How to test air quality in your home

By
Updated on April 15, 2024
Written by
Jeff Somers
Jeff has been writing for HouseFresh since 2023. He lives in Hoboken, NJ with his wife and their cats, and has published nine novels and more than fifty short stories. In addition to writing for HouseFresh, Jeff also covers topics connected to home ownership for Lifehacker,
TL;DR

Internal air quality (IAQ) is vital to our health and happiness. Poor IAQ can cause health problems, some very severe.

Poor air quality can be caused by a variety of factors, including mold growth, high humidity, and infiltration of gases like carbon dioxide or radon.

Technologies like air quality monitors can help us ensure the air in our homes is healthy and wholesome, and alert us to air quality issues long before they impact our health.

Our common sense and instincts can also be useful in detecting poor air quality; looking for visual signs and being conscious of your own health patterns can be helpful guides.

Air is so fundamental to our existence we rarely think about it—until it turns against us. Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) affects your quality of life and the enjoyment of your home More importantly, it can affect your health and the health of your family, producing symptoms including:

❌Coughing and congestion
❌Fatigue and dizziness
❌Frequent respiratory illnesses
❌Chronic headaches
❌Allergic reactions (itching, watering eyes, runny nose, sore throat)
❌Nausea
❌Skin irritation
❌Chest pains and increased heart attack risk

These risks make regular monitoring and testing of the air quality in your home a necessity. The good news is that there are a lot of technological solutions that can help you do this—and the signs are often clear enough to be detected without any assistance at all.

How to test air quality in your home using technology

If you suspect that the air quality inside your home isn’t ideal, or if you’re moving into a new property and want to conduct air quality testing as part of your due diligence, there is a lot of technology at your disposal:

1. Air quality monitors

There are a wide variety of air quality monitors available for purchase, ranging from portable units you can bring with you to different locations to more permanent solutions. The key is to ensure that the monitor you choose tests for any specific pollutant you suspect may be in your air, including:

  • Particulate matter
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), e.g. formaldehyde
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2); Carbon dioxide can cause many health problems, including headaches and drowsiness, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and arrhythmias.

2. Mold tests

Mold is a constant threat in any indoor area. High humidity levels or standing water from leaks or minor flooding can encourage the growth of a wide variety of molds that can cause severe health issues. A reliable mold testing kit can be purchased at most home improvement stores or online, and regular use can keep you informed about the safety of your indoor air.

3. Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors

Carbon monoxide can lead to death by suffocation–in fact, every year more than 400 people die from CO poisoning.

4. Radon detectors

Radon is a colorless and odorless gas that is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, causing more than 20,000 deaths each year. While most home inspections include a radon test, regular monitoring is advisable.

5. Asbestos tests

Asbestos, a group of fibrous minerals that were once heavily used in insulation applications due to their fire-resistant properties, has been strongly linked to a type of cancer called mesothelioma. If your home was built prior to 1989, when asbestos was banned from use, you can use a home testing kit to determine if there is any asbestos risk.

Tip

If you’re not sure what pollutants you should be concerned about in your home, or if you prefer to have a professional conduct a comprehensive check of the home’s indoor air quality, you can identify reputable air quality professionals by contacting the American Industrial Hygiene Association or the American Board of Industrial Hygiene
A professional air quality assessment can be very expensive, however, and in most cases consumer air quality monitors and test kits are sufficient to assess your home’s air quality.


How to test air quality in your home without technology

While monitoring devices and testing kits can confirm poor indoor air quality, the signs are actually easy to spot without the aid of any technology at all. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms that make you suspect poor IAQ, you can undertake a two-pronged investigation to determine whether you need to worry about the air in your home.

Step 1: Visual inspection

Pollutants in the air always have a source. While some pollutants, such as gases or particulates from wildfire smoke, can enter from outside the home and be difficult to see, many causes of poor air quality can be identified simply by conducting an inspection of the home, including

  • Mold. Mold is often very easy to see, appearing as a discolored, textured growth on walls and in cracks and crevices.
  • Pet dander. If you own a pet, shed hair, fecal matter, and other particulates will typically be visible in the air or collected on floors and in corners. If you see pet dander, it’s a sign you need to upgrade your vacuum and perhaps increase your cleaning schedule.
  • High humidity or standing water. If you see condensation on the inside of windows or have chronic issues with water leaks or puddling, there could be hidden mold growth you’re unaware of.
  • HVAC filters and vents. Inspect your heating and air-conditioning filters and vents for any buildup of dirt, dust, or other contaminants.
  • Stored compounds. Old paint or solvents can off-gas, polluting your indoor air.
  • New carpet or upholstery. Many treated fabrics can off-gas VOCs which can degrade your indoor air quality.

If you see any of these signs, consider investing in an air quality monitor or conducting some specific air quality testing.

Step 2: Personal health assessment

Your body is also a very good gauge of the air quality in your home. If you routinely experience symptoms that could be linked to poor indoor air quality, track your experiences by keeping a journal for a few weeks. 

Look for patterns:

  • Do you experience symptoms in a certain room, such as a home office? 
  • Do your symptoms improve or vanish when you leave the home? 

If so, you have a strong clue that there is an issue with the air quality in your home.

The top 3 air quality monitors we have tested

A reliable air quality monitor is a powerful tool you can use to ensure the air that you and your family breathe is clean and free of dangerous pollutants. 

At HouseFresh, we take air quality very seriously; when we published our guide to the best air quality monitors on the market, we did so based on our own testing. We purchased each air quality monitor with our own money and tested them in our own home, covering their ability to detect particulate matter, smart technology that makes exporting and reviewing data easy, and accuracy.

Based on these hands-on tests, we have narrowed down our choices for the top 3 air quality monitors available today:

Model
Best Portable Sensor
Best Sensor for VOC and Radon
Style
Qingping Air Quality Monitor, Indoor Air Quality Meter Detects PM2.5, Temperature, CO2, and Humidity, Smart Air Quality Sensor for Bedroom, A Rechargeable Device with 2 Colors, Smart Home
Airthings 2930 Wave Plus - Radon & Air Quality Monitor, Battery Powered (CO2, VOC, Humidity, Temp, Pressure)
PurpleAir Touch Indoor Air Quality Monitor
Pros
Excellent value for money
The Wave plus has multiple sensors
Excellent for data gathering and exporting
Cons
When on battery mode, switches off automatically after 30 minutes as default
The App connects via Bluetooth so it has to be within range to function
It is not pretty at all
Dimensions
2.52 x 1.81 x 2.17 inches (‎6.4 x 4.6 x 5.5 cm)
4.75 x 4.75 x 1.4 in (12 x 12 x 3.5 cm)
4.25 in x 3 in x 2.25 in (108 mm x 67 mm x 57 mm)
Price
Price not available
$229.00
$209.00
Best Portable Sensor
Style
Qingping Air Quality Monitor, Indoor Air Quality Meter Detects PM2.5, Temperature, CO2, and Humidity, Smart Air Quality Sensor for Bedroom, A Rechargeable Device with 2 Colors, Smart Home
Pros
Excellent value for money
Cons
When on battery mode, switches off automatically after 30 minutes as default
Dimensions
2.52 x 1.81 x 2.17 inches (‎6.4 x 4.6 x 5.5 cm)
Price
Price not available
More Details
Best Sensor for VOC and Radon
Style
Airthings 2930 Wave Plus - Radon & Air Quality Monitor, Battery Powered (CO2, VOC, Humidity, Temp, Pressure)
Pros
The Wave plus has multiple sensors
Cons
The App connects via Bluetooth so it has to be within range to function
Dimensions
4.75 x 4.75 x 1.4 in (12 x 12 x 3.5 cm)
Price
$229.00
More Details
Best Overall
Style
PurpleAir Touch Indoor Air Quality Monitor
Pros
Excellent for data gathering and exporting
Cons
It is not pretty at all
Dimensions
4.25 in x 3 in x 2.25 in (108 mm x 67 mm x 57 mm)
Price
$209.00
More Details

Final thoughts

The air we breathe has a profound impact on our health and our quality of life. Your home is where you sleep, where you share moments with your loved ones, where you build your future. Any compromise to indoor air quality is dangerous—but you need to be aware of a problem before you can rectify it. Installing an air quality monitor and conducting specific testing to ensure your home’s air is clean and healthy to breathe isn’t just about property values or even your day-to-day comfort. It’s about your future—and your family’s future.

SOURCES

Last update on 2024-05-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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About the author

Jeff Somers

Jeff has been writing for HouseFresh since 2023. He lives in Hoboken, NJ with his wife and their cats, and has published nine novels and more than fifty short stories. In addition to writing for HouseFresh, Jeff also covers topics connected to home ownership for Lifehacker,

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