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How to Clean a Humidifier — And How Often You Should Do It

Along with all our favorite holiday decorations, many of us are also pulling our humidifiers out of storage right about now. The handy devices can help us breathe easy and keep our skin from drying out as the air outside becomes chillier — but it’s important to brush up on how to clean a humidifier (and how often) in order to safely enjoy those lovely benefits.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) explains that neglecting to regularly clean your humidifier can result in nasty bacteria and fungi growing in the damp crevices of the tanks. “Breathing dirty mist may cause lung problems ranging in flu-like symptoms to serious infection,” the organization warns. That’s something we want to steer clear of every year — especially for families with a member who suffers from allergies, asthma, or other respiratory issues — but is even more essential for us all with the ongoing pandemic.

Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about cleaning your humidifier.

How Often Should You Clean a Humidifier?

In general, the CPSC recommends draining the tank, wiping it down, and switching out the water on a daily basis if possible. Unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer, more thorough cleaning can be done once a week for devices with a capacity of five gallons or less. Larger capacities can go a couple weeks in between cleaning.

Of course, the cleaning schedule can also vary depending on how often you use your humidifier and the particular brand you have. We know how easy it is to lose the instructions that come with your device, but try to hang onto that. It will have the best answers for its specific cleaning needs.

Cat standing next to a humidifier
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How to Clean a Humidifier With Hydrogen Peroxide

There’s a good chance you’re reading this article because you’ve lost hope of seeing the little instruction booklet that came with your humidifier ever again. In that case, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends using a three percent peroxide solution “in absence of specific instructions.” This is usually the same peroxide we have in our first aid kits and can be found at most drug stores (Buy on Amazon, $5.50).

Before cleaning, make sure the humidifier is turned off and unplugged. Then simply wipe down all of the surfaces of the tank and other areas that touch water with the hydrogen peroxide. You may need to use a scrubber or sponge for more stubborn scaling or visible debris. After that, rinse everything out several times with tap water.

They don’t go into details about exactly how many rinses that might be, but you should basically do it enough that you feel confident you’ve gotten rid of any lingering peroxide. Then just wait for it to be dry before reassembling and using again.

How to Clean a Humidifier With Vinegar

The experts at Merry Maids recommend this popular cleaning method. Again, make sure the humidifier is powered off and unplugged before you start.

Add two tablespoons of white vinegar with half a gallon of warm water to the tank and “shake vigorously.” Then, let the vinegar water mixture sit in the tank for about 30 minutes. Do the same with another two tablespoons of vinegar and half gallon of water in the humidifier’s water basin, letting it also sit for 30 minutes.

When the time is up, give the tank another good shake to dislodge any potential stubborn gunk, then pour out the vinegar water from it and the basin. Rinse them out with regular water and dry with a microfiber cloth (inside and out). Then you can reassemble and use per usual.

How to Clean a Humidifier With Bleach

There are two important things to keep in mind before reaching for bleach to clean your humidifier. First, the strong chemical isn’t suitable for some devices and might damage your product. If you aren’t able to find specifications about whether or not it’s OK for your humidifier, you should probably stick to one of the above methods.

However, if bleach is fine, be careful not to use it alongside or after cleaning with vinegar. Merry Maids cautions that the two liquids can have a dangerous chemical reaction, so it’s best to use just one or the other. That includes using bleach in one area and vinegar in another as there is still the potential for cross contamination.

Otherwise, you can use bleach instead of vinegar in much the same way. It’s more potent than vinegar, though, so stick to a smaller ratio of just one teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water.

In between cleanings, the CPSC also recommends using distilled or demineralized water rather than tap for your humidifier. This will keep the extra minerals found in tap water from causing buildup.

Now you can breathe even easier this fall and winter knowing exactly how to keep your humidifier squeaky clean!

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