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Running a humidifier can be a great way to add moisture to dry indoor air. But keep in mind that dirty humidifiers can create a dangerous environment.

Uncleaned machines can emit harmful particles into the air. These can affect your respiratory health. Cleaning your humidifier regularly will reduce your risk of these unsafe particles entering the air and your lungs.

Keep reading to learn how to properly clean and maintain your humidifier, when to replace your humidifier, and what to consider when purchasing a new one.

A humidifier releases moisture into the air. This process can also release other particles, such as:

  • bacteria
  • molds
  • minerals
  • chemicals

The particles may be invisible to the eye or settle as white dust in your room.

Breathing in these elements can irritate your lungs. People with asthma and allergies may be especially prone to unwanted particles in the air.

But even those without these conditions can develop harmful symptoms from a dirty humidifier. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, you may experience flu-like symptoms or lung infections by running a poorly maintained machine.

Most humidifiers contain a tank, or reservoir, that you fill with water. These machines have other parts that help pump moisture into the air as well. These can include:

  • a fan
  • a wick
  • a filter
  • rotating disks

There are several types of humidifiers:

  • Central humidifiers. These are installed and humidify your entire home.
  • Cool mist humidifiers. These include portable impeller humidifiers and ultrasonic humidifiers that emit cool moisture.
  • Warm mist humidifiers. Like portable steam vaporizers, these heat water and then cool it before releasing it into the air.
  • Evaporators. These are portable and inexpensive and blow air on the water from a fan that releases through a wick, belt, or filter.

Each humidifier has strengths, but some are safer for certain situations than others. Read more about humidifier safety.

There are several ways to keep a humidifier clean. As a general rule, you should rinse and dry out your humidifier every day, and clean it more deeply every few days. Always unplug your machine before cleaning.

Follow these tips to avoid unwanted particles entering the air.

Wash and dry the humidifier after each use

Empty out the humidifier’s water basin between each use. Rinse out this part of the humidifier with soap and water every day. Dry the basin each time you replace the water. Make sure the humidifier is unplugged before cleaning it.

Read the manufacturer’s instructions

Before proceeding with deep cleaning your humidifier, first consult the manufacturer’s instructions. This will give you proper guidance on how to clean the humidifier as well as whether certain parts should be cleaned or replaced.

Permanently installed humidifiers may need to be serviced regularly by a professional or require special care.

Use the right cleaning products and tools

You may want to use a water and vinegar or hydrogen peroxide solution or another manufacturer-recommended cleaner every few days to clear the machine out of potential toxins.

The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution may be useful for cleaning purposes.

Use a scrubbing brush to reach small areas of the machine to ensure the entire device gets cleaned. Watch for scales or other build-up when you clean and make sure to clear away any of it.

Thoroughly rinse the machine out with water before using it again if you use a cleaning solution.

Replace the filter

Some humidifier parts may need to be replaced on a regular basis. Central humidifiers and evaporators may have filters to replace or clean.

Review the instruction manual to find out how often to replace a filter or other parts. Consider purchasing a few additional filters to have on hand for easy replacement.

Use fresh distilled water for each use

Distilled water is largely free of minerals and other materials that may leave deposits in the humidifier and release particles into the air. Before purchasing water, make sure to read the label because not all bottled waters are distilled.

Keep the area around the humidifier dry

Avoid mold and other build-up in the humidifier by keeping the area surrounding the machine as dry as possible. Check upholstered furniture, rugs or carpet, and window treatments for moisture. Turn down, stop, or remove the humidifier from the area if the area is damp.

Clean it before and after storing

Make sure to deeply clean and thoroughly dry the humidifier before storing the machine for any length of time. Dispose of filters and other replaceable products. Store the humidifier in a dry area. Clean and dry the device again when getting it out of storage.

Cleaning your humidifier every time you use it is the best way to maintain the machine. Here are a few other tips to keep in mind:

  • Do not allow the humidity to get above 50 percent in any room. Too much humidity can foster mold and bacteria growth. Use a hygrometer to measure humidity levels.
  • Empty, dry, and refill your humidifier each time you use it.
  • Use distilled water in your humidifier to reduce the spread of minerals in the air.
  • Stop using a humidifier immediately if you develop any breathing issues.

You can purchase a hygrometer for measuring indoor humidity levels online.

Cleaning your humidifier regularly may keep out unwanted particles and mold growth, but you should consider replacing poorly maintained humidifiers or old machines. It’s not always possible to clean every part of a neglected or aging machine.

Additionally, if you notice mold or scale in your humidifier and can’t remove it with a heavy cleaning, it may be time to dispose of it and get a new one.

When you purchase a humidifier for your home, consider:

  • The size of the room. Find a humidifier that works best for your space.
  • Location of the humidifier. Children shouldn’t be near warm mist units because they could scald or burn them when touched.
  • Whether you can adjust the humidifier’s mist level. Look for extra features that may suit your needs, such as the ability to adjust mist levels.
  • The portability of the machine. Some humidifiers work for travel, while others may be too bulky to move from room to room regularly.
  • Customer reviews and consumer ratings. Find out whether the humidifier is easy to clean and maintain before purchasing. See what others have said about it.

There are a variety of humidifiers available for purchase that all require regular cleaning. Ignoring routine maintenance may put your health at risk because mold, bacteria, and other particles can enter the air and your body.

Consider replacing old or neglected humidifiers. When choosing a new humidifier, look at the many options available to select the right one for your needs.

Contact your doctor immediately if you notice any respiratory issues developing during humidifier use.