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Can Humidifiers Make You Sick?

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If the air in your home is dry, it can cause several health issues. Some of the most common include cracked lips, dehydration, dry skin, and nosebleeds.

One of the most common ways that people combat dry air is by using a home humidifier. This device puts moisture back into the air.

Unfortunately, there are situations where a humidifier may do more harm than good. This leads to the question – can humidifiers make you sick?

Understanding the basics of how a humidifier works and the possible issues that may arise is the best way to ensure that you achieve the health benefits, with none of the potential drawbacks. Keep reading to learn more about staying healthy with the use of your humidifier here.

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Some of the health issues that may arise because of a humidifier include flu-like symptoms, coughs, sinus or lung infections, asthma flare-ups, and allergies.

Usually, health issues related to humidifier use will occur because the device contains mold or bacteria. If you think about it, it is easy to see why this may happen.

The purpose of any humidifier is to hold the standing water used for creating the mist. It will then evaporate it through a damp wick system, and then blow out the moistened air.

If the water that is evaporated is sterile, this is not an issue. However, the reservoir used for holding the water is the perfect environment to promote bacteria and mold growth.

Once the humidifier has become infected, your appliance has become the perfect distribution system for pathogens. As the mold spores and germs are blown into the air, they are going to hunt for a new warm and moist area to grow. Often, this means your sinus cavities or lungs.

There is some good news. It is pretty easy to keep your humidifier from becoming a petri dish. All you need to do is clean it regularly.

Even if your humidifier does not have a filter (which is typical with a warm mist humidifier) you may still get sick if you do not keep it cleaned. This is a water-based machine, but it is not a sterilizer and it is not self-drying.

What this means is that any moisture that stays inside it will eventually turn into bacteria and mold. Both of these issues can result in serious health concerns.

What is ironic is that this is the case with a product that is designed to help people breathe easier. People who have sensitive airways or who suffer from allergies or asthma are particularly prone to problems caused by dirty humidifiers. However, even those who are relatively healthy may be affected by this.


There are several types of humidifiers used today. Each one can create unique situations where health problems may arise.

More about these specific humidifiers and the issues they can cause are found here. Since each humidifier is unique in how it works, it is crucial to know the possible issues that may arise with each one. This will also help you take steps to prevent the problem, to begin with.

Ultrasonic Humidifiers

Using ultrasonic vibration, this humidifier will produce moisture in the form of a cool mist. The issue with some ultrasonic humidifiers is the minerals in the water (especially tap water) will become dissolved and enter the air as “white dust.”

This dust will fall on surfaces in the room where the humidifier is being used, creating a white film. It can also pose a serious health risk to individuals with respiratory problems, including children.

An infant once developed a serious lung injury because they breathed in this aerosolized mineral composition of the water being used – i.e., the white dust. The infant’s accidental inhalation of this dust resulted in a mild nonreversible obstructive ventilatory defect, pneumonitis, tachypnea, and prolonged hypoxemia.

Young people and those who have asthma are cautioned when using a humidifier for the reasons mentioned above.

With ultrasonic humidifiers, it is necessary to keep up with maintenance. This is a crucial part of making sure these respiratory problems do not occur.

If you fail to clean the inside of your humidifier, you have created the perfect conditions for bacteria and mold to thrive. These pollutants will then be sent back into the air through the mist created by the humidifier.

Vaporizer Humidifiers

The risk related to breathing in airborne bacteria and minerals is reduced with a hot vaporizer. While this is true, the risk of a burn is higher. A hot vaporizer has a heating element that will boil the water in the reservoir, releasing the moisture into the air as steam.

Cleaning these units regularly is a must because the moist, warm environment in the reservoir are the perfect breeding grounds for mold and bacteria.

Since the steam being produced by these units is simply recirculated water from the water contained in the unit, it could produce bacteria and mold, which is then sent back into the air if the device is not maintained and cleaned. Over time, this can result in hypersensitivity pneumonitis, also called humidifier lung, which is a potentially dangerous illness that affects the respiratory system.

Experts have made it clear that you should not use this style of humidifier around children since the risk of being burned is much higher. Most of these are hot to the touch and if they are spilled, very hot water will be splashed out.

Evaporative Humidifiers

The EPA has made it clear the safest type of humidifier is the evaporative humidifier. There is a much lower chance of this humidifier type to release airborne minerals or bacteria into the air. An evaporative humidifier works by sending unheated air over the wet and absorbent material, such as a wick or filter.

If your goal is healthy indoor air quality, an evaporative humidifier is a smart option compared to the vaporizer or ultrasonic humidifiers mentioned above. The evaporative option can self-regulated and to prevent cases of over-humidification.

Over-humidification is an issue with most of the modern humidifiers because the forced moisture nature of the mechanics will still create the desired humidity levels, no matter what the current humidity level is. If an environment is too humid, it creates the perfect conditions for the growth of bacteria and mold, which can cause allergic reactions and health problems.

While an evaporative humidifier is the best type of humidifier to choose, it should be noted that it is still important to maintain clean water reservoirs using regular maintenance. If there is a surface that is holding sitting water, it needs to be cleaned regularly to prevent the growth of mold.


When it comes to a humidifier, there are some basic cleaning tips you need to know. Keep reading to find out what these are.

Clean the Humidifier Base

Make sure to follow the specific instructions from the manufacturer when cleaning your humidifier. While this is important, there are other general guidelines that will apply to any standard machine.

To deep clean your humidifier, disinfect the base using a mixture of hydrogen peroxide or you can use white distilled vinegar. To clean the base, follow these steps:

  • Unplug the humidifier
  • Remove the water tank and the filter
  • Put plenty of vinegar or hydrogen peroxide into the unit’s base
  • Use a toothbrush to scrub the mineral buildup and film off
  • Let the liquid sit for 10 to 30 minutes
  • Pour out the liquid and add fresh water to rinse it away
  • Let the base air dry

These steps will help ensure the base of your humidifier is clean. Keep in mind, if you fail to clean this part, along with the others, it will not matter what other steps you take. The bacteria and mold in this part will still be released in the air, through the mist.

Clean the Wick

A cool-mist humidifier will not have an evaporative wick. However, larger floor models work by using a wicking pad that will soak up the water, which allows evaporation. The wick can be either a cylindrical or flat pad that will fit around a rotating drum.

No matter the type of wick present, take it out of the humidifier each time it is cleaned. Make sure to rinse it well in clear water. Do not use any type of cleaning solution on the wick.

If the unit’s wick appears covered with white deposits of minerals, it should be replaced with a new, fresh wick pad. No amount of cleaning is going to restore a wick that is this damaged to proper, like-new condition.

Clean the Tank

The water tank of a humidifier is a haven for mold and bacteria. It must be cleaned regularly to ensure these substances do not have a chance to take hold.

Steps to clean the tank include:

  • Mix four parts water and one-part hydrogen peroxide
  • Let the solution stay in the tank for a minimum of 30 minutes
  • Rinse well with clean water

Make sure that you allow the tank to air dry when the cleaning process is complete. Do not add more water until the system is completely dry, which is going to help prevent future issues.

To prevent mold or bacteria growth from starting, replace the water in the tank each day. It is a good idea to use the above cleaning process once a week.


Does it seem like the humidifier is still causing problems for your throat and sinuses after you have cleaned it? If so, you may have to stop using tap water in the humidifier and change to distilled water.

Tap water is full of contaminants and minerals that may encourage the growth of bacteria. The minerals are particularly present if you have issues with hard water.

It is the hard water contaminants that cause white dust. With distilled water, the evaporation process will only use the water molecules, which leaves behind any possible mineral deposits.

As time passes, the buildup of mineral deposits found in a portable humidifier will be so much that the device will not work efficiently. If this happens, you need to purchase a new humidifier. Also, if you can see the mineral buildup in the device, you can feel fairly confident bacteria is present, too.

At this point, it may be a good idea to make a change to an antimicrobial humidifier. This type of unit will purify stored water, producing a healthier and cleaner mist.


If you have an HVAC system that includes a built-in humidifier feature, the components need to be maintained and cleaned regularly. This is like the process used for a portable humidifier.

If you fail to do this, health issues may occur. Be sure to follow the system instructions carefully to make sure it remains clean and healthy.


When it comes to the question, “can humidifiers make you sick,” now you know. If they are not cleaned, maintained, and cared for properly, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

There is no question that a humidifier can be a great addition to any family. However, there are several steps you need to take to ensure that your humidifier is providing the healthy benefits you hoped for.

Are you ready to learn more about using a humidifier in your home? If so, contact us. We put time and effort into ensuring that your humidifier provides the health benefits it should.

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