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How to Test Home Air Quality by Yourself

Last updated June 28, 2022

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Author avatar Paul Allen

Paul is our go-to-guy for air purifier and dehumidifier reviews. His apartment has become a de facto HouseFresh test lab where he pits the latest clean air technology against the perils of city center life. When he’s not putting a purifier through its paces, Paul likes to endlessly dig through dusty record shops (making his dust-free apartment even more important).

Despite living in a time where we know so much about the causes and effects of poor air quality, we are still seeing pollution rates rise around the globe. As we spend most of our time within the home, it’s vital we understand the dangers poor indoor air quality can pose to our health, as well as the home itself.  

With a myriad of organic and chemical particles existing within the atmosphere, by regularly testing your air quality you will gain a better understanding of what pollutants exist and how to keep them at bay. From digital monitors to useful household checks, we’ve delved into the six best ways to test the air quality in your home. 

Why Should You Care About Air Quality?

Many people are often skeptical when it comes to the dangers poor air quality poses to their health. After all, inhaling polluted air rarely takes a toll on the body immediately, particles are predominantly invisible to the naked eye and we live in a society that widely accepts air pollution as a necessary evil for the benefits travel and industry provide. 

Yet this is a dangerous opinion to take. IQAir’s latest World Air Quality Report found that only 222 of the 6,475 cities where air quality is monitored met the World Health Organization’s PM2.5 guideline. PM2.5 is the type of airborne particulate matter which is widely regarded as the most harmful to our health. In the U.S, across the 2,408 cities covered, average PM2.5 concentrations increased from the same study in 2020, reaching an average score twice as high as the level recommended by the WHO.   
Today, an estimated 8 million people die every year as a result of air pollution, with many more developing serious health complications such as heart disease or emphysema. If we take a relaxed approach while air pollution worsens, we run a much greater risk of facing serious consequences to our health and wellbeing.

What Harmful Pollutants Might You Find Inside Your Home?

These dangers don’t just apply to when we are outdoors in urbanized or industrial areas where pollution is more expected. In fact, a study from the EPA found that levels of indoor air pollution are around 2-5 times worse than what we would find outside. As the average person spends 90% of their time indoors, it’s vital we create a healthy indoor environment, with a focus on eliminating various biological, chemical, combustible, and external pollutants.  

1. Biological Pollutants

This type of pollutant is found in practically every home in the country. Made up of a combination of fine particles including dust, pollen, pet dander, and mold. These common pollutants can wreak havoc in your home as they can remain airborne for hours before settling and spreading on your surfaces.  

While each of these pollutants can cause allergy-like symptoms and be a nuisance in the home, mold is perhaps most harmful to our health, difficult to deal with, and causes the most damage to our belongings and even the structure of our homes. 

2. Chemical Pollutants

From your cleaning spray to your craft supplies, chemicals are rife within any home setting. Each time a chemical is used, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted into the atmosphere and impact the air we breathe. 

Building materials and furnishings can also emit harmful VOCs. Whether the fiberglass in our insulation or the formaldehyde found in our table and chairs, these materials will continue to pollute the air throughout their lifespan. 

3. Combustible Pollutants

When we burn combustible materials such as wood, coal, or even a cigarette, a multitude of pollutants is released into the air. For homes that rely on these materials for heating or cooking purposes, then noxious gasses such as carbon monoxide enter the atmosphere as well as release a range of particulate matter, composed of chemicals such as sulfates, nitrates, carbon, or mineral dust.

4. External Pollutants

Everything we traditionally associate with outdoor air pollution such as wildfire smoke, car fumes, and industrial waste can make its way into your home. Whether through open windows, doors, or even dragged in from our shoes, these harmful particles can end up inside your home and negatively affect the air you breathe. 

Another external source that can impact your air quality is radon. This naturally occurring, radioactive gas is thought to affect 1 in every 15 homes in America, as uranium is released from rocks, soil, and water and enters the atmosphere before infiltrating homes and buildings.  

Exposure to any of these pollutants can result in multiple health issues, with short term symptoms including:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.
  • Headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
  • Exacerbation of asthma and allergies. 

If you have noticed yourself or a family member experiencing any of these issues, or you are concerned about indoor air pollution, then testing the air quality in your home will shed some light on what pollutants are prevalent in your environment and allow you to tackle them head-on. 

6 Ways to Test the Air Quality At Home

1. Buy an air quality monitor 

The simplest way to better understand the air quality in your home is to purchase a monitor, such as the Airthings 2930 Wave Plus or PurpleAir PA-I-Indoor.

Air quality monitors measure the amount of particulate matter, VOCs, and humidity present in the space. Relaying real-time data to the user through accurate particle readings, handy color-coded indicators, and often digital reports that can be checked through an app, recording the pollution levels over time and breaking down which pollutants are most prevalent. 

2. Use an air purifier

For a one-stop solution to monitoring and addressing air pollution, invest in an air purifier with an inbuilt air quality monitor. Many of the mid-range purifiers on the market today come with this feature, allowing you to keep an eye on the changing air quality and take action when required. 

High-spec purifiers such as the Coway Airmega 300, Alen Breathesmart 75i, and the Levoit Core 400s utilize easy-to-understand, color-coded displays to indicate the quality of air, from poor, bad, moderate, good to great. Each of these purifiers comes with an auto setting, meaning they will continuously monitor the air quality and adjust the fan speed if the quality falls below an acceptable level. These manufacturers have also developed apps, allowing you to keep tabs on air quality from your device and operate your purifier remotely. 

3. Inspect your air purifier’s filters

A simple yet effective way to check the air quality in your space is to inspect the filters in your air purifier or HVAC system. As these filters are tasked with removing any airborne particles from your home, they offer a good indication of how much pollution is present.

If they are old filters or haven’t been changed as regularly as the manufacturer recommends, then you might find a large buildup of dust and debris that has accumulated over time. If this is the case, then running your purifier or HVAC may only compound your indoor air pollution issue so it’s advised to change filters regularly. 

4. Check for signs of mold

Many homes are affected by dampness and potentially mold. Mold can cause a lot of damage if left unchecked to both your health and home, so be sure to look for telltale signs regularly. You will predominantly find mold in humid hotspots around the home such as the bathroom, basement, or kitchen, as well as areas where condensation is likely to collect such as windows and external walls. 

If you discover mold, be sure to check our comprehensive guide on how to safely and effectively remove mold spores so you can keep your home and health in good shape. 

Removing mold can require a lot of money to fix with estimates ranging from $1.5K to $4K for one room and upwards of $15k for an entire home (Fixr).

5. Install a radon detector

As radon is a gas you can’t see, smell, or taste the only way to know if your home is affected is to invest in a radon detector. According to the EPA, radon starts to be an issue at a reading of 4 pCi/L. At this level, you will be almost 8 times more likely to die from radon exposure than from a house fire.

Detectors such as the Airthings 2930 Wave Plus will monitor for radon levels and alert you if the levels have reached an unsafe level. This model also will monitor a range of other pollutants, sending reliable readings straight to your phone. If you are interested we have a guide on what we think are the best radon sensors available as of 2022.

6. Buy a home testing kit

Home testing kits are now widely available, whereby you collect samples from around your home and send them to be processed at a laboratory, in order to detect which pollutants are most prevalent in your home. 

This option offers an affordable way to get a detailed report on the air quality within your space. The kits come with all the means to collect samples, as well as step-by-step instructions on the correct way to use the kit along with lab fees included. 

A mold inspection doesn’t come cheap ranging from $299 to $991 (data from HomeAdvisor)

Final Thoughts

With a host of pollutants running wild throughout our homes, they can quickly start to take a serious toll on your health and wellbeing whilst also causing damage to your belongings and home. Before you can drastically improve the air quality within your home, it is important to first understand what pollutants are rife within the space and how best to tackle them. 

By investing in a means of testing your air quality, whether a monitor, air purifier or regularly carrying out a range of household checks, you can take control of your indoor air and begin to breathe much easier.