15 Good N95, KN95, and Surgical Face Masks to Buy Right Now

Here are the best disposable masks we've tested and researched so far—and where you can find them.

It's more important than ever to have a steady supply of good masks and to wear them whenever you're out in public or spending time with people outside your household. As the Omicron variant drives a surge in Covid-19 cases, there's been a renewed focus on which masks to buy and where to get them. We looked into it, and here's what we've found.

Updated January 21st, 2022: We've added more info about the White House free mask distribution plan, the CDC's updated mask guidance, info about Workplace Performance masks, and a couple of new masks that fit this category.

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Wait, Which Kind of Mask Should I Get?

Since the surge in Omicron cases, there's been extra confusion about which masks are effective. Some health experts have advised against using cloth masks. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control's guidance on masks was recently updated to say that N95 masks offer the “highest protection.” However, the agency still recommends that the best mask is one you'll wear correctly and consistently.

The best kinds of disposable face masks to wear haven't changed a lot:

  1. N95 masks are your best bet. N95s are regulated by the US-based NIOSH agency to meet a certain standard of quality. N95s are sometimes referred to as “respirators.”
  2. KN95 and KF94 masks are also effective, and likely comfier. KN95s are governed by a different set of standards specific to China and are sometimes easier to find. KF94 masks are similar to KN95, but governed by a Korean standard. These are also sometimes referred to as “respirators.”
  3. Surgical-style masks (3-ply) are the next-best thing you can wear. They aren't as effective as those above, but if they have a good tight fit they can still be effective in less risky settings. We have tips on how to improve your fit in our guide to our favorite masks.
  4. Cloth masks are not as effective. If you can't get your hands on the masks listed above, at least wear a cloth mask, but they're likely far less effective, depending on their material makeup.

You can double-mask with a surgical mask and a cloth mask, but it's important to keep in mind that for N95s, this might alter their effectiveness. The CDC explicitly advises against combining a KN95 mask with any other kind of mask, including cloth coverings. In general, any N95 mask that fits to your face could be pushed out of place if you put a cloth covering over it.

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 your face. These areas can allow unfiltered air to get through and enter your nose and mouth. N95 masks are generally designed to fit snugly on your face, so, again, these will be safer.

What Are Workplace Performance Masks?

Most of the CDC and FDA'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, a new 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, as well as which masks clear enough of these factors 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 the supplier/manufacturer. 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 this means is that if you're looking for low-risk masks for the office, look for the Workplace Performance labels.

First, Get Some Free Masks From the Government

The good news is you'll soon be able to get at least a few free masks, thanks to a White House initiative. Starting next week, around 400 million N95 masks will be distributed to pharmacies and community centers across the country. Up to three masks will be 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, or any major pharmacy chain, to see if they have any in stock. The masks will be N95s. Notably, surgical N95 masks will be held back for health care workers.

N95 Respirator Face Masks

The CDC has a giant list of approved N95 masks. Unfortunately, supply of many models of masks is constantly fluctuating, so you may need to check back regularly to see which masks 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.

Amston Model 1808 N95 Respirator masks.

Photograph: Amston

Amazon, Amston, Sears

This model is one of the CDC's many approved N95 masks, and it uses two separate straps to secure snugly 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 allow them to breathe fairly comfortably. That distance also helps keep the masks dry, unlike other types of masks that may become damp from exhalation throughout the day. Sadly, they do not fold.

Amazon, DemeTech

This fold-style mask uses two over-the-head straps to keep the mask snugly fit to 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.

Kimberly-Clark N95 Respirator Mask.

Photograph: Kimberly Clark

On Amazon, click “See All Buying Options" to see if it's available.

If you need 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 nose piece should provide a solid seal on your face, while still costing less than a dollar per mask.

3M Aura N95 Respirator Mask.

Photograph: 3M

Amazon, Home Depot

3M's NIOSH-approved 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.


If you need to buy a bunch of masks in bulk, these N95 duckbill masks from ACI are one of the cheapest ways to do it. Normally, this pack of 300 masks is $275, which is already less than a dollar per mask, but right now the pack is on sale for $225. It's a lot of masks to buy at once, but if you need to buy for the whole office or want to split a pack between several households, it's a good way to get a discount.

KN95 Face Masks

Opectid KN95 Protective Masks.

Photograph: Sengtor Ltd

On Amazon, click “See All Buying Options." It's sold by the manufacturer.

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.

Wwdoll Foldable KN95 Masks.

Photograph: WWDoll

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.

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 slightly cheaper than Wwdoll's set per mask.

Surgical Masks (3-Ply)

Hygenix face mask.

Photograph: Hygenix/Amazon

These are a favorite for several members of the WIRED team. They have over-the-ear straps and include an adjustable nose strap that's reasonably pliable so you can make sure it doesn't blow air back into your glasses. This is a popular box set and comes in several colors, so it goes in and out of stock a lot, but when you can find it, it's a great option to have in your arsenal of masks.

Amazon, Walmart, Staples

Surgical style masks aren't going to be as effective as N95s, or any mask that can create a tighter seal around your face. However, they're considerably cheaper and can work in a pinch. This pack from WeCare has individually wrapped masks, which come in black, but you can also find similar masks from the company in a variety of colors and patterns.

Armbrust Surgical Mask.

Photograph: Armbrust American

These masks are made in the United States and are independently verified to meet ASTM Level 3 certification standards. According to our mask reviewer Adrienne So, they're “noticeably thicker and sturdier" than other disposable surgical masks she's purchased. Armbrust also sells a folding N95 mask.

Workplace Performance Masks

Amazon, Target

This face mask from 3M is one of the two sets of Workplace Performance Plus masks listed on the CDC's site. This isn't necessarily a recommendation from the CDC, but it does mean we can see this mask is rated for 99% filtration, with a fairly high leakage ratio (higher is better). It's still not quite as good as a fitted N95 respirator, but for work it should be fairly effective.


Another Workplace Performance Plus mask, this is actually an entire masking system from Armbrust. It includes two components: a reusable mask brace that keeps the mask sealed on your face, as well as 30 Armbrust filters. The filters themselves are actually the same Armbrust surgical masks we featured above, but the fitted brace should help prevent air leakage.

Masks for Kids

Once kids are over the age of two, 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.

AirPop Kids Reusable Mask.

Photograph: AirPop

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 3-12 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 editor Adrienne So's kids use for school. 

USA-Manufacturer Armbrust (mentioned above) also makes a kids' mask, though we noted that it's probably best for kids age 7 and up. These are sold out as of publishing time.

Dr. Puri KF94 kids' mask

Photograph: Getty Images

On Amazon, click “See All Buying Options." It's sold by the manufacturer.

Our mask reviewer Adrienne So had her kids test these for our Best Kids' Masks guide. They come in three sizes, depending on the age of your children, and should provide protection similar to a KN95—more protection than a standard surgical-style mask.

If You Can't Find a Mask, Try Project N95

Project N95 isn't a specific mask but rather a nonprofit devoted to connecting PPE supplies with the people and health care organizations that need them. If you're not having luck finding masks in your usual spots, you can browse the organization's marketplace to find more masks and respirators, as well as testing kits and other protective gear.

Does Omicron Change Mask Requirements?

Omicron is a highly transmissible variant, and that's why many are suggesting N95 or KN95 masks. It has also led to concerns that cloth or even surgical masks aren't effective at blocking transmission of the virus. While research is still being done to confirm whether that's true, what we do know is that cloth and surgical masks are better than nothing, but N95s would be better still.

These numbers obviously don't take Omicron (and possibly even Delta) into account. Omicron's transmissibility is still being studied, but early studies have suggested that you may be more likely to receive an infectious dose from an encounter that could have left you uninfected in the past. N95s and similar masks were always more effective, but it's smart to err on the safe side.

According to a report from spring 2021, if an infected and noninfected person were both wearing cloth masks, it would take around 27 minutes for an infectious dose of COVID-19 to reach the noninfected person. If both were wearing surgical masks, that time would rise to about an hour. And if both were wearing even non-fitted N95s, it would take 25 hours to receive an infectious dose. This was before the Delta or Omicron variants, but it should offer an idea of the masks' relative effectiveness levels.

How Do I Avoid Counterfeit Masks?

There are a number of ways to spot counterfeit N95 masks, such as by looking for markings on the mask itself or by avoiding N95 masks marketed to children (since the NIOSH doesn't approve any type of respirators for kids). The CDC offers much more thorough guidance on how to avoid N95 counterfeits on its site.

We don't recommend buying just any mask you see on Amazon, since Amazon allows third-party sellers on its platform that may not vet products as well as those sold by Amazon.com. Walmart, Target, and other retailers may also sell third-party masks. The masks on this list are generally legitimate, as are many masks you'll find in major retail chains, like CVS, or from US manufacturers.

Earlier in the pandemic, the CDC authorized emergency use of KN95, KF94, and other non-N95 masks in health care settings, but that order was revoked in June of 2021. Still, many KN95 or KF94 masks are still more than adequate for everyday use for low-risk individuals, and they're far better than no mask at all. So when shopping for a mask, keep in mind what your needs are and how you plan to use the masks you buy.

Can I Reuse Disposable Masks?

If you walk into a gas station for two minutes on your way to work with a brand-new N95 on, do you need to throw it out and use a new one when you arrive? Not exactly. 

According to the CDC's guidelines, N95 masks will lose their effectiveness over a number of hours, but they will also become less effective the more times they're taken on and off. Part of the reason for this is that the elastic bands wear out and result in a less tight fit. The CDC recommends that if you can't find data from your mask manufacturer on how many times you can take a mask on and off, don't remove and replace a mask more than five times. However, this advice is given in the context of hospital settings.

If you're not at high risk and don't work in a medical setting, you may be able to get away with reusing masks over longer periods of time. One of the inventors credited with creating the synthetic fabric in N95 respirators uses a rotating system of seven masks, using a new one each day and hanging it in an isolated space for the rest of the week before using it again.

Removing a mask also requires touching it, which can mean particles transfer from the mask to your hands and then back to your face. It's a very good idea to wash your hands effectively after removing or replacing a mask.

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