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Humidifiers and health

A home humidifier can increase the humidity (moisture) in your home. This helps eliminate the dry air that can irritate and inflame the airways in your nose and throat.

Information

Using a humidifier in the home can help relieve a stuffy nose and can help break up mucus so you can cough it up. Humidified air can relieve the discomfort of colds and the flu.

Follow the instructions that came with your unit so that you will know how to use your unit the right way. Clean and store the unit according to the instructions.

The following are some general tips:

  • Always use a cool-mist humidifier (vaporizer), especially for children. Warm mist humidifiers can cause burns if a person gets too close.
  • Place the humidifier several feet (approximately 2 meters) away from the bed.
  • DO NOT run a humidifier for a long time. Set the unit to 30% to 50% humidity. If room surfaces are constantly damp or wet to the touch, mold and mildew can grow. This can cause breathing problems in some people.
  • Humidifiers must be drained and cleaned daily, because bacteria can grow in standing water.
  • Use distilled water instead of tap water. Tap water has minerals that can collect in the unit. They can be released into the air as white dust and cause breathing problems. Follow the instructions that came with your unit on how to prevent buildup of minerals.

Alternative Names

Health and humidifiers; Using a humidifier for colds; Humidifiers and colds

References

US Consumer Product Safety Commission. CPSC safety alert: dirty humidifiers may cause health problems. www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/121804/5046.pdf. Accessed January 9, 2017.

Review Date 12/9/2016

Updated by: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.