Smog survival 101: stock up on masks and air filters!

I came to a rude awakening last weekend when Beijing’s air pollution readings shot up to 900 (on a scale of 500!). I used to be one of those “Relax, guys, it’s just Beijing!” people when foreign friends were busy downloading China AQI (US Embassy app with “real” pollution readings, and not the suspiciously low official government readings) and stocking up on masks that filter out PM 2.5 particles. But when a walk outside to and from dinner last Saturday turned two of my friends sick and all my clothes smoky (worse than a night at a Chinese night club pre-smoking ban!), I jumped on the China-air-proofing bandwagon.

For those others among you who are also just preparing to survive the smog, here are the steps to get you started:

1. Download a pollution monitor to your phone
…so you know what you’re really breathing

China Air Quality for Android is available on Google Play and China Air Pollution Index for Apple on iTunes.

2. Buy some basic masks

Taobao has loads of vendors that sell the 3M 8812 model which blocks out 95% of particles according to My Health Beijing. Order now because the recent spike in demand has created backlogged orders for many resellers. Physical drugstores are also out of the masks now so don’t wait until the next pollution spike to get yours! They only cost RMB 15 (~ $2).


Funny story: a friend was in Taiwan traveling over the holidays. Before she left she went to buy some masks. The pharmacist asks her, “Are you going to Beijing?” “Yes, I live there.” “Oh, how many dozen do you want?”

3. Order some nicer masks for long-term use

A friend of mine moved from clean Connecticut to Beijing with his wife and four young children. They were smart enough to order the Totobobo masks, favored by a lot of cyclists, in time for their arrival last year. These are also highly recommended by professionals. The China resellers are pretty much all out of stock, so I ordered mine from the company directly (it looks like they ship from Singapore), which also has a 1-2 week waiting time now.

These run about $23 and you can order additional filters to change into.


4. Buy an air filter for home or office use

As AsiaCracked quotes in their latest post, I haven’t opened my windows for days! Bunny’s cage is smelling a bit stale, but I’d rather smell my pet than the smoky air outside my windows! Fortunately I have a Swedish Blue Air filter which I bought from a friend who was leaving China last year – gotta move that from my family home to my Sanlitun apartment this weekend! IQ Air is also popular here and, as of last night, I still saw models on display at (expensive) Shin Kong mall on Dawanglu (click on the links for reseller information in China). These stand-alone filters are pricey, but the long-term benefits should be worth the $$$. Check out My Health Beijing’s battle of the filters comparison.

Blue Air filter:
blue air

There are lots of air filters on sale now at the Chinese e-commerce websites like Amazon Joyo or Suning, but I really recommend spending the money to buy a reputable one that does heavy duty filtering.

That’s all for now. I’ll update again once I have some more long-term tips for smog survival. Check out Beijinger’s excellent posts on pollution, if you really want to obsess over what you’re breathing!


3 thoughts on “Smog survival 101: stock up on masks and air filters!

  1. One thing to note about the Beijing AQI – it’s a logarithmic scale. This means that a reading of 400 is not double that of 200, but more than double!

    So a reading of 600 would be much more than triple the particulates of a 200 reading.

    As for 900…why bother even contemplating what this means?

    • Thank you for explaining that, Kevin. I think I felt blissfully ignorant before looking into all this pollution stuff, and after you mentioned the logarithmic scale, I’m even more worried! Hope everyone takes precautions, especially families with kids in China!

  2. Pingback: Asia Cracked | Beijing sold out of face masks and other stories of Chinese panic buying

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