How to Clean a Humidifier, Because You Really, Really Need To

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how to clean a humidifier

A humidifier is one of those appliances that’s not really on your radar until you need it. Say, when the temperature turns frosty and your skin’s so dry it’s scaly. Or when you—or your kids—come down with a cold, and you’re desperate for something that can fight congestion and help you sleep through the night. Suddenly, it becomes a godsend, and you wonder how you’ve gotten by for so long without it. What’s even less likely to cross your mind—again, until you really need to deal with it? How to clean a humidifier. It’s just sending water vapor into the air, so do you even need to?

Yep, you do. Of course, no one wants another chore...but it’s not nearly as labor-intensive as you might think. Here’s the most effective, efficient way to go about it.

But First: What are the Benefits of Using a Humidifier, Anyway?

Humidifiers aren’t magic, but according to Berkeley Wellness (an academic blog run by the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health) they can be helpful to those who suffer from dryness of the skin, eyes or nasal passages. Feeling sick? The experts at Berkeley Wellness say that a humidifier can also “ease symptoms of a cold, sore throat or cough.”

What’s the Big Deal if I Don’t Clean it…Like, Ever?

“If not kept very clean, humidifiers can be a source of indoor air pollution, microbes and allergens,” Berkeley Wellness cautions. In other words, if the mist that your humidifier releases is dirty, it won’t be doing your lungs or your nasal passages any favors, which is kind of the whole point of the thing in the first place.

How Often Should You Clean a Humidifier?

Real talk: Humidifiers are kind of high maintenance, but nowhere near as bad as your laundry heap or sink full of dishes. You should change the water daily and sanitize it weekly.

What You Need to Clean a Humidifier

  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • White vinegar
  • Microfiber Cloth
  • Glass cleaning brush (for certain styles of humidifier)

Yep, that’s it! Now, let’s dive in, friends.

How to Clean a Humidifier

You can pay a pretty penny for air quality maintenance, so if you’re feeling a little nervous about taking apart and cleaning your humidifier, we get it. That’s why we spoke to Beth McGee, cleaning guru and author of Get Your House Clean Now: The Home Cleaning Method Anyone Can Master, to have her take us through it step-by-step. 

Step 1: Unplug the Humidifier

That was easy, wasn’t it? 

Step 2: Empty and Clean the Tank

First, separate the tank from the base and pour out any remaining water. Now you’re ready to clean the tank—a good idea even if it looks clean because, per McGee, “the tank can collect a slimy residue that is not visible to the eye.” To do this, McGee recommends filling the tank with a solution of one part hydrogen peroxide to three parts water and letting it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Then, wipe down the sides of the tank with a cloth before dumping out the cleaning solution. (Note: McGee suggests using a glass cleaning brush to do this if your humidifier has a small filling hole that limits your access to the inside of the tank.) Finally, give the tank two thorough rinses to remove all traces of the cleaning solution and let it air dry.

Step 3: Clean the Base Reservoir

Hydrogen peroxide can be used to clean the base reservoir, but McGee says white vinegar will work just as well. Pour either liquid (not both) into the base of the humidifier and let it sit for 15 minutes. Once the base has soaked for a little while, empty it out and wipe it clean (McGee says a clean, damp microfiber cloth is best). Rinse and wipe clean, then rinse again before allowing the base to air-dry.

Step 4: Rinse (or Replace) the Wick

Wait, this thing has a wick? Per McGee, it’s a “flat or cylindrical material that facilitates the evaporation of the water in the unit,” and it does need to be cleaned, because this part of the humidifier is prone to mineral buildup. To clean the wick, simply rinse it under cold running water to remove the mineral buildup and let it dry before returning it to the humidifier. If the buildup doesn’t wash away with water alone, it’s time to buy a new wick. Don’t apply cleaning products to it, McGee advises. 

How to Disinfect Your Humidifier

What you need:

  • Water
  • Chlorine bleach

Step 1: Disassemble and Clean

As stated before, you want to make sure there isn’t any transparent, slimy goo clinging to your humidifier.

Step 2: Create a Water and Bleach Solution

Our friends at Allergy and Air recommend mixing one gallon of water with one teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach.

Step 3: Place Tank in the Base

Then allow the bleach solution to drain into the water reservoir. Let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

Step 4: Empty the Bleach Solution

Rinse as needed, then wipe, dry and reassemble.

3 Humidifier Maintenance Tips

1. Always empty the tank and reservoir. Don’t leave water just sitting when the humidifier’s not in use.

2. Stay on top of filter replacement. Always refer to your manual, but the pros at Water Filters Fast say generally, you should replace your filter at least once every three months.

3. Dry your humidifier thoroughly. Remove and discard the filter and ensure all parts are clean and dry before you put the humidifier into storage.

In the Market for a New Humidifier? Here are Our Top Picks

If you’re interested in a humidifier upgrade, you’re in luck—we have done some product testing and both the Dyson Pure Humidify+Cool and the Homasy Cool Mist Humidifier get high marks. Looking for a humidifier to keep your baby comfortable? Check out our roundup of the best humidifiers for newborn babes.

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