How to Test Air Quality in Your Home

How to Test Air Quality in Your Home

For most people, their home is a place of comfort and safety. But if we tell you that your home is probably not as safe as you think?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the concentration of pollutants in indoor air can be 2 to 5 times higher than in outdoor air. Moreover, the WHO tells that household air pollution is a major cause of chronic non-communicable diseases, like COPD, ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke, and kills an estimated 3.2 million people per year.

These are striking statistics and considering that we spend a major chunk of our lives at home, it’s important to address the household air quality problem. And that starts with testing your home’s air quality.


Why Test Your Household Air Quality?

The reason why we (and several healthcare experts) recommend testing the air quality in your home is to get a clear understanding of how bad it is. The concentration of pollutants isn’t the same in every home. Indoor air quality depends on a multitude of factors, ranging from your outdoor environment and quality of air to lifestyle practices. Testing air quality is a way to determine how polluted or contaminated the air in your home actually is. It will tell you what you’re dealing with, helping you take appropriate measures to improve the quality.


When Should You Test the Air Quality in Your Home?

Ideally, we should all regularly test the air quality in our homes and take measures to improve it to stay on top of our health. But given that air quality constantly changes, it’s not the most practical approach. Hence, most experts recommend air quality testing when there are potential sources of pollutants or signs of poor air quality.

The purpose of indoor air quality testing is to confirm a problem that we know of or suspect. So, you should only test when you suspect your home’s air quality to be bad or notice signs of it, which often include:

  • Musty smell or unusual lingering odors
  • Condensation on walls
  • Frequent health problems like allergies, respiratory issues, headaches, nausea, excessive sneezing and/or coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, irritation in eyes, nose, and throat, itchy skin, and unexplained fatigue.

You may also test your indoor air quality when you know your home has been exposed to a pollution source, such as a fire, or you can see mold growing in some areas of your house.


How to Test Your Home’s Air Quality?

Given that household air pollutants can come from various sources, several air quality testing methods and tools are available. You may not necessarily need to test for every potential pollutant, but there’s no one stopping you from doing that, either. We list all the indoor air quality testing methods here for your knowledge and convenience.


Use an Indoor Air Quality Monitor

Using an indoor air quality (IAQ) monitor is the best and easiest way to test the air quality in your home. For those who may not know, an indoor air quality monitor is an electronic device that tests the air inside your home for a range of pollutants. The device works round the clock and consistently checks for the levels or concentrations of pollutants it is designed to detect.

There are various types of IAQ monitors available, each working for a different set of pollutants. However, most (if not all) check for chemical pollutants and particulate matter. Many also detect humidity levels and temperature. There are also IAQ monitors that track carbon monoxide, radon, and VOCs, including formaldehyde.

When opting for this air testing approach, choose a monitor that addresses your specific pollutant concerns, i.e., detect their levels. Fortunately, IAQ monitors are available in a range of price points, starting from as little as $20 or $25 and to over $2,000 for professional-grade models.

Check out this review of home air quality monitors at the Wirecutter by the New York Times.   


Check for Fungal Growth via Mold Test Kit

Checking for mold is important as it is a common household air pollutant and poses a great health risk. But unfortunately, IAQ monitors do not check for mold, so you have to do this separately.

You can use a mold test kit for this purpose. Several varieties of them are available on the market that let you test for airborne mold spores inside your home. They are cheap, readily available, and easy to use.

However, not everyone agrees on their efficiency or usefulness.

Some regard them as untrustworthy, while others discourage their use because they do not measure the extent of the problem. According to those from the latter category, mold spores are everywhere, so there’s no point in checking for their presence. Instead, you should measure the mold spores in your home’s air and if the concentration is high enough to cause problems. They recommend scheduling a professional mold inspection for this purpose.


Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors

If you do not already have one in your home, install a carbon monoxide detector at every level of your home.

Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless, invisible gas that’s released in the household air from various appliances, including stoves, grills, fireplaces, and even water heaters. At lower levels, it can cause headaches, confusion, and dizziness, but if its concentration increases to excessively high levels, carbon monoxide can even cause death.

Carbon monoxide detectors work like smoke detectors and send alerts, typically in the form of an alarm, if the amount of this poisonous gas increases beyond safe levels inside your home.

If this is your first time installing a carbon monoxide detector, remember that it should be placed at least 5 feet height from the floor. This is because carbon monoxide is lighter than air and floats upwards.

Here are a few resources and reviews of Carbon Monoxide Detectors: 

Consumer Reports: Best Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors of 2023 

This Old House: The 5 Best Carbon Monoxide Detectors of 2023


Test for Radon

As mentioned earlier, some IAQ monitors test for radon. But if yours doesn’t, you may want to conduct a radon test separately to check for its presence and concentration in your home’s air.

Unlike carbon monoxide, it doesn’t suffocate to death, but its long-term exposure can lead to various health problems, including lung cancer. Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer and causes about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the US.

According to the American Lung Association, millions of American homes have high levels of radon, and they urge everyone to test their homes for it.

Like carbon monoxide, radon is also colorless, odorless, and tasteless and can enter your home through:

  • Fractured bedrock
  • Cracks in the walls, floors, and foundation
  • Loose pipe fittings
  • Drains
  • Sump
  • Soil
  • Groundwater

Radon testing kits come in two basic types – short-term and long-term. Short-term kits take about two to seven days to assess the radon level in your home, whereas long-term testing tools are to be kept in your home for 90 days up to a year. The problem with these tests is that they are time-consuming and also require sending the samples to the manufacturer’s lab for testing and analysis.

To counter this issue, some companies now offer electronic radon testing devices that work like carbon monoxide detectors and continuously measure the gas levels in your home’s air. They tend to be pricey, though.


What to Do If You Have Poor Air Quality in Your Home? Tips to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Considering the widespread indoor air pollution, most homes likely have poor air quality. Here are some tips to improve it (you can also take these measures to prevent your home’s air quality from worsening):

  • Improve ventilation to increase airflow
  • Prevent mold growth by keeping humidity levels in control and treating it immediately when it occurs
  • Change your HVAC filters regularly
  • Clean your air ducts
  • Use and clean cooking vents
  • Clean your carpets and rugs regularly
  • Use air purifier


An average person spends one-third of their life sleeping. Add to it the waking hours you spend at home, and you will realize how much time we actually spend inside our homes despite our ever-increasing work and social commitments. Given this, it’s only wise to make your home a safe space in the true sense of the word. Air, the only thing you continuously use while at home, deserves the most attention. Watch out for signs of poor air quality; if you notice any, test your home’s air.

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