You can now use Google Maps to find fresh air

Here’s how to use the new feature before heading out this summer.
air pollution over a city
Google Maps will now tell describe air quality at certain locations. Timothy Eberly / Unsplash

Google Maps has made checking the traffic before heading out a regular reflex — and now, it’s offering the same insight into the air quality in your area. In a blog post Wednesday, employees from Google Maps and Google Search shared a new Air Quality layer that can be used to monitor this metric.

To view it, you can open Google Maps on Android or iOS and click the “Layers” icon in the top right corner of the screen—the same button you would select to switch into satellite or street view mode. Now, you’ll be offered a new option to add air quality information onto your map. When selected, you’ll see numbers pop up across the map, telling you the Air Quality Index, or AQI, from readings in those regions. 

Google says these figures are pulled from government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as third-party sources like PurpleAir, which has its own network of hyper-local sensors. If you select a reading, the pop-up will tell you which sources it is pulling your nearest readings from. 

[Related: Wildfires could hit your hometown. Here’s how to prepare.]

The layer also offers some context to give you an idea of when those readings were collected and what exactly they mean. The AQI rates air between zero and 500, with the quality decreasing as the number goes up. The Google post says its air quality feature will also offer “guidance for outdoor activities” to help users determine if it is safe to spend extended time outdoors. 

It’s a particularly timely feature for the summer, as heat and sunshine can exacerbate pollutants, making the air less healthy to breathe in. In recent years, larger and more intense wildfires have also contributed to dangerously high AQI readings. This has led to a spike in popularity for personal AQI readers in wildfire-prone regions like California, where residents attempt to become better informed about such risks. According to the company’s post, Google will also be adding smoke data collected from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in “coming months,” noting that searches for “best air filters for wildfire smoke” have doubled in the past year. If you’re particularly concerned about wildfires, you can also add a “Wildfire Layer” in Google Maps that flags any fires in your search area and provides details courtesy of the National Interagency Fire Center.