Monitoring Air Quality With A $12 Sensor

[Chris] has allergies, asthma, and uses a wood burning stove. You can imagine why testing his air quality might be something he’d be interested in. He has a very nice $290 laser particle counter, but was really curious how the $12 sharp sensor he found would stack up. To find out, he plugged it into an arduino and started logging both on pachube.

After a few different tests, like lighting a match, blowing it out, and letting the smoke flow into the sensors, he decided he needed something better. Cooking some pancakes turned out to be his ultimate method. After charting the dissipation of particles after cooking a nice batch of griddle cakes, he found the two sensors to be surprisingly similar.

24 thoughts on “Monitoring Air Quality With A $12 Sensor

  1. There is currently a project going on at CMU which entails persontal tracking of environmental parameters, which also encompasses air quality monitoring.

    It turns out that the air quality in the average home is absolutely terrible, more so for city living. We’ve tested a few of these sensors and found the sensitivity to be very poor (they only work particularly well in the case of high particulate concentrations) so we’ve focused more on laser-based particle detection. On average, you’ll see proportionally higher concentrations of particles at 2.5 micron and below, which this sensor does not do well with.

    Still, it’s very promising to see others taking an active interest in air quality. Nicely done!

    1. I got the $15.50 Shinyei Dust sensor (
      grove-dust-sensor-p-1050.html) hooked up to the Arduino last night
      and got it posting to Pachube (
      The interface is digital and pretty simple (you calculate the ratio of
      how long the I/O pulses are low compared to high over 30 seconds).

      The Shinyei looks much more promising for cheap processors like the
      Arduino. I didn’t have to deal with the quality of the A/D converter
      or additional circuitry. Time will tell, but it looks like I have more
      correlation at lower particle concentrations.

    1. Dylos charts their $260 (+$30 for COM port) DC1100 Pro against a $4.5k particle counter,
      their graph is too fuzzy to read but seems to show good correlation below 90k particles/ft²
      in both 1.0µm and 5.0µm ranges. Is it their own sensor or some part I can get separately?

      1. I’ve also gota wonder if the 30 buck diff comes down to an unpopulated chip and header /connecter.. ie can a 1 dollar ttl to serial and a hot air rework starion save 30 bucks

    1. Probably laser, some kind of photo sensor, micro controller and fan or some other means to get air into sensor but also a lot of knowledge.

      The last one is probably the main obstacle.

  2. Where might we find an affordable and portable outdoor air quality detector as prepare to explore NM and AZ for retirement sites next spring? My wife has breathing problems in the unhealthy Fresno, CA environment. Thank you very much!

  3. Is there a new or better Particle Filter in this time? I found out this ( Sensor but seems to be very expensive. A Sensor with this Particle Sizes would be great 0.3 µm, 0.5 µm, 1.0 µm, 5.0 µm and 10.0 µm. I would like to build a Particle Counter like here

  4. Alright, can anyone provide a whole scheme of using a particle counter sensor (such as the Shinyei PPD42NS or any other) with the connector (preferably something cheaper than Arduino), alongside the needed software and explanations?

    We’re not all DIY self-taught engineers, but some of us would like the straightforward way of building a particle counter in their home.

    1. Can u provide 50 bucks?

      “We’re not all DIY self-taught engineers, but some of us would like the straightforward way of building a particle counter in their home.”

      The knowledge to become the above is all out there and having a goal project is the way to learn. What u seem to want is the info hand fed to make life easier than learning a few concepts like what’s a serial protocol , what mcu(cpu/brains of operation) speaks the protocol of my sensor. Whats a softwate library. Does my intended sensor have a library already written for my mcu?

      Break it down:
      Find sensors
      Make list

      Find cheap mcus
      Make list

      Read data sheet on cheaper sensors
      Read data sheet on mcu/2 dollar arduino clone

      Look for interface protocol /serial protocol or something like output format
      Observe if it says something like pwm or i2c on both data sheets

      Google connecting i2c to arduino or reading pwm with arduino

      Google your intended sensor plus arduino library

      Order parts
      Upload code

      Repeats process for lcd display or simply use serial console and leave usb attached to computer .. once u have mcu reading particle counter… geting it to send that over usb is as simple as adding:


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