Best China Apps for Air Quality

Expats in Shanghai quickly learn the need for installing China apps for air quality and monitoring them on a regular basis. My experience of coming to work in Shanghai taught me this need very quickly.

Arriving in Shanghai

When the 13-hour flight had finally landed in the Pudong International Airport, I kept imagining what my reaction would be to my first breath of the notorious Shanghai air. I had heard all the rumours, seen the news articles, and read jokes about how polluted the air in China was.

I imagined myself stepping out of the airport, taking a deep breath in, and inevitably… choking.

However, this is NOT what happened at all.

The air did not feel as bad to breathe as I expected - it was hardly noticeable, actually. Subsequently, since I was not choking every time I stepped out the door, I assumed I would be fine and did not pay much attention to the air quality. I also did not feel the need for downloading any China apps for air quality.

Air Quality in China is Serious!

It was not until a couple weeks later that I began to experience headaches and occasionally a strange lack of focus in my work - both of which I had not faced before.

I realized that just because I did not explicitly ‘notice’ the bad air quality in Shanghai it did not mean that it was not affecting me. It reminded me of the saying “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”.

In this case, what we do not know or see is actually hurting us! And it could prove to have irreversible effects on our health. I quickly asked around and found a number of good China apps for air quality, as I list below. 

Health Effects of Air Quality in China

Making sure you monitor both outdoor and indoor air quality in China and take preventative measures accordingly can be critical for your health.

Studies completed by organizations including the World Health Organization and the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning concluded that every year across China, there are approximately between 350,000 and 500,000 premature deaths due to the effects of air pollution.

Another study done in 2010 by Fuming Guo studied the effects of pollution levels in 8 urban districts in Beijing between 2004 and 2008. The study showed that life expectancy was cut between 15.1 and 16.2 years due to China air pollution. Years of life lost (YLL), was higher for men than women, and higher for people aged up to 65 years than those older than 65 years. 

Grey_Sky_Over_Shanghai

Monitoring Air Pollution with China Apps

There has been an increasing awareness of the air quality issue in China as well as all over the world, with a special focus on PM 2.5. PM 2.5 is particulate matter that has a diameter of 2.5um or less, allowing it to penetrate deep into our lung tissues and cause various health problems.

However, how can you prevent yourself from being exposed to something that you cannot even see?

Multiple software and app developers have been paying attention to this issue and have designed many China apps for both indoor and outdoor air quality in China. These apps on smartphones or web browsers, can display real-time readings on air quality, especially the Air Quality Index (AQI) and PM2.5 levels.

Most of these China apps gather their data from material published by the local branches of the China Ministry of Environmental Protection (China MEP) or the U.S. Embassy and Consulates.

So here is a list of the best China apps for air quality, some that I have used, some that I have briefly browsed through - but all of which can provide you with the information that you need to know about YOUR air quality in China, both inside and outside (the air that YOU breathe!):

Air Quality China Apps

China Apps

Outdoor Air Quality China Apps

  1. China Air Quality Index (http://air.fresh-ideas.cc/en/)
    Android App
    iPhone App
    The China Air Quality Index app, developed by Fresh Ideas, is a particularly popular one amongst foreigners in Beijing and Shanghai. Users can quickly share air quality information on social media, and the app has also recently added support for Apple’s iWatch for quick checks.
    Apart from PM2.5, it also shows Ozone and other pollutant data.
    Another advantage is its ability to connect to the Origins Laser Egg Device which measures PM2.5 indoors (see below).
    This app has rebranded as Air-Matters to include more cities around the world.

  2. Shanghai Air Quality
    Android App 
    This is a free Android app that offers charts showing the air quality data from the past 24 hours as well as the past 7 days. For quick updates, the app also has widget ability to provide the user with an AQI number on the dashboard of their phones.

  3. Shanghai Air Quality
    Android App
    iPhone App
    The official app of the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center. This app is only in Chinese. It shows the center’s little girl mascot with various facial expressions depending on the real-time AQI level; deteriorating from ecstatic to balling her eyes out.
    You can find the average Shanghai AQI as well as the exact real-time readings from their many testing stations around the city. Also the readings for all 6 pollutants are available.
    They have an English version on their website.

  4. Air Quality China (http://air.castudio.org)
    Android App 
    iPhone App 
    A free app that is available for both Android and iPhone with widget capability.
    The user can choose between U.S. or Chinese standard AQI measurements and view data from multiple testing sites around each city including from the US Embassy and Consulates.
    You can also choose between the standard 24-hour average PM2.5 number or the more useful real-time number. The app also provides a history chart of the AQI from the past 30 days.
    This app has stopped updating for a few days to a few weeks on occassion, but eventually comes back online.

  5. AirVisual (https://airvisual.com)
    Android App
    iPhone App
    One of the best new China apps for air quality, it provides current AQI readings as well as 3-day air quality forecasts for thousands of cities around the world. It also can be connected to its own AirVisual indoor air quality monitor (see below).

  6. Beijing/Shanghai Air Quality
    iPhone App 
    Developed by Solar Joke, this is a free China app for iPhone and iPad only, with a separate app for iWatch. Provides side-by-side hourly AQI numbers as well as updates on the lock screen notification board. 

Indoor Air Quality China Apps

While staying informed about China outdoor air quality is important, we often overlook the indoor air quality (IAQ) i.e. air quality of indoor spaces, which may be just as bad, if not worse, than outside.

When you think that we spend over 80% of our time indoors, the outdoor air quality problem just becomes a fraction of the size of the overall air quality problem in China.

We tend to overlook or are simply unaware of the ‘off-gassing’ from materials used in the interiors of our homes, offices, schools, health clubs, restaurants, and all those other public spaces that we regularly visit.

There are now many tools available for consumers which monitor the indoor air quality of spaces in China, so long as they have a monitoring device installed.

Some of these devices are also accompanied by proprietary China apps developed for specific monitors, and which stream real-time indoor air quality (IAQ) data to your smartphone. 

Below is a list of China apps for Indoor Air Quality.

RESET Indoor Air Quality App
  1. Origins BreatheSpace and Laser Egg (http://www.origins-china.com)
    iPhone App
    This handy little device priced at RMB ¥ 499 monitors PM2.5 and PM0.3 levels. These readings are displayed on the monitor along with the according AQI by both China and US standards. You can also stream the data to your phone through their own BreatheSpace app or the China Air quality index app mentioned above. As it is relatively small you can take it with you to monitor the PM2.5 level of wherever you are.

  2. AirVisual (https://airvisual.com)
    This device priced at RMB ¥ 988 monitors PM2.5 and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels, as well as shows both indoor readings and outdoor readings on the display. Connects to its own AirVisual app mentioned above.

  3. Air Mentor App (https://www.air-mentor.com/about)
    Android App 
    iPhone App
    This app accompanies the Air Mentor IAQ monitor. It can detect concentrations of CO2, VOC together with CO, PM2.5, PM10, temperature, and relative humidity. There is no actual number displayed on the monitor. However, the smartphone app provides an actual number for several factors of air quality. Air Mentor holds the first place title of the Computex d&i 2015 awards, Asia’s largest technological innovation trade fair.

  4. RESET (http://www.reset.build)
    Android App
    iPhone App
    RESET is an app that differs from the aforementioned, as it was developed independently from any accompanying hardware.
    RESET was developed by GIGA. Founded by Canadian architects in Shanghai, GIGA is an independent third-party organization that combines building material research with cloud software.
    RESET gives their clients the option to make their IAQ numbers public, enabling other users to track the healthiest public places in Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou or Chengdu, such as schools, offices, fitness gyms and more. Data can be made public through the app to everyone, or only to those you choose with password access.
    RESET is linked to multiple certified, cloud-based, and wireless monitors, giving flexibility to the consumer’s needs and budget.
    The app contains a dashboard, which displays the current local outdoor air quality, as well as the indoor air quality of locations the user follows. The factors of air quality that are displayed include: TVOC, CO2, PM2.5, temperature, humidity and reduction factor.
    RESET stresses PM 2.5 levels are an important factor, and should be kept as low as possible; however, PM2.5 levels alone do not equal air quality. For example, a school could keep windows shut, turn on air filters, and lower their PM2.5 level, but CO2 levels may skyrocket, leaving brains less and less oxygenated.
    Monitoring other factors of air quality besides just PM 2.5 levels has enabled RESET to sign up many users in China including Pure Living China, Haworth, Lendlease, Glumac, Dulwich International School and ever more.
    If you are interested in having your space connected to RESET contact them here.

About the Author

Melissa Mark is from Toronto, Ontario, Canada and is working as a research intern at GIGA Shanghai. Melissa studies Environmental and Social Sustainability and her blog includes sections for self-made travel videos, paleo recipes, fashion, food photography, and lifestyle. Her food photography has also been featured in the Canadian newspaper The National Post. 

Learn more about China's AQI and various air pollutant measurements here.

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