A humidifier in a modern living room with plants and a photo of Lady Cassandra from Doctor Who

How to Clean a Humidifier: When Your Home’s Air Says “Moisturize Me!”

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When your heater runs nonstop to keep your home warm, it can leave your skin feeling tighter than a stretched hide. And just as dry skin needs moisture, so does your home’s air. For that, you need a humidifier, and you need to keep it clean.

My son learned this the hard way at college where he kept a cool mist humidifier next to his bed to stop static shocks and nosebleeds. After a few weeks, he thought he had the flu. When I brought him soup and immediately started sneezing non-stop, I realized he needed to learn how to clean a humidifier. 

Cleaning A Humidifier

Every humidifier is different, but this method is a good starting point to clean most stand-alone humidifiers and cool mist diffusers. 

  1. Unplug and disassemble: Turn off and unplug the humidifier, then disassemble the removable parts.
  2. Filter care: If the filter is reusable, rinse it under warm water. Discard and replace wick-style paper filters.
  3. Soak: Fill the tank with equal parts warm water and white vinegar and let it soak for 15 minutes. For larger units, put the other removable parts into the tank before filling and let it all soak together. Otherwise, soak them in a sink of vinegar water.

  1. Scrub and rinse: Use an old toothbrush to scrub any mineral buildup and to reach the crevices. Rinse with clean water.
  2. Wipe the unit: Use a damp, soapy cloth to wipe the outside of the unit housing, then disinfect the outside of it with a wipe.
  3. Dry and reassemble: Let all the parts air dry completely before putting it back together. This helps prevent mold growth after reassembly.
  4. Refill: Fill the tank with fresh distilled or filtered water to reduce mineral buildup.

Tips to Keep Humidifiers Clean

Keep it running

Your home needs consistent moisture, not bursts of it followed by periods of dryness which can lead to cracking. It’s better to turn down your humidifier’s output than turn it off, especially if you’ll forget to turn it back on until your skin starts cracking. (Thanks, ADHD.)

Change the water

One of my humidifiers boasts about holding 72 hours of water, but leaving the same water in the tank that long isn’t a good idea. Standing water like that is a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause respiratory issues and worsen allergies and asthma. That’s why my son had those “flu” symptoms.

Watch the reading 

If your humidifier doesn’t have a sensor, pick up a hygrometer to keep an eye on your humidity levels. The sweet spot is between 30 and 50 percent. Too much moisture leads to mold problems not just in your tank but on nearby walls. 


Dump and rinse the tank when you refill your humidifier, and clean the outside with a disinfecting wipe to discourage mold spores. Then once a week, treat your humidifier to the whole vinegar-water spa treatment. A clean humidifier will reward you with comfortable air, better health, and even supple skin.

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