Is your KN95 mask real or fake? Plus all your respirator mask questions answered

Now that experts are recommending KN95 masks to the general public, and they’re more readily available, you’ve probably got a few questions about their use. Unfortunately, as the demand for these respirator masks has increased, non-certified or counterfeit KN95 masks are also coming into the market. We explore how to test a KN95 respirator mask for authenticity, how many times you can re-wear it, and other pressing questions about KN95 masks.

How to test your KN95 respirator mask is authentic

A counterfeit respirator mask means less protection for the wearer and those around them. In 2020 and 2021 the US government reported that about 60% of KN95 masks they tested were not meeting certification standards. So how do you test that the masks you’ve purchased are the real deal?

There are a few tests that can be conducted at home to ensure that your mask is an authentic KN95 certified mask. The main test will destroy your mask, but it is a small price to pay to be sure that you’re buying from a reputable source, and that you’re properly protected.

The Water Test

Holding your KN95 mask by the ear straps, pour a reasonable amount of water into the cradle created by the inside of your mask. Be sure that the water isn’t escaping around the top and bottom of the mask. Leave the water in the mask for around 2 minutes, then check if the seam down the centre of the mask is leaking water. If water has come through the mask then it is not a certified KN95 mask. For a certified mask, you can allow it to dry and then use it.

The Candle Test

While wearing your mask, light a candle and place it around 15cm (6 inches) away from your face. With the mask on attempt to blow out the candle. For a certified KN95 mask the candle should not go out.

Fun fact – The CDC in the USA suggests kids can test the efficacy of different types of masks (under parental supervision of course!), by seeing how different masks will stop a candle blowing out when reading, singing and blowing. You can check out the project sheet via this link:

https://www.cdc.gov/museum/pdf/cdcm-pha-stem-lesson-masks-against-covid-19-instructions.pdf

The Melt Test

A feature of certified KN95 masks is a special layer of fabric inside the mask. This layer is made of melt-blown fabric and provides the most protection. To test that your mask includes this layer you will need to cut open the mask. When you cut the mask, separate out the layers until you locate this layer. It may have a more plasticky feel to it. Some describe it as ‘parchment-like’. Using a lighter or candle, light this layer on fire. If a flame ignites on the fabric, then it is not a proper melt-blown layer. The correct material will melt when fire is applied.

 Undertaking these 3 tests on one of the masks you purchase will prove that you’re buying from a reputable source. Zoomlite has conducted all three of these tests on the KN95 masks we stock, and will do so again regularly as well. We want to ensure that we’re providing certified products to our customers if we ever change the supplier of our KN95 masks.

Can you re-use KN95 masks?

Now that you know your KN95 respirator masks are certified to do what they’re meant to, it’s time to learn more about using them. The nature of respirator masks – with the multiple layers providing an electrostatic charge that attracts and traps the particles it filters through the mask – means that their effectiveness will reduce over time.

 While KN95 respirator masks are classified as disposable masks, the CDC advised that when masks are difficult to source, health care workers can reuse their respirator masks up to 5 times. This has been extrapolated into a 40-hour rule, based on the idea that these workers would be wearing the respirator masks constantly over an 8-hour shift.

If you’re wearing a mask for an 8-hour shift, it’s easy to follow this model and dispose of a mask after 5 uses. However, most of us don’t wear a mask for 8-hours a day. If you’re heading into the shops for 15 minutes or need it for an hour-long appointment it is harder to keep track of its exact usage. Experts have said that you’re more likely to wear out the earloops, soil the mask (with dirt, makeup, or bodily fluids) or it will lose its structure before 40 hours are up if you’re putting it on and taking it off regularly.  

 Until you learn your mask usage, and how long it will last given your specific situation, it’s worth keeping track of how long it has been used. Experts have suggested that we should have a supply of KN95 respirator masks and rotate them so that they have sufficient time to air between uses.

Top tip: Storing your respirator masks in a paper bag helps them to air and provides you with a writable surface to keep track of who the mask belongs to and how long it has been worn.

How should I store my KN95 mask?

A KN95 mask should not be washed. If you accidentally put it through the washing machine, it will need to be disposed of, as the physical structure and electrostatic charge will be compromised by the wash.

For best results, your KN95 masks should be stored away from water, direct sunlight or excessive heat. Your KN95 respirator mask needs to be allowed to air and dry. Hanging it up for several hours is a good way to allow it to dry properly. It should then be stored in a cool, dry place. Storing it in a breathable container or paper bag is ideal.

Note: a small amount of sunlight can help dry your mask, however too much sunlight can damage the integrity of the mask

When should I dispose of my KN95 mask?

Experts have suggested that most KN95 masks will get damaged before they reach the suggested 40 hour limit for use. Here are the signs to look for that it is time to dispose of your KN95 respirator mask:

  • If the mask becomes soiled with dirt, blood or other bodily fluids
  • If the mask no longer covers your nose and mouth
  • If the earloops have stretched or been damaged and no longer hold the mask securely to your face
  • If there are tears or holes in the mask material
  • If there are creases in the mask that prevent a proper seal to your face
  • If you start to find the mask difficult to breathe through

Some also suggest that you should dispose of your mask if you know that it has been in contact with someone who has COVID-19. Studies show that a standard amount of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19) will disintegrate on the surface of a mask in 30 to 180 minutes. This suggests that it can be reused after it has aired for sufficient time. 

When taking off your mask, handle it by the earloops and sanitise your hands after touching a used mask, to ensure any virus particles are not transferred to your eyes and mouth via your hands.

KN95 masks can be disposed of in regular rubbish. Ideally, a soiled mask is placed in a sealed plastic bag, such as a Ziploc bag, after use. It can be disposed of in this bag. Please cut the earloops before disposing of your mask, to help protect wildlife.

Can children wear KN95 masks?

KN95 respirator masks need to have a properly sealed fit to be effective. Children’s sizes are available in KN95 masks, although these are often hard to find. Older children may be able to wear the Standard Adult or Small Adult size. If you’re buying KN95 masks from multiple sources, it pays to test a mask from each source to be sure they’re providing authentic certified KN95 masks.

Can people with facial hair wear KN95 masks?

The required facial seal of a KN95 respirator mask can be compromised by facial hair. Sources suggest that ‘significant facial hair’ (3 days growth or more) at any point where the mask edges touch the face can stop the seal and allow airflow that reduces the effectiveness of the KN95 respirator mask.

What can I do if the earloops on my KN95 mask don’t fit?

If your mask is a good fit but the earloops are too long or too short, don’t fret, there are plenty of options out there to help.

Earloops too long?

When the earloops are too long your mask will not seal to your face, and not provide proper filtration. Earloops can be shortened by tying a knot in each earloop to shorten it. You can also purchase toggles or cord lock adjusters from places like Amazon that let you adjust the length of the earloops for a proper fit.

Earloops too short?

If the earloops are too short you’ll end up with an extremely tight seal, which can lead to a painful experience wearing a respirator mask. Extenders can be purchased, or handmade, that you attach to the earloops so that the mask can be worn around the back of your head, instead of secured behind your ears. This is particularly useful if you experience chafing behind your ears from the earloops, wear hearing aids that the earloops get tangled on or have trouble finding earloops that fit.  

Tips for putting on your KN95 respirator mask

  • Wash or sanitise your hands before and after putting on your mask, as well as before and after taking the mask off
  • Hold the mask to your face, with the mouldable wire against the bridge of your nose. The bottom of the mask should sit below your chin
  • Use your other hand to attach the earloops
  • Press the wire of the nose piece to the contours of your nose. This is best done with both hands
  • Make sure that the mask is sitting comfortably against your skin, providing a complete seal
  • The mask should contract slightly as you breathe, showing that the seal is complete and all air is being filtered through the mask 

Where do I order certified KN95 respirator masks?

Be sure that you’re buying certified KN95 respirator masks from a reputable source. Chemists have access to authorised supply chains. Zoomlite has also sourced authentic certified KN95 masks and is providing them with free shipping within Australia. To check current availability and to place an order go to this link

 

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