Masks and Respirators: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best Canadian mask?

When looking for a medical procedural mask or surgical mask for healthcare, look for maximum breathability and an ASTM level 3 fluids rating. The Airguardz Level 3 procedural mask is the most breathable Canadian-made mask on the market right now.

If you're among the general public looking for better aerosol filtration, choose a respirator such as one of our KN95 or N95 models. Respirators are designed to minimize air leakage around the sides, which is an improvement over surgical procedural masks.

If you work in healthcare AND want a better mask, you'll want a respirator with a fluids rating such as the Canada Masq Q100 or the Vitacore CAN99 9500.

What's the difference between a respirator mask and a medical mask?

Medical masks are also known as procedural masks or surgical masks. These are worn by healthcare workers during surgical procedures, mainly to stop droplets and bodily fluids from entering or leaving the wearer's mouth and airway.

Medical masks are often 3-ply and looser in fit, so airborne particles can leak around the edges. In contrast, respirators have more layers and are designed to seal against the user's face, forcing air and particules through the filtration layers where they can be captured.

Do N95 respirators work for forest fire / wildfire smoke?

Yes! Tight fitting respirator face masks are excellent at filtering fine particles found in forest fire smoke.

The government of Canada states "If you must spend time outdoors, a well-fitted respirator type mask (such as a NIOSH certified N95 or equivalent respirator) that does not allow air to pass through small openings between the mask and face, can help reduce your exposure to the fine particles in smoke. These fine particles generally pose the greatest risk to health. However, respirators do not reduce exposure to the gases in wildfire smoke. It is important to listen to your body and reduce or stop activities if you are experiencing symptoms."

You can learn more about wildfire smoke from Environment and Climate Change Canada at this link.

What's the difference between N95 and KN95 respirators?

NIOSH N95 is an American respirator standard. This requires, among other things, headbands and >95% particulate filtration. Earloops are not permitted.

KN95 is a performance certification level from the Chinese respirator standard GB2626-2019. KN95 also requires >95% filtration. Earloops are permitted.

KN95 is the most widely used respirator standard in the world, and is recommended for consumer use by Health Canada.

Our KN95s are exclusively manufactured in Canada by two Health Canada licensed manufacturers. We do not carry any overseas-sourced respirators.

Where are your masks made?

At Canada Strong, we believe in supporting Canadian manufacturing.

Most of our respirator masks are manufactured in Canada, and the remainder are manufactured in the US.

You can find the country of manufacture on each of our product pages.

We try to source masks from Canadian suppliers first whenever possible. Sometimes if there is no Canadian equivalent, we source from US suppliers.

Which masks does Health Canada recommend for COVID?

For the general public for COVID-19, Health Canada recommends snug-fitting respirator masks. This includes KN95, N95, and CSA CA-N95 types.

Healthcare professionals should consider a respirator with fluids rating, such as our CSA-approved Canada Masq Q100 or our NIOSH Surgical N95 Respirator Vitacore CAN99 9500, or the popular 3M Healthcare Respirators.

Do your masks contain any graphene, fiberglass, or latex?

None of our masks contain graphene or fiberglass.

None of our masks contain latex except for the Dräger 1750 N95 which contains latex in its headband.

Do KN95 masks obtain NIOSH approval?

NIOSH N95 is an American respirator standard which requires headbands for eligiblity.

KN95 respirator masks almost always have earloops, which makes them ineligible for NIOSH certification.

What's the difference between CSA-approved and NIOSH N95 respirator masks?

In terms of respirator certification, Canada's CA-N95 and NIOSH's N95 both require >95% particulate filtration, and both have categories for fluids protection for healthcare workers.

The key differences are:

a) CSA permits earloops or headbands. NIOSH requires headbands.

b) CSA specifies strict breathability categories e.g. The Canada Masq Q100 achieves CSA's highest breathability category <100 Pa inhalation resistance. Whereas NIOSH N95 requires <343 Pa inhalation resistance - a level at which many will feel discomfort.

Which respirator mask has the best filtration?

All of our respirators have >95% FPE filtration and some, like Vitacore CAN99 9500, have >99% PFE filtration.

But excellent filtration can easily be degraded by air leakage around the edge of your respirator caused by a mismatch to your face or head shape.

Therefore the best respirator for you is often the one that fits your face and head, with minimal air leaks around the perimeter of the mask. To determine this requires some trial and error - consider using our sample kits to find a respirator that fits.

If you are a user at high risk or would otherwise like to ensure minimal leakage, consider doing a Quantitative Fit Test to find the respirator mask that works best for you. Use a search engine to seek out a "mask fit testing service provider near me." These typically cost $50-$80.

How long can I wear an N95 or KN95 face mask?

N95, KN95, and other face masks should not be worn beyond 8 hours of accumulated use to avoid growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew in the mask, and to avoid fatiguing in the nose strip and earloop/headband elastics causing poor fit and higher air leakage. 

Can I wash or sanitize respirator face masks?

Do not wash or attempt to sanitize N95. KN95, or CA-N95 respirator face masks or medical masks.

Washing may disrupt the nonwoven fibers inside by bunching them together, creating areas of lower filtration. Washing may also reduce the nonwoven meltblown's electric charge, reducing filtration efficiency.

Sanitizing with heat or chemicals may weaken the materials or fabrics used in the mask.

What's a level 3 mask?

Medical masks are also known as Procedural masks. They are classified by ASTM F2100 into levels 1, 2, and 3.

Level 3 has the highest protection against bodily fluids spray (160 mmHg of pressure - think of a surgeon hitting an artery). Level 3 also has the highest bacteria and particulate filtration levels (>98%) through the mask media.

However, medical/procedural masks aren't designed for a tight fit and there's often plenty of leakage around the edges. So the practical filtration can be considerably lower than with a KN95/N95 respirator.

For this reason, respirators are recommended over medical masks for any airborne particulate or pathogens.

Can I buy masks in bulk?

Yes! All of our mask product pages have bulk purchasing options. If you are looking for even higher quantities, please email us:

What's the best Canadian NIOSH N95 respirator mask?

We have two great Canadian-Made options at Canada Strong:

The Vitacore CAN99 9500 is NIOSH N95 certified, Made in Canada, and has fluids rating for healthcare.

The Canada Masq Q100 is CSA certified, Made in Canada, extremely breathable, and has fluids rating for healthcare.

Since 2023, CSA now certifies respirators to even more stringent requirements than NIOSH N95.

Are KN95 respirators better than cloth masks and medical masks?

Yes! KN95 respirator face masks are designed using better filtration materials than cloth and medical / procedural masks. Also, KN95 masks are designed to seal against your face to reduce air leakage, whereas cloth and medical masks can have considerable air leakage around the edges of the mask which reduces protection.

Are respirator masks with headbands better than respirators with earloops?

Headbands are often stronger and can pull a respirator tighter against the face as compared to earloops. This may minimize leakage.

Headband respirators can also be more comfortable when wearing a for several hours e.g. on a long flight or work shift. In contrast, earloop respirators may cause ear soreness after several hours of use.

Are your masks approved by Health Canada?

Health Canada licenses and oversees Canadian medical device manufacturers, but doesn't approve individual respirators and face masks.

All of our Canadian-made respirators and medical masks are manufactured by Health Canada licensed manufacturers including Canada Masq, Dent-x, Kross, Layfield, PADM Medical, Swenco, and Vitacore.

Are 4-layer or 5-layer masks better than 3-layer? Does ply matter?

Most respirators are constructed using 4 or 5 layers.

The fit, filtration, and breathability are what matters, not the layer count. In fact, respirator manufacturers have been migrating to reduced layer count using better materials in order to improve breathability while maintaining >95% filtration.

Most respirators use 2 inner layers of nonwoven meltblown fabric for particulate filtration. Sometimes a 3rd layer is added for mechanical stiffness or for extra fluids protection.

These inner layers are then encased in 2 layers of spunbond fabric which is very breathable and gives the mask strength and shape. This spunbond doesn't meaningfully provide filtration - it's mainly used for structure.

Where can I get a fit test?

If you are a healthcare worker, a user at high risk, or would otherwise like to ensure minimal leakage, consider doing a Quantitative Fit Test to find the respirator mask that works best for you. Use a search engine to seek out a "fit testing service provider near me" in the city nearest you. These typically cost $50-$80.

What are the 3 most important aspects of a respirator mask?

Fit, Fit, and Fit! Once you're comparing respirator masks in the >95% filtration category, it's most important to find one that doesn't leak air around its perimeter while you're wearing it.

Finding a good fit takes some trial and error to determine which one works on your head and face. Consider trying our sample kits to help find your fit.

On a side note, we also think breathability is very important. That's why we only carry the most breathable respirators in Canada.