How This Expat Copes With Air Pollution in Hanoi

I love so many things about Hanoi. The beautiful lakes, amazing cafes, and yes, the cheap cost of living.

But the main thing that holds me back from living here long term is the pollution. I hate the feeling that living here means slowly killing myself. And I hate that I have to check to the air pollution levels before I decide whether or not to go on a run or bicycle around West Lake.

But living in Hanoi doesn’t mean you’re helpless against pollution. I’ve taken a few steps to mitigate the issue and have seen a noticeable improvement in my lungs.

How Bad is the Pollution in Hanoi?

It’s not China yet, but pollution in Hanoi is bad…and getting worse. Even in the two years that I’ve lived here, I’ve noticed a marked decline in air quality here. Lately, most days have been in the 150+ range according to AQICN’s Hanoi Tracker.

According to the chart, that’s Unhealthy. Which means:

Everyone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects

Not good! While China is certainly still worse, Hanoi’s pollution levels have a noticeable effect on my respiratory system.

Hanoi on an especially hazy day.

How to Handle Air Pollution in Hanoi

These are the life changes/purchases I’ve made to better cope with the air pollution in Hanoi.

Get an Air Purifier – I use Xiaomi

Buy an air purifier for your home. This is doubly important for me because I work from home. So all day I’m sitting in the same air. An air purifier, therefore, keeps me safe for most of the day.

After researching, I settled on the Xiaomi Air Purifier 2. It was well-reviewed by My Health Beijing, an excellent blog covering handling pollution while living abroad (though it’s obviously focused on China).

My Xiamoi Air Purifier 2 chugging away to keep me healthy

Most air purifiers in Vietnam are more expensive. But so far, I’ve been happy with the Xiaomi Air Purifier. I run it on Auto all the time. It seems to work because if I open the window the rate at which it filters the air noticeably increases. I don’t have a separate air monitor to double check its effectiveness, though.

If you’re in Vietnam, you can buy it from Xiaomi Viet for ~3 million VND (~$130). They give a 6-month warranty. But I’ve had mine for more than 6 months without any issue. Hopping on Lazada is always an option, though you’ll likely end up paying a bit more.

Wear a Mask…That Actually Works

You know those cloth masks you see people wearing everywhere in Vietnam? Yeah, they do nothing.

I got myself some 3M N95 masks. While not perfect, as long as you make sure the seal is tight, they should limit your exposure outdoors. Again, My Health Beijing did some excellent testing on the best pollution mask.

Personally, I use the 3M 9001 mask because they’re cheap and well-rated.

To be honest, I don’t wear my mask nearly as much as I should. But on especially bad days, it’s an absolute must for driving around on a scooter.

Limit Outdoor Exposure on Bad Days

This tactic is the one I enjoy the least…

But sometimes, the pollution is just bad enough you need to stay inside. I love running outside, but unless the AQI is under ~120, I just skip running. Even 120 is probably unhealthy, but my lungs feel fine at that level.

On 150+ days, your lungs will burn if you try to run outside.

None of these things are fixes. But they do lessen the negative effects of Hanoi’s air pollution and make that part of living here a little more bearable.

16 thoughts on “How This Expat Copes With Air Pollution in Hanoi”

  1. Good article! And thanks for the mentions for my blog. If I can clarify a couple of issues: #1. I didn’t review the Xiaomi 2, I reviewed the first generation machines, the bigger one. I don’t see why the second would be a big difference. The key anyway is to monitor your indoor air with a monitor. Point #2: I hate the auto setting, I don’t think it’s accurate and also its settings of “clean air” are much higher than the WHO recommendations. I always used manual setting, especially via the app.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Richard! I could never get the app to work unfortunately. I think a problem with my wifi. I wish it were easier to sync up.

      Will you be checking out the newest Xiaomi air purifier release? It looks interesting – but it’s about $300 here in Vietnam still.

  2. I have this same Xiaomi Air Purifier in another room as backup by my SmartAir Cannon was much better. The Xiaomi Air purifier follows the Chinese air quality guidelines. Hence when it is on auto, it will consider 35 microns as good air. In the US it us 12 microns, the WHO is about 24 microns. You need to keep it on high settings during bad air days and then reset after three hours. This air purifier always sets to auto after 3 hours. I am using a Blueair in my bedroom while in Saigon.

    Not an ideal air purifier for Hanoi.

    • I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I’ve noticed a marked improvement with just the Xiaomi. Plus it’s cheap enough that I can buy one for every room in the house.

      Maybe there are better options – but Xiaomi is definitely better than nothing.

      • In Southern Taiwan the air pollution is worst. Working class Taiwanese prefer coal powered plants with daily pollution above dangerous nuclear power with clean air. We use Swedish air cleaner, but have to change the expensive filter after 6 months. Better put extra air clean filter in front of the opening.

  3. we should use an air purifier to make our environment pollution free its remove the all virus and bacteria from the air.thanks for the sharing.

  4. Hi, my son is coming over to Hanoi to teach soon. Your site has been invaluable as I have used some of your info in a survival guide I am making for him. You will probably see him at Serena with a 1950 minolta around his neck. Haha. I have used your recommendation of the views. Thanks a stack and keep your interesting site going.

  5. Good info Colin. I just ordered some masks from England without researching if I could buy them here in Hanoi. Will check out that air filter as well.

  6. Hi buddy, how are you doing?

    I am traveling solo as backpacker to Vietnam, first time ever, I am way too excited to eat local food, visiting SAPA, halong bay, ninh binh.

    I have a few questions to ask, what is your favorite spot to eat fresh donuts in Hanoi? any other suggestions?

    What bus company should I use to return to Hanoi from SAPA? Sapa Express departs early afternoon, I wonder if u could recommend any sleeper bus so I can spend more time in Sapa and leave at the night time? any feedback?

    Thanks buddy
    Sebastian, I will be staying either at Chien Hostel or Nexy hostel both located in Old quarter, Thanks man


    • Say hi . Let’s introduce . Iam so delighted because you ready to explore culture and traditional cuisine in my country . Actually , I also addicted it . Firstly , you wanna eat fresh donuts in Hanoi . It’s not dificulties and depends on your accommodation ( in central city near Hoan Kiem lake or in the suburbs ) you can surf on foody app is ( bánh ran ở hà nội ) and then there are a variety of place where you can come . Let’s do it 🤩

  7. Hey Colin, I found your blog by chance when I was looking for info about living in Hanoi. You sound like a cool person and I was wondering if you’d be up to sharing some beers and talking about life in this crazy city. I’d very much love to hear about your experiences and what to expect.

    I’m leaving my email in the comment, hit me up if you have some free time. Nice blog by the way, convinced me about coming to Hanoi 🙂

  8. Hey……..i live in Chiang Mai, Thailand and was thinking of coming to Hanoi in March/April to escape the pollution! Whats the air quality like in those months please………Mike

  9. Do you have any advice on bringing a baby to the country from six months old to three years? My husband may be transferred for work and I am worried what that may do for a developing baby’s health. Assuming they’re listed under sensitive groups in the air pollution ratings… thank you!!

  10. Thanks till online blockers and you tubers in the past few weeks, the people are more aware of the air quality in Vietnam. They’ve been using AirVisual app to monitor the air quality. And unfortunately because paper checking on the quality of the air, as of yesterday, and visual is under attack. The Embassy in Hanoi and the consulate in Saigon no longer provides air quality check. This is a concerted attack on freedom of information. Unfortunately this is how the government of Vietnam choose to fight air pollution – they attack air pollution apps and Through means of this information. Today routers came out with the story on how heavy is your ass being attack and is not accessible in Vietnam. The information that is showing up through AirVisual from Vietnam it’s not accurate.

  11. I’m living in Vietnam for almost 15 years, most of the time in Hanoi.
    Indeed, this is the biggest concern of living here, together with the noise pollution from trucks, cars, motorbikes, (even circular saws, used for almost any purpose) and basically everything can make noise and dust.
    Now, with Covid19 issue, the levels of pollution are still unacceptable, somewhere around 150+, with some very rare exceptions when they go under 100.
    For my case, I decided there is no way to live here anymore and I will move back to my country.
    One of my daughters suffers from asthma, she developed this few years after we moved to Vietnam (it was second time for me) in 2010.
    When we go to Europe in vacations, both of them are over active. They can run all day long with no issues. Here in Vietnam, they are “living” at home.
    What kind of life is this??
    At school, they never do any physical activities, just learning and learning.

    For me it’s enough. I will be back in vacations in Vietnam (maybe).


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