3 things you can do to keep the smog out


The sun is out and the smog has mysteriously vanished, but it won’t be long before it returns. When the smog inevitably returns to Beijing there are certainly some things you can do to minimize your exposure to the harmful effects of PM2.5. Here’s our list of recommendations.

But first, some basics.

The difference between the air quality indoors and outdoors is largely negligible unless you have a purification system implemented in your house.

Even if your place is made of triple reinforced concrete, as long as there is ventilation, smog will creep into your abode, eventually filling your living space with toxic substances.

PM2.5 refers to particulate matter – or things floating in the air – of 2.5 micrometers and under. A good deal of the stuff that gets trapped in your lungs essentially fits this category, causing all manner of respiratory, heart and circulation issues.

3m mask pollution

1. Wear a mask

In the absence of any significant investment, whether indoors or outdoors, masks work as a very effective implement to filter the air in your surroundings.

Having said that, you can’t use just any old surgical mask, if you want to have some security in what you’re buying, be sure to purchase “N95”-certified respirators or a regional equivalent – the China standard is KN95.

N95-certified products – certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of the US government – have been certified to provide effective filtration of particulate matter down to .03 microns, enough so that you will not have to worry about breathing in smog.

The last time I visited my local 7-11, I tried in vain to find a mask that was N95-certified, but all I came across were various other standards including a 3M mask that was KN95 certified and other brands touting PM2.5 insert-percentage-here protection. Likely the most surefire way to obtain a mask to the specifications you desire is to purchase over the internet, JD.com and Tmall both are good options.

If you intend to use masks in the long term, there are a number of well known and popular brands including Totobobo, Respro and Vogmask which have a following here in Beijing. Apart from being arguably more aesthetically appealing, many of these are reusable, which makes for less waste.

An additional word of advice – be sure to get a tight fit on your mask. If you’re buying one of the widely available “3M”-branded respirators, this can be achieved by pinching the nose metal to fit your contours and making sure when you breath in that you get a suction effect, sealing the respirator around your face.

2. Get a purifier

For indoor comfort and freedom from mask-wearing, an air purifier is a must. Air purifiers essentially continuously blows the air in your surroundings through a filter that traps harmful contaminants, allowing you to breathe free from concern about pollution for an extended period of time.

As to which models/makes are preferable, in its simplest configuration this comes down to a coupling of a HEPA-certified filter, and a fan or ventilation device.

HEPA or High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance certification, similar to N95 certification, is certification provided by different government bodies with the United States Department of Energy that provide the relevant certification for U.S citizens.

Theoretically you could mount a HEPA filter over your AC machine and have it blow a breeze and this would provide some degree of protection.

At the low end, for as little as RMB 200, you can get an effective barebones device over at the expat-run SmartAir website.

smart air
Screenshot from Smart Air website

If you want to invest further and get something a little more aesthetically pleasing, with bells and whistles like a built-in monitor, thermostat-like intelligence, and smart features, a new class of purifiers has popped up from the likes of Cheetah and Xiaomi. These relatively recent wifi-enabled arrivals can alert users to hazardous conditions, warn when filters need to be replaced and can be had for about RMB 1000.

At the top end, you could do worse than to take a look at some of the premium models offered by Switzerland-based IQAir or Sweden-based BlueAir. Both companies provide products at relatively high prices but offer the assurance that comes with internationally recognized brands and the testing and certification that follows.

3. Seal up your windows

To increase the efficiency of your purifier and the longevity of your filter, seal up your vents, windows and other outlets, with an appropriate form of masking tape.

Although you can get by without having to do this, continuously allowing a trickle of unfiltered air into your environs will tax your purifier and require you to change your filters more often – which inevitably translates to a larger cash outlay.

Optional suggestions

If you really want to go pro, Richard Saint Cyr, a local expat doctor working at the Beijing United Family Hospital, recommends booking an appointment with an independent testing company. The testing company will be able to do all the legwork for you, determining how many purifiers you might need for your place, where all the leaks are and what other contaminants you need to be aware of in your environs.

For the curious types, get yourself a particle monitor and do some testing for yourself. Particle monitors are portable devices able to indicate PM2.5 levels, especially useful when you move around a lot and want to know if your office space or the local supermarket, for example, are properly filtered.

Photo from Origins' official website
Photo from Origins’ official website

The most widely-recommended consumer PM2.5 monitor is likely the Dylos DC1100, which can be had for USD 200. On the other side of the scale, for RMB 499 you can get a local product from Beijing-based startup Origins which provides similar functionality. Read our review here for details.

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