Are P95 or N95 masks best?
Construction and factory workers were using masks long before the coronavirus overwhelmed society. Now masks are a part of everyday wear — it’s second nature to stuff one in your pocket before heading out for the day. Learning which masks are most effective and how they work to protect you is vital for choosing the best option.
P95 and N95 are rating classifiers for masks manufactured to keep people from inhaling dust and other small particles in unsafe environments. P95- and N95-rated masks protect their wearers from microorganisms, body fluids and small particles that could spread the virus.
General mask standards
Before going into the specifics of the P95 and N95 masks, you should have a basic understanding of mask standards. Disposable masks are grouped into three main types — single-use, surgical and respirator.
- Single-use masks are the thinnest, often made of only one layer. Filtration requirements are minimal to nonexistent.
- Surgical masks have to filter at least 95% of small particles to attain certification in the United States. However, surgical masks made in China only need a 30% rating and Europe does not have a minimum requirement. With this in mind, be wary of where your mask is being made and shipped from.
- A certified respirator mask must be able to filter 95% of small particles from the air in the United States and China. The requirement is lower in Europe, these masks only have to reach an 80% filtration standard.
P95 and N95 ratings
P95 and N95 masks share a number rating of 95, meaning they remove 95% of small particles from the air. Though they are the same in number, they do differ in letter class: P95 masks are oil-proof (P) while N95 masks are not oil-proof or oil-resistant (N).
You might know P95 masks by their more common name — dust masks. The classification P95 means that the mask is resistant to oil and can filter 95% of airborne particles. Before COVID-19, P95 masks were well known by people in wildfire danger zones, since they can protect wearers from harmful heavy smoke.
A P95 mask usually costs between $5 and $10, unless you purchase them in bulk, which can significantly lower the price.
P95 mask pros
In the heat of the pandemic, N95 masks became difficult even for medical professionals to find. The P95 mask became a reliable alternative that was both affordable and effective. These masks can be used multiple times if cleaned and kept in a dry place. They filter most small particles in the air, including oil-based ones.
P95 mask cons
Most P95 masks are not classified as medical-grade and they do not meet the requirements for sealing or filtering that medical-grade masks have. P95 masks are better suited for industrial use than for medical purposes. Never use a P95 mask past its filter life, as this can be dangerous, especially if the mask is contaminated.
Best P95 mask
This mask is approved by NIOSH, meaning the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has tested and verified its effectiveness. It has carbon-layered filtering and cool-flow exhalation that keep the mask comfortable for long periods. The nose clip is adjustable and the mask loops around the back of the head for a snug fit.
Sold by Amazon
N95-rated masks have multiple layers that protect against 95% of non-oil-based particles in the air. These masks are certified by NIOSH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most N95 masks are used in industrial settings, similar to P95-rated masks, but there are N95 masks that are manufactured for healthcare purposes.
N95 masks are slightly cheaper than P95 masks, costing $2-$5 per mask.
The N95 mask can filter dirt, bacteria, viruses and allergens such as pollen. For an extra layer of protection, you can wear a disposable N95 mask under a standard respirator. N95 masks can protect two people from one another, reducing the chance of transferring any harmful particles to one another. These masks are medical-grade due to their tight fit and layered filtering.
The N95 mask will not protect against oil-based particles in the air. Facial hair prevents the mask from properly sealing to your face, diminishing its guarantee of protection. It should not be used past its filter life, for it will be ineffective and you will find it difficult to breathe. All N95 masks cleared by the Food and Drug Administration are single-use only, and prolonged usage can lead to their contamination.
Best N95 mask
This pack of masks is also approved by NIOSH. Each mask has three layers of nonwoven fabric that can be folded closely over the nose and mouth. The head straps are made of elastic and wrap around the back of your head instead of looping over your ears like most standard masks. Pressing your hands on the mask and inhaling will fit it tightly to your face, ensuring your protection.
Sold by Amazon
Should you get a P95 mask or N95 mask?
Both P95 and N95 masks are made for comfort and safety, tied with snug elastics that wrap around your head instead of your ears. Both products are suitable for industrial and everyday environments, making them a wise investment for anyone.
But P95 masks do everything N95 masks can, with an added resistance to oil-based particles. They share a number rating, making them equally efficient in obstructing potentially dangerous particles. Although both can be thrown away after one use, P95 masks can be reused if clean and free of contamination. They are slightly more costly, but the payoff is a longer-lasting product.
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Gwen Swanson 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.