability video from Mask Nerd details all of that well. Other experts talk about placing the used masks in a paper bag for a couple days before using again.
At any rate, we are reusing masks in certain situations. For quick errands, we use masks repeatedly. We see no reason to discard them after a single use. But, if we’ve worn a mask for a while in a very high risk setting or gotten really sweaty, etc, then the mask gets tossed.
Reusability Factors to consider:
- Does the mask look dirty? If so, toss!
- Did the mask get wet? If so, toss!
- Did you/your kids get very sweaty in the mask (maybe playing sports in it or a very hot day, etc)? If so, toss!
- Does the mask feel like it’s breaking down? If so, toss!
- Where are you wearing the mask? For a long time in a high risk setting, maybe toss after one use. But in shorter time spans or less high risk settings, reusing seems like a safer bet. Also, maybe consider the rewearing masks for less high risk settings.
For us personally, Big Brother did wear a new mask every day to school first semester. But, the other kids weren’t in school yet, so we were going through many fewer masks. With 3 kids in school though, we are saving masks that didn’t get gross at school. If they’re only wearing it for 6 hours and it’s not looking gross, we are saving those masks to rewear at other times. Each child has their own bag/bin to “decontaminate” there. And then after a few days, the masks can go back into use as needed.
Whew! Okay – this may be one of the longest posts we’ve ever done! Hope it’s helpful. If you have more mask questions, just let us know!