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How To Clean Your Humidifier: Easy Tips and Tricks

These tips will help keep your humidifier running smoothly.


It’s that time of year again: My skin gets red and cracked; my throat is often sore; my sinuses become irritated; and my hair and scalp dry out. Cold months sap our moisture for multiple reasons — the cold itself is harsh and drying, and the heaters we use to combat the cold can be even worse. Drinking water by the gallon and applying layers of lotion throughout the day can only do so much. 

The solution to this problem is surprisingly simple: a humidifier. Sleeping with a humidifier beside your bed can help alleviate skin and scalp dryness and reduce irritation of sensitive nasal passages. They’re great for many reasons, but they do require a fair bit of maintenance. If you’re thinking about getting a humidifier or need tips for taking care of the one you have, read on. Below are instructions and everything else you need to know about cleaning your humidifier.

What does a humidifier do?

So what, exactly, does a humidifier do? The short answer is that humidifiers add moisture to the air, which can be beneficial during cold and dry months. They’re especially helpful to those who experience chapped lips, dry skin, sore throats or sinus passages, or frequent colds. In fact, the full list of symptoms that a humidifier may be able to help ease includes:

  • Dry skin
  • Allergies
  • Sinusitis
  • Dry or sore throat
  • Eczema
  • Cracked lips
  • Frequent bloody noses

That’s a pretty substantial list of benefits from simply adding moisture to the air and improving indoor air quality. If you’re suffering from any of the above conditions or just relocated to a colder climate, investing in a humidifier can provide comfort and alleviate recurring cold climate symptoms. Like most devices, though, humidifiers require care and maintenance to keep them functioning properly. Here are guidelines for using a humidifier that will mitigate health risks — such as spreading unwanted bacteria — and ensure optimal functioning and benefits.

Humidifier Tips and Tricks

First and foremost, you don’t want to add too much humidity to a room. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), humidity within a room should be 50 percent or lower to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria, which can actually worsen asthma and allergy symptoms. Be sure to use a humidifier intermittently and only when needed to keep moisture at a safe level. If you’re worried about this, purchase a hygrometer to measure the moisture in your home.

You also must use distilled water only in your humidifier, as non-distilled water can contain minerals that may be harmful when suffused in the air around you. For similar reasons, it’s important to replace the filter in your humidifier as specified in the manufacturer’s instructions. (Typically, this is every three to six months.) Using the same filter for too long can cause mineral buildup and bacteria growth, which your humidifier will then expel into the air you breathe. Replacing the filter is an important step in humidifier maintenance and in keeping your home safe. Regularly cleaning your humidifier is another step. Keep reading for how to do this.

How do I clean my humidifier?

Cleaning your humidifier is relatively simple, but it’s important to do it correctly and regularly so that you and your environment remain safe and healthy. First and foremost, wash and air-dry your humidifier’s basin after every use to prevent mold and bacteria growth. Rinse the basin with soap and clean, fresh water; then thoroughly dry it before reinstalling it in the humidifier. Depending on your humidifier model and design, you might also want to use a soft-bristled brush to thoroughly clean its nooks and crannies.

What about a deeper clean?

Soap and warm tap water are great for daily cleaning, but every few days, you’ll also want to clean your humidifier with a stronger disinfecting solution. The EPA recommends using a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution. A water and white vinegar solution also works well. The benefit of using white vinegar is that it can reduce scale and mineral buildup in your humidifier. (Many humidifier users suggest doing this every so often even if you regularly clean your machine with the EPA recommended solution. As with a coffee maker and other water-inclusive appliances, regularly eliminating buildup in the humidifier not only keeps it clean and safe to use — it can also improve the lifespan of the machine.)

To ensure that you’re thoroughly cleaning all of the corners and crevices of your humidifier, disassemble and unplug it before scrubbing. (Be sure to pay attention to how it all fits together, or have the manufacturer instructions on hand so that you can easily reassemble it after you’re done cleaning.) Rinsing and cleansing just the basin on a nightly basis is fine as long as you disassemble the whole humidifier and do a deep clean every few days. It’s also important to replace the water in your humidifier each night, even if it hasn’t all been used yet. Humidifier water tanks are, by definition, damp and moist places — meaning they’re a breeding ground for bacteria and mold. Replacing the leftover water in your humidifier tank with clean water every 12 hours helps to prevent bacteria growth

Other Humidifier Safety Tips

So you’re rinsing and replacing the stagnant water in your humidifier nightly. You’re also descaling it every few days and replacing the humidifier filter according to the owner’s manual. What other actions deliver the best humidifier results?

  • Tempting as it may be, do not add essential oils to your humidifier. A humidifier is not an oil diffuser, and adding potent essential oils can damage your humidifier and pose health risks. 
  • Steer clear of bleach solutions, except for every once in a while when you really want to rid your humidifier of microbes. If used regularly, bleach can damage your humidifier. Instead, stick to dish soap and warm water, hydrogen peroxide mixtures, or white vinegar cleaning solutions for regularly scheduled maintenance. 
  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions and/or owner’s manual before setting up and using your humidifier, and refer to it when you have questions about cleaning. If you purchased your humidifier a long time ago and don’t know where the instructions are, you can likely find them online by searching your humidifier model name and number.

When should I get a new humidifier?

No matter how well you take care of your humidifier and how often you clean it, every product has a lifespan, and you might reach a point where you just need to get a new one. The biggest warning sign that it’s time for a new humidifier is when you scale (mineral buildup) or mold growth can’t be removed — no matter how well or how often you scrub at it. You might also need to replace your humidifier when parts break and either can’t be replaced or are expensive relative to the cost of purchasing a new machine. There are numerous types of humidifiers out there, including ultrasonic humidifiers, small portable options, and cool mist humidifiers. If the one you have is too small, not easily portable, or otherwise isn’t serving your needs, it might be time for a replacement.

Wrapping Up

So, is a humidifier for you? It’s certainly a useful device during cold and dry months, particularly if you’re prone to allergies and ailments resulting from parched sinuses and dehydrated skin. As someone who suffers from both allergies and asthma, I’ve found it indispensable for protecting my frequently irritated sinus passages as well as helping to prevent dry skin. That said, cleaning a humidifier is essential to ensure it remains safe and effective — and without regular cleanings, a humidifier is just another way to spread mold and mildew.

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