How to Clean a Humidifier

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Take care of your humidifier so it can take care of you.

It’s hard to imagine surviving winter without a humidifier. Thanks to the added moisture from this handy device, your lips aren’t chapped, your nose doesn’t bleed, and you are able to sleep peacefully without a hacking cough or harrowing cold. It takes good care of you—but are you taking care of it? If you don’t have a humidifier at all, these are the 13 best humidifiers for 2021.

Why you need to clean your humidifier

According to an informal survey conducted by Consumer Reports, 59 percent of respondents who use a humidifier said they do not clean it every day and one in four people clean theirs twice a month or less. Not shocking, considering many of us probably don’t want to commit the time to proper maintenance, but experts warn we need to provide the unit with extra TLC—and not just at the end of winter. “There are definitely health issues that can crop up from using a humidifier that has developed mold or mildew or bacterial contamination,” Jessica Krant, MD, a board-certified dermatologist told CNN. “Itchy skin rashes and itchy eyes could be a sign of mold or mildew allergy coming from the humidifier.”

What you’ll need

Most significantly, you’ll need a disinfectant—most experts suggest using vinegar, bleach, or a hydrogen peroxide solution. You’ll also want a rag, sponge, or microfiber cloth to do the main cleaning as well as a smaller brush for the tricky spots. Make sure to buy replacement filters that are compatible with your humidifier. And don’t neglect gloves—you should be wearing gloves while cleaning with chemicals. You may even want goggles if you’re dealing with a strong bleach solution. Here’s why you shouldn’t use bleach on every part of your humidifier.

How to clean a humidifier

In order to avoid the fear of contaminating yourself or your family from a dirty humidifier, take these steps to sanitizing your device.

  1. First of all, you should read the owner’s manual. Yes, it’s annoying, and very tempting to just toss the manual, but it’ll help you know the appropriate cleaning schedule to be following. Look for the manufacturer’s directions: If it is recommended to clean your model regularly, then schedule this simple task in your daily routine. Also make yourself aware of any warnings and take effective precautions, like unplugging your machine before disassembling it.
  2. Now for how to clean a humidifier. It’s pretty simple: The Mayo Clinic suggests unplugging the humidifier and then removing mineral deposits or film from the tank and other parts of the machine using your disinfectant. Use a small brush for hard-to-reach areas. Don’t forget to equip yourself with gloves and goggles when dealing with harsh chemicals.
  3. Once you’ve got a clean humidifier, dry all wet areas thoroughly. Keeping the appliance dry will avoid any bacteria from building up. “You don’t want it sitting around for weeks with water, as you can get mold,” Cliff Bassett, MD, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, told CNN.
  4. And, finally, make sure you’re replacing the filter. You should always replace your dirty filters, but once you are done with using your appliance for the season, get rid of any humidifier filters or cartridges before sitting it on a shelf. You will want to start fresh.

Use your judgment

Of course, cleaning can only do so much, and you’ll have to use your judgment and make a decision about when you might just need to invest in a new machine. Remember, a clean humidifier is a safe humidifier. Your humidifier can be a haven for germs, and if not taken care of properly, its strength will weaken and it could even sicken your family. If you heavily use your humidifier, neglect it, or believe it has outlived its lifespan, replacing it might be the best idea. Once you have a clean humidifier, find out the appliances that are cheaper to replace than to fix.

Sources:

  • Consumer Reports: “Why You Should Clean Your Humidifier”
  • CNN: “Do I really have to clean my humidifier?”
  • Mayo Clinic: “Humidifiers: Air moisture eases skin, breathing symptoms”

Hope Daniels
Hope Daniels is a contributor to RD.com's Lifestyle section, where she writes about life’s gifts and slips. From the depths of personal routine habits to a hilarious look at social blunders her articles have also appeared on partner sites, the healthy.com, family handyman.com and msn.com. Her work in parenting and pop-culture has also been published on WEtv.com and ScaryMommy. She earned her BA in Journalism from Indiana University.