How to find the best KN95 masks for kids because the cloth face mask isn’t cutting it
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Just when we thought we had a handle on kids and COVID-19, a whole new strain and surge comes our way—just in time for kids to go back to school after winter break.
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You probably thought your kids were well-protected with their cute cloth masks but, as we are learning, cloth masks are no longer recommended to protect against the omicron variant—particularly when it comes to kids in classrooms. Experts are recommending you upgrade, urging parents to opt for three-ply surgical masks, N95, KN95 or KF94 masks, which offer more protection against the highly contagious variant.
Richard Malley, senior physician at Boston Children’s Hospital Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, is one of the experts making the recommendation to updgrade. “What we are seeing [with omicron] is, you need additional protection compared to what cloth masks were providing. Omicron is much more transmissible than the variants we saw prior," Malley says. "If you are indoors and, particularly, if you’re around a lot of people—which is basically a classroom—you want [kids] wearing a higher quality and better-fitting mask.”
What kind of kids' mask should I buy?
While the gold standard for protective masks is an N95 respirator mask, those are almost non-existent in kids’ sizes. The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, or NIOSH, only regulates products designed for adults, so PPE products designed for children are out of their purview. This means there are technically no NIOSH-approved N95, KN95 or KF94 masks for kids, forcing us to rely on a company’s word to their product’s effectiveness.
If you find a company that says their children’s masks are FDA-certified or FDA-approved, be sure to dig deeper. Only Kimberly-Clark makes FDA-approved children's masks. There are, however, many companies who make FDA-approved or certified masks for adults, who also make them in children’s sizes. While the children's masks may not have the FDA designation, those masks do deserve a further look.
Know, however, that we are reliant on companies to regulate these goods themselves. Because of that, always be sure to read their claims and credentials carefully and thoroughly, and use your own best judgement before purchasing.
How should a child’s mask fit?
According to Malley, fit is of the utmost importance. “You really want to be very aware of gaps, looseness [and/or] slipping right now,” he says.
It's recommende you shop for masks that are made with a child’s face in mind. Be sure that gaps are minimal and that you haven’t chosen a mask that constantly needs to be readjusted by your child, as frequent touching of the face and mask can increase your child’s exposure to the virus.
The best way to ensure a proper fit is to measure from the middle of the bridge of your child’s nose to the bottom of their chin with a soft measuring tape. When you have that measurement, you should be able to better search for appropriately sized masks.
Some brands of adult masks can be as small as 5-inches, so if your child's measurements match, you can consider an adult-sized mask.
Surgical, KF94 and KN95 kids masks you can buy right now
It’s no surprise that masks are selling out everywhere. We did a bit of research based on Malley’s criteria, FDA guidelines and research conducted by Aaron Collins, an engineer who tests and reviews masks. Here are some of the best we’ve found.
The first and only kids' mask to receive FDA-certification, these surgical masks have been used in hospitals nationwide for over 20 years. They are the true stand-by for anyone looking for a surgical mask for kids that is definitively doctor-approved.
These kid-sized masks are made of three layers that claim to block 95% of bacterial and viral particles. Tested by an independent laboratory and approved by physicians, they are also touted by reviewers as being comfortable and breathable and kids will love that they come with nontoxic decals for personalization. These come with an adjustable nose wire, are responsibly made and recyclable. They do not come with adjustable ear loops, but that can easily be remedied by tying knots in the loops or by purchasing separate toggles to customize the fit.
- Shop Evolvetogether KN95 Kids' NYC Masks multipacks from Evolvetogether starting $8.97
- Shop Evolvetogether KN95 Kids' Milan Masks multipacks from Evolvetogether starting $8.97
According to Vida's website, these masks are “kid-tested and doctor-approved.” They are also made in the USA with an eye towards sustainability: Each order includes a prepaid return label so you can send your used masks to be recycled.
The five-layer filtration system offers 98.3% efficiency, according to Collins’ testing, and their metal nose wire ensures a snug fit. These masks don’t offer adjustable ear loops.
4. Well + Before
These are listed as “petite,” but there are still three distinct sizes, so be sure to measure and pick the right one. Made with five layers of protection including two melt-blown layers, Collins tested these as having 99.1% filtration. The company claims that the masks are certified KN95 (and certification is available via email).
Reviewers say these masks are soft yet strong and they praise the sturdy nose clip, adjustable ear loops and excellent breathability. What’s more, these are some of the best-priced masks around, and you can even subscribe to get a continuous flow of fresh masks delivered monthly.
These masks are the closest thing we found to a true N95 for kids. They can be found widely on the internet, however it’s highly recommended that you purchase them from a reputable supplier, like Bona Fide Masks, where they should arrive with an “anti-fake” label to verify authenticity. Powecom used to have emergency authorization for its KN95 masks, so they do produce masks of the highest quality and with exceptional filtration of over 97%.
Small, mighty and very breathable, these are the favorite masks of celebrities and—for a more personal endorsement—my mom group. These three-ply, five-layer masks consistently get stellar reviews for comfort and fit by parents and kids alike. These also come in vibrant colors that kids like to wear, and they sit slightly off the face, perfect for kids who tend to chew their masks while wearing them. The masks also have adjustable nose wires and adjustable soft ear loops. These respirator-style masks claim to consistently achieve international standards of filtering out 95% of airborne particles and 99.9% of bacteria.
7. Happy Life Kids
Happy Life is a Collins-recommended brand for incredible filtration. His testing determined the masks filtration efficiency to be 98.5%, and the company is transparent with its FDA certification. The three-dimensional KF94 mask is slightly different than KN95s or surgical masks, but it may be a good option for kids that find it difficult to talk in other masks and prefer for masks to sit off their mouth. We have these at home and found them to have a good snug fit without being constricting.
A note on sizing: Parents report that if your child size seems to overlap between sizes, it's best to size down.
8. Little Lives
If you’re looking for affordable surgical masks that are made just for kids, Little Lives is worth a look. Made in the USA in an FDA-registered facility, they come in cute, kid-friendly colors and designs and their accordion fit makes them easy to wear—especially for small children.
As a bonus, it's been reported to us that—because these are made domestically—these kids' masks arrive fast. If you're scrambling to get kids' masks quickly, these may be your best choice.
9. Happy Masks
If you are looking for a non-disposable mask, Happy Mask is still our favorite and ranked as the best mask for kids of all that we tried. According to Collins’ research, at 85.2% filtration, they have some of the highest protection against particles of any cloth mask. It's worth noting, however, that Happy Masks does post on their website Nelson Lab findings that show 99.9% viral and bacterial filtration efficiency. If we were to make a guess as to the discrepancy, it would likely have to do with fit, so do make sure your child's face mask has a good seal.
As for our in-house testing, we found these masks to be incredibly comfortable, breathable, and adjustable. Right now many items are sold out and others are on backorder. If you are looking for a mask to keep in your stash for the next wave or variant, we promise that these are worth the wait.
- Shop Happy Masks at Happymasks.com starting at $19
- Pre-order from the Happy Masks Pro-Series for $24
- Join the Ultra Mask waitlist
We haven't been able to test these masks but we were able to review their particle filtration findings. Enro masks claim to have a unique nanofiber filter that's machine washable, up to 100 times. Tested under the same standard used for surgical face masks by the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM), these masks showed 99.9% efficacy for bacteria, virus and particle filtration—that excellent filtration remained at 98.5% even after 100 washes. At this time we cannot comment on fit, but we have seen these on other children. If you are looking for a reusable cover to use over your child's surgical mask to improve the fit, these seem like the best option you could hope for.
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.