Almost all of us who have lived through the pain of finding out we’ve stored our favorite seasonal clothes in too moist of an environment. Mold is a common ailment in houses, apartments, attics, and basements, and it can wreak havoc on our health and belongings. But we hear less about the exact opposite problem: air that’s too dry.
The ideal humidity level is between 30 and 50 percent. When that humidity goes above 50%, you get mold and other unpleasant side effects. When it drops below that window, though, and becomes too dry, you can have some issues, too.
When Does Dry Air Occur?
While the humidity level of your living space, workspace, or even outside is variable and depends on many different factors, the air is more likely to be dry during the winter months. As the temperature drops, the air loses some of its capacity to hold onto moisture, which is what leads to that dry winter air.
So it’s entirely possible to have a really dry summer’s day — and those of you who live in a desert environment definitely know this to be true. But the colder it gets, the more likely it is that the air will be dry. And dry wintertime air can have consequences.
What Happens When The Air Is Too Dry?
We usually notice an excess of humidity more quickly. It’s hard not to notice the feeling of virtually swimming through the air when you step outside on a hot summer day or feel how quickly you start to sweat or see the mold growing in a humid space.
We don’t usually notice cold air as quickly… but dry indoor air can be a problem too! This is especially true when you have the air conditioning or a heating system blasting—adding extra cool or warm air may end up affecting the amount of moisture in your air.
Dry Air Can Negatively Affect Your Health
There is a wide range of less-than-ideal health effects when the air in your living space or workspace is too dry. If you suffer from asthma or a similar respiratory condition, air that’s cold and dry can make the symptoms of those conditions worse.
When air is too dry, it dehydrates you quickly, making you more likely to experience irritation in your nasal passages and sinuses. If you live somewhere with a cold winter, you’ve probably experienced this — that dry, scratchy feeling in your throat when you wake up in the morning, even when you aren’t sick. This can lead to another unpleasant side effect of dry air: sore throats.
The dehydration caused by drier air has a variety of other negative impacts, too. It can cause eye irritation, especially if you wear contact lenses. This can make your job more difficult if you spend a lot of time staring at a screen and make you more vulnerable to infection or other kinds of irritants to your eye. It can also lead to dry skin, itchy skin, and chapped lips, two of the least pleasant side effects of low relative humidity.
Dry air can also cause nose bleeds. And as you’ve almost definitely experienced, the dehydration caused by low humidity levels doesn’t just affect your throat, eyes, and nose — it dries out your skin, too. So if you’re noticing you’re getting to the bottom of your moisturizer a little more quickly than normal, your indoor humidity may be to blame.
The dehydration caused by low humidity levels can even make you vulnerable to getting sick with anything from the common cold to pneumonia. The dehydrating effect dry air has on your body reduces your body’s ability to stave off infections by weakening your nasal mucus, which is a big part of how your body usually defends you against germs.
Dry Air Can Also Damage Your Living Space
While you may be tempted to think that a lack of humidity is good for your property, this isn’t always the case.
Homeowners won’t have to worry about mold or condensation, but dry air can do damage to your hardwood floors, just the same as a large amount of water vapor can. Low humidity over a long period of time can dehydrate your floors, causing them to separate and warp in shape.
This same problem can wreak havoc on your windows and doors. The shrinking or warping of wood when the air is too dry can cause the frames of your windows and doors to become misshapen. When this happens, it becomes difficult to open and close windows and doors in your home or office. This can also cause gaps where your walls meet the ceiling.
We also usually think of high humidity when considering damage to walls, but dryness can cause damage too. When there’s too little moisture in the air of your home, wallpaper and paint can crack or otherwise become damaged.
If you have houseplants, your indoor air quality, whether high or low, can also affect their longevity.
How Do You Know If Your Air Is Too Dry?
If you’re noticing that you’re reaching for your hand lotion a little more often than normal, or you’re struggling to close your windows at night—especially if you live somewhere prone to cold weather—you might want to check the humidity levels in your house or workspace. Even if you don’t have reason to think there may be a problem, it’s worth checking the humidity in your space anyway, just so you can catch an issue rather than respond to one.
The easiest way to measure the humidity in the air is with a hygrometer. Hygrometers come in a few different forms and are pretty easy to find. You can get an analog hygrometer or even a digital thermometer that measures other useful data of whatever room you keep it in, like the temperature, in addition to the humidity.
However, if you don’t have a hygrometer or don’t want to purchase one, there’s another way to tell if your air is dry without a hygrometer.
All you need are two regular mercury thermometers and a cotton ball. You just place both thermometers in the same room. Soak the cotton ball in water (room temperature), and then stick it to the bulb of one of the thermometers.
Leave the thermometers over night, and then note the temperature on both of the read outs. All you need to do to get a good idea of the humidity in the room is to subtract the temperature of the cotton ball-ed thermometer from the temperature on the other thermometer. That number is the percentage of humidity in the air, roughly.
For example, if the thermometer with the cotton ball says it’s 30 degrees, and the other thermometer reads 70 degrees, you can figure the humidity of whichever room you’re measuring is around 40 percent. (Not to mention it’s kind of a cool experiment to do if you have kids).
But what happens if you get your reading and your humidity level is below 30 percent?
There Are Solutions!
You probably already know a few of the simpler solutions for minor complaints due to dry air. These include regularly moisturizing your skin with lotion, especially right after you’ve gotten out of the shower, to help your body retain moisture. Lip balm will stop your lips from becoming cracked and painful. And of course, you should stay hydrated — although we think this should be a priority no matter what!
But if the air in your home or workspace is really dry, and you’re worried about long term damage, there’s one solution that might bring about the most significant changes.
Try A Humidifier
Humidifiers can easily and instantly bring moisture back into the air of your home. It will keep you more hydrated, meaning you can take fewer pains to do so yourself. And if you’re suffering from a sore throat or cold, a humidifier can help ease the symptoms.
However, it’s important that you regularly clean your humidifier to ensure that the air you’re breathing is clean and safe. As long as your humidifier is used as intended and cared for as the manufacturer intended, it will help restore much-needed moisture to the air of your living space and help you breathe a little easier.
Humidifiers come in a wide range of sizes and colors, so it’s easy to find the right device for your space. It’s important to read about the device you wish to purchase to make sure that the size of your humidifier suits the size of the space in which you want to improve the air quality so that you get the best use out of your product.
Some humidifiers even come with a compartment for essential oils, so not only will your humidifier help get the humidity levels in your home up to snuff, they can offer additional aromatherapy benefits as well.
Dry air can be a problem! We tend to be much more aware when the air around us is too moist, but it’s important in general to make sure the humidity levels in our living and workspaces are healthy. If you’re worried that the air in your home is too dry, a humidifier is a great option to restore balance to your life.