I Tested the Best KN95 Masks for Kids — Here’s My Top Pick

published Oct 25, 2021
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young boys wearing VIDA KN95 masks
Credit: Vida

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In a move that would surely puzzle my younger self, I’ve grown into an adult who owns a drawer stuffed with face masks. From homemade cloth masks to those stamped with cute animal faces to surgical masks and beyond, my family has tried nearly every variety in the fight against COVID-19. 

So, it was little wonder that as a more contagious variant spread and our local schools opened earlier this fall, my family looked into upping our mask game. The natural next step? Non-medical KN95 masks. 

What to know about KN95 masks

Non-medical KN95 respirators — like the gold standard N95 — should filter 95 percent of airborne particles. The difference between them comes down to where they are manufactured and whose stamp of approval they receive. 

While N95 respirators are regulated by US agencies, KN95 masks adhere to standards set by the Chinese government — and studies conducted in the US show some concerning variations in their efficacy. Still, as Healthline reported last year, even a KN95 mask deemed unsuitable for use in a high-risk Covid unit likely provides greater protection than a standard cloth or surgical mask. But are these more protective masks necessary? Yvonne Maldonado, a pediatric and infectious disease specialist at Stanford University, says it all comes down to the level of risk you’re willing to tolerate.

“If people feel more comfortable with a KN95 and their child can wear it, I don’t have a problem with it,” Maldonado told NPR in the same piece where other pediatric specialists called the masks unnecessary. 

My conclusion? While we may not use them every day, a good KN95 mask may come in handy for higher-risk situations — say flying for the winter holidays or visiting an ER (god forbid). 

To find a KN95 fitted for the small faces of my 7- and 3-year-old, I went on a mask-buying spree. My criteria were simple: fit, quality, and design. Here’s what I learned about a handful of available options: 

Cost: 10 for $22.08

Colors: White

What I Liked: The Korean equivalent to KN95 masks, the Happy Life KF94 option is an FDA-registered, 4-layer mask with a built-in HEPA filter. It features a unique shape — falling somewhere between a duckbill and a surgical mask — that my kid swears is “super comfortable and good for talking.” This mask has a wide front panel and a nose clip for a better fit. 

What I Didn’t Like: These masks come individually packaged, which is great for stuffing into a bag while on-the-go, but not so environmentally friendly. Also, to ensure a snug fit, we needed to noodle around with the ear loops. 

Pick Up or Pass: Pick up

Cost: 10 for $14.95

Color Options: 18 colors 

What I Liked: Green Supply’s masks offer the most versatility in terms of color options. We chose a two-sided combination, ordering masks that are pink and purple. These are also the softest of the bunch and the most comfortable to wear for longer outings. They feature a nose clip and a beak shape, ensuring the mask doesn’t obstruct breathing. 

What Didn’t Work: Even though these masks are made for kids age 5 and older, we still found Green Supply’s option to run large. As-is, the mask slipped off my daughter’s face and gaped at the edges. However, with a simple ear loop tie and extra fabric tuck, we could ensure a closer fit to her cheeks. 

Pick Up or Pass: Pick up

Cost: 10 for $14.90

Colors: White and blue

What I Liked: After taking this mask out for a spin, my daughter confessed, she “practically loves” it. And I agree — this option has a lot going for it, namely a good fit for little faces, 5 fabric layers, a sturdy nose clip, adjustable ear loops, and good breathability. What’s more, these masks come in three petite sizing options, for kids ages 2 to 12. 

What I Didn’t Like: While there were no downsides apparent to me, my daughter said these masks initially smell like nail polish. We found an easy workaround by unwrapping a mask the night before and letting it air out before use. 

Pick Up or Pass: Pick up

Cost: 10 for $35

Color Options: 12 solid colors

What I Liked: VIDA masks are manufactured in an FDA-registered facility right here in the United States. They have many of the qualities my 7-year-old and I look for in a good mask — a beak shape for easier breathing, a nose clip, and a rainbow of color choices. The company also has a commitment to sustainability, which I find especially valuable during this era of the disposable mask. With each order, VIDA supplies a return label, prompting you to mail back your used masks for recycling, (which, news to me, cannot be managed through your neighborhood waste service). 

What Didn’t Work: My daughter and I were disappointed to find that even the most beautiful shade of bubblegum pink could not outweigh this mask’s drawbacks. Simply put, the VIDA masks are enormous for little ones. Even after I tugged and tied the ear loops, we could not come close to a fit that didn’t gape and obscure her line of vision. What’s more, these masks can only be worn for a maximum of 4 hours, meaning to get through the school day, a child would need two. 

Pick Up or Pass: For younger kids, this brand earns a “pass” from us, though it’s worth noting you may have a much better fit experience with a child age 10+. 

Cost: 10 for $12

Color Options: White and blue

What I Liked: These masks come with an “anti-fake label” to prompt consumers to verify authenticity. They’re also lightweight and fairly comfortable to breathe in, and feature a heavy duty nose clip to improve fit. 

What Didn’t Work: While Powecom markets these masks as 15 percent smaller than those made for adults, we found these KN95s to be huge. We could not get close to a proper fit, even after fiddling with the ear loops. On one hand, these masks were a total bust for my daughter, as they left parts of her face exposed. But on the other hand, they provided a close seal for me. 

Pick Up or Pass: Like the VIDA mask, Powecom’s option offers a poor fit for small faces. If your child is 10+, however, you may find this works for you.