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How to clean a humidifier

Taking your humidifier apart and cleaning it weekly can help prevent the growth of molds and bacteria that could be harmful to your health.
Close-Up Of Woman Using Humidifier At Home
Humidifiers can help prevent dry skin by adding moisture to the air, but it's important to keep them clean.Dmitry Marchenko / Getty Images

Using a humidifier, especially during dry winter months, adds moisture to the air in your house. Having a humidifier in your bedroom can help keep your skin, nose, lips, throat and sinuses from getting too dried out at night and contribute to better sleep. Some humidifiers are even designed to help stave off airborne bacteria. However, the opposite can happen if your humidifier isn’t kept clean. A moldy humidifier can wreak havoc on your health and interfere with your ability to get your z's.

How often should you clean your humidifier?

It's important to keep your humidifier clean. Home care experts typically recommend cleaning your humidifier at least once a week. While this may seem like overkill, you really don’t want to have any mold in your humidifier that could spew out into the air you breathe. If someone in your household has respiratory problems, including asthma or bad allergies, the humidifier should be cleaned even more frequently.

What you'll need

Fortunately, it's pretty easy to clean humidifiers. You don't need any abrasive detergents or harsh chemical cleaning supplies to wash a household humidifier. In fact, you can do it with basic household materials. You'll need:

  • Distilled white vinegar
  • A small cleaning utensil like a toothbrush or Q-tip
  • Liquid chlorine bleach (in case you need to do a deep clean)

How to clean a humidifier

Every model differs slightly, so be sure to consult the owner's manual to understand the particulars of your humidifier, whether you're trying to clean a cool-mist humidifier or a warm-mist one. If you've misplaced the owner's manual, you may be able to find it online by searching the make and model of your humidifier, or by contacting the company directly. For the most part, all humidifiers can be sufficiently cleaned using this same process.

  1. Unplug the humidifier, disassemble it and empty the tank completely. Stagnant water is what allows mold and bacteria to grow, so you want to make sure you're getting that old water out. If any parts of the machine feel a little mucky or grimy, that means your humidifier is overdue for a cleaning.
  2. With the humidifier unplugged, fill the tank with water as you normally would, but then add 1-2 tablespoons of distilled white vinegar to the tank. Swish it around and then let the mixture sit in the tank for 30 minutes. When cleaning a humidifier with vinegar, the vinegar acts as a disinfecting agent. Do the same with the humidifier's base, washing it out with the vinegar-water solution and then letting it sit for a half hour.
  3. Empty the base and the tank. Use your brush to clean any leftover greasy spots, as well as the smaller parts of the humidifier like the tank lid — a notorious spot for mold.
  4. Rinse all the parts thoroughly with water. Then, let them air dry before reassembling.

What about cleaning the humidifier wick?

It's best to avoid trying to clean the wick filter in a humidifier. Even if you're being delicate, the wick is easy to damage. If the wick is dirty, it's best to replace it.

How to give a humidifier a deeper, sterilizing cleaning

If your humidifier hasn't been cleaned in several months, or has visible mold inside, you'll want to give it a deeper clean using liquid chlorine bleach. When deep cleaning humidifiers in your home, you can follow the same steps as outlined above, but be sure to get the proportions of the chlorine-water mixture right: Mix 1 gallon of water with 1 teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach, and then pour about a half of that mixture into your humidifier to clean it. Let it sit for at least 20 minutes, then rinse until the smell of the bleach is completely gone. Wipe dry.

How to maintain a humidifier

Now that you're in the practice of good humidifier hygiene, here are some general maintenance tips to keep your humidifier in running order.

  • If your humidifier is not in use, don't let water sit inside the tank or base. Remember: stagnant water breeds mold. If you're not actively using your humidifier, empty it completely and make sure it completely dries before you put it away.
  • Replace the filter every 1-2 months. The filter is another place where bacteria can accumulate. If your filter is giving off an odor, or feels crusty to the touch, replace the filter before continuing to use your humidifier. A good way to extend the life of your humidifier filter is to turn it over each time you fill the tank for use. This will wear the filter more evenly and prolong its cleanliness.
  • If you are putting your humidifier in storage — in addition to drying it out completely — remove the filter from the machine since it can hold on to moisture. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions when disassembling or reassembling your humidifier.