Flat fold N95 masks protect healthcare providers and the general public from airborne contaminants such as viruses, bacteria, and smoke. Some N95 masks are rated for surgical use and also protect the wearer from fluid splash. In the United States, these and other filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) are regulated and certified by NIOSH, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and tested to ensure they meet their advertised standards for filtration. N95 masks are designed to filter at least 95% of airborne contaminants, but are not oil-resistant.
All NIOSH-approved disposable N95 masks are made out of a specialized meltblown, non-woven fabric and have flexible head straps. Beyond that, they come in a wide variety of brands, models, and sizes. At Pandemic Pal, our goal is to empower people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, along with home health aides, essential workers, and the general public to navigate the complex world of personal protective equipment. We are here to help you choose the right respirators to protect yourself and those around you. Read on to learn more, or click below to quickly shop for flat fold N95 masks.
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What are flat fold N95 masks?
There are two basic types of N95 masks — folding style and cup style (also known as cone style, or shell style). Prior to the virus pandemic, when most people pictured an N95 mask, they imagined the cup variety. But flat fold N95 masks, which may fold in half, in thirds, horizontally, vertically, or various other configurations, have now become popular, and for good reason.
Are flat fold N95 respirators as effective as cup-style masks?
Yes. Studies show that when fitted properly, flat fold filtering facepiece respirators are just as if not more effective than shell or cup masks at protecting the wearer from harmful particles in the air, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Flat fold FFRs must pass the same test as cup respirators to be approved by NIOSH, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
What are the advantages of flat fold N95 masks?
There are several factors that make flat fold respirators the best choice for respiratory protection for both regular citizens and most healthcare workers. They include:
Since they are flat, you can fit far more of this type of medical mask in a box for shipping, in your purse, or just about anywhere.
It’s no secret that many people find masks uncomfortable. That’s not an excuse not to wear them, but if you can be both comfortable and safe, why not?
In some cases, wearing respirator masks day after day can cause minor health issues. Some healthcare and essential workers develop red marks on their skin from wearing tightly sealed cup-style respirators. Long-term daily respirator use can lead to dermatitis triggered by the friction of the non-woven meltblown fabric against their skin.
Flat folding N95 masks are far less likely to cause these forms of irritation because the soft material naturally contours itself to the face, creating a lower-pressure yet still highly effective seal. The edge of flat fold masks does not cut into the face, so they don’t generally leave red marks on the skin.
According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, “There were significantly different seal pressures between standard size flat fold and cup-shaped N95 FFRs but no significant differences in face seal area… The ability of flat fold N95 FFRs, at lower seal pressures, to obtain similar fit factors as cup-shaped N95 FFR at higher seal pressures offers the possibility of enhanced facial comfort without a loss of protection.”
If you’ve ever done basic research when shopping for an N95 mask, you’ll probably know about the importance of fit testing — the process of making sure a specific model of respirator seals properly to an individual’s face. Not all respirators fit all people. In ordinary times, this is not an issue, as multiple models of respirator are readily available to healthcare workers, firefighters, and others in industries where they are exposed to viruses, smoke, and other hazardous particles.
However, we are not living in ordinary times — we are in the midst of a pandemic. Early in the coronavirus pandemic, there was an N95 mask shortage, caused primarily by supply chain issues. The situation has improved, but problems still persist, and finding affordable masks that fit can still be a challenge. This is where Pandemic Pal comes in — we help you find the right respirator to meet your needs. And we’ve learned that flat fold N95 masks are nearly always the best choice, for many reasons, but most of all, they are easy to fit, and most models fit most people.
According to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene study, “…more individuals passed fit testing wearing flat fold respirators.” This is an especially important consideration for people who are not medical professionals and have no one to oversee a fit test. You’re more likely to succeed at performing a seal check yourself when wearing a flat fold mask rather than a cup mask.
Flat fold N95 filtering facepiece respirators are also more likely to provide an effective seal while performing physical activity. A study in the journal Medicine compared the effectiveness of three types of medical respirators during CPR chest compressions: fold-type, cup-type, and valve-type. They found that, “The movement during [chest compressions] decreased the acceptable performance rate of the cup-type and valve-type, but not the fold-type respirators.” This suggests that fold-type masks are the best choice for home health aides and others whose work involves tasks such as lifting and bending.
Who should not use a flat fold N95 mask?
Flat fold FFRs are an ideal choice for most medical and non-medical uses, and are appropriate for adults. However, NIOSH-approved FFRs are not approved for children, and should especially not be used on young children who cannot communicate about their ability to breathe while wearing a respirator.
Are flat fold N95 masks for sale to the public?
Yes! You do not have to be a medical professional to buy any of the respirators listed on our site. If you have a disability or chronic illness, if you’re a senior citizen, if you’re an essential worker, if you feel you need N95 masks for any reason, you should buy them. You will not be taking supplies from hospitals by purchasing medical-grade filtering facepiece respirators. To learn more, visit our page about the N95 mask shortage.
Choosing a fold-type N95 mask
Buying an N95 mask today still usually means shopping online and choosing a respirator without trying it on. Under these conditions, how can you be sure it will fit? To start, as we mentioned, you are more likely to achieve a good seal with a folding N95 mask. Second, check sizes. Some medical masks come in more than one size, so choose the one that is most likely to fit you.
Disclaimer: Pandemic Pal does not sell the products listed below, we are simply providing a service to make them easier to find. Certified N95 face masks are proven to reduce the risk of contracting and transmitting respiratory illnesses. This page contains affiliate links, which means if you choose to make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
Recommended Flat Fold N95 Masks for Sale
Our Pandemic Pal community members have tested several of the folding-type N95 filtering respirators in situations such as home health care and attending medical appointments, and we have some clear favorites! Here are the three masks we recommend most highly, and where to buy them.
This respirator rocks! It has received raves from our community for its comfort. It seals by covering a large area of the face, rather than pressing tightly against narrow areas. Best of all, unlike other brands of N95 mask, it has adjustable head straps. The 3PE respirator is great for people with wider faces and who have experienced skin irritation from wearing other kinds of masks.
3M is the premiere brand of NIOSH-approved N95 masks. The Aura 9205+ is easy to fit and forms an excellent seal around the nose bridge, a common point of leakage for respirators. It comes in both small and standard size. It is far more comfortable than cup-style 3M models, but even the larger size may be a bit tight on people with longer and wider faces. If you’re an essential worker, and/or you’re visiting or working at a medical facility and want staff and patients to know you have high-quality respiratory protection, you can’t go wrong with these masks!
The Harley L-188 N95 mask is very similar to the 3PE mask showcased above. The nonwoven meltblown fabric is flexible and can comfortably fit a wide range of people. The nose piece is easy to adjust and the fabric has a split, which can make it more comfortable for people with angular or large noses.
Do you have a favorite folding-style N95 respirator? Let us know!
Didn’t find what you need? Check out our main N95 masks page.