How to spot counterfeit N95 masks

An N95 mask is classified as a respirator that protects against harmful airborne particulates. N95s are approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and recommended by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the healthcare workers. The main features of this respirator include a sealed fit, 95% filtration efficacy and some N95s also include an additional valve for ease of breathing. These respirators are available in different sizes and models as well. There are N95 masks for construction workers, for healthcare workers (surgical respirators), and also for protection against pollution.

Guidelines on using N95

Since the inception of the coronavirus pandemic, N95 respirators have become the recipient of worldwide traction. They are now considered a crucial component of personal protective equipment (PPE) and also considered a plausible defender against the deleterious COVID-19. However, it should be noted that N95 is not particularly an easy respirator to be used by everyone. Fit testing is an essential requirement that must be fulfilled before a user proceeds with the usage of an N95.

Moreover, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has directed that all workers must go through an annual test determining which size, model, and size is the most suitable for each worker. In addition to this, there was also a specific lot of people who are not recommended to be using this respirator. For instance, people who have facial hair, are claustrophobic, or are suffering from illnesses related to the respiratory system or the heart. Using an N95 will cause these people more harm than good as they will experience severe difficulty in breathing and their illnesses may also be worsened.

Shortage and counterfeit N95 masks

The pandemic led to the shortage of N95 masks in all marketplaces. As cases began to emerge in large numbers in the United States, respirators, masks, and other PPE went into a shortage. Hoarders began to hoard whatever PPE they could find and soon enough, all N95s had disappeared. This resulted in there weren’t sufficient N95s to facilitate the healthcare workers of the country. Hospitals and the government began to order N95s from foreign countries to mitigate the shortage.

But this didn’t solve the problem in its entirety as the N95 respirators they began to receive from foreign companies and manufacturers turned out to be counterfeit. Many hospitals that ordered N95s in bulk for their staff reported receiving counterfeit respirators. An example of this case is that of the hospital Care New England which after careful assessment and affirmation from the manufacturer ordered approximately thousands of N95 masks. In line with this, after the arrival of the order, the authorities based on the complaint of its staff went on to discover that they had received a whole lot of fake N95 masks.

This wasn’t the only hospital in the United States to have gone through such an experience. The trade of counterfeit N95s had become widespread during the pandemic. They were being delivered through freights, being sold in market places and also on online platforms. The sellers were scamming people and were utilizing the present unprecedented circumstances to their advantage. Those who had no prior knowledge about N95 masks and PPE before the pandemic were fooled easily as a result of their naivety. Due to this, it is extremely important now that an individual must educate themselves about the difference between an original and forged N95 mask.

Following are the ways through which a person may be able to differ between the two categories of N95 masks that are now being sold in the market:

1- Absence of NIOSH marking

The most important reminder of N95s originality is the NIOSH logo that is printed on the surface of the mask. The NIOSH logo holds massive importance and its absence could mean one thing only—that the mask is counterfeit.

2- In-correct NIOSH spelling

Another indicator of a counterfeit mask is the in-correct NIOSH logo printed on the N95. A fake N95’s NIOSH logo would either not be present or will certainly be misspelled.

3- Presence of ear loops

NIOSH approved N95 respirators have headbands instead of ear loops.

4- Absence of TC number

The absence of the TC number or approval number on the respirator or headband is another characteristic of a fake N95 mask.

5- No marking

 The presence of markings on N95s are necessary. If a respirator is not original it will not have any markings on it whatsoever.

6- Decorative fabric

The presence of fancy or decorative fabric or of any other beautification object is not the characteristic of a legit, NIOSH-approved N95.

7- Approval for children

NIOSH does not approve N95 respirators for children under normal circumstances. If a respirator claims that is it approved to be used by children then this claim is false and the mask is also not an original N95.


In unprecedented times like these, money takes the form of vice. Such is the case of sellers trading in Fake N95 respirators and scamming the people and healthcare workers. Since everyone is desperate to get their hands on PPE like the N95, people have decided to utilize this desperation to their advantage. However, there are signs for those who look for them and if they understand them, they will not be fooled. These signs will help determine the originality of an N95 respirator and protect you from being scammed.

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