How to Clean Your Humidifier Properly
Bringing a shiny new household appliance home is always exciting — particularly if the device promises an end to your dry skin, sore throat, and inflamed nose. Approximately 10 million humidifiers are sold in the United States every year. Whether you bought a humidifier already or are just about to, the goals are simple: increased comfort and improved indoor air quality.
To achieve them, however, you need to do more than set your brand new humidifier up and turn it on. Without proper maintenance, humidifiers can easily become counterproductive, and even turn into low-key biological weapons that pollute your air instead of improving it. What do you need to know about keeping your humidifier clean, and your air safe?
What Are Humidifiers?
Humidifiers are appliances designed with the aim of increasing the relative humidity in a space — which means that they add water vapor to the air around you. Each type of humidifier does this in a slightly different way. Some humidifiers are portable, so they can be moved from one room to another fairly easily. Others, so-called central humidifiers or whole house humidifiers, connect to your HVAC system and add humidity to your whole property.
Not all humidifiers are equally good, however:
Who Needs a Humidifier?
Many people purchase humidifiers during the winter, when the heating has dried the air in their home out, making them uncomfortable. Others decide to buy a humidifier because they have allergies, and they have heard that humidifiers can help alleviate symptoms like a runny nose, sinus pressure, a sore throat, and itchy, inflamed, eyes.
Before you decide to install a humidifier, it is important to consider whether you need one. A humidifier can help you if the relative humidity levels in your home are often too low — and that means below 30 percent. When your indoor air is too dry, a number of uncomfortable symptoms can follow, in addition to some more serious complications:
Installing and using a humidifier can combat these discomforts. However, that does not mean that a humidifier is the right solution for every household — when the air becomes too humid, that, too, has the potential to lead to health complications. Excessively humid air, meaning relative humidity levels of over 50 percent, carries different risks:
You want the relative humidity levels in your home to fall within the ideal range of 30 to 50 percent — not below it, but also certainly not above it. That is why, before bringing a humidifier into your home, it is crucial to first purchase a humidity monitor to check whether the air within your most important rooms is truly too dry. If it is not, and the humidity range already falls between 30 and 50 percent, a humidifier will not help you. Even if your air is indeed too dry, it is important to choose a humidifier that has a humidistat. This “humidity thermostat” will make sure that your appliance switches off once it detects that your humidity levels have reached 50 percent.
What Are the Dangers of Not Cleaning Your Humidifier Often or Well Enough?
The Environmental Protection Agency has warned that humidifiers can — unless meticulously maintained — be turned into rather effective microorganism dispersal mechanisms. The types of humidifiers that feature tanks with standing water, from which water vapor is subsequently released into your indoor air, are especially risky in this regard. Both molds and bacteria may build up within the tanks, and these pathogens are then automatically released into your home and therewith your airways.
Using water with a high mineral content in your humidifier carries its own dangers. Although the Environmental Protection Agency has not determined this to be a universal threat to human health, research carried out on rodent subjects has shown that, when the minerals commonly found within tap water are dispersed into the air and inhaled, lung inflammation may follow. The minerals in your tap water, such as calcium and silica, are especially likely to cause irritation in already vulnerable people such as the elderly and those with chronic lung conditions.
In addition, the buildup of these minerals within your humidifier, in the form of limescale, provides an excellent breeding ground for germs.
Failing to clean your humidifier frequently enough can, then, lead to the accumulation of mold, bacteria, and minerals, all of which you and other members of your household are then forced to breathe in. Not cleaning your humidifier as often as you should is not the only danger, however — ironically, people who go above and beyond may face a different risk. So-called “humidifier disinfectants” have been associated with lung injury when traces of these cleaning agents find their way into your airways when you turn the appliance back on, and these specialized products are not recommended.
How Do You Clean and Maintain Your Humidifier Properly?
With so many different humidifier models on the market, each works slightly differently. It is, therefore, crucial to read the instruction manual carefully to find out how to safely take the appliance apart in order to clean it. The general steps you should take to use your humidifier responsibly are, meanwhile:
What Should You Do If You Have Not Been Cleaning Your Humidifier Properly?
It is easy to forget to clean your humidifier as often as you should — but if you are beginning to realize that you have not optimally maintained your humidifier, you may now be concerned about the possible consequences.
If you or anyone in your household has noticed respiratory symptoms like coughing, chest tightness, a sore throat, or breathing difficulties, and you suspect that your humidifier could have something to do with that, stop using the appliance immediately.
Have you, by any chance, spotted the presence of mold within your humidifier, or do you smell mold in your home? A mold infestation is among the more serious consequences of improper humidifier use, and it is important to take proactive steps as soon as possible to prevent long-term health complications.
MI&T can, as a seasoned nationwide mold inspection only company, assess the damage. We will look at your humidifier, but also carry out a thorough visual mold inspection of your entire property. Then, our independent mold inspector takes air samples that are lab-analyzed to tell you precisely what types of mold your humidifier may have been dispersing into the air. Equipped with our mold inspection report, you will know what you need to do to remediate your mold problem. That may begin with discarding your humidifier and, where required, replacing it with a safer model.