Can A Humidifier Make You Sick?

Humidifiers are a great addition to the home and offer an array of benefits. When used properly, humidifiers work to relieve several health conditions and concerns and are a great way to enhance the environment of your living space. When not used properly, humidifiers can, in fact, have adverse effects on our health. 



How Humidifiers Affect Our Health

Bringing it back to the basics, humidifiers add moisture to the air to increase humidity levels. Humidified air has several advantages over dry air, all of which can benefit our health, well-being, and appearance. 

Humidity acts as a natural moisturizing agent that can relieve dryness both internally (for our throat, sinuses, and air passages) and externally (for our skin, lips, and hair). This added hydration is particularly beneficial and helpful to us during the cold and dry winter months, but having a humidifier is equally advantageous throughout the entire year. 

Humidifiers ease symptoms caused by dry sinuses or dry indoor air such as:

  • Dry skin and lips
  • Nasal irritation and dryness
  • Sinus congestion and headaches 
  • Dry cough and sore throat
  • Bloody noses
  • And more

With Americans spending more time than ever indoors, assessing and optimizing the air quality of our homes has never been so important. And perhaps surprisingly, the concentration of certain pollutants is two to five times higher inside than outside. Humidifiers are a simple and easy way to improve the air quality around us, but only when they’re used correctly and properly cared for. 

Can a Humidifier Make You Sick?

When not used correctly or cared for properly, humidifiers can make you sick. 

Humidifiers can make you sick for two reasons: the humidifier contains bacteria or mold, or the humidity level is too high. Humidifiers develop bacteria or mold when they aren’t cleaned regularly, cleaned properly, or when they aren’t used consistently. Humidity also starts to have adverse effects when levels rise above 50%. We’ll examine each of these two problems separately. 

Dirty Humidifier

Cleaning your humidifier is essential because the cleanliness of the internal unit itself directly affects the air it disperses into our homes. The main contributor to humidifiers becoming “dirty” is the use of tap water or unpurified water. Tap water contains minerals that can leave mineral deposits and residue within your humidifier. Any build-up of old and dirty particles, no matter how small, will be released back into your air as a white dust, which is less than ideal for breathing and counterproductive to the concept of a humidifier

It’s always recommended to use purified, distilled, or demineralized water for your humidifier. Purified water has a much lower mineral content and is much less likely to lead to the development of residue. For humidifiers that utilize filters, it’s advisable to use demineralization cartridges or filters to deter mineral deposit build-up and ease the cleaning process for yourself when the time comes. 

There are two main types of humidifiers, warm mist, and cool mist humidifiers. Warm mist humidifiers use an internal heating element to boil water and generate steam from the water tank, which will then be dispersed into the air as warm steam. Cool mist humidifiers have two sub-types: evaporative or ultrasonic. Evaporation cool mist humidifiers use a fan to evaporate water into the air. Ultrasonic cool mist humidifiers use high-frequency vibrations - rather than a fan - to create and disperse micro-fine cool mist without the annoying hum or crackling. Overall, warm mist humidifiers are less safe and harder to clean. 

Bacteria thrive in warm and damp environments, making warm mist humidifiers the ideal breeding ground for bacteria growth, mildew, and mold spores. Leftover moisture combined with the heating element of warm mist humidifiers can actually speed up and promote bacteria growth, which is then projected into the air around us. This bacteria is now incorporated with the air we’re breathing and can make us sick. For this reason, a warm mist humidifier requires constant maintenance with soaps or chlorine bleach to be kept sanitary and free of bacterial growth, mildew, and mold

Dirty mist can exacerbate allergy symptoms and asthma, in addition to causing flu-like symptoms and lung infections—even in healthy people. However, improperly cleaned humidifiers can cause humidifier disinfectant-associated lung injury, which can be fatal. You should never use harmful chemicals or disinfectants with high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide.

The takeaway? Opt for a cool-mist humidifier because they are more sanitary in nature and easier to clean. Clean your humidifier at least once a week and stay with us until the end of this article for tips on properly doing so. 

High Humidity

The other way a humidifier can make you sick is because of high humidity

While maintaining healthy humidity levels can help combat the spread of airborne viruses and bacteria, high humidity can be counterproductive and actually worsen air quality. The consensus among experts is that the ideal humidity level rests in the range of 30% to 50%. Low humidity causes problems, but so does high humidity. If your humidifier doesn’t have a built-in humidistat (humidity level monitor), hygrometers are highly affordable and definitely worth investing in. 

When humidity rises above 50%, the air becomes stuffy, and the excess moisture can cause condensation on your walls, furniture, and other surfaces. This condensation and excess moisture increase the likelihood of bacteria growth, the development of mildew and mold, and dust mites. Altogether, these negative implications of high humidity can have adverse effects on our health and make us sick. Allergens in the air from high humidity can cause respiratory problems.

The takeaway? Monitor your home’s humidity levels to ensure humidity stays in the healthy and recommended range of 30% to 50%. 

Using and Caring For Your Humidifier Properly

The good news is that cleaning your humidifier is probably easier than you’d think. 

Use purified, distilled, or demineralized water - not tap water. Using purified water is a simple and easy way to prevent residue build-up and keep your tank as clean as possible. A clean tank means clean air, and that’s what ultrasonic humidifiers are all about. 

Don’t let water sit idle in the tank. Water should not be left in the tank in between uses. While one day probably wouldn’t hurt, it’s best practice to stay in the habit of emptying your humidifier after each use to avoid it ever being forgotten about. When not using your humidifier, empty the tank and leave the lid off to allow for air circulation. 

Clean it regularly. Once a week, fill the tank with a mixture of half water and half white vinegar and run the humidifier as usual. Allow it to run for about an hour before turning it off, emptying the remaining liquid, and rinsing the tank to cleanse the residual. Run the humidifier one more time with fresh water for another hour before the next use. 

Aside from proper care, a cool-mist humidifier is the best option for maintaining healthy, happy, and hydrated air for your home. Cool mist humidifiers are highly beneficial for your comfort and health and are easy to clean and care for. Breathe better, sleep better, and relax better with an ultrasonic cool mist humidifier


The “Indoor Generation” And The Health Risks Of Spending More Time Inside 

Indoor Air Quality | EPA's Report on the Environment (ROE) 

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