How Often Should You Clean Your Humidifier? Because It's Actually Pretty Important

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It's officially humidifier season. You're probably digging yours out from storage now and getting it ready to set up so you won't have to wake up with a face full of unpleasant dryness every morning. If your humidifier has been stored away for some time then it's probably a good idea to get it nice and clean — maybe even get a new filter if you need one — before you start using it again. But what about maintenance during the winter? How often should you clean your humidifier? You're probably going to be pretty surprised when you find out the answer.

Using an effective humidifier can be an important part of getting through the winter, especially if your home contains an older heating system. My apartment building was built in the late 19th century, so our radiators are constantly pumping out dry heat. I have a humidifier in my son's room, which seems to help with his annual dry cough.

But why does this happen every year? Dry indoor air is a "byproduct of moisture escaping or equalizing with the humidity levels of other areas of your home or from outside," according to an article on the HVAC website. These circumstances make humidifiers an essential winter accessory for some. Bringing in moist air from a humidifier can help keep the air in your home healthy to breathe, the article explained, as too-dry air in the home can lead to "bloody noses, increased static electricity, dry skin and lips, scratchy throats and noses, lung and sinus problems, respiratory issues, and increased chance of colds" — and that's not even all! Low humidity also affects your body temperature, which can give you a cold feeling all over even when the thermostat is set on high, allowing viruses and bacteria to thrive. All of those are clearly things we'd like to avoid. In an article citing iAllergy.com and the Mayo Clinic, Fox News confirmed these risks: "Dry air can be blamed for spreading colds, cracked skin, itchy eyes, hacking coughs, and irritated sinuses." But how can we make sure the air from our humidifiers is safe to breathe?

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In the same article, Fox News explained what can happen when you don't change the water in your humidifier and don't clean it properly — or enough: "Water left unchanged can breed mold and bacteria, which is emitted into the air when using the device." Now if that information doesn't make you say "yuck," I don't know what will. In fact, the article continued, to really keep your appliance yuck-free, you should be cleaning your humidifier every three days. I bet that's way more than you were expecting. Every three days? I don't even do my laundry that often.

But I'm sure we'd all like to stay healthy this season, so you might as well add "clean the humidifier" to your already busy schedule. It's not hard. The Cleaner Home recommends changing the the water daily in addition to your every-three-day cleans: Dump out the water, dry the inside surfaces and refill with clean water. Distilled water is preferred over tap water, which contains minerals that can cause deposits in your humidifier (which in turn promote bacterial growth). For a deeper cleaning, unplug your humidifier and disassemble the pieces (follow instructions in your owner's manual). Pour vinegar into the base of the humidifier, as per The Cleaner Home, and allow it to sit for an hour, using a bottle brush to clean away any deposits. Also mix a cup of vinegar and a gallon of water in the tank and let it sit for a while, rinsing several times to get the vinegar smell out when you're done. Make sure all the pieces are totally dry before re-assembling.

When it comes to changing the filters, make sure to check the care instructions that come with your humidifier to see how often you should be switching it out. Can't find the directions? Try Googling the make and brand of your humidifier for more information on your specific filter.

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While most humidifiers will do the trick, here's a great resource to help you find the best one. It's definitely time to plug-in those moist air machines, but make sure you check your filter, clean it out before you use it and opt for distilled water when filling your humidifiers this season. And of course, clean your humidifier every three days and empty the out water regularly to avoid bacteria from growing. The more clean your machine is, the better it will work and the healthier you'll be.

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