If you have allergies or a breathing condition -- or you just like breathing clean air -- you should pay attention to your humidifier ($499 at Walmart). The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have found that ultrasonic and impeller, aka cool mist humidifiers can release microorganisms and minerals into the air of your home. "Breathing mist containing these pollutants has been implicated as causing a certain type of inflammation of the lungs," the EPA warns.
"The moisture added to the air from your humidifier is only as clean as the humidifier and the water in the tank, which is why choosing a model that is easy to clean, and cleaning it frequently, is so important," Sarah Drake, seasonal humidifiers brand manager for Honeywell Humidifiers, told me. "Frequent cleaning and care also ensures it continues to run efficiently, so you can get the most benefit and longevity out of your humidifier."
Here are some tips on keeping your humidifier clean and your lungs happy.
Some people have a bad habit of leaving water in their humidifier until it runs out (*slowly raises hand*). That's not good. Empty the water tank every day, wipe it down with a clean cloth and then fill it with new water.
Check the filter
Check your owner's manual to see if your humidifier has a filter. If you don't have your manual, look for a small door on your humidifier that covers a square of mesh material. Some filters also slide out, so look for a button or handle that activates a sliding mechanism, too.
If your humidifier does have a filter, be sure to replace it regularly with antimicrobially treated filters, if possible. These help prevent the spread of mold, algae and bacteria from the filter, according to Drake.
Humidifiers can get, well, crusty because of mineral buildup. To get rid of crust, each week wipe down your humidifier with undiluted white vinegar to remove the scales.
If you want to skip the descaling, the EPA recommends you use distilled water in the tank instead of tap water. Tap water can also release particles into the air that aren't pure H2O, leaving white specks on your dark furniture.
Before you try to sanitize your humidifier, be sure to check the manual. The manufacturer may have certain cleaning guidelines for your unit.
If the manual doesn't have instructions -- or you lost the manual -- you can sanitize many humidifiers by filling the water tank, while still on the base, with white vinegar. Let the vinegar sit for 20 and then rinse the tank with fresh water.
Monitor humidity levels
Making your home feel like a steam room may be appealing, but it's probably not too good for your lungs. The EPA recommends keeping indoor levels of humidity below 50 percent. Levels higher than 50 percent can aid in the growth of bacteria in the appliance.
The easiest way to monitor humidity levels is by getting a smart thermostat. My Nest thermostat, for example, lists the humidity level of my home next to the temperature on the app. The Emerson 1F95-1291 Universal Touchscreen Thermostat and the Pro1 IAQ Touchscreen Wireless Thermostat Kit also have humidity monitors.
If replacing your thermostat sounds like too much work, you can purchase a hygrometer, such as AcuRite, Extech or Fisher Scientific, just to name a few, to keep track of the moisture in the air. You can find hygrometers online or at your local home improvement store.