With the air you breathe becoming a serious issue, the latest smart air purifiers and indoor air quality monitors enable us to get our own smart homes in order.
Poor indoor air quality is a problem of varying degrees depending on where you live. Indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air and with four million deaths per year worldwide from household pollution, in many cases as a result of poorly ventilated homes, it's a serious matter for millions of people.
Just because the air you're breathing isn't an immediate danger, though, doesn't mean its quality isn't worth thinking about. It can affect everything from allergies, to sleep, to concentration, not to mention how much of an impact air quality can have if you, your family or housemates suffer from asthma.
Smart air quality monitors & purifiers explained
As part of the wellbeing push from Silicon Valley, tech companies think they can help you to track and improve the air you breath using sensors that detect changes in air quality and report on airborne particles. Air quality monitoring can be found in standalone devices or as an add-on feature.
Even when it's the main event, it's often bundled in with other sensors that give you information about your home in real time β like motion, temperature, and humidity. You might find that you start tracking out of curiosity and this may lead you to get into the purification game once you see the results. Because what's the point of tracking something if you're not going to do something about it?
Enter air purifiers. Air purifiers are typically a standalone product that's bigger and more expensive than an air quality monitor. Some will do double duty, such as Dyson's Pure Cool series, which are both fans and smart air purifiers,. Purifiers clean the air by sucking in and then trapping air particles in a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter.
That's another area to consider β do you want alerts and stats and graphs in an app that lets you know how your house is doing minute by minute, or are you happier to let a purifier do its work, left alone? Some models, like Dyson's, also offer handy extras like Alexa voice controls, but this probably won't be your main criteria.
Most of us have no idea what's in the air we breathe so you might want to track as many things as possible. But there might also be a particular chemical or particle that you're interested in. Some of the major ones to consider are dust, pollen, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), CO2 (carbon dioxide), and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) from outside traffic.
For carbon monoxide monitoring, make sure you get a dedicated smoke alarm with CO detection.
Okay, but what do they all mean?
CO2: Carbon dioxide is naturally present in our homes as we produce it, but high indoor levels can make us feel drowsy, get headaches, and function at lower activity levels. High CO2 levels are also an indicator of poor ventilations, so a good signal that it's time to open a window.
VOCs: Volatile organic compounds are nasty gases emitted from things like paints, varnishes, and disinfectants. Left untreated, it can cause irritations and lead to damage of the kidney, liver or central nervous system.
Radon: Radon is a radioactive atomic gas that's caused by the decay of radium. Sounds unlikely, but this is a common hazard that can enter homes through building materials or even well water. Outside it disperses before it's dangerous, but in a tighter space - like a home - it can be dangerous.
We've checked out a few of the leading devices in air quality monitoring and purifying and rounded up the best products to consider.
Best all-in-one air quality monitors & purifiers
These devices not only monitor the levels of particle baddies in the air, but they do something about it tooβ¦
Dyson Pure Cool
Dyson has a range of devices on sale now that will monitor and purify indoor air β and some will even throw heating and cooling (or both) into the mix as well. However, it's the flagship purifying device from the British company that we're focused on here.
Dyson's new Pure Cool fans/air purifiers come in desktop and tower sizes β we've had the latter on test and it's more suited to sitting on the floor as it's as over a metre tall. Dyson claims it can get rid of pollution from all manner of sources, including pets, pollen, cleaning products, NO2 from traffic outside the house and VOCs from paint and candles, catching 99.5% of air particles down to as small as 0.1 microns. The Glass HEPA filter is 60% larger than its predecessor and there's a separate carbon filter too.
There's a round LCD screen that can give you a real time air quality reading, plus temperature and humidity sensors. If you want to dig a little deeper then you can tap into the Dyson Link app (the same one used for your 360 Eye robot vacuum cleaner) for all the stats and you can even get Amazon's digital assistant to give you an update by saying, "Alexa, ask Dyson for indoor air quality".
The Pure Cool, as you probably guessed from the name, also operates as a fan. It turns 350 degrees and is capable of pumping 290 litres of air a second, and can be set to diffuse air rather than projecting it β so it can be purifying your air in the winter without cooling down a room you're trying to heat up.
It's simple to use β in fact you could just push the auto button and forget all about it. There's also a night mode where the fan operates at a lower, more quiet, level, and the LED display also dims.
Xiaomi Mi Air Purifier Pro
Xiaomi's smart home platform is humongous and, while people might be quick to write the Chinese behemoth off as an Apple rip-off specialist (which it undoubtably is too), the company produces well-built devices that are increasingly easier to use thanks to its extra efforts at offering the Mi Home app in western languages.
The Pro Air Purifier is another example of this β it's a simple plug-in-and-go affair, backed up with some extra smarts on the Xiaomi Mi app.
Like Dyson's Pure Cool, there's a nice display (OLED, we're informed) for the current air quality reading, with Xiaomi showing a PM2.5 concentration scale for particulate matter, along with both temperature and humidity readings. There's also a LED ring around the OLED panel that changes colour from green to red based on the readings.
It's not quite as big as the Dyson, at around 75cm high, but it's still a bit of a beast, and there are no heating or cooling options on offer. It simply concentrates on purifying indoor air β something that's even more important in China. Xiaomi claims it can clean 500 cubic metres an hour, and it also boasts of a laser particle sensor that's capable of spotting particles as small as 0.3 microns in diameter.
It has a triple layer 360-degree filter, with a PET pre-filter, an EPA filter, and an activated carbon filter. You can toggle between an auto mode, a night mode and your own personal targets (set in the app) with a simple tap of the button and you can also team it up with Xiaomi smart home sensors to create automations based on factors such as the weather.
Coway Airmega 400S
First thing to know about Coway's air purifiers is that there are several models to pick from, some of which are Wi-Fi connected and some which aren't. The 400S, seen above is one we've tested, but we've also taken one of the "non-smart" models for a spin and it's a decent air purifier nonetheless.
There are actually two connected models, the 400S and 300S (with Coway's naming system, the "S" always signifies that it's "Smart"). Both these models look identical, and come in either white or graphite options, but the 400S has a couple of added tricks up its sleeve, including Alexa integration. It also provides a bit more room coverage than the 300S. Both work with a mobile app that lets you control the purifier remotely, and both claim to remote 99.97 % of pollutants in the home. But the 400S is the more premium of Coway's offerings.
There are two filters that attach each side - the pre-filter and the Max2 filter - and while they did a great job of making our apartment air cleaner, they're another cost to consider, with the Max2 costing $129 for the 400 series and the pre-filter costing $25. Considering you'll need to replace them yearly, it adds up.
There's a real-time quality monitor displayed on the front of purifier and in the app. There's also a smart mode that will automatically adjust the fan speed depending on how many nasties are in the air, as well as an in-app scheduler.
Personally, we're not huge fans of the design and think Coway's cheaper 200M (which we also tested) looks nicer. However, while it does a decent job of keeping the air clean, you don't get the Wi-Fi-connected features of the S models. Coway also sells the similar-priced and sized Mighty purifier, which again lacks internet connectivity.
Best smart air quality monitors
These devices won't purify your air, but they will let you know about the air quality so you can do something about it, such as opening a window, or turning on a fan (there's an IFTTT recipe for thatβ¦).
Netatmo Healthy Home Coach
French smart home company Netatmo makes an affordable all-rounder that goes by the name of the Healthy Home Coach. It's a sleek looking cylinder that's compatible with Apple HomeKit (limited functionality) and tracks air quality (CO2), humidity, temperature and sound levels. If you tap the top you get an at a glance reading courtesy of the light down the middle. There's no advanced tracking on offer β you can forget about VOCs and the like.
Annoyingly, Netatmo, despite having a wealth of smart home tech, requires you to have a separate app for the Healthy Home Coach. However, it's a nice enough app with easy to see readings on temperature, humidity, ppm count and noise levels. You can also jump into graphs of what's been going on in the room it's placed in β although it only stores a day's worth of data, which is a bit naff.
What is good is that it operates in three modes: Whole Family, Baby, and Asthmatic, with each one programmed with different thresholds for warnings. The Baby mode β the one I use β is more sensitive to heat; and the Asthmatic mode is more sensitive to humidity.
The design, like the Netatmo Welcome smart camera, is a shiny cylinder β pinkish for the model we've been testing β which is nicer but does rather stand out.
Awair 2nd edition
A tasty looking piece of smart home kit if ever we saw one, Awair is an air quality monitor with a stylish walnut casing that'll fit right in with your retro radios and classy furniture. It tracks VOC chemicals, CO2, dust, temperature and humidity levels and shows you your air quality score (out of 100) on the device's LCD display β based on an average of all of the readings.
The new second-gen model, which is all-but identical to the original, also throws in fine dust (PM2.5) detection as well.
If you've got a 'bad' score then it's easy to see what factor is causing it, as it's simply a case of counting the dots in the relevant column. If you become obsessed with this score (I didn'tβ¦ honestly) you can also choose to just have the clock displayed, or the temperature or humidity level β but then you'd need to frequent the app more often for your air quality readings.
In the app you can also see personalised tips based on the readings, plus Awair connects to Nest (if you've got a Protect hooked up to an air conditioning unit), Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT so it should fit right in, no matter your smart home ecosystem. The app shows 24 hours of data at a time and you can easily scroll through to see previous days' stats.
Like Netatmo's effort there are also different modes you can select β Allergy, Sleep, Productivity, and Baby β so you get different warnings from the app based on different variants.
Okay, let's address the obvious elephant in the room here - that price-tag: for that outlay you'd expect an air quality device to be both monitoring and controlling your indoor air quality. Unfortunately, with the Foobot - not so... but there is a very detailed emphasis on the former.
With claims of being as accurate as a "$5,000 lab instrument" it is capable of measuring volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, carbon dioxide, as well as temperature and humidity.
It's not a looker - let's be honest - in comparison with Awair's model, although the display of the air quality is a lot more visual, and less subtle, with a beaming red light warning you of poor air quality.
Foobot's app is visually fantastic with easy to read diagrams regarding the current air situation, and it also boats a feature than none of its rivals do: it learns your behaviours over time so as it can better analyse why you're seeing spikes in poor air quality - activities such as cooking and cleaning are the most common culprits.
The device is also much more advanced than its competition when it comes to smart home integrations. You can pair it with air conditioning units powered by Nest, Netatmo, Hive, Honeywell, Ecobee, and Schneider and there's also a bunch of IFTTT applets ready for the Foobot too.
Currently however, the Foobot is sold out as the company works on its second generation model. When that's released we'll update this guide.
Airthings Wave Plus
With Airthings, the big focus is on radon detection - that's the Norwegian company's specialist subject. As explained in the intro, radon is a naturally occurring radioactive atomic gas, which can rise up through the ground and into your homes. It's linked to 4% of lung cancer cases in the UK and 21,000 people die from radon-related cancer every year in the US.
The Wave Plus is the first battery-operated smart IAQ monitor with radon detection - so you can get a warning and not become one of those statistics. If you get radon in your house the official advice is to open a window or two and then seek out a professional to help remediation work, such as getting a radon sump or introducing a positive pressure system..
In total Airthings has six sensors on board, detecting carbon dioxide, humidity, temperature, and total volatile organic compounds. Everything is presented nicely in the app so you can get a quick snapshot of your air quality.
The Wave Plus has a way of making you panic though. If you tap the front of it you get a color LED indicating the air quality - green for good, amber for average, red for bed. Now, the one in my house is always red and it makes me panic and think I've got lung cancer, because of all that radon I've been breathing. However, it's only ever red because the humidity level is high where we keep it in the utility room - and there's no real need to be scared of humidity. There should be a setting whereby the red light only comes on if the radon is high.
Disclaimer - the radon has never been high in the couple of months I've been using the Wave Plus, but better safe than sorry, eh?
Awair Glow C
The Awair Glow C is the second generation smart plug and IAQ monitor from the makers of the Awair. Here, the tech has been pared down into a simple plug. Well, a rather chunky plug, but a device much easier to hide away. Its relatively diminutive size shouldn't fool you however, the Glow is a capable little air quality sensor.
The Glow C tracks temperature, humidity, CO2, and VOCs. You can see long-term trends in the app, with neat little charts showing the changes in temperature, humidity and chemicals over the hours of each day. When you first set up the Glow you'll be asked what your primary goal is. Is it to get a better night's sleep? To keep the allergies at bay? Your selection will determine what the Glow primarily looks out for.
The Awair Glow C has an LED light on top that can indicate your current air quality, or be used as a nightlight. But the main feature here is the outlet. While most IAQs can only tell you what's wrong, this one can do something about it. The idea here is that you can plug in a fan, humidifier, purifier or other such appliance and have the Awair Glow C switch it on when the air quality becomes bad.
The app lets you set different thresholds for chemicals and temperature. For example, I have an air purifier plugged into my Glow C right now, and if the chemical level reaches above 340ppb (parts per billion) it will turn the purifier on. You can also set these triggers around a schedule, or when it detects movement.
It works with Alexa and Google Assistant, letting you ask the assistants for real-time air quality readings or have them turn the outlet and nightlight on and off. There are integrations with Nest that can turn your fan on when CO2 concentrations get too high, and even integrations with Ecobee, Honeywell and iRobot (your Roomba can be set to vacuum when it gets too dusty) β but these ones only work via IFTTT Applets.
As it's designed to be plugged into an outlet and stay there, Glow C is not very flexible, so make sure it's somewhere it can get a good read of its surroundings i.e. not stuck behind a door.