Maintaining a comfortable humidity level in your home provides several health benefits. Balanced humidity levels keep your skin and nasal passages hydrated, reducing itchiness, sneezing, and general irritation. Correct humidity also reduces annoying static electricity. However, you can’t turn on a humidifier and walk away. Maintaining the right humidity levels takes some practice and know-how to make sure you don’t overdo it and invite mold growth. Here are some tips to safely humidify your house.
Use a Hygrometer
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Indoor humidity levels should stay between 30 to 50 percent, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.1 Levels above 60 percent create an environment where mold, mildew, and fungus can grow. You can track those levels using a hygrometer, a device designed to measure moisture levels in the air or soil. Safe humidifying requires monitoring your home’s humidity every day.
Humidity levels change with the air temperature due to relative humidity. The relative humidity is represented by a percentage of the moisture the air could hold at a certain temperature.2 As temperatures rise, the air can hold more humidity. Consequently, in the summer, you may not need to add moisture to the air. Cold air holds less moisture, which can lead to dry skin and irritated nasal passages in the winter.
A hygrometer lets you know when to run your humidifier or if you need to run it at all. Some humidifiers have built-in hygrometers that automatically turn off or on the humidifier based on the needs of the room. These models can help maintain a healthy environment, and you don’t need to keep as close (still watch) of an eye on the humidity levels.
Install a Whole House Humidifier
In dry climates or homes with allergy or asthma sufferers, it might be more economical to install a whole-house humidifier. These models connect to the home’s HVAC and pump moisture into the air through the duct system. They assure that moisture reaches the entire home rather than a single room, as with a room humidifier. Whole-house humidifiers require a one-time setup and regular maintenance, but they’re one of the most efficient ways to monitor and humidify an entire home.
Calculate the Room/House Size
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Humidifiers, whether room or whole-house, are designed to humidify specific square footage. Carefully calculate the room or house’s square footage. The humidifier’s coverage range should stay around the calculated footage.
A humidifier that’s too big could potentially put too much moisture into the air, especially if it doesn’t have a built-in hygrometer to shut it off when the desired humidity level is reached. A model that’s too small may run constantly but not put out enough moisture to improve humidity levels.
Perform Regular Humidifier Maintenance
Regular maintenance is one of the most important factors in safely humidifying your home. Tap or hard water can leave scale inside the humidifier’s tank.3 Scale provides a place for bacteria and other microorganisms to grow. Additionally, humidifiers can develop a scum or film on the water’s surface, indicating bacterial, mold, or fungal growth. Breathing any of these substances can irritate allergies or asthma or lead to breathing problems where there previously were none.
Regular maintenance can prevent these problems and includes:
- Draining, cleaning, and drying the tank before storing
- Using a brush or scrubber to clean the tank, being careful not to scratch the interior surface
- Regularly dusting the outside of the humidifier
- Following the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations
- If using bleach or another cleaning solution, rinsing the tank thoroughly so as not to introduce the cleaning agents into the air
- Checking and replacing filters according to the manufacturer’s schedule
Tip: Always unplug the humidifier before cleaning it.
Change the Humidifier Filters
Not all humidifiers have filters. However, those that do can remove impurities like allergens from the air before emitting moisture. Those filters can get filled, reducing the humidifier’s efficiency and potentially reintroducing the trapped particles into the air. Filters need regular changing to prevent bacteria, mold, and fungi growth. Warm-mist and evaporative humidifiers are those that most often have filters. Know where the filters are located and have spares on hand.
Manufacturers offer schedules for filter changes, but the replacement schedule will depend on how often you use the humidifier and how clean (or dirty) the air is. If you use the humidifier regularly or have pets, check the filter weekly.
Use Distilled or Demineralized water
Tap water isn’t the best option for humidifier use. It generally contains minerals that leave scale on the inside of the humidifier, which we already mentioned can invite bacterial growth. Use distilled or demineralized water instead, both of which have been cleansed on impurities that can affect the humidifier.
Do not use deionized water. This type of water has the ions removed, which doesn’t remove the minerals that leave behind deposits.4Once you’re done with the humidifier for the day, be sure to empty it and wipe it down until it’s dry. Any moisture left in the tank, no matter the source, can lead to microorganism growth.
If you’re not ready for a whole-house humidifier, but you have several rooms that need extra humidity, you can use natural remedies. They’re not as effective or consistent as a humidifier, but they can help. Try:
- drying laundry indoors
- cooking with an open pot
- leaving out a bowl of water
- placing vases of water on a windowsill
Humidifiers can do wonders for allergies and asthma as long as you keep a careful watch over humidity levels and clean the humidifier regularly. You can combine a humidifier with natural humidifier remedies as well. Make sure you have an accurate hygrometer, and you’re set for a healthier home.
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- Care for your air: A guide to indoor air quality. epa.gov Updated July 1, 2021. Accessed September 3, 2021.
- Shelton DP. Air properties: Temperature and relative humidity. NebGuide. Published 2008. Accessed September 3, 2021
- Dirty humidifiers may cause health problems. cpsc.gov Accessed September 3, 2021.
- What is deionized water? Department of Physics,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Published December 26, 2014. Accessed September 3, 2021.