What Do Humidifiers Do and How Do They Work?

Do you ever wake up in the morning with your mouth feeling like it’s been stuffed full of cotton balls? Do you live with your lotion or chapstick within arm’s reach? Have you noticed your wood floors warping or your furniture cracking long before it should?

If any of this sounds familiar, you might benefit from a humidifier. “But what do humidifiers do?” we hear you asking. Read on to learn more about these devices and the benefits they can offer you.



What Is a Humidifier? 

A humidifier is a tool that’s used to raise the humidity in your home. some primitive ways to do this include boiling a pan of water on the stove or hanging wet towels near a heating vent. But most people who are seriously invested in improving the humidity of their home get a dedicated humidifier.

There are a few different types of humidifiers, including evaporative, steam, ultrasonic, and impeller. You can get them in different sizes to cover different area sizes. There are a number of benefits to using humidifiers that we’ll discuss more in a moment.

Relative Humidity

Before we dive into all the different types of humidifiers, let’s talk a little bit about relative humidity. Humidity refers to the amount of water currently present in the air. In the desert, humidity levels will be very low, and on coasts in the summer, humidity levels can reach a dew point, the temperature at which air can no longer contain the water within it, of 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Relative humidity refers to the amount of water in the air compared to the amount of water the air can hold. So if humidity is at 50 percent, the air is holding half of the water it’s capable of holding. The relative humidity of the air around us impacts how comfortable we are and how much moisture we evaporate out of our skin.

Effects of Low Humidity

Low humidity can have a number of detrimental effects on us. One of the most obvious effects is that low humidity dries out your mucus membranes. You may notice your lips getting chapped, your skin getting itchy, or your throat being dry and sore when you wake up in the mornings.

Low humidity can also increase static electricity in your home. This static builds up on your skin when you move through dry air. Then any time you touch something metal, that electricity will zap into the conductive material, shocking you.

Humidity in the Home 

Low humidity can also make your home feel colder than it is. If you’ve ever spent a summer near a coast, you’ll know how much hotter some humidity can make a day feel. The reverse is true in your home; lower humidity can make your home feel colder even if the thermostat is set to a warmer temperature.

Lower humidity can also suck the moisture out of wood, causing floor and furniture to shrink or warp. You may notice your wallpaper starting to peel back at the edges. Damaged wallpaper can lead to mold growth and other structural problems.

Health Benefits of Humidifiers 

If you often find yourself putting on chapstick or lotion, having a humidifier in your home can help return moisture to your skin. It can also help alleviate dry throats and stop you from getting nosebleeds if you’re susceptible to those. You may notice these problems getting worse in the winter, when the humidity is lower due to lower temperatures.

If you suffer from sinus headaches or head colds, a humidifier can help to alleviate those. They can soothe irritated vocal cords and get rid of dry coughs. A humidifier is by no means a cure-all, and if these problems persist, you should see your doctor; however, it can be a good measure to try before you schedule an appointment.

Benefits of Humidifiers for the Home

One of the biggest benefits of having a humidifier in your home is lower energy bills. Because lower humidity makes you feel colder, you may find yourself running the heat more often. By raising your relative humidity just a little, you can make your current temperature feel warmer and lower your energy consumption.

Having a humidifier can also help make it easier to maintain hardwood floors. Floors should be refinished every few years to keep them in top condition, but they’re going to need treatment more often if they’re shrinking and cracking. Keeping the boards properly moisturized can help prevent damage and lessen the need for chemical conditioners.

Anatomy of a Humidifier

Humidifier anatomy differs greatly from type to type, but they do all have a few features in common. First, they will all feature some sort of water reservoir or basin, usually located on the bottom of the device. This is the source from which your humidifier will pull the moisture that it will then disperse into your home.

A humidifier will also often include some sort of fan or steam jet. This helps to disperse the moisture being created into your home faster, ensuring that your home stays at the proper humidity levels. And many models have an ultraviolet light that shines on the water as it passes through the humidifier to kill any bacteria.

Humidifier Sizes

Humidifiers come in a variety of different sizes depending on where and how they are to be used. The smallest humidifiers are travel-sized, small enough to fit into a carry-on bag. These are a good option if you plan to travel someplace with extremely low humidity or if you have sensitive skin.

The next size up in humidifiers are the ones equipped to handle one room. These are the most common, and you may have a few of them placed in high-traffic areas of your house. And then the largest humidifiers, whole-house models, hook directly into your HVAC system for consistent comfort throughout your home.

Evaporative Humidifier

One of the simplest models of humidifiers is the evaporative humidifier. Rather than using heat or some other vaporization measure, these rely simply on the science of evaporation. A bowl of water set on the counter might work the same way as these humidifiers, albeit less efficiently.

An evaporation humidifier includes a wicking filter and a fan to better disperse humidity out into the environment. These humidifiers are self-regulating, meaning they will manage on their own how much moisture they put into your house. When humidity starts to reach a certain level, less moisture will evaporate out into the air, keeping things at an equilibrium.

Steam Humidifier

A steam humidifier is a type of warm humidifier. As the name might suggest, this device boils water and then releases the steam out into your room. This has the same effect as when you take a hot shower with the bathroom door closed.

Steam humidifiers are some of the simplest models and so tend to be the most affordable. You can also add medicated inhalants or essential oils to these humidifiers for a more therapeutic experience. However, these humidifiers do get very hot, so they aren’t a great option if you have small children in the house.


An impeller uses a fan and speed to break up water into droplets rather than using heat to convert it into steam In these humidifiers, a rotating disk flings water at a comb-like diffuser. This diffuser breaks the water into a fine mist that can float out into the air as a cool fog.

Impellers are usually an affordable model of humidifier since they use a fairly simple mechanism. They are also great if you have small children since they are completely cool and carry no risk of burns. These humidifiers do only work for single rooms and can become problematic for people with allergies and asthma if they’re overused. 

Ultrasonic Humidifier

An ultrasonic humidifier uses vibration to produce a cool mist to add humidity to your room. The device contains a metal diaphragm that vibrates at a high frequency, similar to that of a powerful speaker. This creates water droplets which can lift into the air as a cool fog.

In spite of the method that these humidifiers use, they are completely silent. They are also cool, which makes them safe for homes with small children. However, if there are any minerals or bacteria in your water, those will get sprayed into the air along with your water, creating dust or irritating allergies.

Roller vs Drum Type Humidifiers

Humidifiers may use two main methods of transferring water droplets into the air: roller-type or drum-type. The roller type features a moving belt, much like the one you might see on belt sander or a grocery store conveyor belt. A fan sits below the belt, blowing moisture onto the belt, where it is flung up through a grate at the top of the device.

A drum-type humidifier works similarly to the roller-type, only on a horizontal axis instead of vertical. The fan blows across the top of a rotating drum, which spins like a wheel inside the humidifier. There are moist evaporator pads on this drum, and as it turns, moist air is flung out the end of the humidifier.

Which Type to Choose

Which type of humidifier you use depends on your situation and your needs. If you have small children in your home on a regular basis, you may want to go for an evaporation, impeller, or ultrasonic humidifier. These are all cool operating and carry no risk of burns.

If you have severe allergies and asthma, a steam humidifier may work better for you. This model boils water as it works, which can kill any bacteria that may be lurking in the humidifier basin. It is still crucial to clean your humidifier regularly, but this extra precaution can be important for those with more sensitive respiratory systems.

Using a Humidifier Safely

Burns are one of the biggest safety concerns when it comes to safe humidifier use. If you do have a steam humidifier, make sure you keep it out of reach of children and pets. Always allow the unit to cool fully before you handle or clean it.

The other major risk with humidifiers is mold or bacteria. You need to be sure to clean the reservoir often to prevent mold, mildew, and bacteria from growing in the tank. But you also need to keep your humidifier settings turned low enough to prevent condensation from forming on the walls and promoting mold growth in your sheetrock.

Maintaining a Humidifier

The first step to cleaning your humidifier is to take it apart and wipe out the reservoir on a regular basis. Wash it out with soap and water once a week, and let it dry completely before you replace it. You also need to rinse your filters every week and then replace them entirely every two to three months.

You may also want to flush your humidifier with a vinegar-water mixture in a 1:1 ratio every so often. This helps to clean any bacteria out of the dispersion mechanism. You can use a little bit of bleach instead if you like, though you should never use vinegar and bleach together or one after the other – the mixture will produce toxic chlorine gas. 

The Answer to “What Do Humidifiers Do?”

Humidifiers are a great tool to manage dry skin, nasal congestion, and warped floors. They return moisture to your home’s air, and they can have a variety of benefits for you and your home. Make sure to choose a model type that works well for your needs and clean it regularly.

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If you’d like to discover the answer to, “What do humidifiers do?”, check out the rest of our site at Everlasting Comfort. We have everything from ultrasonic humidifiers to essential oil diffusers and more. Shop our products and start living more comfortably today.

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