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How to Clean a Humidifier (13 Easy Steps)

Collage of how to clean a humidifier.

Humidifiers work wonders, particularly in winter when the air becomes dry and wreaks havoc with your skin and sinuses. However, humidifiers don’t clean the air; they keep it moist by releasing vapor which creates humidity. Although humidifiers provide numerous benefits, they require regular cleaning to prevent the buildup of mold and bacteria being diffused into the air.

To clean a humidifier, switch off the device, empty the tank and take out the spray nozzle. Empty the reservoir and pour a mixture of water and vinegar into the tank, allowing it to drain to the reservoir for descaling. Repeat the process with bleach to kill any germs or bacteria in the reservoir.

To keep your humidifier working properly, you must descale and disinfect your device regularly so the device doesn’t get clogged up and cause health problems.

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 7: Clean the Reservoir

How to Clean a Humidifier

Materials

  • Gloves
  • Vinegar
  • Bleach
  • A small brush (optional)
  • A clean, soft cloth
  • 1 Cup of undiluted distilled vinegar
  • 1 Teaspoon of bleach

Instructions

Step 1: Unplug Your Humidifier

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 1: Unplug Your Humidifier

Before cleaning your humidifier, please turn it off and unplug it. Next, place it on a water-resistant surface, preferably close to a faucet, so you can easily fill and drain it without spilling water. Bathrooms and kitchens have the best surfaces to clean your humidifier.

Step 2: Empty the Tank

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 2: Empty the Tank

After turning off and unplugging your device, open the cap to empty the tank. Empty the humidifier's tank into a sink or basin, ensuring it is empty and no stagnant, dirty water remains. Even though a humidifier continually turns water into mist, the reservoir does not necessarily drain completely. This is a fertile environment for mold to form.

Top Tip:

Between cleans, empty your humidifier often, give it a good rinse and dry it with a soft cloth to remove any mineral buildup. Remember that cleaning your humidifier is different from cleaning it.

Step 3: Remove the Accessories

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 3: Remove the Accessories

When the tank is empty, remove the water filter or cartridge and the cartridge that demineralizes the water. These filters must remain clean.

If your humidifier has a filter, remove this and soak it in vinegar. Vinegar works for both hard and soft filters. Soft filters can tear, so never wring your soft filter out.

Pay attention to the manufacturer's instructions, as these will detail how often filters and cartridges need to be replaced and whether there are any specific cleaning instructions.

Step 4: Empty the Reservoir

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 4: Empty the Reservoir

Remove the mist nozzle and empty the reservoir. Make sure to drain out all the water so that 100% of the vinegar you use covers the reservoir's surface to thoroughly descale for the device and remove mineral buildups.

Step 5: Pour Vinegar Into the Tank

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 5: Pour Vinegar Into the Tank

Pour one cup of undiluted, distilled white vinegar into the tank. Vinegar works wonders to descale your humidifier. The benefit of using vinegar in your humidifier is that it effectively loosens mineral deposits and residue. White, distilled vinegar doesn't stain or leave a colored residue. Darker kinds of vinegar tend to do this.

Undiluted vinegar works best but if the smell is too overpowering for you, add a cup of water to tone down the odor.

Top Tip:

Although white vinegar is most often recommended to clean humidifiers, apple cider vinegar works just as well and has a less pungent smell.

Step 6: Clean the Mist Nozzle and Tank

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 6: Clean the Mist Nozzle and Tank

Place the mist nozzle inside the tank and put the cap back on. Swish the vinegar around by rotating the tank in circles. Allow the vinegar to cover and wash the entire area of the tank to ensure that it loosens any scales and mineral deposits on the nozzle and tank.

Step 7: Clean the Reservoir

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 7: Clean the Reservoir

Place the tank back onto the base and allow all the vinegar to drain into the reservoir. Make sure that the entire surface of the reservoir is covered with vinegar to allow complete descaling.

Top Tip:

Leave the vinegar solution in the reservoir for approximately 20 minutes to thoroughly descale the reservoir.

How to Clean a Humidifier - Leave the vinegar solution in the reservoir for approximately 20 minutes to thoroughly descale the reservoir.

Step 8: Empty and Rinse the Tank and Reservoir

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 8: Empty and Rinse the Tank and Reservoir

After the vinegar has worked its magic, remove the mist nozzle, empty both the tank and reservoir and then rinse them with fresh, clean water.

You will likely need to repeat this a few times to ensure that all the vinegar is removed and your humidifier doesn't distill vinegary mist into the room.

Step 9: Mix a Bleach Solution

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 9: Mix a Bleach Solution

Use one teaspoon of bleach to a gallon of water. Mix a bleach solution and repeat the process, pouring water through the tank into the reservoir.

Bleach kills germs and bacteria through a process of oxidation. The chemicals in bleach obliterate germs and fungi. The ingredient in bleach is hypochlorite, which quickly kills any bacteria or mold diaspores lurking in your humidifier. If the smell of bleach is too strong, hydrogen peroxide also works to disinfect.

Hydrogen peroxide must be mixed with distilled water, not hard water with high mineral content. Pour a 3:1 mixture of 3% hydrogen peroxide. Using 3% hydrogen peroxide is important as it is suitable for mixing with water.

Step 10: Disinfect the Tank, Spray Nozzle, and Reservoir

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 10: Disinfect the Tank, Spray Nozzle, and Reservoir

Repeat the descaling process, this time using bleach as a disinfectant:

  • Make a solution for disinfecting by mixing a teaspoon bleach into a gallon of water.
  • Pour bleach into the tank.
  • Place the spray nozzle into the tank.
  • Swirl the beach solution around in the tank.
  • Place the tank back onto the reservoir.
  • Let the bleach mixture run through into the reservoir.
  • Leave the bleach mixture in for 20-minutes before rinsing and drying.

Top Tips:

You can mix bleach with baking soda as an extra measure to quickly dissolve germs and bacteria. Baking soda is the only cleaning agent safe to use with bleach. Rubber gloves protect your hands from bleach burns.

To give your tank and reservoir a thorough cleaning, put bleach and baking soda paste on a toothbrush and gently scrub the insides of the tank and reservoir. Follow the same process to clean the components of your device but scrub sparingly, as this could damage the parts.

Step 11: Empty the Tank and Reservoir

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 11: Empty the Tank and Reservoir

After soaking your reservoir and tank in a bleach solution, empty the tank and reservoir, ensuring no bleach solution remains behind. Bleach is toxic for human consumption.

Step 12: Rinse the Tank, Reservoir, and Spray Nozzle

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 12: Rinse the Tank, Reservoir, and Spray Nozzle

After emptying the tank and reservoir, rinse everything thoroughly. Rinse everything a few times to remove any bleach and odor traces. Remove the spray nozzle when the bleach has rested in the reservoir tank and has had a chance to completely disinfect the entire surface.

Step 13: Dry the Tank and Reservoir

How to Clean a Humidifier - Step 13: Dry the Tank and Reservoir

Finally, use a soft clean cloth and dry everything thoroughly. This final step will ensure that any remaining scales, mineral deposits, and bleach solution are wiped away.

Your diffuser is now scale and mineral-deposit free as well as bacteria and mold free. Fill it up with distilled water and enjoy clean humidity in your home.

Notes

Top Tips on When to Clean Your Humidifier

Minerals evaporate through your humidifier and settle on the surfaces around your humidifier.

Suppose you notice a fine white powdery substance on your furniture. In that case, this indicates that your humidifier needs urgent cleaning.  

Another sign that your humidifier needs to be cleaned is when the tank does not need to be filled as often; this is a sign that there is a buildup of scales and your device is clogged.

Clean your humidifier more often. Suppose the area is dusty, or you have dogs that shed hair and dander. In that case, this will eventually work into the water tank and reservoir.

Bacteria, dust mites, and viruses thrive in humidity. If your humidifier runs continuously, the air and the humidifier become too humid, breeding mold. Once again, clean your device with bleach; however, do this more often if you seldom switch your humidifier off.

Top Tips for Keeping Your Humidifier and Accessories Cleaner for Longer

Distilled water is free from minerals like sodium and magnesium, which keeps your humidifier cleaner for longer. Distilled water also improves the air quality in your home. It is less likely to be a breeding ground for microspores of mold.

Using hard water in your humidifier leaves mineral deposits that clog up its mechanism and render it ineffective. If you have to use tap water, use a filter to keep your device free from germs and bacteria and descale and disinfect it more often.

Bottled water generally contains minerals that leave behind particles which means you need to descale your humidifier more often and may cause your humidifier to malfunction and require frequent maintenance.

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Resources:

What You Should Know About Humidifiers

How to Clean a Humidifier, According to Cleaning Experts

Vicks Filter-Free Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier V4600 – How to Clean

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