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    How to Clean Your Humidifier

    Keep mold from growing in the tank and blowing into the air in your home

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    humidifier illustration with water vapors in air above it Illustration: iStock

    A humidifier can make your home more comfortable when the air inside grows dry. But if you don’t properly clean your humidifier, you could be doing your family more harm than good. A humidifier that’s not thoroughly cleaned can breed unhealthy mold spores, which, when spread by the humidifier’s mist, can be harmful to people with mold allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. 

    There’s so much good a humidifier can do, though, that it’s worth taking the time to maintain it. For one, the moisture it pumps into the air can prevent dry, itchy skin. It also can reduce the likelihood that people in your household will suffer from dry sinuses, nosebleeds, and cracked lips, according to the Mayo Clinic. And a humidifier can mitigate the symptoms of colds and respiratory ailments.

    MORE ON HUMIDIFIERS

    Several models in our humidifier ratings come with claims that they resist microbial growth. CR hasn’t tested those claims. Instead, we recommend that as a matter of course you clean your tank regularly to reduce the risk of mold and other problems. We’ll lay out the steps below.

    If you haven’t already purchased a humidifier, find one in our ratings that’s not only effective but also easy to clean. That’s reflected in our convenience score.

    What to Do Daily and Weekly

    To prevent the growth of mold and other contaminants, we recommend rinsing, towel-drying, and refilling your humidifier’s tank with fresh water daily. Once a week the tank and the base’s well need a deeper cleaning and sanitizing. Replace filters and wicks according to the maker’s recommended schedule. 

    Some manufacturers suggest using bleach to sanitize. That approach can be effective, but James Dickerson, PhD, CR’s chief scientific officer, points out that it has risks. “Bleach can degrade some plastics and seals that keep the unit watertight and structurally sound,” he says.

    Here’s the routine that Consumer Reports recommends to keep your humidifier clean:

    What You Need
    • Water.
    • Towel.
    • Distilled white vinegar.
    • Empty bottle or measuring cup.
    • Toothbrush, cotton swabs, or another gentle cleaning tool.

    Remove the Tank From the Base

    To the well of the base, add either 1 cup of vinegar or ½ cup each of vinegar and water.

    Remove humidifier tank from base.

    Illustration: Guilherme Henrique Illustration: Guilherme Henrique

    Use the Cleaning Tool

    Reach into crevices and scrub off scale in the well. Rinse until no vinegar smell remains. Towel dry.

    Cleaning tool reaching into crevices and scrub off scale in
the well of humidifier.

    Illustration: Guilherme Henrique Illustration: Guilherme Henrique

    Pour 1 Cup Each of Vinegar and Water Into the Tank

    Cap the tank and let it soak for 20 minutes, swishing or shaking periodically. Pour out solution and rinse until no smell remains. Towel dry.

    Pouring cup each of vinegar and water into the humidifier tank.

    Illustration: Guilherme Henrique Illustration: Guilherme Henrique

    What to Do Seasonally

    When you’re ready to store your humidifier, first dry it thoroughly. And after taking it out of storage, fill the tank only when you’re ready to use it.

    Need a New Humidifier?

    Do you find your current humidifier a challenge to keep clean? Here are models that rate well in our tests for convenience. Each model’s convenience score reflects ease of cleaning as well as the unit’s weight, how easy the tank is to empty and fill from a bathroom or kitchen sink, and whether its parts can be put into a dishwasher. (You can filter the ratings to find models with higher convenience scores.)

    For a Small Room

    (26 to 299 sq. ft.)

    For a Medium-Sized Room

    (300 to 499 sq. ft.)


    For a Large Room

    (500 to 999 sq. ft.)

    Console

    (1,000 sq. ft. or more)


    Tobie Stanger

    My forever focus is helping consumers get the most for their money and avoid scams—whether they're paying for home products and services, groceries, financial advice, insurance, electronics, cars, or hearing aids. I am never bored. Find me on Twitter:  @TobieStanger