How to Properly Clean Your Humidifier

Plus, learn how to check its filter and prevent mold growth.

cleaning your humidifier
Photo: Getty Images

When the weather cools, it's time to turn on the heat. While this will make you feel cozy, it can also lead to dry air (and a raspy morning throat). Luckily, a humidifier can help promote hydrated skin and healthy sinuses—unless, that is, you haven't cleaned it since last winter.

To prevent the appliance's dirty vents from spewing germs around your home, we turned to cleaning experts and asked them to share the humidifier care tips you need to know. Now, you can breathe easier—and say so long to dry skin.

Take It Apart

For the deepest clean, you'll want to disassemble your humidifier to ensure all parts are tended to thoroughly. "Use the instruction manual it came with for step-by-step instructions, as each machine will differ slightly," says Melissa Maker of Clean My Space.

Clean Routinely

If you're using your humidifier every day, you need to give it a deep clean at least once a week; for larger humidifiers (more than 5 gallons), once every two weeks should suffice.

Refresh With Natural Cleaners

Unless you've got seriously bad build-up, skip any harsh cleaning products. "[This] can damage the material and also absorb into it, so that when you use it again you could be breathing the product in," Maker says.

White Vinegar

Instead, she suggests eliminating debris with a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar: "Add it to the water tank up to the maximum fill line and let sit for 10 minutes. Then scrub and rinse."

Tea Tree Oil

You can also create a mixture of tea tree oil (about 10 drops) and a cup of water; use the solution to scrub the machine. "Be aware that you may smell tea tree oil when you run your humidifier over the next few uses," says Maker. (In other words, if this fragrance isn't for you, skip it.)

Remove Mold

The water tank is also a magnet for mold and mildew; if you notice either in yours, Maker says to clean it with a bleach-free anti-mold spray. "Make sure to rinse all the pieces well with fresh water before reassembling."

How to Avoid Mold Re-Growth

To limit mold regrowth, Sarah Drake, seasonal humidifiers brand manager at Honeywell Humidifiers, recommends putting in an antimicrobial cleaning ball in the tank. "It fits in almost all humidifiers—just drop it in the water tank," she says. Be sure to replace the ball every 30 days or so.

Check the Filter

Many models use a disposable filter to wick away moisture or absorb minerals. "Replace it when it gets hard and crusty, it starts to give off an odor, or moisture output decreases," says Drake.

Empty It Daily

The best maintenance rule of thumb? "Empty humidifiers in the morning and let them dry out before refilling for the night," says Becky Rapinchuk, author of Simply Clean and the cleaning and homekeeping expert behind She also recommends using distilled or filtered water to help prevent build-up.

In between emptying and refilling, Drake suggests wiping down the humidifier with a clean cloth. "This helps to prevent scale and bacteria from building up," she says.

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