Winter is coming, and we know what that means in Ulaanbaatar. Extremely high levels of air pollution. Even with the recent ban on the burning of raw coal it is possible (even likely) that levels of the particularly dangerous pollutant PM2.5 will remain high during the winter months.
During these months a pollution mask and air purifier are essential equipment to protect yourself and your family. Air purifiers can cost anywhere from $150-$500 or more. This means many families choose to forgo air purifiers completely, at the cost of their entire families health. Smart Air, a social enterprise founded in 2013, wants to change this situation with the launch of their new no-nonsense air purifier, the Sqair. Funded through a Kickstarter campaign in June, the Sqair purports to be the world’s most cost effective air purifier.
Sqair was kind enough to lend me a unit for a few days to test it out. I’ll first give my general thoughts on the device and then present my experiment to show how effective the Sqair is at removing PM2.5 from a room.
I was very pleased with the look of the device as it didn’t stick out as much as other air purifiers (the IQ Air purifier looks like an industrial battery). The controls are dead simple with three options: off, 1, 2, and 3. Fan speed 1 is very quiet (like very quiet). Fan speed 2 is certainly audible even in a room with a little background noise, but it easily blends in. Fan speed 3 is downright noisy, but as you will see below there isn’t much need to use this speed unless you are looking to really move some air through the machine.
One thing I really wanted to test was how effective the Sqair is at clearing pollution from a room. I’ve heard criticism about air purifiers from several people who are skeptical of how well they circulate air. The common question is, “How do I know it isn’t just cleaning the air in one corner of the room?”. So I set up an experiment to see how well the Sqair works.
At my school we have a quiet study room that is 10m² and has ceilings of 3 meters. That makes 30 cubic meters of air in the room. The room has a door that seals completely and has no air vents. This made the perfect room to conduct an experiment with an air purifier. The only problem is that in early September there is essentially no air pollution outside, and inside PM2.5 levels hover around 5 µg/m³. So I had to get creative and make some air pollution.
In Mongolia арц (ground Juniper leaf) is commonly burned for religious purposes. It turns out it also is a great source of PM2.5! I poured a few grams of the green powder in a cup and lit it up. The sensor I was using maxes out around 1,500 µg/m³, and after only a few minutes of burning it reached the max! Keep in mind that air is considered “good” by the US EPA if the PM2.5 level is below an average of 12 µg/m³ over 24 hours (the Mongolian standard states that the air is clean below an average of 50 µg/m³ over 24 hours)
I used the following process to run the experiment:
- The air purifier and air quality sensor were placed on opposite sides of the room.
- Burn the арц for a few minutes until the PM2.5 level spikes.
- Set the air purifier to a speed.
- Wait for 90 minutes while the camera records a timelapse of the air quality sensor.
- I also ran a separate test with the air purifier off for 90 minutes to set a baseline.
The results were quite amazing! It’s one thing to know that your air purifier is keeping your air clean, it’s another to see it working in real-time. Let’s take a look at the results:
Before running the test I was quite concerned that the very very quite speed 1 wouldn’t circulate the air enough to clean the room’s air. It turns out that even on fan speed 1 the air was being cleaned at a very steady rate.
During the fan speed 2 test, it seemed the air was moving around quite a bit more, and for a brief time, the PM2.5 levels went down and then up again. The fan speed 3 test was almost comical in how quickly the air was cleaned. I actually ended it early because I saw no use in continuing it after 60 minutes.
Overall the results were what I expected for speeds 2, and 3, but better than expected for speed 1. In a larger room, fan speed 1 may not circulate air enough to clean it well. However, this will depend greatly on the room and I couldn’t give a definitive answer based on my test.
I was quite impressed with the simplicity, effectiveness, and cost of the Sqair. It just works and it does so while looking good and not breaking the bank. I can easily recommend these air purifiers to anyone looking for a simple and cost-effective solution.
If you are interested in buying a Sqair or learning more about Smart Air check out their website here.