According to studies, 9 in 10 homes suffer from air quality issues. While that seems like an astoundingly high number, it shouldn’t be surprising. You might be breathing in dirty air from irritants like dust and pet dander to more harmful pollutants like radon and air pollution. An air quality monitor is a perfect way to help you breathe better, healthier air and test air quality, and most come with a free app for your mobile phone.
While most of our recommendations below are intended for indoor use only, outdoor air quality monitors can be equally useful for allergy sufferers. While options here aren’t as numerous, we could find a few options that we think are worthy of consideration.
PM stands for particulate matter, with the number the size measured in microns. Many air quality monitors detect particulate matter in two sizes, PM2.5 and PM10 (these fine particles can be as small as the diameter of a human hair!). Better air quality monitors can also measure PM1 and other pollutants such as VOCs (volatile organic compounds, commonly found in household cleaners and cleaning chemicals), CO2, carbon monoxide, and even radon.
While they may not be able to detect mold directly, some air quality monitors can alert you to conditions that might make mold growth more likely.
In This Guide:
- Who should purchase an air quality monitor?
- Can I get sick from poor air quality in my home?
- Best Indoor Air Quality Monitors
- Best Outdoor Air Quality Monitors
- Common Pollutants 101
- Why You Should Buy an Air Quality Monitor
Who should purchase an air quality monitor?
Purchase an air quality monitor if you or a loved one in the home has allergies, asthma, or other respiratory problems. These devices will help them feel better by letting them know when indoor air quality is poor so they can take action to improve air quality. Also, homeowners concerned about their indoor air quality and common household pollutants should invest in one of these devices.
Can I get sick from poor air quality in my home?
Yes. Regardless of your health status, bad indoor air quality can make you sick. Acute exposure to high particulate matter concentrations can cause difficulty breathing, throat and eye irritation, and chest pain. to bad air quali:
- Lung damage
- Dry throat
- Chronic bronchitis
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased fatigue
A good indoor air quality monitor is a worthwhile investment regardless of your health status. Even if you are healthy and at a lower risk for contracting a respiratory illness, bad air quality can make you sick after prolonged exposure. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) poses the greatest risk for potential health problems since these particles can enter the lungs and bloodstream.
We recently wrote a blog post on who should buy an air quality monitor, which, if you are in one of the high-risk groups above, you should definitely read.
Best Indoor Air Quality Monitors
If you’re more concerned with the air quality inside your home, an indoor air quality monitor is the perfect solution. Most air quality monitors sample the air for various pollutants, with some monitors offering tips on how to lower levels of airborne pollutants that may pose a risk to your health.
The Awair Element Indoor Air Quality Monitor is a beautiful desktop unit that is chock full of features. Multiple sensors track temperature, indoor humidity, carbon dioxide levels, VOCs, and PM2.5 particulate matter within the home, displaying information on the Awair Element’s front face. Using the companion app, you’ll be able to view historical data and insights, along with tips to improve the air quality in your home.
If you have either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, you’ll also be able to ask your virtual assistant for a readout of the current air quality readings. IFTTT compatibility allows you to connect your Awair to other smart home devices — like a smart air purifier — to make sure your air is as clean as possible.
- One of the only smart air quality monitors to measure radon
- Also measures Carbon Dioxide (CO2), toxins and chemicals (Total VOCs), humidity, temperature, and air pressure
- Pollen information
- Wave in front of the device to get a color-coded representation of air quality
The AirThings Wave Plus would have likely been our top choice in indoor air quality monitors if it included particulate matter readings. It doesn’t, but it does detect radon, something no other recommendation on our list can do. In addition to radon, the AirThings Wave Plus measures carbon dioxide and VOC levels and temperature, humidity, and air pressure. Like the Awair Element, the AirThings app allows you to track historical data and pollen data from official sources near your location. It also supports IFTTT as well.
- Pocket-sized device
- Measures PM2.5 and PM10, VOCs
Huma-i gets on our list for its innovative design with the HI-120 handheld air quality monitor, which is portable and usable indoors and out. The HI-120 can fit in your pocket and has an internal built-in battery. While it doesn’t have a companion app, all its measurements, including PM2.5 and PM10 particulate matter, either for current readings or a graph of historical readings.
- Requires Amazon Alexa
- Measures particulate matter (PM 2.5), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO), humidity, and temperature
- Color-coded front LED reflects current air quality
- Announcements of air quality via Alexa
- On-demand air quality reports by voice
The Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor is one of Amazon’s latest smart home gadgets. While you’ll have to have an Alexa product to use the device, it measures everything the above devices do at a fraction of the price. We’d strongly recommend this for anyone already in the Alexa ecosystem.
It’s brand new, so we haven’t had the chance to review it yet. However, our experience with Amazon products has been mostly very positive. We’re excited to get one to try for ourselves and will certainly report back ASAP.
Best Outdoor Air Quality Monitors
Allergy sufferers and those with breathing difficulties might find an outdoor air quality monitor useful. These devices measure common outdoor pollutants, and in some cases, your data is shared publicly (with your consent) to help others around you determine air quality. You can also use some outdoor air quality monitors indoors; however, we recommend purchasing an air quality monitor intended for indoor use. They measure pollutants found in the home that aren’t typically found outdoors.
Davis’ AirLink air quality monitor doesn’t measure carbon dioxide or VOCs but is one of the few monitors to detect PM1 particulate matter. PM1 is especially dangerous as it is small enough to penetrate the bloodstream even further and is difficult to disperse. While you can use the AirLink inside, we recommend one of our internal air quality monitors instead because they can measure much more than just particulate matter. Keep in mind that you need a WeatherLink Live access point to use the AirLink, which comes with either the Vantage Vue or Vantage Pro2 weather station.
- Track outdoor air quality and share in-real time
- Comprehensive monitoring: AQI, smoke, PM1, PM2.5, PM10 (all PM measured by dual PM sensors), temperature, relative humidity, and atmospheric pressure
- Optional CO2 monitoring
- Weatherized encasement for continuous outdoor air quality monitoring
The IQAir AirVisual Outdoor has been sold privately by the company for a while but recently appeared on Amazon. If you’re super serious about air quality tracking, the AirVisual Outdoor is your monitor. It natively measures four types of pollutants, including smoke and all common sizes of particulate matter, with the option to track CO2.
Your AQI monitor also becomes part of the company’s air quality monitoring network, helping to measure AQI more accurately. The only issue with the Air Visual Outdoor is its price — which, at nearly $300, is pretty expensive.
Common Pollutants 101
Confused by some of the terms we used above? We suggest checking out the EPA’s website for more information on pollutants. We’ve created this easy-to-follow guide below to help you understand the various common pollutants and how they might pose a risk to your overall health.
Particulate Matter (PM)
Particulate matter, or PM, is a mix of particles and droplets in the air. PM can come in various shapes and sizes, but anything less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10) is hazardous to your health as you can inhale it. PM2.5 (2.5 microns in size) and PM1 are also commonly measured particulate matter sizes.
Extended exposure to particulate matter, especially PM1 and PM2.5, can cause issues with the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Symptoms of exposure are shortness of breath and allergy-like symptoms. If you have existing medical conditions like asthma and heart disease, you should be especially mindful of PM levels in the air.
Common outdoor PM sources include vehicle exhaust, wildfires, and power plant emissions. Indoor sources such as cooking, burning fireplaces, and smoking can also produce PM.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
VOCs can have both short and long-term health effects. While VOCs may be present indoors, concentrations can be ten times higher indoors, the EPA says. Common household products like hairspray, cosmetics, cleaning fluids, disinfectants, paints, and varnishes produce VOCs, such as burning wood and natural gas.
Formaldehyde is a common VOC and is found in many places in the home: many building materials, including plywood, glues, and insulation, contain it, as well as drapes and furniture fabrics.
Short-term VOC exposure causes minor symptoms like throat irritation, nausea, and fatigue. Longer-term exposure can cause more severe respiratory issues and damage the liver and kidneys. Typically VOCs are emitted in larger quantities when in use. However, products may emit smaller amounts of VOCs.
This odorless and invisible gas is already well known as a hazardous pollutant. Higher concentrations can cause loss of consciousness and even death, and many times, its victims don’t know they’re being poisoned. Even at lower levels, issues including confusion and memory loss can occur.
We strongly recommend that you not depend on any air quality monitor to detect carbon monoxide. The best way to detect carbon monoxide is a carbon monoxide detector. Many higher-end smoke detectors offer this functionality.
The leading cause of cancer behind smoking in the United States, radon is a naturally occurring invisible colorless gas. It is the byproduct of the naturally occurring breakdown of uranium in soil, rocks, and water and can be found indoors and outdoors. Previously, homeowners must purchase a kit to test for this, which takes about three months and must be shipped off to a lab.
The AirThings Wave Plus is currently the only air quality monitor that can test for radon in real-time.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
While not as hazardous as some of the other indoor pollutants, even at fairly high levels, concentrations of 1,000ppm or more can cause a decline in cognitive and decision-making performance in humans. Carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of human breathing, so in poor ventilation, these levels can easily get to 1,000ppm or more in the home. Most indoor air quality sensors can measure CO2 levels in the air.
Temperature and Humidity
While not necessarily a pollutant, high temperatures and humidity can cause mold and mildew growth. Some humans are sensitive to mold and mildew in the air, causing allergy-like symptoms.
Why You Should Buy an Air Quality Monitor
While not necessarily thought of as a weather instrument per se, weather can promote poor air quality. Think of a hot day with no wind. Air becomes stagnant, and pollution builds. We find air quality monitors extremely useful here at our setup — especially since we have several people in our household with medical issues that can be exacerbated by poor air quality.
If you have medical issues like this or are even just curious about what the air quality is like in your home and outdoors, by all means, consider an air quality monitor. We’ve been thrilled with our Davis AirLink and use it to ensure we’re breathing clean, pollutant-free air whenever possible.
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