Are you fussed about the quality of the air you breathe in? Plenty of us are and, if you’re a city dweller then streets that are being strangled by a relentless onslaught of cars, vans and trucks doesn’t help matters. Breathing in a daily dose of exhaust fumes, brake dust and assorted other airborne detritus ain’t great. And, even inside the car we’re not immune from exposure to this grubby toxic cocktail, which is the reason why we now have a gizmo like airbubbl.
Apparently a mother who was sick of breathing in toxic air in London invented this little tech curio. Now she runs the company who makes the airbubbl, which includes atmospheric scientists and airflow engineers amongst its ranks. They have research too, with facts and figures from one study suggesting that pollution exposure can be up to 140% higher inside the car than outside, depending on traffic conditions. Of course, anyone who has been inside a car, or any other vehicle for that matter, will know that interiors can be pretty toxic environments in themselves.
Food and drink smells, stale farts, bad breath and more besides are all contained inside this confined space, which in turn makes a perfect environment for breeding germs. Little wonder then that your windows gradually get covered in an unpleasant milky film that, ultimately, leaves your wheels looking like you’ve had those naff self-adhesive tints fitted. Maybe, then, the airbubbl’s arrival is timely and much needed. It’s a penny under three hundred quid, but what price is clean air, right?
So can the airbubbl deliver clean, fug-free air to the inside of your four-wheeled petri dish? Judging from the supplied press shots then the answer is a resounding yes, with the models looking cool, calm and collected. And not at all like they’ve just got into a car where someone has bottom-burped last nights Chicken Biryani into the driver’s seat. But this is the real world, which is why we tried one with ‘actual’ people who come with all of the genuine supporting smells you get when you’re on the road.
Pulling it out of its box for the first time the airbubbl looks the part, having been designed in Denmark – though it’s manufactured in China – and appears to be quite nicely put together. There’s a quick start guide too, although to be honest you can get away without it. There’s also an accompanying app available via the App Store or Google Play if you want to control the unit remotely via Bluetooth. The app route, incidentally, is good for further down the line when you need to buy a replacement filter, although details on getting spares for the airbubbl seemed a little sparse to us.
However, the manual setup route is a cinch, with a button on one end of the cylindrical design letting you cycle through the controls. Meanwhile, installation is similarly straightforward with a belt and buckle-style harness arrangement that lets you mount the airbubbl behind the headrest of your car seat. All you need to do then is plug the car power adapter into the lighter socket and the USB cable into the 2.1A adapter. There are some supplied self-adhesive clips too, so you can fix the cable safely to the back of the seat. Turn on your ignition and the airbubbl starts in Standby Mode.
In order to get the most from the airbubbl you’ll also want to keep the windows closed, direct incoming air to the footwell, dial the ventilation to a low setting and recirculate the air inside the car. However, the airbubbl manual does suggest that you can choose your preferred A/C setting. If you’ve gone down the route of manual control then the aforementioned circular button on the end of the unit delivers a selection of mode options, so you can jump from Standby to Auto to Boost and Normal. LED lights reflect each mode that you’re in. Easy.
We installed the airbubbl in an average family saloon car and used it for a few days during a variety of different drives. Measuring just how well it works is a tricky one though. When it’s in action the unit sucks in polluted air trapped inside your car and then captures nitrogen dioxide and other unwanted gases using its fans and a patented carbon filter, removing particulates as it goes. Our test was far from scientific, just an average use sort of scenario. Presumably performance varies depending on the vehicle, its age, size, how good its own air conditioning is and what sort of occupants travel in it.
We also don’t quite get why it has to be mounted on the back of a headrest – does this suggest it’s only able to do a good job when it’s controlling very localised air that you’re breathing? Or maybe the headrest mounting solution is just the optimum place to mount it without the airbubbl being intrusive or a danger to driving. Rolling around on the floor, for example, would be a no-no, as would swinging it from the headlining or having it attached to the rear view mirror. Perhaps it’s as simple as that. And, is one airbubbl enough, or would four rather than one make the air in your car really clean?
According to the airbubbl boffins, a recent in-car test on some of London’s most polluted streets showed that the unit removed more than 95% of nitrogen dioxide in under 12 minutes. The airbubbl is also said to have removed the toxic gas ozone, VOCs, fine particulates such as PM2.5, PM10 and bacteria plus odours from the air inside a car. They also claim in their blurb that a study found that the average car commuter who sits in traffic for an hour each day with exposure to air pollution inside their vehicle is facing the equivalent of passively smoking 180 cigarettes each year. If that’s true then the airbubbl might not be such a bad idea after all.
The manual also points out that you can use the airbubbl in other locations outside the car too. On your desk, in your kitchen and in your child’s room are just three suggestions, although the loo also seems like an obvious one they’ve overlooked. As mentioned earlier, one thing that we couldn’t find was a reference to the filter and how long it’s expected to last. If it’s anything like the pollen filter you get in cars then it will need changing in order to keep that air as pure as possible, but a more obvious bit of guidance would be useful.
So, would we buy one for £299.99? Based on a short-term test loan we’d say probably not. The airbubbl isn’t a dud, but it’s not a revelation either.