How to Test Air Quality in the Home

The quality of the air you breathe can contribute to health problems like asthma and allergies. And it’s not just outdoor air quality that exposes us to pollutants. The World Health Organization (WHO) says 9 out of 10 people worldwide regularly breathe polluted air. And as many as 93% of children under 18 are living in environments with pollution concentrations that exceed WHO safe air quality guidelines.¹

You can't always control outdoor air quality, but you can ensure better health for your family by improving indoor air quality. That starts by identifying levels of indoor contaminants and finding ways to restore good air.

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1. Purchase an indoor air quality monitor

If you're experiencing symptoms you suspect are related to indoor air quality, getting an air quality monitor is an inexpensive way to pinpoint the problem. By monitoring levels of indoor air pollution, you can take steps to get fresh air back into your home, and hopefully, a little peace of mind with it.

Which contaminants or pollutants should an air quality monitor measure?

Look for air quality sensors that provide the following air quality measurements.

  • Humidity: Indicates potential for mold growth.
  • Temperature
  • VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds): These are chemical pollutants identified by the EPA as potential sources of indoor air quality problems and come from building materials, carpeting, etc.²
  • Levels of particulate matter (PM 2.5): This is the level of dust mites and other allergens present in the air.
  • AQI (Air Quality Index): A measurement of air quality the EPA uses to determine the risk of health problems associated with indoor and outdoor pollution.³

Some air quality monitors provide additional information like outdoor air quality and levels of carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide. However, the factors listed above are the most critical measurements for an air quality monitoring station to capture.

Compare the best air quality monitors

Each of our recommended air quality monitors measures temperature and humidity. 

Product
Price
VOCs
Particulate matter
Radon
CO/CO2
Learn More

Best overall

Airthings Wave Plus Indoor Air Quality Monitor with Radon DetectionAirthings Wave Plus
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightCO2 only

Best smart features

luft air quality monitorLüft Air Quality Monitor
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightCO2 only

Best for budgets

Amazon smart air quality monitorAmazon Smart Air Quality Monitor
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightCO only

Best particulate matter sensor

Davis Instruments Airlink
Icon No  LightNo
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo
Icon No  LightNo

Data effective as of post date. Offers and availability subject to change. See full disclaimer.

2. Evaluate Health Symptoms

Once you’ve gotten a readout on your baseline air quality, it may be helpful to track health symptoms for a few weeks. Try to see if you can align them to a particular area or a specific time of day. For instance, if you experience congestion and a headache only while at the office, your home air quality may not be the culprit.

The kinds of symptoms you’re experiencing may also provide clues about the source of the problem. Nausea and confusion track more closely to symptoms of dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the home. A scratchy throat or watery eyes are more often signs of an allergic reaction to potential pollutants.

Thumbs Up
Talk to your doc

While it can be helpful to evaluate your symptoms when identifying problems with air quality, an air quality detector is never a substitution for medical advice. You should always consult with your doctor first to determine the best course of action for the symptoms you’re experiencing.

3. Monitor carbon monoxide and radon levels

Best carbon monoxide detector
nest protect product

Amazon.com list price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

Best radon detector
Radon Eye product image

Amazon.com list price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

Two of the most dangerous substances that can affect indoor air quality are carbon monoxide and radon. Carbon monoxide, often referred to as “the silent killer,” is an odorless, colorless gas that can build to dangerous levels in poorly ventilated areas.

Because of the danger to pets, the elderly, and children, we recommend carbon monoxide monitoring on all levels of the home. Review our recommendations for the best carbon monoxide detectors to determine which one is the right fit for your family.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says long-term exposure to radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. If radon levels are detected in your home, you should seek out professional help immediately.

4. Get an air purifier

Best air purifier
stadler form roger big air purifier

Amazon.com list price as of post date. See full disclaimer.

Once you’ve identified potential air quality problems in your home, an air purifier may be able to address some of your concerns. Air purifiers help asthma and allergy sufferers by removing particulate matter from the air.

Air purifiers clean the air with two methods. One is to release negatively charged ions, which makes pollutants stick to surrounding surfaces. The other method is to use HEPA filters to screen and collect particulates from the air. In a pinch, you can make a quick HEPA filter air purifier at home for under $40, but it's worth spending the money on a legit air purifier with multiple filters, if possible.

Some air purifiers promise to do fantastic things that are backed by dubious scientific-sounding terms. To avoid getting duped by fancy-sounding jargon, check out our guide to the best air purifiers for devices that make a difference in home air quality.

5. Call an air quality professional

If you notice indoor air quality problems, you may scurry to do a few common sense things like duct cleaning and installing carbon monoxide detectors. But some indoor air quality problems, like the presence of mold spores or radon, can be more elusive and require professional help.

Checklist
Hire a professional

Search Thumbtack to find licensed professionals near you that specializes in air quality services. 

If you’ve recently remodeled, opened up walls to repair plumbing, or discovered mold growing in your home, your indoor air quality may be suffering. According to the United States Indoor Product Safety Commission, these are the most common complaints associated with indoor air quality problems:

  • Eyes, nose, or throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

Asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and humidifier fever are also related to long-term exposure to indoor air pollutants. If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention and consider professional indoor air quality testing to identify potential sources of indoor air pollution.

Air quality FAQ

One hedge against poor air quality’s health risks is to live in an area with relatively clean air. Check out our guide to cities with the best air quality if you’re considering moving to improve the quality of the air you breathe.

When installed and used according to guidelines, air quality sensors in monitoring stations can give you a good baseline on pollutant or contaminant levels in your home. However, if you detect dangerous substances like radon or carbon monoxide, consult a professional to learn more about improving the indoor air quality in your home.

Many air quality monitors can create confusion by bragging about tracking various substances that may or may not be useful in diagnosing air quality problems. 

  • Sulfur dioxide (sometimes misspelled as sulphur dioxide) is primarily released from fossil fuel combustion and usually is not a factor in indoor air pollution.
  • Nitrous oxides are also typically released as a result of emissions from vehicles and power plants and aren’t a significant contributor to indoor air problems.
  • Carbon dioxide can rise to unsafe levels in indoor environments but is a natural byproduct of human metabolism.
  • Carbon monoxide is found in the exhaust from engines, generators, fireplaces, and even furnaces. It can build to dangerous levels in closed spaces. 

For indoor air quality, the two most essential substances to track are carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Related articles on SafeWise


Sources

  1. World Health Organization, “9 Out of 10 People Worldwide Breathe Polluted Air, but More Countries Are Taking Action,” May 2018. Accessed November 9, 2021. 
  2. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Volatile Organic Compounds' Impact on Indoor Air Quality.” Accessed November 9, 2021. 
  3. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Indoor Air Quality “Introduction to Indoor Air Quality.” Accessed November 9, 2021.
  4. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Radon, “Health Risks of Radon.” Accessed November 9, 2021.
  5. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. “Frequently Asked Questions,” July 1, 2021. Accessed November 9, 2021.
  6. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), “The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality.” Accessed November 9, 2021. 

Disclaimer

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

Certain content that appears on this site comes from Amazon. This content is provided “as is” and is subject to change or removal at any time.

†Google and Google Nest Secure are trademarks of Google LLC.


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Data as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. SafeWise uses paid Amazon links. 

†Google and Google Nest Secure are trademarks of Google LLC.

Kaz Weida
Written by
Kaz Weida
Kaz is a journalist who covers home security, parenting, and community and child safety. Her work and product testing in the security and safety field spans the past four years. You can find Kaz in HuffPost, SheKnows, Lifehack, and much more. Her degree in education and her background as a teacher and a parent make her uniquely suited to offer practical advice on creating safe environments for your family.

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