How to Use Humidifiers: Placement, Maintenance & More

Dry air can lead to a host of problems for your health and home. Chapped lips, dry skin, nosebleeds, and increased asthma and allergy symptoms can all be caused by a lack of moisture in the air. Low humidity can also lead to static electricity, peeling wallpaper, and cracks in your wooden furniture. 

Humidifiers may help prevent issues caused by dry air. However, without proper maintenance, they may start to harbor mold, bacteria, and other pollutants. Making sure your humidifier is clean and working properly is just as important for your health as using it in the first place. 

Read on for our tips on getting the most use out of your humidifier, including:

  • The best places in your home for your humidifier;
  • How (and how often) to clean your humidifier;
  • When you should run your humidifier.

Are cool mist humidifiers better than warm mist humidifiers?

For the most part, the choice between a cool mist humidifier vs warm mist humidifier is a matter of preference. Both can effectively humidify the air in your home, and the type of humidifier does not affect the temperature of the actual mist. However, there are a few key differences between the different types of humidifiers.

Warm mist humidifiers

Warm mist humidifiers, sometimes called steam humidifiers, contain a heating element that boils water to create steam. Because the water and heating element both get extremely hot, warm mist humidifiers may post a risk of scalding or burns if they are knocked over or if someone gets too close to the steam source. They should not be used in children’s rooms, nurseries, or within reach of household pets. 

Because the water in a warm mist humidifier is boiled to create steam, the mist from these humidifiers has less of a chance (if any) of dispersing bacteria and other organic pollutants into the air. 

Warm mist humidifiers tend to be better for smaller spaces, and they are often quieter than many cool mist humidifiers because they do not use a fan to disperse the mist. The warm steam they create may be welcome in the winter but unpleasant during the summer. 

Cool mist humidifiers

There are three main types of cool mist humidifiers — evaporators, impeller humidifiers and ultrasonic humidifiers. 

  • Evaporators use a fabric wick to draw moisture from a tank of water. An internal fan blows over the wick to speed up the natural evaporation process and add moisture to the air. These humidifiers are often cheaper than other cool mist options, but they can be noisy. 
  • Impeller humidifiers use a rotating disc and diffuser to create a cool mist. Like evaporators, they can be less expensive than other types of humidifiers. However, their moving parts can also make them a bit loud. 
  • Ultrasonic humidifiers are virtually silent, making them the quietest cool mist option. They use a high-speed vibrating metal plate to create water droplets spread through the air by a small fan. These humidifiers can be pricey, but they are also more energy-efficient and easier to clean than other cool mist humidifiers.

Because cool mist humidifiers do not have a heating unit, they are safe to use around children and pets. Cool mist humidifiers also tend to be a better option for larger rooms, but their fans sometimes create a cool breeze that may be unwelcome during the winter months.

Choosing the right humidifier for your home

Both cool mist and warm mist humidifiers can effectively reintroduce moisture into the air in your home. If you have pets or young children, you will probably want a cool mist humidifier to avoid the risk of burns or scalding. If you prefer a quieter option that can help your room feel more warm and cozy during the cold winter months, you may want a warm mist model.

Ultrasonic and impeller humidifiers have greater potential for spreading microorganisms and minerals through the air. Evaporative and warm mist humidifiers are less likely to spread airborne pollutants, such as bacteria, germs or mold.

If you cannot decide between cool and warm mist, you may be interested in a humidifier that can do both. Some models can switch between cool and warm mist, so you can choose whichever method suits you best in different situations.

Where should you place your humidifier?

Look for a flat, sturdy, raised surface, such as a table or nightstand. Placing your humidifier a few feet off the ground gives the mist more time to mix with the air before settling on the floor. However, putting it too high up (such as on top of a bookshelf) may cause moisture to accumulate on the ceiling instead of spreading around the room. 

Also, keep in mind why you got the humidifier in the first place. For example, if your goal is to stop waking up with dryness in your throat and nasal passages, you should put the humidifier in your bedroom. As a general rule, try to place your humidifier in the room where you spend the most time. 

When choosing humidifier placement, make sure to check whether it is suitable for your specific room size. Humidifiers meant for smaller rooms may not make a noticeable difference in humidity, and humidifiers meant for bigger rooms may create too much mist and lead to mold growth.

Wherever you put your humidifier, make sure it is not spraying mist on wall decor, electronics, or anything else that should not get wet. You should also check that nothing is close enough to the unit to block the mist from dispersing throughout the room.

Bedroom

A bedroom is a great place for a humidifier because it is where many people spend the most consecutive time while at home. To get the benefits of added humidity while you sleep, place your humidifier close to your bed, so the mist reaches you during the night. 

Nightstands and other tables can be perfect spots for a humidifier. However, if you are using a warm mist humidifier, make sure to put it far enough from your bed that there is no risk of accidentally knocking it over and getting burned while you sleep. Louder humidifiers, such as evaporators, may also need to be placed farther from the bed.

Children’s room

If you are placing your humidifier in a room for young children or babies, make sure it is a cool mist humidifier that poses no risk of burning or scalding. Then, place it on a table, shelf, or nightstand around three feet from your child’s bed or crib. Take care to move any toys, stuffed animals, or decor away from the humidifier, so they do not accumulate moisture.

If your children are younger, you should also make sure the humidifier is somewhere they cannot tamper with it during the night. Even without the risk of burning from hot water, spilled humidifiers can still create standing water that may lead to mold growth.

Living room

The living room is another good spot for a humidifier, as long as it is somewhere that you and your family like to spend time. If you only have one humidifier, placing it in the living room allows everyone to benefit from the added humidity (as opposed to placing it in someone’s bedroom).

When you are deciding where to put it, look for a place that is out of the way, so your humidifier is less likely to be accidentally knocked over. However, it should still be close enough to humidify the air near where people tend to sit and gather. A good option may be a table or shelf in the corner of the room.

Office

If you work from home, you may choose to place your humidifier in your office. It should be on a table or shelf near your desk, but not close enough to get moisture on papers, electronics, or other objects that should not get wet. You can even choose to move the humidifier in the bedroom during the night to get even more relief from dry indoor air.

How often should I run my humidifier?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends keeping the relative humidity indoors under 50% to prevent the growth of biological pollutants like mold, bacteria, or dust mites. To do so, you should only run your humidifier when your home’s relative humidity is under 50%. 

Relative humidity is the amount of moisture in the air relative to the maximum amount it can hold at a given temperature. When your relative humidity is too low, you can experience the health and home issues discussed above. If it gets too high, it can lead to mold growth, increased dust mites, and other air pollution problems. If you notice the relative humidity in your home is often above 50%, you may even want to consider getting a dehumidifier to help lower it.

Signs that you should use your humidifier less or switch to a smaller humidifier include:

  • Moisture condensation on the walls, windows, or hanging decor;
  • Dampness around the base of the humidifier;
  • Dampness in curtains, carpeting, or upholstered furniture near the humidifier.

Some humidifiers have a built-in humidistat to monitor the relative humidity near the unit and keep it from adding too much moisture to the air. You can also purchase a standalone hygrometer to measure the relative humidity in different areas of your home.

Additionally, you should stop using your humidifier and contact your healthcare provider if you start experiencing new respiratory symptoms that may be connected with your humidifier use.

How often should you clean your humidifier?

To be kept clean, a humidifier should be emptied daily. Before refilling it, wipe down all the surfaces until they are completely dry. Every few days, you can clean the humidifier even further with a brush or other scrubber according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Take care to scrub off any mineral deposits, grime, or other buildups that have formed on the interior surfaces of the humidifier. Then, dry all the parts completely before assembling the unit and refilling it.

If not cleaned properly, your humidifier’s water tank can be the perfect environment for harmful microorganisms, such as mold and bacteria. Cleaning your humidifier regularly is the key to keeping it from spreading bacteria and other pollutants through the air while it humidifies your home. Using distilled water can also help reduce your humidifier’s potential to spread airborne pollutants.

Note: Always make sure you unplug the humidifier before you start cleaning it. 

Check the manufacturer’s guidelines before using disinfectants or cleaning products, such as vinegar or hydrogen peroxide, on your humidifier. If you cannot find information from the manufacturer, the EPA recommends using water with a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide. 

Make sure to completely rinse off any cleaners or disinfectants before refilling your humidifier and turning it on. If you skip this step, your humidifier may end up dispersing these chemicals through the air. Exposure to airborne cleaning chemicals may lead to harmful health effects, including an increased risk of asthma and bronchitis in children.

When you are finished using your humidifier for the season, clean and dry it one final time before you put it away to prevent any mold growth while it is stored.

A humidifier can help you find relief from dry air by increasing moisture levels in your home. To get the most benefit from your humidifier, make sure to choose one that fits your specific needs and room size, perform regular humidifier maintenance, and run it only when you need it.

Written by

Catherine Poslusny is an experienced writer and content marketing strategist based in Oklahoma City. She has written for tech and healthcare brands since 2016, focusing on companies that prioritize healthcare accessibility and inclusivity. Catherine has written extensively about air quality, medical procedures, healthcare costs and insurance, and reproductive health. You can find her at catherinerosewrites.com.