Now that winter is upon is, it’s a good idea to invest in a good humidifier if you don’t already have one. In this post I highlight the benefits of these machines and discuss the differences between cool and warm mist humidifiers.
What are the benefits of a humidifier?
During the cold winter months the air becomes dry. This causes our skin and airways to dry out as we lose more water from our skins through osmosis. Humidifiers work by adding moisture back into the air to increase the humidity. This can help relieve dry skin and cracked lips, dry nasal passages and associated nose bleeds, dry and sore throats as well as snoring. Humidifiers also help alleviate congestion by loosening up mucus secretions.
Humidifiers also help prevent the spread of airborne viruses, which is especially helpful in winter. A higher humidity prevents the movement of germs because when they combine with water droplets they become heavier causing them to fall to the ground.
Humidifiers are not only beneficial in winter but also in summer as air conditioners can also make the air dry. Use during spring and autumn can also help alleviate the symptoms of allergies because moisture will soothe nasal passages as well as dry itchy eyes.
Warm versus cool mist?
Warm mist humidifiers are evaporative. They heat up the water to create warm steam or mist, which can warm up a room. However by the time the vapour reaches the airways it will be room temperature. Since these humidifiers warm up the water, they have the advantage of helping to destroy any bacteria present in the water so that the water vapour being dispersed into the air is clean. Regardless of this, warm humidifiers are not recommended for use in children’s bedrooms or in areas where they can get a hold of them because children can burn themselves.
There are two different types of cool humidifiers – ultrasonic and evaporative ones. Both types are often advertised as “cool mist”. The evaporative ones evaporate the water without heating it up whereas the ultrasonic ones disperse water droplets instead of water vapour. The problem with this is that water droplets are larger and able to carry other substances present in the water with them whereas water vapour cannot. However, ultrasonic humidifiers are quieter and also more energy efficient.
What are the risks of a humidifier?
There are some people who don’t advocate the use of a humidifier because of the negative effects it can have on your health but these effects are mostly due to improper cleaning of your device.
Whenever water is allowed to sit, there is a chance of bacteria and mold growing. I spoke briefly about ultrasonic humidifiers and how they not only propel water into the air but everything else that is in the water. This means that whatever has grown in the water will be dispersed into the air, which can cause health problems.
You will also get a buildup of minerals from the water if your machine is not cleaned properly and similarly these will also be dispersed into the air and fall as white dust. This dust is not necessarily harmful but it can irritate the airways of children and those with respiratory problems. If this is a risk it’s better to use distilled water in the tank, which is mineral free.
It is also possible to put too much moisture into the air, which can lead to the growth of mold inside your home. If you notice water drops on the windows or windowsills you will have to use the humidifier less often. You could invest in a hygrometer to monitor the humidity, which should never be more than 50% inside your home.
What about an air purifier?
An air purifier is not the same thing as a humidifier. Purifiers clear the air of allergens and dust and can also reduce mold, which can be really helpful for asthma sufferers. It is possible to use both a humidifier and an air purifier in the same room because they both have a different purpose.
Which humidifier you choose is really a matter of personal preference (if there is no danger of a child burning him or herself). The most important thing is that you keep your humidifier VERY clean. This is especially important with the ultrasonic humidifiers. Regular and thorough cleaning will prevent mineral buildup, growth of bacteria and mold and also keep your machine working optimally.
I also wouldn’t rely on various claims made by manufacturers about the product being able to prevent bacterial buildup. The bottom line is that you need to clean your humidifier every day.