My Kid Is Wearing KF94 Masks to School This Year, and Here's Why
The Korean alternatives to KN95 masks are readily available and proven to be effective.
If you're reading this, we probably don't have to tell you that the latest news about COVID-19 and children is confusing at best, scary at worst. Now that most of our kids are back in school, and those under 12 years old are still unvaccinated, we need to make sure they're wearing the best possible face masks to protect themselves and help prevent the spread of this virus. To that end, many parents (myself included) and experts have concluded that Korean-made KF94 masks for kids are a smart choice.
What Are KF94 Masks, and Are They Better Than KN95s?
KF94 masks are the South Korean equivalent of KN95 masks from China, and are regulated by the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety. The "KF" stands for Korean filter, while the "94" indicates that they filter 94 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns in size or larger. Though the SARS-CoV-2 virus is about 0.1 microns, it travels via droplets and aerosols that are larger, which is why masks are still a good way to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
KF94 masks are made up of four layers of nonwoven material, which has been shown in limited studies to be almost as effective in blocking the virus as the FDA-approved N95 masks worn by medical professionals. Nonwoven mask materials have also been shown to be more effective than woven (a.k.a. cloth masks without filters) in blocking particle transmission.
These disposable face masks are not approved by the FDA for medical settings, however, and another study showed that they're not as good as N95s because they don't fit as snugly around the wearer's face, allowing for leaks. Still, since there are no N95 masks for kids (those are strictly made for occupational use), the researchers behind that study concluded that KF94s are an excellent option for use in lower-risk settings.
There have been some issues with counterfeit KN95 masks being exported and sold in the U.S., which means it can be difficult to tell if you're buying the best mask for your kids or yourself. That's why engineer Aaron Collins, a.k.a. @masknerd on Twitter, prefers KF94s.
"In South Korea, if you put a KF94 stamp on your masks and don't meet the standards, the government will fine you heavily," Collins told Health. "I like these masks because of the quality system in place."
Still, it's a buyer-beware market out there when it comes to masks. When shopping for disposable masks for kids and yourself, make sure you read the reviews to see if others have reported that they didn't receive what they thought they were ordering. The masks we suggest below come from reputable manufacturers and vendors.
KF94 Mask Fit Matters
As we all know by now, no mask is effective if your kid won't wear it, or if air escapes easily around it. Fit and comfort are super important here. The KF94 masks have two features that make them a great choice for your kids: The flexible nose clip allows for a close fit up top, which is good news for kids who wear glasses; and the shape of the mask itself, with the wide and flat horizontal band of material across the mouth, is also quite comfortable for kids and adults. It feels like you have more space to breathe and talk, even though the mask is snug around the sides. When my son wore his, it didn't wind up slightly soggy at the end of the day (ick!), the way his cloth masks often do.
One disadvantage of KF94s is that there aren't many sizes available, and they don't usually come with adjustable ear loops. For very small children, instead consider the KN95 masks from WellBefore, which come in an extra-small size.
You can also fit a KF94 to your kid by purchasing plastic or silicone toggles separately (this is so much more comfortable than tying a knot in the loops, by the way). Another option is a fabric or elastic strap that goes around their head, allowing you to tighten the mask comfortably and reducing those mask-induced earaches, while also solving the problem of where to put the mask when kids are eating or taking a mask break outside.
Below are some of our favorite KF94 masks for kids, plus accessories you can purchase to make them fit effectively.
Vida FDA Registered KF94 Kids Mask (10-pack)
Vida has become a favorite brand for its cloth and disposable face masks during the pandemic, and it recently began offering KF94 masks for kids. There are a variety of colors available—a definite plus for kids who have grown to love their stylish cloth masks. Another big advantage with Vida disposable masks is you can send used masks back (in the envelope they come in) for recycling. The brand also sells KN95s for kids, so you can buy both and decide which works best.
Dr. Puri New Micro-Dust Protection KF94 Mask (30-pack)
We have tested these KF94 masks at home and found them to be soft and comfortable, and fit well when coupled with a toggle on the ear loops. Engineer Aaron Collins has also done his at-home tests on these masks, showing them to have 99.4 percent filtration efficiency. They come individually wrapped in Korean packaging with an expiration date, so you can be assured they're authentic.
Happy Life Kids KF94 Face Masks (20-pack)
Mural Wall Art Cord Locks for Mask (100-pack)
Use the included hairpin-like tool to thread the end of mask ear loops through these silicone discs and you'll have yourself an adjustable mask. Since these come in packs of 100, you also won't have to worry if a pair accidentally winds up in the trash.
Agelvren Mask Extender Straps (12-pack)
Customers rave about the way these adjustable around-the-head straps save them from ear pain after wearing masks all day. These straps include clips for each ear loop, and the material doesn't snag hair. Plus, after kids remove their masks from their faces, they can have them at the ready to pull back up without a fuss.