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28 Dec 2019

Could the Airthings Wave Mini help improve air quality in your home?

The Airthings Wave Mini air quality monitor claims to be the 'perfect, cost-effective first step into understanding your indoor air quality'. Which? tried it out to see if it's worth buying

Air pollution is something we're very aware of when we walk down a busy city street next to a queue of cars. But do we need a monitor like the Airthings Wave Mini to tell us about the air quality in our homes?

Few of us probably spare a thought for the quality of the air in our homes - I know I never had previously - so when I was asked to put the Airthings Wave Mini through its paces in my home for a month, I wasn't sure what to expect.

But, when I read up on the issue, I was dismayed to learn that many of the things we do to make our homes cosy, such as decorating, burning candles, and using air fresheners, can increase our personal exposure to pollutants. This can have a direct effect on our well-being and contributes to national emissions.

Air pollution is the top environmental risk to human health in the UK, and the fourth greatest threat to public health after cancer, heart disease and obesity, according to charity Allergy UK. Improving the air in our homes might help to mitigate the risks.

So I went into this, the latest in our series of air quality monitor trials (a couple of months ago we tried the portable Atmotube Pro), with an open mind and the hope I'd get some actionable insights to make my home a healthier place to be.

If you want to clean the air in your home, see our reviews of the best air purifiers.

What is the Airthings Mini?

The monitor itself is a white disc, around the size of a tennis ball (see below), with two pin-size intake holes on the front.

It measures the level of total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs) in your home - airborne chemicals and odours that have been linked with adverse health effects such as acetone, methanol, benzene, ethanol, xylene and formaldehyde. It also keeps track of temperature and humidity.

Wave your hand in front of it and a green, amber or red light shows the quality of the air in your home.

There's a companion smartphone app which goes into more detail, with graphs (see below) displaying the levels of all three measures over the course of 48 hours, a week and a month.

What's the Airthings Wave Mini like to use?

The Mini is quick to set up, but takes a week to settle down and regulate readings. It can be used before this, but the readings may not be entirely accurate.

The Airthings website suggests you use it in every room around the house to find the optimum comfort levels for each room - over the course of a month, I tried it in my kitchen and sitting room.

Getting the Airthings Wave Mini set up

I found the instruction booklet stylish but almost illegible, with yellow text on a white background. Fortunately, the batteries are pre-installed, and setting up the monitor is very easy.

The main thing you need to do is install the app on your smartphone and create an account. The monitor then connects to your phone over Bluetooth and automatically loads the latest software version.

You tell the app which room the monitor is in and select whether to display temperature as Celsius or Fahrenheit. When you move the monitor, you change its location in the app. Graphs showing the readings from the previous room can still be seen on the Airthings website by logging on to your account.

The whole setup took me less than five minutes.

Using the Airthings Wave Mini

The monitor itself is very simple. It's got a motion sensor, and you wave your hand in front of it to see a coloured light (green for good, amber for warning, red for danger).

The app shows more details. The home screen lets you choose between humidity, temperature and TVOCs. You tap to select the one you want to look at, and tap again to look at your graphs for the last 48 hours, week or month.

The app loads data from the monitor over Bluetooth whenever it's nearby. Any software updates are installed at the same time, which takes a minute or so. If you move the monitor from room to room, your past data can only be seen online, not in the app.

Tracking pollution in the kitchen

My house had a complete renovation less than five years ago, so there are no damp problems and the heating works efficiently from individual thermostats in each room. This meant that the humidity and temperature graphs weren't of huge interest to me, though I was pleased to see that my thermostats steadily maintained the temperature I'd set.

I tried the Wave Mini in the kitchen first. My family and I spend a lot of our time there, and I hoped it might pick up fumes from cleaning and cooking.

To my surprise, the monitor light stayed resolutely green for the two weeks I had it in there, even when I grilled smoked mackerel, cooked up spice-laden stir fries and liberally sprayed cleaner on the kitchen island and hob.

I can only assume that the fact I cook using an electric hob and oven, and that there's always a good flow of air as we go in and out to the garden from the kitchen, means there's less opportunity for poor air to build up.

Tracking pollution in the sitting room

Next, I moved the monitor into the sitting room. Here I have carpets and a Defra-approved wood-burning stove which I installed to replace an open fire.

I'd been warned by the installer that the paint on the stove would smell a bit for the first few burns, so I expected the monitor to pick this up.

It did; the Wave Mini's light was amber when I waved my hand in front of it after the fire had been lit for around half an hour and I was first aware that fumes might be accumulating.

To be honest, I didn't really need this to know I needed to open a window - the noticeable smell gave it away. It was reassuring, though, to see air quality improve via the mobile app when I opened the window, which happened very much in real time.

If you own a wood-burning stove, it's important to use it responsibly, including only burning dry wood. Read our guide to wood burning stoves to find out more about stoves and pollution.

Is the Airthings Wave Mini worth buying?

We found the Airthings Wave Mini on sale for £56, but most retailers were charging £79 at the time of writing. Based on my experience, I'm not sure it's worth it, for the following reasons.

  • You can currently only monitor one room at a time - though eventually, you'll be able to link up multiple monitors. Airthings is planning to introduce a hub that will allow you to keep an eye on more than one monitor at a time.
  • When the Wave Mini did pick up a drop in air quality, we had to wave at the monitor to check this. I imagine anyone who has the monitor in their home long-term might not proactively check it that often, so it might have been more useful if it had flashed a warning.
  • Probably most importantly, the device didn't prompt me to take any action I wouldn't have done anyway.

The Airthings website lists several household items that may affect the air quality in your home, but the main advice it offers is to open a window when you use them. Call me old-fashioned, but this seems like something most of us would do without a prompt from technology.

The Wave Mini is easy to use, but if you are concerned about air quality, you are probably better off just following our advice on how to improve your indoor air quality at home.

You could also consider an air purifier, which will help tackle some forms of pollution. Check out our air purifier reviews to find one that scores well in our tests.