Paying attention to the quality of the air you breathe indoors is vital to staying healthy. In fact, scientific evidence suggests that indoor air can be five times deadlier than outdoor air.
The first step in taking care of the air you breathe is measuring its quality, and there are several ways to do this.
Keep reading to learn more about testing your indoor air quality, the signs of poor air quality, and when to do the tests. We’ll also give you some product recommendations.
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How Do You Test Your Indoor Air Quality?
You can test your indoor air quality using an air quality monitor and a carbon monoxide detector. You can also use kits to perform a mold and radon test. The results of these tests are often conclusive. However, in some cases, you may need to seek professional help.
1.) Use an Air Quality Monitor
As its name suggests, an air quality monitor is a device that keeps tabs on the quality of your indoor air. Some models use electrochemical sensors to capture toxins, while others require particulate matter to pass through a laser to record their presence.
Regardless of the model, the device constantly monitors and reports the content of your indoor air in real-time using a display panel. In addition, most advanced models can connect with a smartphone via a dedicated app to regularly give you reports on your air quality.
You can purchase the device from a reputable brand, place it in a central part of your home and watch as it works round the clock to monitor indoor air quality. However, you should note that features like reports, display panels, type of pollutants, and user interface will vary by brand.
Your choice should come down to the type of pollutants you want to check and ease of use. For example, you don’t want an air quality monitor that you can’t operate or read properly.
Your indoor air quality monitor should cover various pollutants and chemical reports.
Although no single device can measure all indoor air pollutants, you should expect any decent indoor air quality monitor to measure:
- Particulate matter
- Chemical volatile organic compounds (VOC)
- Carbon dioxide
The Temtop Air Quality Monitor is an excellent example of an indoor air quality monitor that measures most indoor air pollutants—it has a built-in alarm system that will alert you when indoor air is too polluted.
A good alternative is the Airthings 2960 View Plus. It can also measure most types of pollutants. However, it comes with an app that allows you to keep an eye on your indoor air from anywhere.
2.) Use a Carbon Monoxide Detector
Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas. It can accumulate over short periods in indoor spaces, leading to severe health issues.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include lethargy, dizziness, headaches, confusion, unconsciousness, and death in cases of excessive exposure. You can detect this dangerous gas using a carbon monoxide detector or alarm.
The gas emanates from engines and appliances that burn fuel or use gas as power sources. Therefore, your gas stove, dryers, heaters, and furnaces are potential sources of carbon monoxide. If you own one or all of them, don’t hesitate to install a carbon monoxide detector.
Maybe you don’t have any appliance that consumes gas, but you have a fireplace. That might also put you at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Any burning of fuel, wood, and gases will emit gaseous carbon, as carbon is present in all of them.
You can place carbon monoxide detectors with batteries at least five feet above the ground without worrying about cords.
Carbon monoxide detectors don’t require elaborate installation methods. You just need to make sure you purchase a good unit and place it above the ground. Carbon gas rises with air, which is why positioning is essential.
The Universal Security Instruments Carbon Monoxide Smart Alarm is a stellar example of a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector. The system guarantees ten years of hitch-free detection.
3.) Perform a Mold Test
Mold is a common pollutant in many homes today. Mold thrives on moisture, which is why you can find it in damp areas of your house. Generally, most enclosed spaces, such as behind the refrigerator, under carpets, and sinks, are likely to have mold when the air is damp.
Mold spores are invisible, and most indoor air quality monitors can’t detect them. That’s why you have to run the test yourself.
The truth is that mold spores will always exist in your indoor air. The purpose of the test is to confirm that you don’t have problematic levels of mold spores.
You need to test for mold if you experience a musty smell around your home and a rise in typical allergic reactions like sneezing and coughing.
How To Test for Mold
There are several ways to test for the presence of molds. All methods typically involve test kits such as tape strips, air pumps, Petri dishes, and swabs.
You must follow the pack’s detailed instructions to collect the mold sample for the tape strip and swab tests. The tape strip will require you to send a sample to a lab and wait for results (which could take days or weeks), while the swab test gives its results within minutes.
Remember that most of these kits won’t tell you the kind of mold you find.
The petri dish also requires you to send it to a lab for analysis, but you can do the test at home if you want.
Here’s what to do:
- Put some potato dextrose on the petri dish
- Cover the petri dish and wait for the incubation period to complete
- Wait for the length of time recommended in the test kit instructions
- Check for mold growth at the end of the incubation period
If you find mildew in damp areas of the house, you have your concrete evidence, and you might not need a test. The next step would be to reach out to a professional to stop mold growth and clean out existing colonies. Remember, you can’t tell which of the mold spores are toxic.
The PRO-LAB DIY Mold Test Kit is a good option for a DIY mold test kit. The instructions are clear to follow, and you’ll get the lab result for free.
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of sending the collected sample to a lab and waiting for results, the Evviva Sciences Mold Test Kit for Home is a good alternative.
It comes with a PDF identification guide to tell you the kind of mold you have in your home. If you do need a lab confirmation, you’ll get a discount on the fee.
4.) Perform a Radon Test
Radon is a byproduct of natural uranium deposits found in rocks and soils. It makes its way to your home through the lower parts of your building, like foundations, piping systems, and floors.
Radon is another major pollutant less conspicuous than mold or carbon monoxide. Yet, according to the EPA, long-term radon exposure is the second major cause of lung cancer in the US.
Unfortunately, the gas is odorless and colorless, and your air quality monitors won’t detect its presence.
You can expect radon test results within seven days for short-term tests and several months for long-term tests. The short-term test is relatively easy with radon kits from home improvement stores or online.
The packaging comes with a test object to place in a high-risk area of your home—typically foundations and floors. But, of course, you’ll have to wait for the time specified in the test instructions for the results.
Time frames vary across brands, but you can expect the test period to be complete between two and seven days. After this period, send the test to a laboratory, preferably that of the manufacturer, for proper analysis and results.
The results will show how much radon is present in your indoor air and inform you of the next step to tackle the problem.
Essential Tips on Radon Tests
- Weather fluctuations may affect short-term test results, so a long-term test might be a great option to get more accurate results.
- During the test period, shut all windows and doors and avoid the area until the test is over.
- There are electronic test kits that continually monitor indoor radon levels. However, it would be best to choose them only when you are through the long or short-term test.
- Some brands may require the installation of detection sheets.
When To Test Your Indoor Air Quality
While you should have an indoor air quality monitor at all times, you should consider a more thorough approach when:
- You are experiencing allergic reactions such as headaches, respiratory issues, and skin irritations frequently
- You can see pollutants such as mold in walls or cracks, and you perceive unusual odors
- Moving into a new property
- Renovating a house after a fire incident or other natural disaster
- Selling, remodeling, or expanding your property
Things To Look For When Testing Indoor Air Quality
When doing DIY tests for indoor air quality, pay attention to certain pollutants you suspect are common in your area.
- If you live in an area with many factories, you are in a high-pollution zone. In that case, you should check for particulate matter.
- If you move into an older building, check for radon and volatile organ compounds (VOCs).
- Check for chemical pollutants and particulate matter if you are testing after a fire incident or natural disaster.
- When purchasing air quality sensors, ensure they test for VOCs, particulate matter, humidity, Air quality index, and temperature.
Pro tip: If you are experiencing severe allergies and unexplained health challenges, the best action is to consult a doctor before testing your air. A diagnosis will reveal the kind of pollution making you unhealthy, and you’ll know the proper air test to conduct.
While outdoor air pollution receives the most attention, analysis, and awareness, indoor air quality is essential to staying healthy. Hence, you can’t afford to look the other way when testing your indoor air quality.
You can ensure your indoor air quality is not toxic by:
- Purchasing an indoor air quality monitor
- Testing for molds and carbon monoxide
- Observing your health for uncommon changes
- Checking your indoor space for visible signs of pollution
- Consulting an indoor air quality specialist for analysis, recommendations, and results.
- Second Nature: How to Test Your Indoor Air Quality
- Bob Vila: How to Test Air Quality in Your Home
- SafeWise: How to Test Indoor Air Quality in the Home
- Martha Stewart: Why You Assess Your Home’s Indoor Air Quality
- Test My Home: Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Testing
- Molekule: The Ultimate Guide to Indoor Air Quality Testing
- Minnesota Department of Health: Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning in Your Home
- World Health Organization: Radon and health
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Health Risk of Radon
- CNBC: Indoor air can be deadlier than outdoor air, research shows