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Best COVID-19 Face Masks for Kids: KN95, Disposable and More
Many schools no longer require them, but with the transportation mandate still in place, you might need to stock up on masks designed for kids.
Katie TeagueWriter II
Katie is a writer covering all things how-to at CNET, with a focus on Social Security and notable events. When she's not writing, she enjoys playing in golf scrambles, practicing yoga and spending time on the lake.
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Kim Wong-Shing loves demystifying the world of wellness to make it accessible to any reader. She's also passionate about exploring the intersections of health, history and culture. Prior to joining CNET, she contributed stories to Glamour, MindBodyGreen, Greatist and other publications.
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Editor's note, March 7, 2023: The recommendations in this article are out of date and will not be updated going forward. We recommend referring to the CDC and WHO, linked above, for current mask guidelines.
Thanks to the high infection rates of the new BA.5 omicron variant, you may be looking to give your kids a little extra protection before sending them back to the classroom this year. Vaccinating your children is still the best way to protect them from COVID-19, but wearing a KN95 mask or N95 mask adds another layer of defense. And because you want the mask to fit properly, you'll need to make sure you get one that's appropriately sized for kids.
Breakthrough infections rarely result in hospitalization if you're already vaccinated, but wearing a mask with a nose wire and adjustable ear straps offers additional protection when social distancing isn't an option. The bottom line: Wearing masks, social distancing and vaccinating can help you avoid catching or spreading COVID-19 to more vulnerable people in your family or community.
Many schools no longer require mask wearing, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now only recommends students and staff wear a mask in communities with a high level of COVID-19 transmission. But if you're still concerned about your child's safety, we recommend going with one of the masks below.
While CNET hasn't formally reviewed and tested face masks, we spoke to medical experts for the most up-to-date face mask guidance and drew from CDC recommendations to formulate our informed choices of the best kids face mask, including disposable KN95 mask models for smaller faces. Plus, we're including some models that our staff have used in their own family environments, such as reusable face masks with adjustable nose wire bridges and elastic ear loop straps for a secure fit and greater comfort during all-day wear, and water-resistant reusable masks that are good for sports.
With breakthrough COVID-19 cases continuing to rise and the omicron variant spreading rapidly, CDC face mask guidance is updated regularly. It still recommends wearing a face mask indoors, especially in areas of high transmission due to the omicron variant -- even for those who are fully vaccinated. Its recommendation as of Jan. 28 says N95 masks provide the highest level of protection, followed by KN95 masks, while loosely woven cloth masks provide the least amount of protection.
The CDC says that the protection a mask offers wanes when it doesn't fit properly. If there are gaps, air with respiratory droplets can leak through.
The recommendation hasn't changed for those who are unvaccinated. Anyone who can get vaccinated should do so. For those who can't -- such as kids under 5 -- the CDC still says they should continue wearing a mask in all public indoor settings, even if it's not an area of high transmission. That goes for children 2 years old and up.
Watch this: What to do if you lose your vaccination card, and how to never lose it again
Key terms for mask shopping: N95, KN95, KF94, NIOSH and more
At the top of your shopping list should be N95, KN95 or KF94 masks. Those are the US, China and South Korea standards, respectively, designed to filter out 95% (N95, KN95) or 94% (KF94) of external particles.
In the US, an N95 mask must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration as well as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in order to qualify for medical use.
Because the KN95 and KF94 aren't regulated by US authorities, it's a bit trickier to know you're getting the real deal as counterfeit masks have abounded throughout the pandemic. The FDA approved certain KN95s under an Emergency Use Authorization in 2020, and while that authorization has expired, the list of FDA-approved manufacturers is still a helpful resource. The CDC also maintains a list of non-NIOSH-approved masks that have gone through filtration testing. However, even if they don't meet NIOSH standards for filtration efficacy, KN95 masks still provide better protection than a cloth mask.
Ignore the term "FDA registered" when shopping for masks. As the FDA notes on its website, facilities "involved in the production and distribution of medical devices intended for use in the United States are generally required to register annually with the FDA." But, importantly, the "FDA's registration and listing database does not denote approval, clearance or authorization of that facility or its medical devices."
Important things to know when buying face masks for kids
If your child is unvaccinated, immunocompromised or at a higher risk for COVID-19, we recommend double-masking with a disposable mask underneath for extra protection if a kids N95 mask, KN95 or KF94 mask isn't available.
If your child wears glasses, consider styles that go around the back of the head or neck, instead of ear loops. Also, a contoured face mask shape may work best with glasses.
If your child has breathing problems, such as asthma that is well-controlled, the American Lung Association says they should be able to wear a face covering without affecting their oxygen levels, but "parents should purchase or identify a facial covering that is comfortable for their children to wear."
We recommend buying several face masks for your child with adjustable straps to rotate out throughout the day.
The doctors we spoke to said that cloth face masks alone are no longer recommended and suggested them only when double-masking. (See below for more.)
Is your kid active? Some companies are using a lightweight, moisture-wicking cloth face mask fabric, like cotton, which is better suited for the summer heat. (Again, this is suggested as part of a double-masking regimen, at least when indoors.)
ZDNet's Alyson Windsor says it's important that her kids wear highly protective, well-fitting masks in public due to their immune issues, and she's found Protectly -- a California-manufactured KN95 mask -- to be their favorite. "These are comfortable and easy to breathe in while fitting snugly -- no nose gaps!" Alyson said. You can get a 10-pack of the disposable masks right now for $27.50 on sale.
WWDoll's KN95 masks have five layers of fabric, a foldable 3D shape, ear loops and an adjustable nose clip bridge for a secure fit. They're manufactured in a factory in China that's on the FDA's EUA list, and you can get a mask pack of 25 for $20.
ICU Health disposable face masks offer three layers of protection and an adjustable nose bridge to fit your child's face. It is a non-medical grade mask and is non-sterile. This mask should be used as a single-use disposable mask. You can get a pack of 20 for just $10. This mask should be used for your kid with adult supervision.
WeCare's disposable face masks have three layers and are individually sealed, so you can easily store one in your child's backpack. They come in a box of 50 for $15. This mask comes in all kinds of colors and in both kids and adult sizes.
Just Play's disposable face masks have three layers with an adjustable nose piece and come in sizes small (kids ages 2-7) and large (ages 8 and older). Each box has 24 masks and in two designs for $13.
Dr. Bob Lahita, director of the Institute for Autoimmune and Rheumatic Disease at St. Joseph Health, told CNET that he's steering people away from cloth or organic cotton masks versus the N95, KN95 and KF94 masks listed above. But there's an outer-layer loophole, says Dr. Bob Bollinger, professor of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and founder of Emocha Health: double-masking. If you can't find an N95, KN95 or KF94, "a good quality disposable mask under a cloth mask is a reasonable alternative, as long as the fit on the face, nose and mouth is tight."
For kids who play sports, the $25 Under Armour Sportsmask can help improve airflow with its water-resistant fabric. It also provides UPF 50+ sun protection. Our former colleague Larry Dignan says his kids keep coming back to the UA masks and that he's been wearing them to the gym as well.
This story has been completely updated and revised to reflect new advice and recommendations as of January 2022.
Watch this: What you need to know about cleaning and reusing a virus mask
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.