KN95 or N95 1860 – What’s the difference?

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a demand for PPEs that is testing supply chains globally. As countries come to terms with their specific needs, various protective equipment has risen in prominence and manufacturing volumes are most certainly reaching levels never before seen. Face masks are a hot commodity now, and it seems everyone wants a […]

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The Covid-19 pandemic has created a demand for PPEs that is testing supply chains globally. As countries come to terms with their specific needs, various protective equipment has risen in prominence and manufacturing volumes are most certainly reaching levels never before seen. Face masks are a hot commodity now, and it seems everyone wants a piece of the pie.

Two face masks require careful attention, purely based on function and price as well as the current demand they are attracting globally: the KN95 mask and the 3M 1860 N95 mask. Before we delve deeper into the discussion on differences, let’s first understand an important element of the product descriptors. Both these masks have filtration capability of non-oily particulates greater than or equal to 95%. The “N95’’ in their description alludes to this.

The KN95 mask in particular is manufactured in China and meets the Chinese GB2626 standard. The US CDC has identified the KN95 effective as a substitute for the N95 masks. This sentiment is echoed by the company 3M as well, in that the KN95 masks can be expected to function similarly to an N95. Online articles referenced, as well as various 3M technical bulletins, affirm this.

The KN95 is also tested in accordance with European standard EN 149:2001.The SABS equivalent of EN 149:2001 standard is SANS 50149:2003. This SANS 50149:2003 standard is the identical implementation of EN 149:2001.

It’s worth noting that KN is the Chinese standard, N series is the American NIOSH standard and FFP series is the European standard. The 3M N95 1860 is a medical mask, and a few of the salient differences between the KN95 and the 3M N95 1860 are that it offers more resistance to fluids, blocks additional airborne particles and complies with the CDC’s specific tuberculosis guidelines.

The question that requires answering is whether, during this pandemic, protection from fluids is important for everybody? The other question is whether, when considering potential shortages of masks during this critical period in human history, the price difference between two masks is worth it? And my view is “NO”.

From the data sources evaluated, we can conclude that the same filtration levels are achieved for both the KN95 and the 3M N95 1860. Price points do, however, differ in South Africa. The KN95 price point is in my experience cheaper than the 3M N95 1860 mask and can serve the public need for protection from Covid-19 based on the 3M reference sources easily discovered through an online search. It is important to consider South Africa’s unique situation as well, including the current economic conditions and availability of these masks.

A few KN95 masks have had their Emergency Use FDA approval removed on May 7th 2020 (due to filtration discrepancies) and on June 6th the FDA revised the Emergency Use Authorization for Non-US standard approved facemasks. There appears to be an ever-changing requirement for facemasks, with a current lack of technical information available to customers to evaluate which mask is suitable for their respective needs. Customers should take the time to understand these specific differences when considering the purchases for their stakeholders, with the aim of ensuring that as a country we can provide the right quality and price points for our families, employees and communities.

But more importantly when buying any masks, especially in huge volumes, it is important that each buyer conducts his/her own independent tests. Fortunately, there are a number of service providers who can conduct these verification tests for you at a minimal cost.

By Dr Zahier Ebrahim, DBA, MBA, MLSS, Industrial En, is the Group Supply Chain Director at facilities management company Servest.

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