Humidifiers help ease problems brought about by dry air. A humidifier helps soothe some of the most common problems that dry indoor air can cause such as cracked lips, bloody noses, and dry sinuses. A humidifier also helps ease symptoms of cold or other respiratory conditions.
But, can a humidifier make you sick? Despite being useful, a humidifier can make you sick and become a health hazard in your home if it is not maintained properly or the levels of humidity remain too high.
When using a humidifier, see to it that you maintain the cleanliness of your humidifier and monitor the levels of humidity. A dirty humidifier can breed bacteria or mold. If you are suffering from asthma or allergies, always consult your doctor before you use a humidifier.
What is a Humidifier?
A humidifier is a device that emits steam or water vapor to increase the levels of moisture in the air or what you call humidity. Humidifiers come in different types, which include the following:
- A central humidifier is built into a home’s heating and air conditioning system and is meant to humidify an entire house.
- An impeller humidifier produces a cool mist with rotating disk.
- An ultrasonic humidifier produces a cool mist using an ultrasonic vibration.
- A steam vaporizer uses electricity to produce steam that will cool before it leaves the machine. This is the type of humidifier that you should avoid if there are children in the house. This is because the hot water in this kind of humidifier can cause burns when accidentally spilled.
- An evaporator uses a fan for blowing air through a wet filter, belt, or wick.
What are the Ideal Levels of Humidity?
Humidity refers to the amount of water vapor that air contains. The humidity amount can vary based on the area you live in, the weather, and the season. In general, the levels of humidity are higher during summer then lower when winter months kick in. The ideal humidity level in a home must be around 30 to 50 percent. Too high or too low humidity can lead to different concerns:
- Low humidity levels can lead to irritation in the throat and nasal passages, cause dry skin and itchy eyes.
- High humidity levels can make the house feel stuffy, causing condensation on floors, walls, and other surfaces that can trigger growth of mold, dust mites, and harmful bacteria. These allergens can trigger asthma and allergy flare-ups and cause respiratory issues.
How Do You Measure Humidity Levels?
The most ideal way for testing levels of humidity in your home is using a hygrometer. It is a type of device that resembles a thermometer that can measure the air’s moisture content. You can purchase a hygrometer at department stores and hardware stores. When purchasing a humidifier, you might want to buy one that comes with a built-in hygrometer or humidistat that will help you check if the humidity remains in a healthy range.
Allergies, Asthma, and Humidifiers
If you or someone in your home suffers from allergies or asthma, always consult your healthcare provider or physician before you use a humidifier. High humidity may help ease breathing in people with allergies or asthma, particularly during respiratory infection like a cold. However, increased allergen growth or dirty mist that results from high humidity can worsen or trigger allergy and asthma symptoms.
Keep Your Humidifier Clean – A Dirty Unit Leads to Health Problems
Dirty filters and reservoirs in a humidifier can quickly breed mold and bacteria. A dirty humidifier can become a problem for people who have allergies and asthma. However, even in a healthy person, a humidifier can potentially trigger some flu-like symptoms or lung infections once the contaminated steam or mist is released to the air. It is less likely for evaporators or steam vaporizers to release airborne allergens as compared to cool mist humidifiers.
Tips to Keep Your Humidifier Clean
For your humidifier to remain free of dangerous bacteria, fungi, and mold, the following are some guidelines recommended by humidifier manufacturers.
- Change the humidifier water on a regular basis. Never allow deposits or film to form inside your humidifier. Dry the surfaces inside the unit, empty the tanks, then refill using clean water on a daily basis if possible, particularly when using ultrasonic or cool mist humidifiers. But before you do these, don’t forget to unplug the humidifier first.
- Use de-mineralized or distilled water. There are minerals in tap water that can form deposits inside the unit that can lead to bacterial growth. Once released to the air, the minerals usually appear on furniture as white dust. You may even breathe in some of these minerals that get dispersed to the air. De-mineralized or distilled water has a relatively lower mineral content than tap water. Use demineralization filters or cartridges if the manufacturer recommends it.
- Clean your humidifier every three days. Again, unplug your unit before cleaning it. Get rid of any film or mineral deposits from its tank or other areas of the unit with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution that you can find in pharmacies. There are manufacturers who recommend the use of chlorine bleach or similar disinfectants.
- Rinse the unit’s tank after you clean it to keep dangerous chemicals from being released to the air and inhaled.
- Ensure that the area around the unit stays dry. Once the area becomes wet or damp, such as the carpeting, windows, tablecloths, or drapes, turn down the humidifier or reduce the frequency of using the unit.
- Change the filters of the humidifier on a regular basis. If your humidifier comes with a filter, you can change this at least as often as recommended by the manufacturer, and much more often if the filter is dirty. You also need change the filter in the central heating and air conditioning system on a regular basis.
Air Conditioners and Dehumidifiers
Just as how dry air can become a serious problem, excessively moist air can be, too. When humidity is too high, which is common during warmer months, it would be a great idea to take the necessary steps to lessen indoor moisture. You can reduce humidity in two ways:
- Use a dehumidifier. This device collects excess air moisture to lower humidity levels. A dehumidifier works similar to an air conditioner but with no cooling effect. This appliance is usually used for drying out damp basements.
- Use an air conditioner. A window-mounted or central air conditioning unit dries the air to keep the indoor humidity at a healthy and comfortable level.