How to Perform an Air Quality Test at Home

By Amanda Lutz Updated May 29, 2024

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Indoor air quality (IAQ) is incredibly important, especially at home, where many people spend 62% of their waking time. Breathing airborne toxins such as mold spores, allergens, and combustion byproducts that linger indoors can compromise your health. Homeowners can manage potential hazards and stay healthy by regularly conducting IAQ tests and taking action accordingly. Read on for more information on what causes poor air quality, how to test air quality, and how to improve air quality.

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Understanding Indoor Air Quality

IAQ is an objective measure of the quality and purity of the air within an indoor structure such as your home or one of its rooms. The IAQ of your office may differ from that of a bathroom with no windows, for example.

IAQ is measured against an IAQ index, which considers the types of hazards present in the air and the efficacy of current mitigation strategies. Higher scores translate to higher concentrations of hazards and fewer mitigating features in the air, and the opposite is true of low scores.

Some of the pollutants or hazards that could affect your home’s IAQ include the following:

Environmental factors can change the degree to which those contaminants affect air quality. Regularly leaving the windows open to get fresh air and having an air filtration system can help. Conversely, stagnant airflow and poor ventilation can make contaminants more severe.


Signs of Poor Indoor Air Quality

The presence of contaminants and hazards may be a sign that your home has poor air quality. There are other indicators too, so look out for these common signs of regular exposure to air quality issues:

Health Problems

Poor IAQ is dangerous because it can have negative health effects on individuals. Call a professional to check out your home’s air quality if anyone in your household regularly experiences the following symptoms:

Respiratory symptoms, or increased respiratory irritations, can be products of smoke, mold, pet dander, pollen, and chemicals such as formaldehyde.

Humidity

Humidity itself isn’t a sign of poor air quality, but it could be a contributing factor. Humid air encourages the growth of mold, mildew, and rot. Heavy, humid air can also trap contaminants.

Smells

Odors such as food smells, pet smells, and moldiness are likely signs that contaminants are lingering in the air. If the smells are continuous, your home probably lacks adequate ventilation.

Visible Contamination

Be on the lookout for these visible signs of indoor air contamination:


How to Test Air Quality

Conduct an IAQ test immediately if you suspect that your home has poor air quality. It’s good practice to test your IAQ at least once a year even if you don’t think the air quality is poor.

There’s no single air quality test that detects all possible contaminants. Take a multilayered approach toward testing that includes continuous air quality monitors, always-on carbon monoxide detectors, routine mold tests, and radon tests. 

You can follow the steps below to ensure you’re protected.

1. Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Every home should have carbon monoxide detectors, especially if a gas heating system or gas stove is present. Install these detectors in your garage, in every major hallway, and in rooms that have gas appliances, such as your kitchen or laundry room.

Carbon monoxide detectors, which can be combined with smoke detectors, will alert you if levels become unsafe. They won’t sound for moderate or low levels of carbon monoxide.

2. Install Air Quality Monitors

Air quality monitors continuously test the air for potential contaminants and hazards, whether they’re solid particulates or colorless, odorless gases. Monitors work in one of two ways:

Smart monitors check the air quality on the hour or once a day before sending the results to any connected devices. You can purchase a single portable sensor or can place units in multiple locations.

We recommend purchasing air quality monitors that track multiple different potential factors, including the following:

3. Test for Mold

You can purchase different kinds of at-home mold tests at local stores or online. Swab tests can detect the general presence of mold on certain surfaces, while strip tests, which users send to labs, yield more specific results.

Professionals typically operate air pump mold tests, which provide even more detailed findings. We recommend starting with a simple swab or strip test first, and then progressing to more advanced testing once you’re certain that mold is present.

Mold can be found on window frames and surfaces that are close to moisture and high humidity. If mold gets into your HVAC, you’ll need to clean your AC unit to avoid its spread.

4. Test for Radon

Radon is a dangerous carcinogen, and it’s considered unsafe if it shows at least 4 picocuries per liter inside your home. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends commissioning a radon test before you buy a home, before you sell a home, or if you don’t have proof of a passing test. Radon is typically associated with older homes, houses in the Southwest, and homes with basements.

There are two categories of radon testing devices: active devices that require power, such as radon monitors; and passive devices that don’t need power, such as alpha track detectors. Conduct a test immediately if you’re not sure whether your home has recently passed a radon test.


Best Air Quality Monitors

Air quality monitors range from simple and inexpensive indoor air pollution testers to pricier smart devices that continuously detect a full range of hazards.

Identify which toxins are likeliest to pose a hazard to your household before buying a monitor or test. Humid regions may also lead to humidity concerns in indoor environments, and homes with pets are likelier to have dander. You can use the EPA’s AirNow map to determine the air quality in your local community.

Once you know which air quality factors are potential threats and have set a budget, you can start to shop for air quality monitors that best suit you.

For General Air Quality Monitoring: Temtop M10 Air Quality Monitor

This air quality monitor covers most homeowners’ concerns at a reasonable price. The Temtop M10 monitors the following:

The interface displays which of the four factors are in the healthy range and which are not. Certain Temtop models allow for Wi-Fi connectivity for better tracking of trends over time.

For Carbon Dioxide Monitoring: SAF Aranet4 Home

This wireless IAQ monitor is more expensive than other models, but it does what many other monitors cannot: it detects the level of CO2 in the air. The monitor uses nondispersive infrared sensors to measure CO2, humidity levels, temperature, and atmospheric pressure. The SAF Aranet4 Home monitors trends over time and can send results directly to your mobile device.

The EPA doesn’t recommend specific air quality monitors to consumers, but it does provide testing resources and guides to low-cost air quality monitors. If certain air quality monitors are not within your budget, we recommend prioritizing carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, and routine mold tests.


How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Tests and monitoring equipment measure your home’s current air quality, but they don’t remedy dangers on their own. It’s important to take the following steps to actually reduce or eliminate potential hazards:

1. Take Note of Air Quality Monitor Readouts

Check the results of your IAQ monitor frequently. Monitors can alert you to issues such as high humidity. Act quickly to increase airflow and reduce toxins if and when you encounter such alerts.

2. Clean the Surfaces Around Your Home

Clean all surfaces that may host contaminants. These include the following:

Hire professional mold remediation services if you encounter recurring mold in your home.

3. Increase Indoor Ventilation

Poor air circulation can worsen your home’s air quality. Turn on your home’s ceiling fans or open the windows when the air feels stagnant. Be sure to also check your HVAC filters once a month, or sooner if they regularly overfill. If filters are especially dirty, your heating and air conditioning system isn’t circulating and filtering the air effectively.


Our Recommendation

Your home’s IAQ is a vital component of preventing health issues for your household. Be on the lookout for any signs of potentially poor air quality. Install an air quality monitor in your home, add the appropriate number of carbon monoxide detectors for your home’s layout, and conduct radon and mold tests regularly.

Once you have a baseline understanding of your home’s air quality, take steps to improve it. Clean surfaces that host contaminants, take steps to improve ventilation, and alert professionals about unsafe living conditions.


How to Perform an Air Quality Test at Home FAQ

How can I test the quality of my air at home?

You can test the quality of air in your home by using air quality monitors or tests for specific hazards such as radon and mold. We recommend using multiple different sensors and air samples for comprehensive testing.

Are home air quality tests worth it?

Home air quality tests are worth it for the peace of mind they provide. You can address dangers that can lead to chronic health conditions by regularly testing your home’s air supply.

What are the symptoms of poor air quality in a house?

The symptoms of poor air quality in a house include respiratory infections, shortness of breath, headaches, and difficulty sleeping. Airborne toxins can exacerbate existing medical conditions.

How do I check my house for toxins?

Check your house for toxins by installing carbon monoxide detectors and a continuous air quality monitor. You can also test for lead, mold, and radon levels with specific at-home test kits.

What are the most common indoor air pollutants?

The most common indoor air pollutants are indoor particulates, combustion byproducts such as smoke, and volatile organic compounds. Homes can also host dangerous levels of lead and radon.