how to clean humidifier

Humidifiers are a proven solution for combating the kind of cold, dry air that contributes to dry skin, chapped lips, and scratchy throats. They can definitely make your home a more pleasant place to live, especially as winter sets in.

If you’re thinking about buying one of these appliances (or you already use one), it’s important to know how to clean a humidifier to make sure you get the most out of yours. Two of the most common units are warm mist and cool mist humidifiers. While both humidifiers increase moisture in the air and help minimize contaminants associated with colds and other illnesses, there are some critical differences.

Warm Mist Humidifiers

Warm mist humidifiers produce a warm mist you can feel and see. These humidifiers are quieter than cool mist humidifiers, better at reducing germs, and warm the air noticeably. The drawbacks to using a warm mist humidifier are the potentially hazardous steam and higher energy use.

Cool Mist Humidifiers

Cool mist humidifiers trap airborne contaminants with a filter and emit a cool, invisible mist into the air. They are typically easy to clean and work better in warmer climates. But these humidifiers are noisier than warm mist humidifiers and can be more susceptible to bacteria growth.

A humidifier not only makes things more comfortable, but it also helps prevent many typical winter illnesses by improving the air quality in your home. If you or someone in your family has asthma, bronchitis, or other respiratory issues, you may already know that dry winter air can irritate airways. This leads to dry throats, sinus congestion, and even worsening symptoms.

Because viruses and bacteria can’t travel as fast in moist air and our immune responses weaken in low humidity, a humidifier can reduce the risk of infections in multiple ways. That could mean fewer colds, bouts with the flu, other viruses, and other respiratory infections for you and your family.

Any humidifier will require routine maintenance, cleaning, and disinfecting. While a clean, properly functioning humidifier can be a health benefit, a dirty humidifier can be a health hazard. Because a humidifier uses water during its operation, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria and other contaminants.

Fortunately, learning how to clean a humidifier isn’t difficult; you probably already have what you need right at home. All you need to clean and disinfect your humidifier is distilled white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil, and some soap and water. Check the manufacturer’s recommendation for how often to clean a humidifier and use these field-tested tips to get the job done right.

How to Clean a Humidifier

Daily maintenance and cleaning will keep your humidifier performing at its best. Unless a humidifier’s manufacturer recommends otherwise, follow these three easy steps to get your humidifier clean.

1. Unplug your humidifier and remove any filters and other detachable parts. Only use water to clean the filter; you can clean the other parts in the sink using dish soap and water. Rinse the parts and put them aside to dry. Wipe down the humidifier’s exterior with a damp microfiber cloth dipped in your cleaning suds, then rinse with a clean, damp cloth.

2. Cleaning a humidifier with vinegar is safe and easy. Remove the water tank and use an old toothbrush and white vinegar to scrub away any mold, mildew, and mineral deposits from the base. Wash the water tank both inside and out with soapy water in the sink. Tackle mineral deposits by scrubbing them off the tank with an old toothbrush and white vinegar. Rinse the water tank thoroughly and let it air dry before assembling the humidifier.

3. Once everything is dry, you can reassemble your humidifier. Don’t forget to replace the filter and fill your water tank with distilled water. Plug the humidifier in and you’re ready to enjoy cleaner, healthier air.

How to Clean a Cool Mist Humidifier

Remember, cool mist humidifiers are more susceptible to bacteria and mold growth, so cleaning them should include a level of sanitizing. To prevent mildew and germs, clean a cool mist humidifier every few days, and change out the water daily. Keep in mind that the filter on a cool mist humidifier traps contaminants, so cleaning it will be more involved.

1. Unplug your humidifier and remove the water tank, filters, and any other removable parts. Except for the filter, you can wash everything in the sink with dish soap and water. Use a brush and vinegar to scrub mineral deposits and residue from the water tank. Rinse the parts and let them air dry. Clean the outside of the humidifier with a soapy cloth and rinse with a clean, damp microfiber cloth.

2. Submerge the filter in a dish filled with undiluted distilled white vinegar and let it sit for 30 minutes. Pour the vinegar into the base of your cool mist humidifier and let it sit for 30 minutes, too. You may need to gently scrub the filter with a soft-bristled brush to remove stubborn buildup. Rinse the filter and the base several times to get rid of the vinegar smell.

3. After everything has air dried, put your humidifier back together and plug it in. If it’s been awhile since you’ve disinfected your humidifier, read on. Otherwise, fill the tank with distilled water and you’re ready to humidify!

How to Disinfect a Humidifier

Cleaning and disinfecting a humidifier when it’s taken out of storage is a must. Bacteria, mold, and viruses could be present even if they’re not visible. Before storing a humidifier, you should clean, disinfect, and dry it before packing it away to prevent mildew.

When you’re using your humidifier regularly, you can get rid of germs and prohibit bacteria and mold growth when you disinfect a humidifier. Just use one of these disinfectants in your humidifier’s water tank daily and enjoy cleaner, healthier indoor air.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Safe and effective, hydrogen peroxide is a natural disinfectant that also helps prevent mold. Mix four parts water to one part 3% hydrogen peroxide in the humidifier tank. Let the solution sit for 30 minutes, then empty and rinse the tank and let it air dry before reassembling the humidifier.

Distilled White Vinegar

White vinegar is a safe, natural antibacterial and antimicrobial solution that can sanitize a humidifier and other appliances. Fill your humidifier’s water tank with undiluted white vinegar and let it sit for a half-hour. Rinse out the water tank and let it air dry before you put the humidifier back together.

Tea Tree Oil isn’t just for pimples!

Tea tree oil has been used for centuries as a natural disinfectant, antiviral, and antibacterial solution. For cool mist humidifiers, add five drops of the essential oil to a full tank of water and let it sit for a half-hour. Rinse the tank and let it air dry. For warm mist humidifiers, tea tree oil will not only sanitize your humidifier’s water tank, it can also help clear your breathing channels. Just add five drops to the water tank and turn it on.

Key Takeaways

Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about cleaning a humidifier:

Change Out the Water with Every Use

Before you use your humidifier each day, dump out any water left in your water tank. Rinse the tank well (including the outside) and refill it. This will help prevent bacteria and mold from growing in the enclosed tank.

Only Use Distilled Water

Experts recommend distilled water because it doesn’t contain the minerals and other additives found in tap water. Remember—anything that goes into your humidifier’s water goes into the air you breathe. The minerals in tap water can also promote the growth of bacteria, create a white dust, and leave stubborn deposits behind.

Deep Clean and Disinfect Weekly

Use the humidifier cleaning steps above at least once every week and then disinfect when you’re using your humidifier regularly. This will reduce the amount of mold and bacteria in your humidifier and the air.

Now that you know the increased comfort and health benefits humidifiers can provide and how to keep them clean, why not learn more about healthy cleaning? The Maids is on a mission to help you create a cleaner, healthier home. Check out our popular and convenient cleaning services and get a free estimate online.


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