Why Do Humidifiers Need Distilled Water?

If your health tends to suffer when the air in your home is particularly dry, you may want to consider using a humidifier. A humidifier can alleviate several symptoms of being in a dry environment, such as a chronically scratchy throat, dry skin, and eczema.

For the best results and longevity, you need to use distilled water in a humidifier, because tap water has a high mineral content, and when used in a humidifier, tiny particles of mineral dust end up being dispersed through the air. This dust will actually lower the air quality in your home.

In this article, we’ll be sharing with you everything you need to know about humidifiers, including how to use them, how to maintain them, and other information that might be helpful to you.

Types of Humidifiers

If you’re thinking of using a humidifier for the first time, there are several types of humidifiers you might want to consider. Let’s go over the various humidifier types and see how they differ from one another.

Central Humidifiers

While most humidifiers are portable units that can only humidify one room at a time, central humidifiers are designed to humidify your entire home. These humidifiers work by attaching directly to your home’s central heating or air conditioning unit to disperse humidity. They get their water source by tapping into your home’s plumbing.

Central humidifiers are the most expensive type of humidifier by far, but they offer several distinct advantages over other types of humidifiers.

  • For one, dry air problems in your home are often exacerbated by running your heating system during cold weather when the air is already quite dry but having a central humidifier eliminates this problem at the source.
  • In addition, central humidifiers don’t require as much maintenance as other types of humidifiers, since they get their water from your plumbing system and don’t use a supply tank.

This means that you never have to refill your humidifier, and because there’s no tank for water to sit in for long periods of time, there’s less of a chance that potentially harmful bacteria will start growing in your humidifier.

  • Plus, maintaining a consistent humidity level throughout your home is ultimately better for your health, and a central humidifier can really help in that regard.

Steam Vaporizers

A steam vaporizer has the same function as a humidifier but works in a different way. Humidifiers generally work by dispersing cool mist through various means, while vaporizers use a heating element to turn water into steam before cooling it down again and releasing it.

Compared to cool-water humidifiers, steam vaporizers offer some advantages and disadvantages.

  • The main advantage of vaporizers is that they’re cleaner to operate than humidifiers. Boiling the water before it is released into the room eliminates most of the mineral particles, bacteria, and mold that may be present in the vaporizer’s water supply.
  • The main disadvantage of steam vaporizers, however, is that they’re more dangerous than humidifiers since they emit fairly hot steam and contain boiling water. If you have young children or pets around, you might want to avoid using a steam vaporizer in your home for safety’s sake. 

Evaporative Humidifiers

Evaporative humidifiers are the most basic type of humidifier, and also the most common type. They’re generally the least expensive type of humidifier available as well.

Evaporative humidifiers consist of a fan, a reservoir, and a wick filter. The reservoir is filled with water, which saturates the wick filter. As the water in the wick filter evaporates, a fan pushes air through the filter, sending moist air out of the humidifier.

Have a Question? Ask HVAC Technician

Click here to use the chatbox to speak with one of our technicians.
No in-home service calls. No appointments.

  • Using an evaporative humidifier has a few advantages. Because they don’t use heat to create moist air, they’re safer to have around young kids and pets. They also create less mineral dust than other types of humidifiers and are the least expensive to buy.
  • The downside of evaporative humidifiers is that you have to clean the wick filter regularly to prevent bacteria and mold from growing in it. 

Impeller Humidifiers

Impeller humidifiers are another popular type of humidifier. These humidifiers use a spinning disc that turns their water supply into mist. This mist is then released from the humidifier into the room.

  • Impeller humidifiers are also pretty inexpensive, and because they don’t generate heat, they’re safe to use in any household.
  • The main downside of impeller humidifiers, however, is that they’re a bit noisier than other types of humidifiers, largely thanks to the spinning disc inside the humidifier.

Ultrasonic Humidifiers

Ultrasonic humidifiers are the last (but not least) type of humidifier on our list. Like both evaporative and impeller humidifiers, ultrasonic humidifiers are safe to use around kids, since they don’t contain any boiling water or create any heat.

Ultrasonic humidifiers work by using a component that oscillates at a very high speed. When water comes into contact with this component, it turns into vapor, which is then forced out of the humidifier.

  • Ultrasonic humidifiers are usually much quieter than evaporative or impeller humidifiers since the oscillating component doesn’t cause as much noise as either a fan or a spinning disc.
  • Ultrasonic humidifiers don’t use filters either, which makes them more environmentally friendly by generating less waste. With other humidifiers, you often have to throw out old filters and replace them with new ones when they get too clogged with mineral deposits.
  • However, ultrasonic filters tend to generate more mineral particles than other types of humidifiers, so you’ll really want to use distilled water only with this type of humidifier.

Tips for Using and Maintaining Your Humidifier

If you want to get the most out of your humidifier, there are a few things you should keep in mind when using it and cleaning it. Let’s go over some of the things you should know about using your humidifier.

Keep Track of Your Humidity Levels

If you’re using a humidifier primarily for health reasons, you’ll want to do your best to keep the humidity levels in your home as consistent as possible. Having too much variation in the humidity levels in your home can negatively affect your health in some cases.

Related: Why is Humidity Higher Inside Than Outside?

In particular, you should do what you can to prevent the humidity in your home from ever getting too high. In general, you should try and keep the humidity levels in your home between 25-40% in the winter, and under 60% in the summer.

If you let the humidity in your house get too high, it can actually worsen some allergic symptoms. This is because organisms like dust mites, mildew, and mold love growing in excessively humid conditions. 

Avoid Using Tap Water

We’ve previously mentioned this, but if you want your air quality to be as good as possible when using a humidifier, you need to fill it with distilled or demineralized water. In fact, most manufacturers of humidifiers explicitly state that tap water shouldn’t be used in their products.

Calcium Buildup

Aside from the fact that using tap water in a humidifier will disperse mineral particles all over your room for you to breathe in, over time tap water will also leave mineral deposits inside your humidifier. These deposits will not only clog up your humidifier but encourage the growth of bacteria. 

Clean Your Humidifier Regularly

Bacteria and mold can grow surprisingly quickly inside a humidifier, and it’s prudent to clean your humidifier often if you’re using it every day. At minimum you should be cleaning your humidifier every three days, but if you clean it every day that’s even better.

It’s also a good idea to avoid using harsh cleaning products on your humidifier, as these can leave behind residues that aren’t good for you. Instead, use a white vinegar cleaning solution, which acts as both a deodorizer and a disinfectant.

Don’t Leave Water Sitting In the Humidifier

It’s important to never leave standing water in your humidifier for too long, as this provides an excellent breeding ground for bacteria and other unwanted substances. If you let water sit in the humidifier for longer than a day or so, you’re pretty much extending an open invitation to bacteria and mold to make themselves at home in your humidifier.

Do I Have to Clean My Humidifier?

You may be wondering how essential it really is to clean your humidifier regularly. After all, what’s the big deal about a little extra bacteria in your room?

In actual fact, that little extra bacteria can become a pretty big deal, especially if you have asthma, allergies, or other respiratory conditions. Certain types of bacteria that tend to grow in humidifiers can also cause an illness called hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which is also sometimes referred to as “humidifier fever”.

Hypersensitivity pneumonitis occurs when you inhale various organic compounds, which aside from bacteria include certain chemicals and proteins from plants and animals. Symptoms of this illness get worse the longer you spend breathing in contaminated air.

The symptoms of hypersensitivity pneumonitis include:

  • Inflammation of the lungs
  • Aching body
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chills
  • Fever

This illness can be treated by removing the source of the contaminants from the air, but if you continue breathing in these contaminants for a long time, you may start experiencing worse symptoms like chronic lung infections, weight loss, and scarring in your lungs.

In short, cleaning your humidifier regularly is not only recommended but essential!