Humidifiers can be beneficial for your health, especially when you are sick or experiencing dryness at home. But if you don’t maintain it regularly, it can cause more harm than good.
“If you don’t clean your humidifier properly, it will turn into a giant petri dish, which is not good for air quality,” says Michael Rubino, mold and air quality expert and founder of HomeCleanse. “What ends up happening is every time we breathe, which we breathe 20,000 times a day, roughly speaking, we’re inhaling these particles into our bodies.”
We talked to experts about the health impacts of not cleaning your humidifier and expert-backed tips for properly disinfecting it.
What are the benefits of having a humidifier in your home?
Humidifiers release moisture into the air and can help with symptoms of allergies, asthma, colds and flu. They are also very useful if your home is dry due to heat or air conditioning. They can relieve dry noses, dry coughs, and even dry skin or eczema, says Dr. Rupam Brar, an allergist and immunologist and professor of pediatrics at New York University Grossman School of Medicine, told Talk News.
The ideal humidity in the house is between 30-50%. You can measure it with a hygrometer, a thermometer-like device that measures the humidity in the air, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What happens if you don’t clean the humidifier?
Rubino says that mold and bacteria are the biggest culprits – and the more they are allowed to grow, the faster they multiply.
According to the Mayo Clinic, when a humidifier emits air filled with bacteria or mold, it can cause flu-like symptoms and lung disease. If you inhale airborne mold spores, this can trigger allergies and asthma, explains Brar. In rare cases, this can lead to “moisturizer lung” or hypersensitivity pneumonitis, an immune system disorder that causes your lungs to become inflamed. These and other serious health impacts are most likely to occur if a person has a compromised immune system.Your intention to improve your health can be compromised if you do not clean your humidifier properly.
“We’re learning more about how fungi and bacteria can disrupt the gut microbiome and cause things like inflammation, which can lead to…brain fog and chronic fatigue syndrome,” Rubino added. Your immune system can also be weakened by exposure to too much mold or bacteria, which can cause you to get sick more often.
So, what’s the best way to clean and disinfect your humidifier?
These expert-backed tips will help prevent mold and bacteria from growing in your humidifier:
Ideally, clean your humidifier twice a week (at least once a week), according to Rubino. Use distilled white vinegar instead of bleach. “(Vinegar is) a great disinfecting agent… that most people already have in their kitchen,” Rubino said. He recommends a one-to-one ratio of vinegar to water. Although bleach was once one of the most popular cleaning products, it is not as effective as vinegar. “(Bleach) actually makes the fungus disappear because the color becomes lighter,” he added. But that doesn’t mean it completely turns it off or removes it. Let the vinegar and water solution sit in the humidifier for about 20 minutes. Make sure to unplug the humidifier and only soak the parts that can be cleaned, according to the manual. “Never run vinegar through a machine at home… (this can) release vinegar into the air and cause unwanted exposure,” explains Rubino. This also has the potential to damage the humidifier parts. Use a microfiber towel instead of a terry cloth or paper towel to scrub and dry the humidifier. “Microfibre is actually a hundred times more effective at removing…very small particles like mold or bacteria,” he said. When wiping each part, use the clean side of the cloth. Make sure to use a clean, unused microfiber towel to dry. If you want to remove mold, throw away the towel after use. Although some humidifier tanks are marketed as dishwasher-friendly, Rubino says most dish detergents are anti-bacterial but not completely anti-microbial, meaning they won’t be as effective against mold. scrub with a solution of vinegar and water. Mold can survive extreme temperatures, so even the heat from a dishwasher isn’t enough to remove it. Use bottled “distilled” water to fill your humidifier because it contains lower mineral content and will prevent the release of minerals into the air, according to the EPA. (Using tap water can cause mineral deposits in the humidifier that can lead to the growth of microorganisms.) Some humidifiers are equipped with demineralization cartridges or filters that effectively remove minerals from tap water. If your humidifier has a filter, make sure you replace it as needed. (Check the manual to see how often they need to be replaced.) Whole-house humidifiers usually come with disposable filters that must be replaced annually, and portable humidifiers have filters that need to be replaced or washed if they become clogged and dirty. according to the American Cleanup Institute. If you don’t replace the filter, mold will likely grow in your humidifier. Dust and dirt can also be released into the air, causing illness or allergies. If the filter is clogged, the humidifier will not be able to release as much water vapor into the air. In addition to cleaning your humidifier several times a week, the EPA recommends emptying the water from the tank daily, drying the surface, and refilling with new water for the next use.
Even if your humidifier doesn’t look dirty, that doesn’t mean mold or bacteria isn’t present: “Mold… is 25 to 50 times smaller than what the eye can see… Bacteria is even smaller than mold,” Rubino told Talk News. . If you can see mold in your humidifier, “that means it’s colonized and there are already hundreds of thousands or even millions of mold inside.”
So, what do fungi and bacteria look like when seen? Rubino said the colors can be different, such as green, pink, white, gray, blue, red, black, brown or a combination of these. The texture can be powdery, soft, smooth, or slimy. “Pink material” commonly appears in humidifiers if they are not cleaned properly. This can be a fungus (Aureobasidium pullulans) or a bacteria (Serratia Marcescens). “Microbial growth can also give rise to a musty, earthy, damp, cigar-like odor, so pay attention to this as well,” advises Rubino.
You don’t want to wait until you notice a problem to start cleaning your humidifier regularly.
“There are a lot of things that (fungi and bacteria) can actually do to us,” Rubino said. “That’s why it’s so important… to clean equipment like humidifiers that have accumulated water or moisture inside.”