How to check if your air purifier is working

So, you bought an air purifier to clean your air and improve your quality of living. But how do you know it is actually working?

Sure, the machine makes some noise, and several buttons light up. But does that mean the air actually becomes cleaner?

In this article, I will walk you through several steps you can take to check if your air purifier is actually doing something.

An air purifier runs when it produces sound, makes the air around it move, and the buttons light up. To know if the device cleans the air, look for the filter to get dirty over a few days, and feel if any air-quality-related symptoms are relieved. Measuring your air quality before, during, and after running the air purifier is the best indicator of whether it’s functioning or not.

How to know if your air purifier is cleaning the air

There are a few ways to test if your air quality has improved when running an air purifier. These are:

  • check if the filter is getting dirty over time
  • measuring your air quality before and during air purifier usage
  • try to see and feel if air quality-related symptoms decrease
  • run your air purifier in the bedroom and feel differences in sleep quality

The absolute best way to know if your air purifier is really making the air cleaner is to measure it. Measuring can be done either with an air quality monitor, or a one-time test kit. You will have to measure your air quality before and after running the air purifier. In this way, you can tell if anything has changed.

A clogged filter means the purifier does its job

Air purifiers work by running a fan that leads your air through one or more filters. These filters remove air pollutants from the air such as dust. Therefore, when the air purifier is running, particles are being captured by the filter(s).

So, when you have run the device for several days, you should be seeing signs of clogging of the filter. Open the device and take out the filter to check for signs of dust build-up. When you have clear dust build-up, like in my picture below, you can be sure that the device is working as intended.

Air purifier filter clogged with dust.
My clogged up air filter

An air quality test kit is not an option

A test kit looks to be the cheapest option for measuring your air quality. However, there are several issues with test kits that make them unfit for testing if your air purifier is functioning properly. The problems with test kits are the following:

  • they only measure one or two pollutants
  • you cannot interpret the results yourself, instead;
  • they require you to send the test kit to a lab for analysis
  • test kits can only be used once, therefore;
  • they only show the air quality at the moment of measurement (and not over time)

Test kits are a cheap option if you want to know, for example, if you have mold spores in your basement. However, they are not a good option for checking whether your air purifier functions properly.

Why an air quality monitor is preferred

An air quality monitor is an excellent device for measuring your air. It can:

  • measure many different pollutants at the same time
  • show the result immediately via an app on your phone
  • indicate whether these results are indicators of good or poor air quality
  • show changes in air quality over time

Because of this, air quality monitors are excellent for determining if your air purifier is doing its job. It allows for continuous measurement to get a good picture of your air over time. This makes it easy to see if running an air purifier results in lower levels of air pollutants.

How to use an air quality monitor to check on your purifier

An air quality monitor needs to be calibrated first. This means it needs to become accustomed to its surroundings. It takes about 7 days for most monitors to be ready and give accurate measurements.

To start measuring whether your air purifier is working, choose a day when you use the house like you usually do. This will give results that are representative of a normal day. Then, follow these steps:

  • Do not run the air purifier for an entire day. This will ensure the air quality is how it is without an air purifier. Then,
  • the next day, measure the air quality all day long and write down the results. Many air quality monitors include an app to help with this.
  • On the third day, run the air purifier all day, and measure your air all day long.
  • After that, compare the results and see if running the air purifier resulted in a drop in air pollutants.

Most air purifiers are designed to remove airborne particles such as dust, pollen, and mold spores. So take a close look at those specific results. You will find that some aspects of air quality such as gases are not affected by your air purifier.

For gases, you will need a specific filter. You can read more about them in my article here.

Air quality data on your phone
Air quality data on your phone

Preferably, you will take measurements over a longer period of time. For example, a week. This will give a good indication of your average air quality and will show if there are outliers. Outliers can be moments during the day when the air quality is exceptionally poor or relatively good.

Outliers happen frequently because the causes of air pollutants change during the day and week. For example, outdoor air pollution because of traffic exhaust is greatest during morning and afternoon traffic jams. These combustion gases and particles can enter your home during this time period, and cause spikes in your measurements.

For the best results, measure the air for a full week without using the air purifier, and then measure another full week while you do run the air purifier.

For more information on air quality monitors, I highly recommend reading my article:

A decrease in symptoms indicates a working air purifier

You are likely using an air purifier to be able to breathe cleaner air. It is possible that you do not notice much difference because you are not very sensitive to low amounts of air pollution. Or, your air quality might already be quite good.

However, many people are sensitive to one or more air pollutants. Other people have allergies or lung conditions that are worsened by poor air quality.

Still, there are many mild symptoms that can be related to air quality that people assume are part of normal life. Also, some symptoms can arise instantly when you enter an air with poor air quality. Others increase slowly over time.

Therefore, a reduction in air-quality-related symptoms is a good indicator that your air purifier is working.

What symptoms are common in poor air quality?

Sometimes exposure to air pollutants can lead to immediate health effects. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these symptoms include:

  • Irritation of
    • eyes,
    • nose, or
    • throat
  • headaches,
  • dizziness,
  • fatigue,
  • increased symptoms of
    • asthma, or
    • other pre-existing illnesses

Some symptoms related to poor air quality can be very similar to those from viral diseases or the common cold. Therefore, it is not always easy to determine if poor indoor air quality is really the cause.

When you have one or more of these symptoms regularly, make sure to track when, how often and how severe they are. Then, you can compare this between days of running and not running the air purifier. If symptoms are less during days when you run your air purifier, it is likely that it is functioning well.

There are several long-term health effects caused by poor air quality as well. These include respiratory disease, heart disease, and cancer. However, these symptoms will slowly surface over time, and change cannot be seen or felt when running the air purifier for a few days, if at all.

For more information about air quality-related symptoms, I recommend reading my article:

    An air purifier should improve sleep

    Air quality has an effect on our sleep. Therefore, by taking note of how well we sleep, we can get an idea of whether our air purifier is working properly.

    By improving the quality of our air, we can:

    • improve sleep quality
    • fall asleep quicker
    • feel less sleepy the next day
    • more easily concentrate the next day

    Try to see if you feel a difference in sleep quality when you run the purifier during the night. Make sure to test this for a few days or weeks.

    Air quality monitor set on the bedside table.
    An air quality monitor on a bedside table

    For more in-depth information about how air quality affects sleep, I recommend reading my article:

    An air purifier can reduce odors

    Air purifiers are able to reduce odors. Most of them help a little because of their main function of removing particles from the air. Some particles can cause odors, such as pet dander or mold spores that can lead to mold growth.

    However, there are special filters available for purifiers that are specifically designed to remove gases and odors. The most common gas and odor filter is a carbon filter. Another, less common filter, is a zeolite filter. If you have one of these filters, you should notice a reduction in bad odors when the air purifier is working properly.

    For more information about these odor filters, I recommend reading my article:

    How to know if the air purifier is running

    If you simply want to know if the device is running or not, you can check the following things:

    • Is the power cord plugged in?
    • Does the device make a sound?
    • Do the buttons light up? (not all models have buttons that light up)
    • Is the air flowing around the device? (the fan should suck in air and push it out the other side)