How to Maintain and Clean Your Humidifier

March 23, 2016 • By

How to Maintain and Clean Your Humidifier

Whether you’ve been using a humidifier for a few days or for years, knowing how to maintain and clean it is just as important as the health benefits that come along with it. Because a humidifier is water-based, it is prone to start growing mildew and mold if it is not cleaned or maintained. That means you’ll probably start breathing in disgusting air filled with mildew and mold which could end up being detrimental to your health and have you end up in the hospital with “humidifier lung”. This completely defeats the entire purpose of even having a humidifier in the first place.

By maintaining and cleaning your humidifier, you’ll not only get rid of all gunk but you’ll also reap the following benefits which include:

  • Relieving colds, coughs, and the flu
  • Preventing allergy, sinusitis, nose bleeding, and hay fever symptoms
  • Relieving and preventing dry, scratchy skin, and lips
  • Reducing static electricity
  • Preserving your voice
  • Improving the air quality at your home
  • Reducing asthma attacks
  • Helping babies sleep peacefully
  • Reducing snoring
  • Preventing breakout
  • Moisturizing your skin
  • Preserving indoor plants


Cleaning Manual

Every humidifier should come with an instruction manual that includes instructions on cleaning the appliance. It is advisable to always refer to the cleaning instructions for any appliance before attempting to do it yourself. If your humidifier is still under warranty, then it is very important to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Daily Cleaning

Choose a specific time during the day – after work, before you go to bed or in the morning after breakfast – and clean your humidifier. A daily cleaning will keep all the mineral deposits (or gunk) from building up in the appliance and will also prevent the minerals from being spread in the air. A daily cleaning is fairly simple to do – just empty and refill the humidifier with clean distilled water every single day.

Weekly Cleaning

You need to do a proper cleaning and disinfect your humidifier at least once a week. To do so you need to follow two different processes. The first is cleaning your dehumidifier. Here is a step by step breakdown on how to do so:

  • Unplug your humidifier.
  • Remove the filter and rinse with cool water underneath the faucet. Do not use any kind of cleaning product on your humidifier’s filters as chemicals can cause permanent damage.
  • Allow to drip dry on a clean towel.
  • Remove the water tank.
  • Pour equal parts vinegar and warm water into an empty spray bottle.
  • Let the solution set for about 5-10 minutes.
  • Then using an old toothbrush, cloth or sponge to scrub off any leftover mineral content. Remove any residue or build-up by gently scrubbing with the soft bristle brush or toothbrush.
  • Repeat the scrubbing process a second time on areas that need it.
  • Pour straight vinegar into the base of the humidifier and let it set for 45 minutes to an hour. Using the same cleaning tool as before, scrub the base to remove any foreign materials.
  • Rinse thoroughly, and wait to dry.

Now that the cleaning part is done, you can move onto step two which is disinfecting your humidifier. Here is how you do so:

  • Fill the water tank with clean water and add one teaspoon of bleach to every gallon of water. Alternatively, you can use 3% hydrogen peroxide instead.
  • Gently swish the solution to cover the tank evenly and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes.
  • Rinse thoroughly.

Once you’ve both cleaned and disinfected your humidifier, you can put it back together, fill the tank with cool water and resume regular use.

What Happens if You Don’t Clean Your Humidifier?

If you do not clean your humidifier regularly or don’t clean it properly, you can cause this incredible appliance to become a breeding ground for mold, bacteria and germs.  Dirty humidifiers can be particularly problematic for people with asthma and allergies as well as cause lung-infections and flu-like symptoms in healthy people that do not suffer from respiratory problems.

If you’ve bought your humidifier to improve your health then don’t slack off on keeping it clean. A bacteria-filled humidifier will leave you no better off, but extremely sick. It is truly worth the time you have available to just clean your humidifier.

All humidifiers, regardless of their type, carry a risk of bacteria and mold growth. This may be the result of two things:

  • Failing to clean the humidifier components and not change the water regularly.
  • Filling the humidifier with mineral-rich tap water. When bacteria and mold grow inside a humidifier, traces of them can be released into the air you breathe. Additionally, the high mineral content of tap water can cause a dirty film (the gunk) to build up inside the water reservoir.

What Happens If You Don’t Maintain Your Humidifier?

Here are a few of the serious health issues that can occur when you don’t maintain your humidifier:

  • If you have allergies or an existing asthma condition, regularly inhalation of the high mineral content of tap water can aggravate your symptoms or cause a full-on attack.
  • A more serious side effect is an illness called humidifier lung – also known as humidifier fever or, by its medical name, hypersensitivity pneumonitis. This lung condition develops when you inhale vapors contaminated with certain strains of bacteria. Temporary symptoms of humidifier lung include cough, fever, chills, shortness of breath, body aches, lung inflammation and general malaise. These symptoms will typically subside when the cause is corrected. However, if you continue to breathe contaminated air day after day, you may develop chronic symptoms such as weight loss, loss of appetite, respiratory infections, lung scarring and lung disease.

Tips for Avoiding Bacteria and Mold Growth

To help prevent this horrific illness, study up on how to properly maintain your humidifier and follow these easy maintenance tips:

  • As mentioned above, it is very important to change your humidifier water daily. Stagnant water is a desirable breeding ground for mold spores and bacteria. Simply empty and wipe down your humidifier’s water tank every day and constantly refill it with clean fresh water.
  • Use distilled or demineralized water to fill your humidifier as this type of water has less mineral content than normal tap water. When used, these water types make your humidifier less likely to expel white mineral dust into your indoor air  and make it less likely for that dust to invade your lungs.
  • Clean your humidifier thoroughly every few days or at least once a week. Use a soft-bristled brush (or a toothbrush) and vinegar (or bleach) when cleaning the inside of your humidifier’s water tank. Wipe down the exterior with a clean, damp cloth. Wait for all components to dry completely before filling with fresh water and turning on.

Bleach or Vinegar as a Cleaning Agent

Some cleaning manuals from the manufacturer will advise that you use bleach instead of vinegar which is perfectly OK. Both vinegar and bleach do the same job but vinegar is  healthier. If you have allergies, not using bleach but rather a natural cleaner like vinegar can be better for your health. This applies to asthma suffered too as well as those who have multiple chemical sensitivities. Harsh chemical cleaners can often leave odors and residues that may irritate symptoms.

Using natural white vinegar is an excellent alternative option for bleach and doubles as a disinfectant and deodorizer to eliminate mineral buildup and disinfect surfaces.


  • If your filter is not made of plastic or cannot withstand chemicals, skip the vinegar and bleach soakings during the cleaning process. Simply rinse and soak the filter in clean water to clean it.
  • Check your owner’s manual for cleaning guidelines. If it differs from the instructions here, follow those provided by the manufacturer.
  • To avoid lime build up in the future and keep away bacteria, fill the humidifier with distilled or demineralized water. Regular tap water contains minerals that leave a build-up which can feed bacteria growth.
  • Many filters are designed to be tossed and replaced. If yours is old and rugged, do yourself a favor and replace it.
  • To sanitize the inside of your humidifier, wipe it down with hydrogen peroxide (3%). Allow it to air dry completely before use. Even though this is a chemical, it is very mild – perfect for cleaning your humidifier.

Avoiding a Future Mold Problem

Now that your humidifier is clean, try to use distilled water if possible instead of tap water. Distilled water has a lower mineral content. Because you bought the humidifier to remain as healthy as possible, you should know how to quickly check the humidity level in your home. If you see condensation on your windows, the humidity level in your house is most likely too high and a great place for mold and bacteria to grow.

Cleaning your humidifier is not only about cleaning it but also about your health. If you don’t want to have serious health problems in the future then get into the habit of doing a daily cleaning of your humidifier and a weekly cleaning and disinfection while still maintaining your appliance.