How to Maintain a Clean Humidifier

By: Alia Hoyt  | 
A collection of nine humidifiers sit on a table.
An array of humidifiers are shown. Humidifiers help improve air quality, but they have to be maintained as well.

Maintaining a clean humidifier is essential for both the longevity of the device and the health of its users. Often overlooked, the process to clean a humidifier is straightforward but vital to prevent the spread of bacteria and mold in the air.

Regular cleaning ensures that the humidifier works efficiently, emitting clean, moist air that benefits those in the room. This article provides step-by-step guidance and practical tips to help you keep your humidifier in top condition, ensuring your air remains fresh and healthy.


1. Understanding When to Clean Your Humidifier

To ensure optimal performance and hygiene, it's recommended to perform a basic clean of your humidifier every three days and a thorough cleaning once a week.

A dirty humidifier can become a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, affecting the air quality in your home. Pay attention to signs of mineral buildup or any unpleasant odors, as these are clear indicators that your humidifier requires cleaning.


2. Preparation Steps Before Cleaning

Before cleaning your humidifier, always unplug it and disassemble the parts. Remove the water tank and any removable components like the wick filter or tank cap. This process ensures a thorough cleaning, allowing you to reach every part of the humidifier. Remember, safety first!


3. Cleaning with Distilled White Vinegar

Distilled white vinegar is an effective and natural cleaning agent for your humidifier. Fill the tank with a mixture of one part vinegar to two parts water and let it sit for 30 minutes [source: Picard].

This solution helps dissolve mineral deposits and kill bacteria. After soaking, scrub the inside of the tank with a brush and rinse thoroughly with fresh water.


4. Tackling Mineral Buildup with Liquid Chlorine Bleach

For heavy mineral buildup, use a bleach solution — mix one teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach with a gallon of water. Fill the humidifier tank with this solution and let it stand for an hour.

This potent mixture will break down the stubborn deposits. Afterward, rinse the tank multiple times with cold water to ensure no bleach residue remains.


5. Ensuring Proper Air Dry Techniques

After cleaning your humidifier, it's crucial to let all parts dry completely before reassembling. Drying prevents moisture from remaining in the unit, which could lead to mold growth. Lay out all components on a clean, dry towel in a well-ventilated area.


6. The Importance of Using Only Distilled Water

To minimize mineral buildup and maintain a clean humidifier, always use distilled or demineralized water. Tap water contains minerals that can create deposits inside your humidifier and disperse potentially harmful minerals into the air as water vapor [source: Heid].


7. Regular Replacement of the Wick Filter

The wick filter in your humidifier plays a crucial role in its operation. Over time, it can become clogged with minerals and impede performance. Replace it as per the manufacturer's instructions or when you notice discoloration or a persistent musty odor.


8. Deep Cleaning the Humidifier Tank

For a deep clean, focus on the humidifier tank. Use a mixture of warm water and mild detergent to scrub the inside of the tank. For stubborn grime, a soft brush can be used. Rinse thoroughly with fresh water and allow the tank to air dry.


9. Addressing the Heating Element in Warm Mist Humidifiers

Feel free to skip this step if yours is a cool mist humidifier. If you have a warm mist humidifier, the heating element requires periodic cleaning to prevent mineral deposits. Soak a cloth in white vinegar and wrap it around the heating element. Let it sit for a few minutes, then gently scrub to remove any buildup.


10. Regular Checks and Maintenance

Regular checks of your humidifier can prevent the need for intensive cleaning. Regularly inspect for any signs of wear or damage, especially on the tank cap and other seals. Wipe dry the external parts with a clean cloth to prevent dust accumulation [source: Dunn].

Cleaning Humidifier FAQ

How often should you clean a humidifier?
It might come as a surprise to many but to ensure a long life of your humidifier and to stay healthy yourself, it is best to clean your humidifier at least every three days or once a week. Rinse the top tank first and then dry the base thoroughly to eliminate the possibility of mold.
Can you get sick from a humidifier?
Although humidifiers can help create a more humid environment that's easier on the throat and nose, humidifiers can get you sick as well if you fail to clean it properly, leading to asthma flare-ups, coughs, respiratory infections and lung problems.
Is a humidifier good for flu?
Dry air can lead to irritation of the throat and nose; effectively worsening your condition and making you feel congested. A humidifier can help ease coughs by keeping the throat humid and relatively warm.
Can a humidifier hurt my lungs?
A humidifier that's not clean can cause health issues for you.
Can humidifiers spread mold?
If the humidifier isn't drained regularly, not only can it give room for mold and fungi to grow, the humidifier will actually promote growth by spreading mold and fungi spores with the mist. You should clean the humidifier once a week or immediately after you smell a bad odor.