N99 vs N95 vs Cloth Masks & Particulate Respirators - Primo Dental Products

As we enter the winter months here in the United States and a third wave of COVID-19 infections sweep across most of the country, it is important to understand how you can protect yourself and stay safe. Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been a deluge of information around the effectiveness of different types of masks, respirators, and general face coverings. 

Check out our In Stock - Made in USA N95s and Surgical Masks.

We at Primo Dental Products wanted to provide an overview of the differences between the types and when they should be worn.

Note: This article should only be used for information purposes. Please refer to the CDC official website for the latest updates on face coverings and the COVID-19 virus.

Before we dive into breaking down the difference between respirators, face masks and face coverings, it is important to understand the role of NIOSH as well as differences in N95, N99 and other types of masks.

What is NIOSH?

NIOSH is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH is a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC’s main objective is to protect public health and safety through the control and mitigation of disease, injury or disability, both domestically and internationally. They primarily focus on attention on infectious disease, food borne pathogens, environmental health, occupational safety and health, health promotion and injury prevention. As a result of this objective, they are in charge of regulating masks and respirators. 

NIOSH is the organization tasked with setting the classification standards and performing the necessary test to certify the efficacy of the different types of respirators and masks that are produced and sold in the United States.

NIOSH will test the efficacy of respirators by issuing two different classifications. The two classifications are the letters and numbers associated with the respirators. Each respirator can be N,R or P, in addition to numbers 95,99, or 100. The combination of letters and numbers represents the type of respirator.

NIOSH Testing and Certification

In order to be tested and certified by NIOSH, these masks must create an airtight seal for the wearer. In order to create an airtight seal, the masks must have bands that go across and behind the head of the wearer. Unlike standard earloop masks and other face coverings, these NIOSH rated masks must have the airtight seal to help filter dangerous chemicals, particulate or smoke. WIthout this seal, particles such as COVID-19, can get through and into the mask resulting in potential infection.

N100 vs. N99 vs. N95

Within the N series, there are three different models: N100, N99 and N95. These non oil resistant masks offer protection against both oil free liquid and solid particles. Because the COVID-19 virus is non-oil based, these N series masks can provide adequate protection against the COVID-19 Coronavirus.

The only difference between these three different respirators is the level of filtration. Based on the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, the N95 provides adequate protection against the COVID-19 Coronavirus. This means that the N99 and N100 respirator masks provide more than adequate protection.

N95 vs. KN95

At the onset of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, the CDC published guidance Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of N95 Respirators. This guidance provides Crisis Alternate Strategies that includes the option: “Use of respirators approved under standards used in other countries that are similar to NIOSH-approved N95 respirators.”

In addition, the FDA issued Emergency Use Authorization to provide guidance on the masks certified by other countries in lieu of N series respirators. This opened the door for Chinese authorized and produced KN95 to be imported and used in the United States.

KN95’s have several major differences in design and testing vs. the US tested, NIOSH approved N95 masks.

  1. KN95 utilize an earloop design while N95 respirators must utilize over the head design to create an airtight seal for the wearer.
  2. To be certified as a KN95 mask, the Chinese government requires the manufacturer to run a special mask fit test on real humans with ≤ 8% leakage. The N95 mask standard does not require fit tests.

  3. N95 masks have slightly stricter requirements for pressure drop while inhaling. That means they’re required to be slightly more breathable than KN95 masks.

While the testing may look similar, studies done on KN95 shows that there are major differences between the effectiveness of these masks.

ECRI report on the effectiveness of KN95

A new report from ECRI found the ubiquitous KN95 masks are not as effective as N95 masks. Researchers at ECRI, a not-for-profit organization that for decades has advised hospitals, government organizations and other healthcare stakeholders on product safety, found that up to 70 percent KN95 masks imported from China don’t meet U.S. standards for effectiveness as with N95 masks. 

Testing of over 200 mask models from 15 different manufacturers showed a majority of these masks did not provide the level of protection they promised. Because of these alarming results, the ECRI issued a high priority hazard alert to its member organizations and advised them to stop the purchase and use of KN95 masks.

It is recommended that anyone looking for the necessary protection of an N95 respirator mask to stick with trusted N95 masks and not replace them with a KN95 mask.

General Precautions When Wearing N Series Respirators

N95, N99 and N100 respirator masks for the prevention against COVID-19 come in a variety of styles, shapes, and colors. It is advised to avoid respirator masks that have exhalation valves that can make breathing out easier and help reduce heat build-up.These respirator style masks should not be used during the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic as they can actually spread the virus to others who are not wearing facial protection.

Please only wear N series respirator masks without the respirator valve.

Surgical Masks

Another type of mask available to the public are surgical masks. Most face masks marketed to the general public for non-medical uses, such as construction or industrial applications, are not medical devices. Face masks, when they are used by dental professions, are classified as surgical masks and are classified as medical devices regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

While masks and respirators may share many similar characteristics, there are some major differences that customers should be aware of.

  • Surgical facemasks are loose fitting and utilize an ear loop design. This may not provide adequate protection against breathing in airborne pathogens such as the COVID-19 Coronavirus.
  • Non surgical masks are not rated for fluid protection and may not filter particles. Surgical face masks are fluid resistant and are rated across ASTM levels 1-3. While these surgical masks are used in medical settings, they do not provide full protection against the inhalation of airborne pathogens and aerosols, such as the COVID-19 Coronavirus. 

Surgical face masks are rated by ASTM International, a global organization responsible for developing and publishing the technical standards across a variety of products, materials, systems and services. They are responsible for developing the ASTM F2100-11 standard. Since 2012, this has been the standard rating system used to rate surgical face masks.

ASTM Ratings (Levels)

The ASTM F2100-11 standard is based on material testing across five different metrics. Based on their scores, ASTM assigned a numerical rating for the efficacy of the mask against fluid exposure.

  • Level 1 - for low risk of fluid exposure
  • Level 2 - for moderate risk of fluid exposure
  • Level 3 - for high risk of fluid exposure

The Five Performance Metrics And Their Tests

Source: Halyard Health

  • Fluid Resistance – Test ASTM F1862
    • This test evaluates the resistance of a medical face mask to penetration by a small volume (~2 mL) of synthetic blood at a high velocity (80 mmHg, 120 mmHg, or 160 mmHg). The mask either passes or fails based on visual evidence of synthetic blood penetration.
  • Breathability – Test MIL-M-36954 C: ΔP
    • This test determines the face mask’s resistance to airflow. A controlled flow of air is driven through the mask, and the pressure before and after is measured. The difference in pressure is divided by the surface (in cm2) of the sample. A lower breathing resistance indicates a better comfort level for the user.
  • Bacterial Filtration (BFE) – Test ASTM F2101
    • This test measures the percentage of bacteria larger than 3 microns filtered out by the mask. The challenge material used is Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Particulate Filtration (PFE) – Test ASTM F2299
    • This test measures the percentage of particles larger than 1 micron filtered out by the mask. The challenge material used consists of latex aerosol concentrations in a controlled airflow chamber.
  • Flammability – Test 16 CFR Part 1610: Flame Spread
This test exposes the face mask material to a flame and measures the time required for the flame to proceed up the material a distance of 127 mm (5 inches). Class 1 means the material exhibits normal flammability and is acceptable for use in clothing.
n95 versus n99 and kn95 types

Tips To Avoid Counterfeit Masks

With the explosion in demand for masks and respirators due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus, consumers are recommended to take extra precautions to ensure that they are buying legitimate masks and respirators. The ADA recommends following these common sense steps.

Tips To Look For When Buying From Websites and Third-Party Marketplaces

  • The contact email address is a free email service (e.g. google, yahoo, etc.)
  • The lack of a support phone number
  • The presence of typos and bad grammar
  • Unfinished website with broken links and placeholder text still present
Warning Signs For Fake N95 Respirators
  • A lack of, or misspelling of the NIOSH marking on the individual respirator mask
  • The claim that the respirator is approved for use by children
  • The presence of decorative add-ons on the respirator mask itself
  • A lack of the NIOSH approval number of the mask or headband itself
  • An ear loop design instead of the headband style all N95s are required to have

Cloth Masks And Face Coverings

For everyday use, the CDC recommends wearing a reusable cloth masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus in crowded public places or when social distancing of six feet or more cannot be implemented.

A cloth mask is focused on trapping aerosol particles to prevent the wearer from infecting others. While it fully prevents the transmission of the COVID-19 virus, studies have shown that countries that have mandated face coverings saw fewer deaths and cases. Cloth masks can be commonly bought in most retailers across the country or can be made at home. These masks should be of materials that include multiple layers of tightly woven cotton.

The CDC recommends a few common sense steps to ensure proper wearing of fabric face masks. This includes the following:

  • Wash or sanitize your hands before and after touching your fabric face mask.
  • The masks should cover BOTH the nose and mouth.
  • Make sure there is a snug fit from an ear loop or headband design.
  • Do not continue to wear a fabric face masks that is wet or has been soiled.
  • Regularly wash your fabric mask with soap and water by hand or in the washing machine.

Cloth Mask Maintenance & Care 

It is important to regularly wash your fabric face mask. The reason for this is because your fabric face mask or covering can be contaminated. The face mask is continuously exposed to airborne particles both from the wearer and the general environment. This exposes the mask to anything in the environment including viruses,fungi and pollution.

The CDC recommends that these reusable fabric face masks are washed every day. The most effective way to wash these fabric face masks is to use a washing machine along with a store-bought detergent. In addition, using a hot water temperature setting ensures additional protection.

If a washing machine is not available, the reusable fabric mask can be washed with regular hand soap and hot water. The mask should be scrubbed in warm or hot soapy water for 20 seconds.

Social Distancing and Face Masks

A cloth face mask provides an added layer of protection that can reduce the spread of COVID-19 in crowded public settings. However, these masks are not a substitute for social distancing. When in public places, both indoors and outdoors, it is recommended that individuals practice both six feet of social distancing in addition to wearing a fabric face mask.


Hopefully our breakdown of the different types of masks gives you the piece of mind in choosing the correct protection for your situation. While wearing a mask is vital to help stop the spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus, we all need to follow additional common steps.
  • Wash hands regularly with soap and water for at least twenty seconds. This is especially important after being in a public place or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If hand washing is not a viable option or available, a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used.
  • Avoid constant touching of eyes,nose or mouth.
  • Avoid close contact and observe at least six feet of social distancing with others.
  • Wear a cloth face covering to cover your mouth and nose when around others and when you must go out in public. The cloth face cover is meant to protect other people in case you are infected. Don’t place one on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, The tissue should be thrown away immediately after and the person should wash or sanitize their hands as well.
  • Clean and disinfect heavily touched surfaces daily. Heavily trafficked areas include tables, door knobs, light switches, cell phones, keyboards, sinks, toilets, faucets and countertops.
  • Avoid non-essential travel when possible.
  • Get your annual flu shot as soon as possible. This fall and winter, the flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 may both be spreading. A flu shot will be more important than ever to help people stay healthy.

About Primo Dental Products

Primo Dental Products is a family-owned business based in Monroe, New Jersey. With over twenty five years of experience in the Dental industry, Primo Dental Products saw an opportunity in offering high quality disposable dental equipment at fair and competitive prices. Primo Dental Products decided to partner with trusted manufacturers to make a variety of disposable and high-quality dental products. We have carefully vetted manufacturers with years of experience to help create our own brand of disposable dental products. Our own products are comparable to major manufacturers without the usual markup. 

As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have opened up our webstore to the general public in the United States. We saw that there was a significant amount of fake, low-quality personal protective equipment (PPE) out in the market, putting the average person at higher risk for COVID-19 infection. 

As PPE became central to everyday life from trips to the grocery store to taking public transportation, Primo Dental Products decided that something needed to be done. We quickly responded by offering our branded personal protective equipment (disposable gloves and masks) and high-quality products from brand name manufacturers directly on our website.

Primo Dental Products focused on offering a wide variety of products including surgical masks, disposable gloves (both in nitrile & latex), hand sanitizer and much more to customers across the United States. We ensured that all of our products offered on the website met our high standards. We only sell products on the website that we would gladly offer our normal dental customers. Primo Dental Product prides itself on delivering the customer a hassle-free PPE buying process via our top-rated, intuitive web store and delivering products quickly. We ship exclusively with FedEx from our Monroe NJ warehouse resulting in consistent and accurate delivery times with orders arriving within 2-5 business days after processing. 

Take a look at the hundreds of 5 star reviews across our range of PPE products on the site from our thousands of satisfied customers. Feel free to reach out via our contact us page via the contact email form or phone number at any time with any questions. We ensure that all emails and phone calls are answered within one business day. We hope that you give Primo Dental Products a look and we look forward to serving all of your personal protective equipment (PPE) needs.