A humidifier helps you manage your home’s moisture levels. Keeping indoor humidity within a comfortable range helps prevent dry skin, irritation, and cold symptoms that affect many people during the winter. Appropriate humidity levels also help you preserve your home’s finishes and furnishings and use less energy during heating season. It’s important, however, to know how to properly use a humidifier to maintain its longevity and avoid creating moisture-related problems in your home.
How does a humidifier work?
Humidifiers use a variety of methods to add moisture to dry air:
- An ultrasonic humidifier uses sound vibrations to disperse a cool mist.
- An impeller (or cool mist) humidifier uses a rapidly spinning disc to distribute moisture.
- In an evaporative humidifier, a fan blows air through a damp medium such as a wick or filter.
- A steam vaporizer uses electricity to heat water, which is then dispersed as steam.
The EPA states that evaporative and steam vaporizers are less likely to disperse pollutants than the ultrasonic and impeller varieties.
Humidifiers are available in three basic sizes: larger console units, smaller portable humidifiers, and central (or whole-house) humidifiers. Console units are built into cabinets; portable units can be easily moved to add moisture to individual rooms; and central humidifiers are built into the HVAC system and designed to add moisture to the entire home. To get the greatest benefit from your humidifier and avoid creating health risks, keep your home humidity between 30 and 50 percent. You can monitor humidity with a hygrometer.
Benefits of Using a Humidifier
Keeping your home’s humidity at an appropriate level helps protect your health and your home.
Helps Prevent Illness
A humidifier can be a simple defense against asthma, allergies, and other respiratory conditions. Mist from a clean humidifier can help ease breathing in those with asthma, allergies, or cold symptoms. A 2013 study found that humidity levels above 40% significantly diminished the infectiousness of the influenza virus.
Keeps Skin and Hair Moist
When we heat our homes, the drop in humidity often causes dry skin and hair. Running a humidifier can provide welcome relief.
Protects Home Finishes and Furnishings
If you have houseplants, wallpaper, or wood floors, your home may especially benefit from a humidifier. Many plants love moisture and may become more vibrant when you add humidity to your home. Humidity can prevent your wallpaper from becoming brittle and cracking as well as prevent the gaps that can develop between planks in wood flooring when the air is too dry. It reduces static electricity, which can damage electronic devices. Fragile and rare personal items such as photographs, stamps, or documents can also be damaged by an arid environment.
Save on Utility Bills
Humidity makes your home feel warmer, which could allow you to use less energy for heating and save money on your utility bills.
Are there drawbacks to using a humidifier?
While humidifiers are great solutions for combating dryness and improving indoor air quality during cold weather, excess humidity can have adverse effects. Humid indoor air encourages the growth of organisms like mold, mildew, and dust mites, which trigger allergic reactions and make breathing difficult for many people. For this reason, it’s important to run a humidifier only to relieve dry conditions, which can cause symptoms such as dry skin, sinus congestion, dry throat, nasal irritation or bloody nose, dry cough, or cracked lips. Additionally, it’s important to choose your humidifier wisely and keep it clean, since a dirty humidifier may release allergens, creating added health risks.
Tips for Using Your Humidifier
Follow these tips to keep your humidifier clean:
- Use distilled or demineralized water
- Change the water every day
- Change any filters regularly
- Remove film and deposits every three days with hydrogen peroxide, and then rinse thoroughly to remove residue
- Follow manufacturer instructions for cleaning and maintaining central humidifiers
Used properly, humidifiers can be beneficial for your health and home. If someone in your home has a respiratory condition such as asthma, contact your health care professional before using a humidifier. If anyone in your home experiences new or worsened symptoms, stop using the humidifier and consult a doctor.
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