Warm mist humidifiers work by adding heat and moisture into the air you breathe. They can provide symptom relief when dealing with allergies or colds. However, neglecting good cleaning practices can lead to potentially dangerous bacterial or fungal growth in the humidifier due to its warm, moist environment. Diligent and proper cleaning can avoid this contamination and help to prevent respiratory infections.
Turn the humidifier off and let it cool down before you perform any cleaning. Drain and rinse the water tank after each use. Wipe the water tank, medicine chamber, water tray, heater and any other accessible parts with a soft, clean cloth and gently dry. Ensure all water has been emptied from the chambers after each use and cleaning.
Turn the humidifier off and wait for it to cool. Disassemble the humidifier. Soak the water tray in equal parts vinegar and water for approximately 20 minutes. Rinse and wipe dry with a soft, clean cloth.
Pour white vinegar into the heating chamber and leave it there for approximately 20 minutes. Use a clean cloth dampened with vinegar to remove limescale and deposits from the heating chamber. Rinse, but do not submerge, the heating chamber. Do not use soap or any cleaners other than white vinegar to clean these parts. You may, however, place the water tray, cooling chamber and medicine cup in the top rack of a dishwasher.
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Follow the same process as the weekly cleaning, ensuring the unit is completely dry. Do not store the humidifier with water in it. Leave pieces loosely together and store in a cool, dry place to avoid bacterial or fungal growth.
It is best to disinfect your humidifier in cases where mineral deposits from tap water settle in the water tank. It may appear dirty or the water may look cloudy when the holding tank is filled. You need to disinfect only if the unit seems dirty, as proper cleaning is usually sufficient.
Dilute 1 teaspoon of bleach in a gallon of water. Dampen a soft, clean cloth with this solution and wipe the water tray, then rinse with water. Wipe the exterior portions of the base with the bleach solution, but do not use water to clean or submerge the base. Water could damage it or cause the unit to shock you when plugged in. Use the bleach solution to fill the water tank. Wait approximately 20 minutes, occasionally shaking the closed tank. Empty and rinse with water until you can no longer smell bleach. Wipe the tank dry.
- Korean Journal of Anesthesiology: The Effect of Electrically Heated Humidifier on the Body Temperature and Blood Loss in Spinal Surgery Under General Anesthesia
- Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: Filters Reduce the Risk of Bacterial Transmission from Contaminated Heated Humidifiers Used with CPAP for Obstructive Sleep Apnea
- Centers for Disease Control: Guidelines for Prevention of Nosocomial Pneumonia
- Consumer Product Safety Commission: CPSC Safety Alert
Nancy Polashuk, RRT obtained her B.S. in respiratory care from York College of Pennsylvania and has been working as a registered respiratory therapist in the hospital setting since 2010 and most recently in home care. Polashuk's first job was in a small community hospital, working the night shift and seeing everything from gunshot victims to paper cuts.