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How and When to Use a Humidifier – 7 Key Tips

Did you know that dry air may encourage respiratory infections? It may do so by drying out the respiratory tract’s mucous membrane. It can also make the skin, eyes, nasal passages, and throat dry and itchy.

Considering that folks in the US spend an average of 87% of their time indoors, dry indoor air can be a huge problem.

Fortunately, a humidifier can help combat the health effects of dry air.

We rounded up the top tips on how and when to use a humidifier, so be sure to read on!

1. Understand the Basics of Humidity

Humidity is a measure of water vapor present in the air. There are two ways to measure it: absolute humidity (AH) and relative humidity (RH).

AH is the concentration of water vapor in the air at any temperature. RH is the amount of moisture in the air compared to how much water the air can contain at a certain temperature. Indoor RH, therefore, refers to the RH within an enclosed space, such as your home.

If your home’s indoor RH is 50%, it means that the air holds half of the water vapor it can carry.

It’s imperative to monitor indoor RH because too little or too much of it can affect your health. For example, high indoor RH can promote mold growth and attract pests. On the other hand, low indoor RH can trigger asthma or worsen its symptoms.

For this reason, health experts recommend keeping indoor RH levels between 30% and 50%.

You can monitor your home’s relative humidity with a small device called a hygrometer. Some heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems come equipped with this. If your HVAC system doesn’t, you can buy one for less than $20 online or from a local hardware store.

2. Humidify When the Air Is Dry

Humidifiers are devices that add moisture to dry air, which can occur if the indoor RH falls below 30%. Low RH levels are common during winter since the air during this season is dry. So, if your hygrometer shows an indoor RH reading of less than 30%, it’s time to humidify.

Humidifiers add moisture to the air by emitting warm or cool mist. This mist comes from the water you need to add to the device’s tank.

Warm mist humidifiers have a heating element that boils the water. They then let the boiled water slightly cool before releasing it to the air as steam.

Boiling helps kill pathogens, like bacteria and viruses, in the water. These harmful microorganisms make as many as 7.2 million people in the US sick each year. However, the hot water can also pose burn and scald hazards, especially in homes with kids and pets.

If you have children or pets, you may want to go for a humidifier that releases cool mist. These devices moisturize the air not by heat but by evaporative or ultrasonic means.

Evaporative devices use a humidifier filter and a fan to vaporize the air. The mist passes through a moist filter, which then traps pollutants present in the water.

Ultrasonic options use high-frequency vibrations to produce mist, making them the quietest option. However, they don’t use humidifier filters, so they require more rigorous cleaning. Them being filter-free also means you need to use distilled water to avoid the spread of germs.

3. Use a Humidifier Alongside Your Space Heater

A gas furnace can further reduce indoor RH, as this type of heater sucks in dry outdoor air. However, while a gas furnace heats the air, it doesn’t add any moisture to it.

A forced air heater can also lower indoor RH since this system uses combustion to warm up the air. The combustion process, in turn, burns out what little moisture the air has.

For those reasons, be sure to turn on the humidifier whenever you run your space heater.

4. Vaporize Dry Air Conditioner Air

Dry indoor air can also occur in summer, especially in areas with arid climates. In such cases, the prolonged use of air conditioners is usually the culprit. Air conditioning systems remove moisture from the air, thus; causing a dip in indoor RH levels.

If the cold air from your AC makes your skin or lips dry, take that as a sign to switch on your humidifier.

5. You or Another Family Member Have Asthma or Allergies

Allergies affect more than 50 million people in the US. On top of that are the 24 million Americans living with asthma.

Asthma and allergy attacks, in turn, occur as a result of exposure to triggers or allergens. These include inhaling polluted air, dust mites, pet dander, and molds.

Unfortunately, dry air can make these harmful particles easier to inhale. So, if you or any other member of your household has asthma or allergies, consider using a humidifier. This may be especially helpful during winter when there’s too little moisture in the air.

6. Dry Air Seems To Be Making You Sick

You don’t have to have asthma or allergies to feel ill because of dry indoor air. Health experts warn that poor indoor air quality may cause respiratory symptoms. Exposure to low-quality air can also result in dizziness, fatigue, and headache.

Air that lacks moisture can contribute to poor IAQ, as it allows pollutants to float more freely in the air. It’s also easier to stir up dust and debris if the air is too dry.

By contrast, air with enough water vapor can soak particles, weighing them down. So, contaminants are more likely to stick to surfaces if the air is moist enough.

If you experience poor IAQ symptoms during winter, it may be time to use a humidifier.

However, just as important is to vacuum once or twice a week and wash beddings and fabrics regularly. Good indoor hygiene cuts down on dust, debris, and other particles, helping boost your IAQ.

7. Don’t Forget Humidifier Maintenance

Regularly cleaning or changing humidifier filters helps keep filtered humidifiers safe to use. Check the filter at least once a month, and wash or replace it as soon as it gets clogged with gunk.

It’s best to scrub your humidifier using soap and water at least once a week, too. Do this regardless of the type of humidifier you end up buying.

Don’t Let Dry Air Prevail

As you can see, there are many situations in which you can use a humidifier to make your indoor air healthier. Whether it’s winter or summer, these devices can help you combat the dry air these seasons bring.

Looking for more helpful guides to improve your home and health? Then please feel free to browse our other educational resources!

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