Are Humidifiers Bad For Lungs? Humidifier Health Facts

Indexing, KW submittedIt’s true that dry air can of a bunch of problems for your health and skin. Humidifiers are the answer to relief for so many people including me. 

But are humidifiers bad for your lungs? Read on to find out the facts.

What are humidifiers? How do they work?

what are humidifiers

When we talk about humidity we’re talking about the level of moisture in the air. This can depend on where you live and other factors such as weather and temperature. Ideally, the humidity in your home should be around 40% or thereabouts.

If the humidity levels are too low or too high there can be issues. To test whether the humidity level in your home is correct, you can a measuring device called a hygrometer. You can easily purchase one at your local hardware store. 

If the level of humidity in your home is too low, you can use a humidifier to replace the moisture that is lacking. Humidifiers are machines designed to add moisture to dry indoor air, typically in houses, by emitting a water mist into the air.

They are commonly used to treat illness and other health issues such as congestion and sinus issues, as well as dry air which causes dry skin and chapped lips. There are a few different types of humidifiers to suit different needs. Here are the main types of humidifiers:

  • Central humidifier – these machines are installed into your home’s central heating and air conditioning systems and will humidify your entire house in the same way a central heating or air conditioning system does
  • Steam vaporizers – these systems utilize electricity to produce a cool stream or mist. They’re great because they’re pretty quiet too
  • Evaporator – one of the more simple devices, an evaporator uses a fan to blow air through a wet filter to produce a water vapor 
  • Ultrasonic – using a vibrating metallic diaphragm to release moisture into the air. These machines have the option to emit cool or warm mist. Another very quiet option

Are humidifiers bad for lungs? Is it bad to breathe in water mist?

is it bad to breathe in water mist

While you may think breathing in water mist may be bad for your lungs a humidifier is actually proven to make breathing easier –  especially for people with asthma and some other respiratory problems.

In fact, you can even say that humidifiers are good for your lungs and breathing passageways in many cases.

In cases where a humidifier is not maintained properly, it is however possible to cause an illness by breathing in contaminated water.

It’s ok to breathe in water mist as inhaling a pure, clean water vapor is not harmful to lungs. Excessive inhalation of water mist can make breathing difficult but is not in itself harmful.

How they work

Humidifiers work by converting water into a water vapor that is perfectly safe to breathe in. They do so one of three ways:

  1. With heat produced by electricity: Warm mist purifiers are this type and convert water to a gentle steam mist with a bit of warmth (great for cold weather and congestion).
  2. Using an ultrasonic device: Cool mist purifiers are this type and use an ultrasonic transducer (electronic component) to vaporize water, producing a super-fine mist with no heat added.
  3. By evaporation: Evaporative humidifiers are the slowest of all three types, and use the natural process of water evaporation, sometimes aided by a fan, to add moisture.

Risks associated with dirty humidifiers

As I mentioned above, they require maintenance. If not cleaned properly the water mist pumped out of them will be dirty and can contain a number of nasty things you shouldn’t inhale.

A dirty water tank is the perfect environment for grime and can harbor bacteria and other germs that get into the air:

  • Algae (especially when the purifier is placed near sunlight and heat)
  • Bacteria
  • Microbes and other organic pests

This can be particularly problematic for allergy sufferers and those living with asthma. 

Additionally, those with no underlying conditions can develop cold-like symptoms from dirt vapor or germs in the air.

Basic humidifier maintenance for safe health

Fortunately, keeping your humidifier clean and safe is easy! Simply using distilled water rather than tap water in the water tank can be a good start. This is because tap water contains minerals that can encourage bacteria to grow whereas distilled water has a much lower mineral content.

In addition, change the water often and clean the entire machine once or twice a week to ensure nothing nasty is growing there.

Manufacturers may have slightly different recommendations for cleaning your water tank but generally, you just need to do the following once per week:

  • Mix up a solution of soap and water or white vinegar and water (vinegar is good for cleaning humidifiers as it kills bacteria and removes build-up).
  • Use a sponge or soft cloth and the solution to clean the inside of the tank. Gently remove any build-up over time.
  • Clean the humidifier base as well, removing any gunk build up you find.
  • Rinse the parts thoroughly and allow to dry. [However, you can use the humidifier immediately if needed after wiping off excess water, being sure the components don’t have water in areas with electrical power.]

It’s important to note that if you plan to clean your humidifier water tank with chemicals like bleach make sure you rinse it out thoroughly before using. You don’t want harmful chemicals being emitted into the air you’re breathing.

What are the advantages of using a humidifier?

what are the advantages of using a humidifier

Humidifiers can help with more than just dry, itchy skin. They can also help relieve:

  • Irritated eyes
  • Allergies
  • Throat dryness
  • Consistent or nagging cough problems
  • Sinus headaches
  • Cold and sore throat symptoms
  • Babies and infants with skin problems

Higher levels of humidity can be great for easing breathing in those with allergies, asthma, and sinus/ congestion problems. Warm mist humidifiers are especially good for helping during cold or flu sickness symptoms.

Dry air can also contribute to snoring symptoms as dry air can cause congestion as well as a dry, scratchy throat which can be very unpleasant. Restoring a healthy moisture level in this case can make a big difference!

Other benefits (plants, pets, and furniture)

Humidifiers aren’t only great for people, though.

  • Keeping the air in your home humid can help your houseplants thrive depending on the type of plants.
  • Wooden flooring and furniture will also benefit from the correct humidity level. If they become too dry they can crack or split. Restoring moisture into the air can help keep them healthy and sturdy.
  • Pets are also more comfortable with a good moisture level for a variety of reasons (especially breeds susceptible to respiratory or skin problems).

When should you not use a humidifier?

when should you not use a humidifier

If you suffer from allergies or respiratory problems such as Asthma, using a humidifier can help ease respiratory issues. However, they’re not for everyone so it may be best to speak to a doctor before using one.

Additionally, just like excessive dry air, too much humidity in your home can be a bad thing. High humidity can create an uncomfortable living space and can cause condensation on surfaces like walls which allows harmful bacteria to grow along with mold.

The role of dehumidifiers

If your home has excessive humidity (around 60% and above, typically), the best thing to use a dehumidifier instead. Dehumidifiers do the opposite job of humidifiers: they work to collect excess moisture in the air and can help to dry out damp rooms.

Dehumidifiers use a system similar to that of air conditioning to attract and collect moisture. A dehumidifier works in some ways like an air conditioner in that water condensation is collected and as it is removed from the air.

What is a good humidity level?

Relative humidity comfort scale image diagram

Generally speaking, most people and pets feel best with a humidity level (also called relative humidity) above 30% and below 60%. However, an ideal range for humidity in your home is 40-50%. Don’t try to get your room to a perfect 50% for example.

It’s not very realistic to try and get a “perfect” humidity level. Instead, we’re just after a general range where you or your family and pets will feel comfortable.

The correct humidity level is the one that you find to be comfortable with and that relieves healthy and dry air symptoms for you or your family. A great goal is to aim for around 50%.

How do I know when I need a humidifier?

ThermPro TP50 humidity and temperature gaugeIt’s easy to check the humidity where you work or live if you’ve got the right instrument. You can check both the temperature and relative humidity at a glance with an inexpensive model like the one shown here.

It’s pretty easy to know if you need a humidifier. There are two ways to tell:

  1. By recognizing the effects of low humidity (dry air) symptoms
  2. Measuring your air’s dryness using a humidity gauge

If you can tell low humidity by some of the most common signs (cracking skin, for example) or if your humidity gauge shows 30% or less, you need a humidifier. Likewise, you’ll also easily be able to tell if you have too much moisture in the air as I mentioned earlier.

I strongly recommend using a humidity gauge.

That’s because we can’t always rely on how our bodies feel at any given time to know the air condition – at different times we may feel cool, warm, etc., and this can be misleading as to how the air around us is.

Grant Williams

About the author

Grant is a professional engineer by trade and has experience with both maintenance and do-it-yourself home projects. He enjoys sharing his expertise & ideas with others to help them improve their comfort and quality of life. Read more »

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