Don’t take your home’s indoor air quality for granted. Research shows that 96 percent of households have at least less a type of indoor air quality problem. An indoor air quality (IAQ) monitor can help you stay on top by reporting levels of common pollutants and other air conditions inside your home in real time.
The culprit could be anything from excess dust to high humidity, emissions from household cleaning products, or building materials. Without an IAQ monitor, these things can go unnoticed, even in the face of allergy-like symptoms or more dramatic health effects that can result from indoor pollutants.
Most IAQ monitors will alert you to unsafe levels through an indicator light and/or push notifications on your smartphone or tablet. Some indoor air quality monitors will also track outdoor air quality to provide context for your indoor readings. Measurements are typically displayed on a screen on the IAQ device itself, as well as on a companion app on your mobile device.
Once warned, you can take steps to reduce indoor pollutants, perhaps by opening a few windows. Some monitors will even activate other smart devices, such as an air purifier, fan, or dehumidifier, to help improve indoor air quality. Ultimately, a good IAQ monitor should provide enough clues for you to investigate and eliminate the source of your air quality problems.
Below are our current top picks for indoor air quality monitors. We have also included a guide to the contaminants that a good IAQ monitor should track. And if you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you’ll find links to all of our latest IAQ monitor reviews.
And don’t miss our great guide to air purifiers.
The best indoor air quality monitor
The Awair Element isn’t as pretty as the Awair 2nd Edition, which was wrapped in attractive hardwood, but this model is just as accurate when reporting carbon dioxide (CO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and PM2.5 (gases). atmospheric). particles smaller than 2.5 microns). And if you also own an Ecobee Smart Thermostat, you can activate that device to tell your HVAC system to circulate indoor air to help improve indoor air quality.
Davis Instruments is well known for its excellent weather stations, and its AirLink air quality monitor exhibits the same accuracy and expert reporting. This device is unique among the monitors we’ve reviewed in that it can measure particles as small as 1 micron, and can be deployed indoors or outdoors. But it doesn’t measure other types of air pollution, like carbon dioxide or VOCs.
second runner up
Why two finalists? Because the Airthings Wave Plus is just as unique as the Davis AirLink, but for a different reason: It’s the only device we’ve reviewed that can report the presence of radon inside your home. Radon is one of the most common and deadliest indoor pollutants, and it can’t be detected unless you’re actively looking for it. This monitor can also track carbon dioxide and VOC levels.
Main indoor pollutants
If our top picks don’t fit your needs, this guide will help you understand the most common air pollutants so you can find one that does. Most currently available IAQ monitors cannot monitor everything of these, so choose the ones that interest you the most.
MP level: Particulate matter, or PM, is a mixture of particles and droplets in the air. PMs vary in shape and size, but those 10 micrometers in diameter and smaller can negatively affect your health because they can be inhaled. PM2.5 refers to fine particles, which are two and a half microns in diameter. PM1 is particulate matter that is 1 micron in size.
Sufficient exposure to PM2.5 can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, causing allergy-like symptoms and shortness of breath in healthy people. It can also exacerbate existing medical problems, such as asthma and heart disease. The World Health Organization considers PM2.5 to be the world’s greatest environmental health risk.
Indoor PM2.5 levels can be influenced by outdoor sources such as vehicle exhaust, forest fires, and emissions from power plants. But many indoor activities also produce PM2.5: cooking, lighting fireplaces, and smoking are just a few of the common sources.
VOC: The acronym stands for volatile organic compounds, gases emitted by a variety of materials that can have short- and long-term health effects. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, concentrations of many VOCs can be up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors.
Sources of VOCs include many common household products such as hairspray, cosmetics, cleaning fluids, disinfectants, paints, and varnishes. The burning of fuels such as wood and natural gas also produces VOCs.
Formaldehyde is one of the most common VOCs and can be found in many building materials such as plywood, glues, and insulation. Formaldehyde is also used in some drapery and furniture fabrics. You can read more about formaldehyde and its sources in this article from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Short-term exposure to low levels of VOCs can cause throat irritation, nausea, fatigue, and other minor discomfort. Long-term exposure to high concentrations of VOCs has been linked to more severe respiratory irritation, as well as liver and kidney damage. Products can emit VOCs even when stored, although to a lesser extent than when actively used.
Carbon monoxide: By now, most people are aware of the deadly effects of high concentrations of this colorless, odorless gas. But exposure to lower levels, sometimes emitted from fuel-burning appliances, can also cause adverse reactions, such as confusion and memory loss.
Some air quality monitors claim they can detect these lower levels. However, the only reliable way to be alerted to this notoriously difficult killer is with a standard carbon monoxide detector.
Radon: Radon is a naturally occurring, colorless, odorless gas that is the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States after smoking, according to the EPA. Since it is a byproduct of the natural decay of uranium in soil, rock, and water, it is ubiquitous both indoors and outdoors. Indoor radon levels typically need to be checked with carbon-based kits and require you to test your levels for up to 90 days. You then need to send the kit to a lab for testing and wait for the results.
An indoor air quality monitor with a radon sensor can provide faster results by monitoring levels in real time. Currently, the Airthings Wave is the only monitor in our guide with this capability.
Carbon dioxide: While the effects of high levels of CO2 were long thought to be benign, research has found that concentrations as low as 1,000 ppm can affect people’s cognitive function and decision-making performance.
The largest source of CO2 indoors is people themselves, as it is a by-product of our respiratory function. Coupled with poor ventilation, this commonly leads to high levels of CO2 in many homes. Fortunately, CO2 sensors can be found in most air quality monitors.
Temperature and humidity: These levels can affect more than your comfort. High temperatures and excessive humidity promote the growth of mold and mildew. These can cause structural damage to your home and cause allergy-like symptoms in people with sensitivities. Monitoring these levels can help you prevent home and health problems and alert you to potential sources like foundation cracks or leaks and poor insulation.
Air Quality Monitor Reviews
Michael Ansaldo is a veteran consumer and small business technology journalist. He regularly contributes to TechHive and PCWorld.