The N95 Mask Guide from Project N95

The N95 is that mask that started it all and gave Project N95 its name. We have been working to get genuine N95 respirators into the hands of healthcare and other frontline workers since the early days of the pandemic. To this day, we provide products, resources, and information to help keep people and communities safe through COVID-19 and beyond.

Project N95 is the trusted nonprofit source for authentic NIOSH-approved N95 filtering facepiece respirators. Take advantage of our expertise in this article and learn more about our work and what you should know about these incredible, life-saving devices.

N95 Respirator Graphic

What is an N95?

An N95 is a standardized face covering that must filter at least 95% of airborne particles. It is considered the standard for proper respiratory protection in the healthcare and industrial fields and is fully governed by NIOSH—the CDC’s National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health. Any N95 respirator sold in the United States must meet rigorous criteria for manufacturing, labeling, fit, and filtration.

How does an N95 work?

An N95 covers the nose and mouth to prevent dangerous particulates from entering your respiratory system. That means they rely on two critical factors to protect you: filtration and fit.

N95 Filtration

N95s and other filtering facepiece respirators use layers of electrostatically charged nonwoven meltblown fabric—usually polypropylene—that trap airborne particles while allowing air to pass through. For a more detailed explanation, check out this handy video tutorial from MinutePhysics.

N95 Fit

While the clever physics of an N95 help it trap harmful particles, that filtration is effective only if the mask completely encloses your nose and mouth—fit is critical. An N95 must fully seal to your face to ensure that particles are trapped in the layers of the fabric and not sneaking in though gaps between the mask and your skin. That’s also the reason almost all N95s use head straps: a strong, consistent seal.

I’m not in health care—can I buy an N95?

Yes, N95 respirators are safe, available, affordable, and appropriate for public use. Thanks in large part to a surge in domestic manufacturing—including several partners who work directly with Project N95—the supply of N95 masks is now more than sufficient for healthcare professionals and the general population.

Typically, healthcare workers would only use surgical N95s: those that provide fluid resistance in addition to filtration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the Food and Drug Administration has issued an Emergency Use Authorization that allows medical personnel to use non-surgical N95s in case surgical versions aren’t available.

Both surgical and non-surgical respirators are plentiful in the current market, so we strongly recommend a surgical N95 if you work in a medical setting. For others, either surgical or non-surgical is safe and appropriate to use—the most important thing is to find a mask that is comfortable and fits you well.

How can I buy an N95?

Project N95 was the trusted nonprofit shop for N95 respirators.

The proliferation of counterfeit N95 masks since March 2020 resulted in Project N95’s thorough vetting process, which was designed to ensure that every N95 respirator in our product guide is safe and authentic. We reviewed supplier documentation not only to guarantee that all N95s we display are approved by NIOSH but also that they are sourced from authorized manufacturers or wholesalers. THIS DATA IS ACCURATE AS OF JANUARY 31st, 2024.

Because an N95 is designed to seal to the face, it offers a very high level of protection that is great for people who are especially concerned about exposure to COVID or other airborne particles. N95s are an excellent, affordable option for healthcare personnel, first responders, frontline workers in high-transmission areas, immunocompromised individuals, people with severe asthma or allergies, or anyone looking for a reliable high-filtration mask.

Almost all N95 respirators use head straps to attach to the face and help provide a strong, consistent seal. They are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, styles, and even colors. They are made all over the world, including right here in the United States.

Check out our expansive selection of N95 masks in the N95 product guide.