How Do You Kill Bacteria In A Humidifier?

If you have ever used a humidifier in your home before, you know that these small machines can vastly improve your health and physical comfort at home. There are countless reasons to use a humidifier: to create better sleeping conditions, to improve the health of your skin and hair, to ease congestion and sinus health, improve your indoor air quality, and much more. 

With all of these wonderful benefits, the decision to add a humidifier to your home would seem like a no-brainer. However, like all things in life, you cannot reap the rewards of a humidifier without facing risk, as well. Indeed, the buildup of bacteria is a major health concern regarding these appliances. 

Bacteria and fungi often grow in the water tanks of even the best humidifiers, even if you're constantly adding clean water. If left uncleaned for extended periods of time, these bacteria and allergens may be released into your home along with the mist from your humidifier. One study found that this process can lead to side-effects ranging from flu-like symptoms to severe infection. 

Fortunately, there is plenty of information available about how to effectively eliminate bacteria in home humidifiers. By learning about the proper methods of cleaning different humidifiers, you can greatly mitigate the risk involved with using a humidifier in your home. 

The Function Of Humidifiers

In order to understand how to manage the bacteria and growth of mold in humidifiers, it is helpful to know exactly why bacteria appear there in the first place. 

In short, the function of a humidifier is simply to add moisture to the air in an indoor space, or humidify. There are several types of humidifiers, each of which works differently to achieve this end. These include: 

  • Evaporative. These humidifiers use a built-in fan to blow air onto a piece such as a wick, which then causes the water inside the wick to evaporate and enter the air as vapor.
  • Ultrasonic. These machines rely on high-frequency vibrations to turn the water inside the water reservoir into vapor. 
  • Impeller. Impeller humidifiers utilize a rotating disc to send water droplets into a diffuser, which then releases the droplets into the air as mist.
  • Warm Mist or Steam Vaporizers. These humidifiers use an internal heating mechanism to heat water to its boiling point, creating steam. The steam is then cooled and released into the room.
  • Central. Central humidifiers are installed with a central air-conditioning unit. They add moisture to an entire home as opposed to just one room. 

As you can see, each of these humidifiers functions differently. However, they all contain reservoirs of water that can potentially cause the growth of bacteria if left unattended. Thus, they each require frequent cleaning in order to keep your home safe.

Now, let’s explore the best ways to clean each of the humidifiers listed above.

How To Clean Your Humidifier

To reiterate, cleaning your humidifier is absolutely essential. You will not be able to achieve the desired effect of using a humidifier if you do not keep up with its maintenance. Besides bacteria, you're also at risk of mineral deposits building up in your humidifier, especially if you have hard water. You'll want to clean away this mineral buildup to ensure you're getting the most pure air possible.

A general rule suggested by many is that you should clean your humidifier every day. Do so by simply emptying the water tank, drying all surfaces of the humidifier or letting it air dry, and refilling the water tank daily. This will reduce the growth of bacteria. 

Do not let these cleaning requirements intimidate you or convince you not to use a humidifier. 

Adhere to the tips below, and you should be ready to go.

Follow The Manufacturer’s Instructions

This first tip may seem obvious, but it can make an enormous impact. No one knows your particular product better than the manufacturer. Each humidifier is different, and following the provided instructions will provide you with specific guidelines for taking care of your product.

If you are uncertain about how to take care of your humidifier, be sure to check out the manufacturer’s website or customer service hotline. Many manufacturers offer resources to assist with troubleshooting. For example, we provide an online user manual for our ultrasonic humidifier.

Change The Water Frequently

This is another extremely important tip to follow. As we mentioned above, you should always empty and refill your water tank every day. If you notice a film or scale deposit forming, be sure to change the water right away. This is especially important for cool mist humidifiers, such as ultrasonic, evaporative, or impeller humidifiers.

Use Proper Cleaning Products

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), you should clean your portable humidifier every three days. You only need a brush or scrubber and a cleaning solution. 

The EPA also suggests following the manufacturer’s instructions for which cleaning products to use on your particular humidifier. If no specific instructions are provided, you can use a three percent solution of hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar. Be sure to use this solution on any part of the humidifier that comes into contact with water. 

After you use a cleaning solution on your humidifier, you should rinse out the water tank several times before using it again. This is simply to ensure that there is no residue from the chemicals that could be released into the air. In general, we don't recommend using a bleach solution as a disinfectant on your humidifier, because you wouldn't want to accidentally breathe in bleach if you don't clean it well enough.

Finally, be sure to unplug the humidifier before you begin the cleaning process.

Replace The Necessary Parts

Some humidifiers have parts, such as filters, that need to be replaced every so often. In particular, evaporative humidifiers tend to have filters that should be replaced regularly.

Information about parts that need replacing should be found in the instruction manual. If you are considering purchasing a humidifier, you may want to take this into consideration, as it does present an extra cost. 

Replacing the filter or other necessary parts is essential to your health and the efficiency of your humidifier.

Use Distilled Water

The EPA also recommends using distilled water in your humidifier. Tap water contains certain minerals that can be spread throughout the air in your home when vaporized. There is no evidence suggesting that these minerals are harmful. However, they can cause a white dust to appear on surfaces in the home, which you may find bothersome. 

Furthermore, the minerals in tap water can build up within your humidifier, creating deposits of crusts—called “scale”—that serve as the perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Of course, this is not ideal. In order to minimize the risk of bacteria growth, be sure to use distilled water instead of tap water in your product.

If you see any deposits of scale on your humidifier, clean it to remove them.

Ask A Specialist About Central Humidifier Care

Central humidifiers may require extra care. If you have one of these humidifiers built into your central air conditioning or heating system, read the instructions. Moreover, you may need to ask a specialist about maintenance. 

Consider Replacing Old Humidifiers

If you have an older humidifier, it may be necessary to replace it. Sometimes, if mold or bacteria has been building up for an extended amount of time, it is simply impossible to fully eliminate it. Also, if you have not been taking care of your humidifier regularly, it may be best to replace it. 

Although this may be financially burdensome, it is always best to be safe and to protect your health.

Other Safety Tips

Bacteria growth is one of the biggest issues to be aware of when using a humidifier in your home. It is essential to keep your machine clean and bacteria-free at all times. However, there are a few more factors to keep in mind with regards to humidifier safety.

  • Keep warm mist humidifiers away from children and pets. This is a crucial safety tip. Warm mist humidifiers use a heating mechanism to boil the water and release steam into the room. This can be dangerous to keep around children or pets. In order to avoid the risk of burns, be sure to keep these humidifiers in a safe spot.
  • Monitor the humidity levels in your home. The ideal humidity level for the home is between 30% and 50%. Anything higher than 60% can lead to harmful health problems, as well as bacteria buildup and growth around your home. You may want to consider using a hygrometer to measure the humidity levels in your home.

In Conclusion

Humidifiers can be an excellent addition to any home, especially during the cold winter months. By adding moisture to the air, humidifiers help to reduce dry skin, improve sleep patterns, and alleviate congestion issues. However, in order to enjoy these benefits, it is vital to clean and maintain your humidifier regularly.

Each type of humidifier requires frequent cleaning. However, if maintained correctly, humidifiers can last for a very long time. They can also greatly improve your physical comfort and quality of life in your own home. 

If you are considering purchasing a new humidifier, be sure to take into account the cleaning and safety tips listed above. Good luck, and enjoy your humidifier this winter!


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