How to Clean a Humidifier: Tips and Why It is Important

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Do you suffer from regular nosebleeds, sinus problems, or dry skin? If so, you’ve probably relied on a humidifier to add moisture to the air inside your home at some point.

Whether you realize it or not, the best environment for your skin is a relative humidity level of 30-50 percent; if your home has a lower humidity level, dry air can lead to health concerns.

What you also may not realize is that a humidifier that is not properly cleaned or maintained can just as easily lead to health concerns. If you’ve been trying to figure out how to clean a humidifier, this post will help.

What Is a Humidifier?

Chances are that you realize humidifiers are small appliances that add moisture to combat dry and stale air within your home. Perhaps you also know the humidifier does this by releasing steam or cold water vapor into the air.

Before we can focus on how to clean a humidifier, though, we need to talk a little bit about the variety of units that can increase the humidity in your home.

Steam Vaporizers

This type of humidifier creates steam by using electricity to heat water. Although the water cools before being emitted into the air, the heating process leads to hot water that can easily burn you in the unit.

If you are using a steam vaporizer, it is important to be careful with children, as well as any activity that can cause spillage.

Ultrasonic Humidifiers

An ultrasonic humidifier creates cool fog, or mist, through vibration. Using a high-frequency ultrasonic vibration, this kind of unit produces tiny drops of water.

This vibration, which is sometimes aided by a fan, causes water droplets to release into the air in the form of mist. The speed and effectiveness of these units in adding moisture to the air also makes them prone to producing mold.


The evaporator, also known as an evaporative humidifier, is a cool mist humidifier like the ultrasonic variety. These units are simple and often rely on a wet wick or fan to assist in the flow of moisture into the air.

Impeller Humidifiers

This is another kind of cool mist humidifier that works by using a rotating disk that sends water through a diffuser.

The impeller is noted for processing clean air, but it is also one of the noisier appliances. If the filters aren’t replaced regularly, they may end up with mold buildup.

Central Humidifiers

Some homes have pre-existing humidifiers built in, similar to central air. The purpose of this type of unit is to humidify an entire house. This variety of humidifier unit is more commonly found in regions known for extreme heat.

Why You Should Keep Your Humidifier Clean

With an understanding of the purpose of a humidifier as well as the different types, it is easy to see the importance of cleaning them. The task is simple; however, the problem is that it is often overlooked.

Minerals and other elements can build up inside your humidifier through regular usage. Plus, anything associated with building moisture also risks building mold and bacteria.

When your appliance releases mist or steam into the air, you don’t want it to do the same for mold and bacteria. Thus, learning how to clean a humidifier is critical to your health.

Can You Get Sick From a Humidifier?

As we’ve already noted, the answer is a whopping ‘yes.’ Although proper use of a humidifier can alleviate health conditions related to dry air by adding moisture to indoor environments, if not regularly maintained, using your humidifier can also cause you to get sick.

If it’s meant for one thing, how can it have the opposite effect? The moisture created by your humidifier can cause mold and bacteria build up inside the unit.

If you are not cleaning your appliance thoroughly and regularly, it will release the bacteria cells back into your home.

What You Will Need to Clean Your Humidifier

Most of the supplies you will need to clean and sanitize your humidifier are probably already under your kitchen sink.

Figuring out how to clean your humidifier will be a cinch with these materials:

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Running water
  • Bleach
  • Plastic gloves (optional)
  • 32-oz. measuring cup
  • Small bristled brush

How to Clean a Humidifier

The first thing you must know when learning how to clean a humidifier is that regularity is key. You should perform deep cleaning at least once per week.

In most cases, there are three components inside your unit that should be cleaned. These are the water reservoir, the base, and the filter.

We’ve broken down these steps below.

The Water Reservoir

  1. Start by unplugging your appliance.
  2. Separate the components of the unit and set aside the base.
  3. With the water reservoir in hand, empty any stagnant water into the sink, ensuring all water is completely gone.
  4. Next, fill the reservoir with a 1:1 combination of water and vinegar and shake it vigorously (make sure you cover any openings, so water doesn’t leak).
  5. Allow it to sit for approximately 30 minutes.

The Base

  1. Pour a 1:1 combination of water and vinegar into the base. There should be enough to fill the entire bowl.
  2. Using your brush, gently scrub the bowl of the base. Smaller brushes are recommended because they tend to be more effective in cleaning the hard-to-reach areas.
  3. Allow the solution to sit in the base for approximately 30 minutes

If you require deeper cleaning, you can substitute bleach or 3% hydrogen peroxide for the vinegar.

The Filter

  1. Gently remove the dirty filter from your unit.
  2. Determine if the filter is reusable or if it needs to be replaced. 
  3. If reusable, rinse the filter under cool running water to remove any debris.
  4. If there is mold, you should soak the filter in a 1:1 vinegar-to-water solution for 30 minutes. This solution will serve as a disinfectant and cleanser.
  5. Allow the filter to dry completely, which should take approximately 1-2 hours, before putting it back into your humidifier.
  6. If the filter needs to be replaced or is disposable, simply discard it and replace it with a new filter.

Once all parts have dried, they can be reassembled and prepared for proper storage.

Other Tips for Maintaining Your Humidifier

Of course, simple cleaning isn’t the only way to maintain your humidifier. Figuring out how to clean a humidifier is the most important step for maintenance, but here are some other pointers to extend your humidifier’s life and get the most out of it.

Use Distilled or Demineralized Water

This water has a lower mineral content than water from your faucet. Mineral deposits can build up inside your humidifier and pass through it into your home. 

These deposits promote may promote bacterial growth as your humidifier disperses particles into the air. Using distilled water can reduce the chances of this happening.

Change Humidifier Water

It’s so easy to shut off and walk away from your humidifier after each use and then return later to finish any water left unused. This is a big no-no. Films and deposits can build up inside stagnant water.

Again, you do not want the purpose of your humidifier to backfire by releasing harmful particles into the air instead of the steam or cool mist you desire.

Change Humidifier Filters

Similar to your air filters, your humidifier filter should be changed regularly. The telltale sign of when it’s time to change your filter is dirt/debris; all it takes is a quick check. The manufacturer of your unit will usually provide a schedule for filter changing, too.

Clean Humidifier After Use

The simplest way to maintain your humidifier’s longevity is proper maintenance and care, done on a regular basis. Once you’ve learned how to clean a humidifier, make sure to do it on a regular basis.

It won’t take long to wipe down your unit and disinfect it with a vinegar solution after each full use. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you refill your humidifier no more than three consecutive times before cleaning it.

Store Your Humidifier With Care

Sometimes it’s just easy to stuff it in the box and pile everything in as long as the box can be sealed. However, before storing your humidifier, ensure your unit is clean and thoroughly dry first. This is also a good time to discard any used filters.

Replace Humidifiers Regularly

Even with regular maintenance and a good cleaning regimen, your humidifier can build up deposits that may lead to the growth of bacteria. Especially for those who use their humidifier often, it is important to consider replacing an old unit.



Hopefully, after reading this, you’ve learned a bit about how to clean a humidifier. Knowing is the most important part.

However, just having knowledge of how to clean a humidifier is not enough to keep mold and bacteria out of your home.

You will need to take action, so mark your calendar, or just make it a standard part of using your humidifier. Your nostrils and dry skin will thank you for it.

Featured Image via Pixabay