• Tue, Dec 13 2011

Never-Ending Cold? Your Humidifier Could Be Making You Sick

It’s normal to feel a little icky during cold and flu season, but what feels like a persistant can often be a symptom of something less bacterial–and more blerg-inducing. If you’ve pulled a Liz Lemon and kept your humidifier puttering all winter to keep dryness at bay (without cleaning it or opening up your windows), that sweet plastic penguin could be the culprit behind your sniffing, sneezing, and wheezing. Yup, humidifiers, when used incorrectly, can begin to grow mold…which they then proceed to spray all over your house. Nice, right?

Humidifiers are like magical beasts for those of us who live in climates that dry out. They’re awesome for the skin, make breathing easier, and generally make your room more pleasant when the air moisture drops. Unfortunately, the added moisture can be trouble for your home. Not only can a humidifier itself sprout mold, but an overly-humid house can, too. Take care of your humidifier to ensure that it doesn’t grown anything gross, and follow the instructions below to ensure your house gets enough fresh air to keep from turning sour.

If you’re only using a humidifier in one room of the house, it’s probably the only room where mold will start to grow. However, if you’re moving it around or have a household humidifying system (they exist!), you’ll be have to be hyper-vigilant to keep the spores from settling in.

Mold will grow where humidity is above 55%. To make sure that your house falls within the safe zone, you can either a.) buy a humidity-detecting device (which can be expensive) or b.) only run your humidifier when you need it and sometimes open your windows.  Try to only run your humidifier at night, and never leave it running when you leave the room. Also, make sure that plenty of the dry air from outside is allowed in. It can be easy to leave a windows closed all winter, but if stagnant air is allowed to get too moist, you’ll be putting your house at risk for mold–which is super expensive to get removed. You can also add a bit of white vinegar to your humidifier to keep mold from growing inside or outside of it.

If the air has already become too damp and you’re concerned about the potential for mold, running your air conditioner may help dry it out. But if you’ve found mold growing on the walls (check behind your furniture or anything touching the walls), you can scrub it off the walls yourself (with a mask on), or, if it’s really bad,  you may need to call in a professional.

In addition to using your humidifier properly, it’s also important to keep it clean. Few of us actually take the time to scrub out our humidifiers as often as we should, because, you know…life gets in the way. But proper care and keeping for your little friend can keep mold from growing inside it–and inside your home. It will also extend the life of the machine.

To clean your humidifier, remove any and all fabric pieces and wash them separately. Use hot water and vinegar, or cold water and bleach to kill mold spores and get any build-up out of the thing. You may be surprised to see how much stuff has built up inside. Then, make sure it’s thoroughly rinsed, and let it air-dry. Don’t use it again until it’s completely dry.

Your humidifier can help make the winter a lot more bearable–but it’s not doing you any good if it’s gross. Clean it thoroughly and often to ensure the utmost health of your home and body. How often is “often”? The Mayo Clinic recommends cleaning it every 3 days, which may seem excessive, but not when you consider the alternative–lungs full of mold.

Image: GadgetGrid

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  • Michael Roland Williams

    I produced and directed the feature documentary Black Mold Exposure at http://www.blackmoldexposuremovie.com. The mold could be in your home’s walls due to water leaks or water damage. It could also be in the ventilation system of the home.