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It’s Time to Clean Your Humidifier

Humidifier on a nightstand next to a sleeping man.

February 2023


Winter in Rochester means cold weather, which means your heat runs more often, which means the air in your apartment or townhome is drier. To help, lots of our residents make use of portable humidifiers. If that includes you and you’ve been using yours the last month or two, it’s time to clean and sanitize it.

A dirty humidifier can be a breeding ground for bacteria and mold. And if they start growing in your humidifier, they get sent out into the air you breathe. In addition, minerals (“scale”) can build up on the parts of your humidifier. If enough scale builds up on the nebulizer (the part that turns water into steam), your machine won’t perform well. If you reach into the water reservoir on the base of your machine and the surface feels a little greasy or slick, it’s desperately in need of a cleaning.

Start by unplugging your humidifier and emptying all the remaining water. Fill the water reservoir of the base with 1 cup of water and 1 cup of white vinegar. Let it sit for at least one hour. Vinegar is a natural cleanser, and it will both loosen up any scale and disinfect the base.

While you’re waiting on the base, clean the water container. Again, remove any water, then fill it with 2 cups of white vinegar and put the cap back on. Now vigorously shake for several minutes. Hold it upside down and release the vinegar by pressing on the small nozzle that allows water to flow from the reservoir into your humidifier. Once empty, refill the reservoir with plain water, shake, and pour it out. Repeat this step once or twice more, until you no longer smell any vinegar.

Once the base has soaked for at least an hour, pour the solution out, being careful that no liquid enters the motor. Use a vinegar-soaked cloth to wipe down the interior of the base and remove any remaining areas of scale. If you have any persistent scale, you can use a soft bristle brush to remove it. An old toothbrush works great for this. You can also use the same vinegar-soaked cloth to wipe down other surfaces, especially the funnel that the steam travels through into the room.

You should fully clean your humidifier in this way ever one to two weeks, depending on how much you use it. One way to extend the time between cleanings is to completely rinse and refill it every day. You can also reduce the amount of scale that builds up by using distilled water instead of tap water in your humidifier.