Keeping electrical devices and appliances in your home clean is a great way to ensure they live past their lifespan. That’s especially true for systems like humidifiers that hold water and are designed to run for hours at a time. Leaving standing water in the tank of your system for too long will allow humidifier mold and bacteria to grow.
The same goes for damp parts even after your tank has run dry, and mineral buildup can clog up humidifiers as well. In this guide, we’re going to show you how to clean evaporative, steam, and ultrasonic humidifiers so that bacteria will never be an issue. We are also going to provide you with a few tips that will make maintenance a breeze.
Before we dig into cleaning techniques, the best way to clean your humidifier is to simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Every company has a section in the instruction manual that will tell you the proper way to clean your system. Unfortunately, those manuals become lost, and not every company has official resources online.
Regardless of the type of humidifier, there are a few supplies you’ll need to pick up if you don’t already have them on hand. White vinegar and bleach are the most common substances used on these machines, and Q-Tips will help you get into the nooks and crannies of the base or nozzle. Never use anything abrasive that could damage plastic parts, and always unplug your humidifier before the cleaning process begins.
How to Clean a Humidifier
To clean any type of humidifier, you first need to disassemble the machine. That’s easy as there are only a handful of parts to deal with, and most homeowners simply start with the tank. You should give the tank a quick rinse after every use, but deep cleaning and maintenance also need to be a regular part of your routine.
Cleaning the Tank
Wipe any excess water from the parts as you disassemble the machine, and then ready a mix a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water for the tank. For a quick clean after daily use, simply wiping down the tank with vinegar may do the trick, but for extremely dirty tanks, you’ll want the mix to sit in the tank for around 20 – 30 minutes.
When satisfied, rinse the tank and allow it to fully dry before reattaching nozzles, lids, or valves. If you need to disinfect the tank instead of giving it quick clean, a solution of mild bleach and water is the best option, according to all the top manufacturers. The method works on water trays as well, and is an effective way to kill humidifier mold, bacteria or viruses, just ensure you rinse the tank thoroughly.
Cleaning the Base
Cleaning the base of a humidifier is different, and largely depends on how the machine was designed. While it’s best to refer to the manual if you have one, there are still a few safe ways to clean the base of a humidifier other non-removable parts.
First, you’ll want to empty any water from the base. Then you can pour a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar into the base, but you’ll want to be wary of fan and air outlets on the machine. You may need to let it sit for around 30 minutes and can use a soft-bristled brush to remove any buildup you see on the system.
An old toothbrush is ideal for cleaning around delicate parts or nebulizers, just make sure you don’t use anything hard or abrasive. When complete, carefully dump the mixture from the machine, rinse as needed, wipe it down and let it dry. Any smaller parts can be soaked in the same solution separately before being scrubbed and reassembled.
Cleaning Wicks, Filters and Fans
Evaporative humidifiers use a wick to draw moisture into the machine, and those wicks need to be cleaned for your unit to function properly. Well, you can clean them, and some manufacturers even talk about rinsing them regularly, but it’s not something we recommend.
The wick filter can harbor bacteria, just like the tank and other parts of your system. Most are designed to be replaced every few months, not cleaned. It’s best to replace a wick at the end of its lifespan instead of trying to get an extra week from it while risking the chance of humidifier mold or bacteria spreading throughout the air in your home.
Cleaning Heating Elements
If you purchase a steam humidifier, the cleaning process remains the same except for one part – the heating element. This is the part inside a warm mist humidifier that turns water into steam, and it can become dirty or encrusted as well. Getting to the heating element should be easy, but can vary depending on the model of humidifier you own.
The first step is to make sure the unit is unplugged and has cooled off enough to clean. Typically, you can fill the base of the humidifier with a cleaning solution of white vinegar, but how long it needs to soak can vary from 20 minutes to several hours. A soft-bristled brush can be used to remove mineral residue as well. When finished, rinse the element and allow it to dry. Never submerge your unit in a sink, and never turn it on while the element is soaking.
Humidifier Cleaning FAQ
Q: How often should I clean my humidifier?
A: You should rinse the tank of your humidifier after every use, and regular cleanings are recommended once a week. You may have to clean your system more frequently, however, depending on the quality of your water.
Q: What’s the best way to store a humidifier when it’s not in use?
A: Give your system a throughout cleaning, wipe it down, and let it dry completely. Remove the wick if it’s an evaporative humidifier, and store it in a cool, dry place. If you want to keep dust at bay, store it in its original box or bag it up during the off-season.
Q: Can I clean my humidifier in the dishwasher?
A: No, but several companies manufacturer humidifiers with certain parts that are deemed dishwasher-safe.
Q: Are vinegar and water safe to use on steam humidifiers or ultrasonic systems?
A: Yes. We checked over two dozen product manuals from various manufacturers, and the white vinegar was the one substance deemed safe by them all.