How to Clean Your Humidifier and Why You Should Do It Now


Dry indoor air, especially in the winter months, can lead to dry skin and sinuses — and even dry furniture and wood floors. Maintaining a proper level of humidity in your home is important for healthy living, and the easiest way to put moisture back into your home’s dry air is with a good cool- or warm-mist humidifier. But it’s important to disassemble and clean it regularly. Water is a breeding ground for mold and microbes. Wait too long in between cleanings, and you may end up breathing in some of that bacteria.

We consulted with experts here at the Good Housekeeping Institute for ways to help keep your humidifier clean during the winter months (and beyond). When you clean your humidifier, how you do it will depend on the type you have. “It’s always best to follow the cleaning directions of your model,” says Carolyn Forté, executive director of the GH Institute Home Care & Cleaning Lab.

For specific maintenance instructions, Forté recommends holding on to the owner’s manual — or keeping it available until you get the hang of it. If you can’t seem to find your owner’s manual, contact the manufacturer or check its website. But if neither is at your disposal, here are the basics steps to cleaning any humidifier.

Note: Don’t wash a wick filter, as it can damage the paper-like material and potentially remove an antimicrobial coating. You’re better off replacing the filter with a new one. Remove any filter before cleaning your humidifier’s tank, base and parts.

How often should you clean a humidifier?

The answer might surprise you. At least once a week, turn off your humidifier and get cleaning — but you can certainly do it more frequently if you or anyone in your family has respiratory problems and you use it daily.

“The key, whatever the type, is to clean and maintain it regularly,” Forté says. “Stagnant water is a magnet for bacteria growth, and you don’t want bacteria spewing back into the air, especially if family members suffer with asthma or allergies.”

What you’ll need to clean a humidifier

You don’t need (and shouldn’t use) detergents or abrasive brushes or scrubbers to clean a humidifier. Just gather up the following for routine cleaning:

how to clean humidifier

Never mix bleach and vinegar, as doing so can create a toxic gas. Use one method or the other.

How to clean a humidifier with vinegar

Both cool- and warm-mist humidifiers require a similar cleaning procedure, though some of the parts may differ. Some brands may also have parts that are dishwasher safe. Check the owner’s manual to be sure.

Step 1: Unplug and empty the humidifier and disassemble it completely.

      how to clean humidifier

      Step 2: For the base and tank, pour one to two cups of undiluted white vinegar into the water tank and swish it around to completely wet the interior of the tank. (Some brands recommend a mix of white vinegar and water.)

      how to clean humidifier

      Step 3: Place the vinegar-filled tank on the base (or, if your humidifier allows, pour vinegar directly into the base), and allow the vinegar to drain into the reservoir to loosen mineral buildup. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes.

      how to clean humidifier

      Step 4: Empty the vinegar from the tank and base, and use a small, soft brush to scrub the crevices and remove any stuck-on mineral deposits. For small parts like the tank cap, wipe with a clean cloth or sponge dipped in full-strength white vinegar. If your model has a valve on the bottom of the tank, manually press the release button to allow some vinegar to flow through it.

      how to clean humidifier

      Step 5: Rinse all the parts thoroughly and air-dry, then reassemble.

      how to clean humidifier

      How to clean a humidifier with bleach

      Never mix bleach and vinegar, as doing so can create a toxic gas. Use one method or the other.

      If you prefer, you can use a bleach solution in place of vinegar for regular weekly cleanings, or you can do a deeper clean monthly with bleach to kill bacteria and get rid of mold.

      Step 1: Disassemble and clean your humidifier as outlined above.

      Step 2: Mix one gallon of water with one teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach. Pour one half to three-quarters of the bleach solution into the water tank and swish it around to wet the entire inside. (Some brands may recommend a mix of 3% hydrogen peroxide and water for this step.) If your humidifier has a second tank, do the same with the remaining solution.

      Step 3: Place the tank in the base and allow the bleach solution to drain into the water reservoir. Allow it to stand for 15 to 20 minutes.

      Step 4: Empty the bleach solution from the tank(s) and base. Rinse with clear water until the scent of bleach is gone.

      Step 5: Wipe dry and reassemble.

        How to keep your humidifier clean

        After giving your appliance a thorough cleaning, take these steps to keep it running smoothly:

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        • Always empty the tank and reservoir when the humidifier’s not in use. Bacteria can grow in as little as one to two days.
        • To prolong the life of your wick filter, turn it over each time you fill the tank to keep the top from drying out and help the filter age more evenly.
        • Replace the filter every 30 to 60 days, depending on condition and use, especially if it gets hard and crusty from water minerals or gives off an odor, or the moisture output of the humidifier decreases.
        • Remove and discard the filter, and ensure all parts are clean and dry before you put the humidifier into storage, per the manufacturer’s directions.
        Headshot of Caroline Picard

        Contributing Writer

        Caroline is a writer and editor with almost a decade of experience. From 2015 to 2019, she held various editorial positions at Good Housekeeping, including as health editor, covering nutrition, fitness, wellness, and other lifestyle news. She’s a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism and dreams of the day Northwestern will go back to the Rose Bowl.  


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