It’s incredibly important to get a mask that fits your face. A big part of the reason cloth or even surgical masks can be less effective is due to the gaps between the mask and the face. These areas can allow unfiltered air to get through and enter your nose and mouth. N95 masks are generally designed to fit snugly, which is why they’re safer.
What Are Workplace Performance Masks?
Most of the CDC and Food and Drug Administration’s mask guidance and standards were initially designed with medical settings like doctors’ offices and hospitals in mind. However, the pandemic has made it much more common and necessary for people to wear masks in non-medical contexts. To help with this, the ASTM International standard makes it easier to classify masks for everyday work.
Under this standard, masks can be labeled as either Workplace Performance or Workplace Performance Plus. The NIOSH recommends using these masks in a workplace environment but, crucially, does not recommend them as a replacement for N95 or other respirators. If you or someone you interact with regularly is a high-risk individual, or if you work in a medical setting, you should stick with N95s.
This new standard rates masks based on filtration and breathability, as well as an optional leakage ratio. The CDC has a list of masks here, and it tells which masks pass enough of these criteria to qualify for either of the Workplace Performance labels (as of writing, there are only two that earned the label), but this is all based on data reported by suppliers and manufacturers. If you can’t find N95 masks but don’t work in a high-risk setting, these are also decent masks to pick up.
Also, note that ASTM refers to the agency that classifies standards, but this workplace standard is not the only ASTM standard that governs masks. This standard is technically ASTM F3502-21, which only has the two Workplace Performance levels mentioned above. You may also see other masks that use labels like “ASTM Level 3,” which refer to different ASTM standards for medical masks. For our purposes, all of this means that if you’re looking for low-risk masks for the office, look for the Workplace Performance labels.
Get Free Masks From the Government
Thanks to a White House initiative, around 400 million N95 masks are being distributed to pharmacies and community centers across the country. Up to three masks are available per adult, with the administration promising “high-quality” masks for children coming in the near future.
Many of the distribution locations will be the places where you may have gotten your vaccine. You can check your local vaccine centers, community health centers, or any major pharmacy chain, to see if they have any in stock. The masks are N95s. Notably, surgical N95 masks will be held back for health care workers. Read our guide on where to find a free N95 mask here.
N95 Respirator Face Masks
The CDC has a giant list of approved N95 masks. Unfortunately, the supply of many brands is constantly fluctuating, so you may need to check back regularly to see which are in stock. Many stores also have regional stock based on in-store supply, so be sure to check your local zip code at different sites where applicable.
If you need a large number of N95s on the cheap, this pack from Kimberly-Clark is one of your best bets. While these are NIOSH-approved N95 respirators, they’re not intended for medical use. If that’s not an issue for you, then the horizontal-fold pouch and bendable nosepiece should provide a solid seal on your face, while still costing less than a dollar per mask.
This fold-style mask uses two over-the-head straps to keep the mask snug on your face, while still allowing a fair amount of breathing room in front of your mouth and nose. These are among the pricier masks on our list, but members of our team have used these and found them comfortable and sturdy.
This model is one of the CDC’s many approved N95 masks (and it’s frequently out of stock). It uses two separate straps to keep the mask tight around your face. Members of our team have used these masks and found that they seal nicely around the face but still stay far enough away from the nose and mouth to let you breathe and talk comfortably. That distance also helps keep the masks dry. Sadly, they do not fold.
Titan Protect’s masks are another pricey option, but you do get a lot more per box than the ones listed above. The NIOSH-certified mask has an adjustable aluminum nosepiece (which can help keep eyeglasses from fogging), an upper and lower head strap for a secure seal, and a flat-fold design that’s meant to fit most faces. It’s worth noting this set comes in medium and large, so those with smaller faces will want to consider another mask.
3M’s N95 respirators are individually wrapped and have two horizontal folds that create a decent-sized cup in front of your nose and mouth. The masks come with two straps that go over your head and neck to keep a tight seal. This is one of the smaller packs on our list, but you may have an easier time finding it in stock at some stores.
The DF300 N95 from Honeywell is a more affordable option on this list. With this mask, you’ll get multilayer absorption (including a humidity- and moisture-resistant filter), a soft inner lining, and latex-free head straps. The nose clip is also adjustable and hidden underneath the mask. It comes complete with a soft foam nose cushion as well, which should make it more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.
Vida’s KF94 mask is both protective and stylish. It’s FDA listed, CE-certified (and manufactured in South Korea), and offers a 94 percent filtration efficiency. The four-layer mask comes in adorable pastel colors including light green, light pink, and light blue. It’s also available in a variety of pack sizes from 10 all the way up to 1,000.
The BOTN KF94 masks only come in large and extra-large for adults, so those with smaller faces should look into the youth size. The mask does come with earloops and a nosepiece that are both adjustable, so it should help ensure a tight fit if you go for the bigger size. It also comes in a variety of color options including beige, dark grey, pink, and yellow. There’s usually a coupon you can clip on the page to snag ’em for $19.
LG’s Airwasher mask is a standard KF94 with a three-dimensional design, four-ply fabric, an adjustable nose clip, and rounded ear loops. If you want a slightly more elevated option, it also comes in a “Black Style” design that’ll likely pair well with fancier outfits for more formal occasions.
As we mentioned above, KN95 face masks aren’t ideal for higher-risk individuals or medical settings, but if you need better filtration than a cloth mask for everyday, low-risk use, these are a decent way to go. On top of being less expensive per mask, they also come in a variety of colors, which should make it easier to coordinate an outfit or just mix it up once in a while. These KN95 masks come in black and are individually wrapped. They’re pretty cheap compared to the N95 masks listed above, at less than a dollar per mask. They also happen to be our top pick for face masks.
Another pack of multicolored KN95 masks, this set from Halidodo comes in a slightly different array of colors—most notably including an eye-catching orange mask—and is similarly affordable.
We’ve tested this mask and found that, while comfortable and super durable, the size is best for those with smaller faces.
The White Powecom masks come with a multi-filtration system and an adjustable metal nosepiece. You can also choose between the standard KN95 ear loops or the N95 headband style, depending on what you find more comfortable. It comes in a fairly wide range of color options as well, from white and gray to bright pink and deep red.
Once kids are over the age of 2, you can consider putting a face mask on them. We recommend anything they’ll actually wear. We have a suggestion below, and our Best Face Masks for Kids guide has more.
Kids’ masks are a bit more difficult, since health agencies don’t regulate them in quite the same way, but this pack is one of our favorites. It’s reusable and can be used for children 3 to 12 years old. It comes in blue, white, and pink. It has been independently tested by several international product-testing and quality-assurance companies, and it is the mask that WIRED editor Adrienne So’s kids use for school.