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8 Tools Used to Evaluate Indoor Air Quality

Updated on October 30, 2012

Tools for Testing Indoor Air Quality

You need the right tools if you are going to properly access your indoor air quality. You need to assess your indoor air quality if you are going to come up with the proper solutions. There are a lot of tools in the industry and knowing what tools you need to use can be at times confusing and overwhelming. Here are 8 of the most common tools that you would use in evaluating indoor air quality. They include: Petri Dish Tests, Swab Kit Tests, Air-O-Cell Sampler and Sampling Machine, Moisture Meter, Tape Lift Tests, Particle Counter, VOC meter, and VOC Lab Test Kits.

Petri Dish Test Kits

Petri Dish Test Kits are used when analyzing indoor air quality to detect the presence of bacteria like mold in the home. You can either set the petri dish open and allow the particles in the air to settle on it or you can swab surfaces around the house and then rub the swab onto the Petri Dish. A Petri Dish typically takes 3-5 days to grow the germs that it was exposed to. This is not the type of testing you want to do if you are looking for a lab analysis. This type of testing can be inaccurate because it is a lot easier for petri dishes to be pre-contaminated or cross contaminated. Petri dishes are often a great visual of why you should be concerned about your indoor air quality. They can even be a fun family science project. But they will not provide precise and accurate information about your indoor air quality. In our opinion, they are easy to use, tend to be popular, but have a very limited meaningful scope of applicability.

Enviro Swab Test Kits

Swab testing is a fundamental part of conducting an environmental air quality assessment of your home. A swab is much like a larger, sanitized, and specially packaged cu-tip that you use to rub a surface in the home. Good swab test kits come with a prepaid lab evaluation that will give you very specific identification about what contaminants are in the swab sample. Thorough testing typically requires 4-5 swabs from different parts of the house. The location for the swabbing will depend on what you are trying to evaluate for and how thorough you need the testing to be. Best Living Systems LLC currently offers some of the best prices on swabs and swab testing. You can get swabs from them for about $1.50 per swab. Lab testing carries additional costs. They offer an EnviroSwab Kit for $99.00 that includes 6 swabs and pre-paid lab testing on two of those swabs.

Air Sampler and Cassette (Air-o-cell)

An air sampler is a machine that is used in combination with something called a cassette. The cassette is a small sampling chamber that hooks up to the sampling machine. The air sampling machine then sucks air from the environment into the cassette; sampling chamber. This allows you to take a sample of your air and send it to a laboratory to measure what is in the air. A good quality Air sampler costs in the vicinity of $400.00. The bio aerosol sampling cassettes, sometimes referred to as air-o-cells, carry their own costs. A kit containing 3 cassettes and prepaid lab evaluation on all 3 costs about $139.00.

Moisture Meter

A moisture meter is typically used in indoor air quality assessments that include an examination of the risks for mold infestation. It is not directly applicable to indoor air because it is not a tool used directly on pollutants in the air. The moisture meter allows you to detect the moisture levels within walls, floors, and ceilings. This tells you whether there is invisible water damage that can become a festering ground for mold, which can in turn release many spores into the air. It can also tell you the source of a mold problem that may be contributing to poor indoor air quality. A good moisture meter is a tool worth having, not only for evaluating mold and indoor air quality risks, but for helping you to take care of your home.


Tape Lifts are a tool put out by Best Living Systems. There may be others, but we do not know about them. A tape lift looks a little bit like a microscope slide. It allows you to use the tape lift to get a larger sample of a pollutant or growth that you identify in the home and send it into a laboratory for detailed evaluation. An EnviroTape Kit which includes the lab report and lab evaluation typically runs for $59.00.

Particle Counters

Particle Counters do one thing and one thing well, they tell you the particle count in your air at any given time. They do not tell you what kinds of pollution are in your air. It is important to have realistic expectations when using a particle counter because it is only a tool. Particle counters have become popular as savvy consumers try to personally verify the claims made by various air purifiers and filters. They will often take before and after measurements of the particles in the air to determine how much a given air purifier actually reduced the pollution. Particle counters can run from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. The price often depends on the level of accuracy you need. Some counters are better than others, so be sure to do your research before making a purchase.

VOC Meter

VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. The VOC meter measures the amount of these types of gases in the air and provides the user with a fairly accurate reading. Some VOC meters can get very specific on over 300-400 VOCs in the air. VOC meters can cost from $300-800 or more, depending on the specifications and needs. A VOC meter is very important in examining the toxic gas levels in a home environment and provide information critical to cleaning up the air.

VOC Test Kits

Sometimes a VOC meter is simply not enough for finding out everything you need to know about the toxic substances in the air. Sometimes a VOC test kit ends up being cheaper than the VOC meter and a person decides to opt for the test kit because they can save some money are not needing to check the VOC levels frequently. A VOC test kit provides everything for you to sample the gases in the air and submit them to a laboratory. Lab costs are usually included in the cost of the kit but its worth checking to be first before making a purchase. If you don't use a VOC meter, you will definitely want to use the VOC test kit to make sure you evaluate your air quality in a comprehensive way.


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