Humidifiers can soothe dry sinuses, itchy skin, coughing and cracked lips. They can also help prevent viruses from spreading in your home.
These units use a fan to speed up the natural process of water evaporation from a reservoir and into the air. They’re sanitary, inexpensive and easy to use.
Set the Humidity Level
The right amount of moisture in your air can ease problems like dry sinuses, bloody noses and cracked lips and skin. It can even help you breathe more easily during a cough or cold.
Humidifiers work by sucking air from the room, passing it through a moistened absorbent material (such as a wick or filter) and fanning the hydrated air back into the room. Some humidifiers heat the water they use to create the mist, which are known as warm mist or steam humidifiers. Others — like the cool mist evaporative humidifiers we tested and recommend — don’t heat the water at all.
Whichever kind you have, you should know that these devices require a fair bit of maintenance to keep them germ-free. That includes rinsing out the tank and refilling with distilled or demineralized water rather than tap. Minerals from tap water can build up on the inside of the humidifier and on the fan blades, and they may be released into your home’s air if you don’t clean them regularly. These minerals are sometimes seen as white dust on furniture or floors, and they can also cause a bacterial growth that can spread throughout the house.
Keep the Unit Clean
The main safety concerns with humidifiers are mold and mineral deposits in the water reservoir and on the evaporative wick. Inhaling these things over time can irritate the airways and aggravate respiratory conditions, so it’s important to use distilled water and clean the unit thoroughly and regularly.
Evaporative humidifiers have a water reservoir, a wick that absorbs the water, and a fan that distributes the cool mist. Like any moist environment, the inside of a humidifier can become a petri dish for bacteria and mold. When spores are blown into the air and inhaled, they can exacerbate breathing problems, especially for children and people with allergies or asthma.
To prevent this, clean the water reservoir and wick with soapy water or, better yet, a solution that contains bleach. Then rinse the tank, removing any sediment at the bottom, and fill it with distilled water before turning on. Make sure to follow the directions for cleaning your specific model and do this regularly, at least every other day or more frequently if necessary.
Change the Filter Regularly
Using humidifiers to add moisture to your home is great for skin health, but it’s also important to keep them clean. Humidifiers that aren’t cleaned regularly can become breeding grounds for bacteria, mildew and mold, which can irritate your lungs and sinuses.
Cool mist evaporative humidifiers work by sucking air in from the room, passing it through a moistened wick or filter to add humidity and then fanning this hydrated air back into the room. Warm mist evaporative humidifiers, on the other hand, heat water into steam and then release it into the room.
Both types of humidifiers require regular cleaning. You’ll want to empty and refill the tank daily and deep-clean it about once a week. Many tanks are dishwasher safe, though you’ll want to consult the device’s manual to be sure. Changing the filters regularly is also important. It’s recommended that you replace the filters every one to three months, though the timeline will vary depending on the type of water used and whether it contains minerals. It’s a good idea to use distilled or filtered water for your humidifier, since this will help reduce mineral buildup.
Keep the Unit Away from Heat Sources
Humidifiers are easy to use, but they also require regular cleaning and maintenance to avoid bacteria, mildew, mold, and other contaminants that can exacerbate allergy symptoms. Always check the manufacturer’s recommendations on cleaning and swapping out filters. You’ll also want to keep the humidifier away from heat sources, such as wood stoves and radiators, which can cause scalding water or steam.
Warm mist humidifiers aren’t as safe for children, either, because the water is scalding hot and could burn them if they touch it. Additionally, these types of humidifiers can also release germs and viruses into the air, depending on how they’re configured.
Evaporative humidifiers use a fan to blow air over a wet, absorbent material like a wick and add moisture to the air through evaporation. They’re simple and relatively safer than other types of humidifiers, but they can still spout dust and minerals into the air. If you go with this type of humidifier, be sure to clean it regularly and keep it out of the reach of children. Also, make sure the wick stays moist so it doesn’t breed mold or bacteria.
Clean the Diffuser/Nozzle
Keeping your evaporative humidifier clean will help it operate effectively, maintain good air quality, and reduce your risk of infection. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for specific maintenance guidelines for your particular model. Empty the water tank regularly and rinse or wipe it dry to prevent build-up within the system. Likewise, replace or clean the filter or wick as recommended by the manufacturer.
Use distilled or demineralized water to minimize mineral build-up and clogging. You can also sterilize the nozzle and other removable parts by soaking them in a solution of water and vinegar, or with hydrogen peroxide (diluted with water or vinegar) until thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
Humidifiers that are not properly maintained can emit odors and may harbor bacteria that can contribute to sinus infections, allergies, and other respiratory problems. By following these simple maintenance tips, you can maximize the benefits of your mist evaporative humidifier and keep your family healthy and comfortable.