Can You Use Tap Water in a Humidifier?

If you’re considering purchasing a humidifier, we think you’re making a great decision.  With the onset of fall and winter months, you can expect temperatures to drop, air to become thinner and drier, and heaters to be in full swing.  

This setting can wreak havoc on your skin and sinus cavities, and can really disturb your sleep and overall comfort if you suffer from seasonal allergies or develop a cold or flu.  Eyes that are itchy and watery, nasal passages that are heavily congested and 

Winter months are also famous for drying out skin and lips, leaving them feeling flaky, itchy, stretched thin, and chapped.  Some of us feel that no matter how hard we try, no amount of lotion or cream can bring back the moisture. 

Clearly, for some of us, winter can be harsh and downright harmful.  There are, however, ways we can get relief from these symptoms and feel more comfortable during seasonably dry months.  

One of the best ways to get relief from dryness and alleviate cold, flu, and allergy symptoms is to use a humidifier in your home and/or office, but one of the first questions people think of when using a humidifier is what kind of water should be used in it. 

Let’s help get that question answered!

girl resting

What is a Humidifier?

A humidifier is a small at-home appliance that can be used to help keep a healthy level of moisture in the air when things like weather and heating and air conditioning systems can cause it to dry out.  

According to experts, the optimum level of humidity for indoor air should fall between 30%-50%.  Humidifiers can keep the air in your home circulating with this level of moisture, which can help you keep comfortable.

Humidifiers work by taking water that is placed in a tank or reservoir and moving out into the air in vapor form.  They can do this in several ways:

  • Central humidifiers.  These humidifiers are built into your HVAC system and disperse moisture when your system is turned on.
  • Evaporators.  Evaporator style humidifiers work by pushing air through a damp filter, which effectively expels humid air into your room.
  • Impellers.  These types of humidifiers use a motor and series of discs that rotate and power air and water up through the vapor spout.  
  • Steam humidifiers.  These humidifiers use a method of steam disbursement, which can be dangerous and cause steam burns.  It’s important these are not used in children’s rooms or nurseries.  
  • Ultrasonic humidifiers.  Ultrasonic humidifiers operate by using ultrasonic vibration to move air and water up through the vapor spout.  These machines are some of the safest and quietest available.  

While some people will opt for a central humidifier or an evaporator (which is usually a larger unit), most people will only have use for a small machine.  A great, small-space humidifier can propel water vapor into the air in your room for up to fifty hours before it needs refilling.  Additionally, if you purchase a humidifier that is filterless, you won’t need to spend extra money on changing the filter each month or worry about remembering to do it.  

What Can a Humidifier Do?

Humidifiers can help alleviate dryness in the air and better regulate the air you breathe so you can be comfortable and experience less distress.  Here are some of the benefits of using a humidifier.

  • Better sleep.  Dry air can cause you difficulty breathing.  Be it a constant tickle in your throat or congestion in your nasal passages, it can be difficult to sleep when the air is dry.  You may find yourself waking up with chapped lips or a parched throat in the middle of the night and having trouble getting back to sleep once you are awake.  A humidifier can help keep the air in your room moisturized so you stay more hydrated, fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer.
  • Allergy relief.  Seasonal allergies are a year round event for some, as different plants pollinate at different times during the year.  This means you can have runny or congested nasal passages, itchy, scratchy throat, and chest congestion all year round.  Dry air can exacerbate these symptoms and make your allergies seem worse than they are.  Running a humidifier can help keep the air at a proper moisture level so that your allergy symptoms don’t flare up as bad as they usually do.
  • Cold and flu relief.  If you’re sick, your body needs rest more than anything else.  Unfortunately, trouble sleeping when you’re experiencing the typical symptoms of cold and flu can be impossible.  Stuffy noses, dry throats, and severe chest congestion can keep you awake all night.  You can help hydrate your nasal passages and alleviate symptoms by using a humidifier in your room.  A humidifier can keep nasal passages open so you can breathe better and sleep easier.  

Can You Use Tap Water in a Humidifier?

Any time you have a new appliance hit the market, you’ll likely begin to see other “complimentary” products surface that are meant to work concurrently with the appliance.  Whether these products are beneficial or not is debatable.  

Humidifiers are not excluded from this phenomenon of ancillary products.  Humidifier tablets, or water purification tablets, became popular when humidifier users began experiencing negative impact from the use of tap water in a humidifier.  Thus, tablets were created that are meant to be placed in the water tank of a humidifier to “purify” the water that is expelled from the machine.  These tablets may work, but they aren’t necessary.

Under normal conditions, you can use tap water in a humidifier with no issues.  While some prefer to use purified or distilled water for the humidifier, it is safe to use tap water in a humidifier just as it is typically safe to drink tap water.  

If you do use tap water with your humidifier, however, you may notice some undesirable side effects.  

  • Fine, white dust spraying out along with the cool mist vapor.  If you notice that white dust or powder seems to be expelling from your humidifier, you likely have hard water.  The white powder is produced due to the heating and subsequent cooling of the water that is released as vapor and is simply a result of the mineral content of your tap water.  It is not harmful, but it can be annoying if you begin to notice it collecting on furniture.   
  • Pink mold formation in the tank.  If you’ve begun to notice pink mold or “slime” forming in the tank or reservoir of your humidifier, it can mean you have hard tap water.  While pink mold and slime can develop even if you use distilled water, a frequent occurrence of this type of mold can be a result of the mineral content of your water.  

If you experience these side effects and it has become bothersome to you, simply switch to distilled water for your humidifier usage.  This should eliminate the problems you are experiencing and help you get back to using your humidifier with enjoyment.  

Unless your humidifier’s manufacturer explicitly states you should use distilled or purified water with your system, or if you live in an area where the tap water is not suitable for drinking or cooking, it is perfectly acceptable to use tap water in your system.  

How to Clean a Humidifier

From time to time you will need to clean your humidifier, even if you use distilled water.  It’s important to keep the internal parts of your humidifier clean so that the water vapor that is expelled is always the cleanest possible.  

You should always use your humidifier’s manufacturer’s guide

 to safely clean your humidifier.  However, if you do not have the guide or cannot directly communicate with the manufacturer you can follow these steps to clean your humidifier.

  1. Unplug your humidifier and remove the tank from the base.  
  2. Empty any remaining water in the tank.
  3. Clean the tank with a mild dish soap and dry thoroughly.  
  4. If you notice the presence of pink mold or slime, pour a generous amount of white, distilled vinegar or hydrogen peroxide into the tank.  
  5. Allow the tank to sit with the vinegar or peroxide mixture for half an hour.
  6. Rinse the tank and thoroughly dry it.  
  7. Clean the base and vapor spout.  Using either mild dish soap, vinegar, or hydrogen peroxide, clean the base and vapor spout with a clean cloth or clean toothbrush.  

This process should keep your humidifier clean and operational.  You should plan on inspecting and cleaning your humidifier at least once a week.  This can ensure you do not develop pink mold or slime, and also that white dust does not develop.  


the humidifier is on the table in the living room

Using tap water is fine for most humidifiers.  

Water does not need to be distilled or purified for it to be safely dispersed into the air in the form of water vapor.  You can opt to use distilled water if you notice white mineral dust forming in your humidifier.  This dust is harmless but can be bothersome if it begins to collect on furniture.  Additionally, if you experience pink mold or slime, switching from tap water to distilled water can help reduce the amount of mold you see. Good luck!


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