Last Updated on July 19, 2023
Humidifiers are becoming more and more common in homes today. Are they just a trend, or do they offer various benefits? While many use them mainly to keep the air cool in a room, humidifiers help prevent skin dryness, particularly in the nose, lips, and throat! What’s more, humidifiers are known to help relieve the flu!
Humidifiers operate differently from air conditioners by increasing water vapour in the air while also keeping you cool. If you want to eradicate poor humidity symptoms like mould growth and dry skin, then having these home devices is what you need. But how does a humidifier work? We’re here to explain that today.
How Do Different Types of Humidifiers Work?
Several factors can impact your home’s humidity, such as the weather or steam caused by a hot shower. While there are some things out of your control, humidifiers, available at many hardware stores and online, can significantly help you make things more comfortable in your home.
To take an in-depth look into how humidifiers operate, we must consider all humidifiers because each unit adds moisture to the air using different methods.
An evaporative humidifier is one of the simplest types of units you can get, and it’s effective at adding moisture, too. This device uses evaporation, rather than heat, to balance the humidity levels in your house. For similarity, a bowl of water on the side would achieve a similar job at adding water droplets to the indoor air in your home.
These humidifiers feature a wicking filter and fan to disperse humidity and a cool mist into your home’s environment. They manage on their own to measure how much water vapour is needed in your house. Once the humidity starts to balance out, the unit will release less moisture into the air.
A steam humidifier boils water and releases this steam into the air. It’s a similar effect to taking a hot shower with the door closed and inhaling the steam. These humidifiers are probably the most affordable because they’re the simplest.
One great thing about them is that you can add essential oils to create wonderful experiences when the device is in use. However, bear in mind that steam humidifiers can get very hot during use, so you’ll need to supervise children when the device is switched on.
Impeller humidifiers use a fan and speed to break water droplets into tiny particles instead of warm mist. These humidifiers feature a rotating disk that flings water towards the diffuser’s opening. These mist humidifiers break the water into fine particles that can float into the air, like a cool fog.
One significant aspect of impeller humidifiers is that they’re affordable because they use a simple operation. They’re also safe to use around small children because they don’t impose any risks of burns. Furthermore, they’re perfect for covering small spaces since they only work for single rooms.
Ultrasonic humidifiers are perhaps the most advanced type you can buy. Ultrasonic humidifiers use vibration to create a cool mist that gets expelled into your home, adding moisture to the air. An ultrasonic humidifier features a metal diaphragm inside that vibrates at a high frequency to create tiny water droplets and release them into the air.
Best of all, ultrasonic humidifiers are virtually silent during use, making them suitable for eliminating dryness overnight without disturbing your sleep. They also remain cool during use, which is ideal when you have children around.
On the other hand, this type of humidifier requires a lot of maintenance and cleaning as you’ll need to ensure that the water doesn’t contain any minerals or bacteria that could get sprayed into your home.
How Does a Humidifier Create Mist?
Not all humidifiers create a mist—such as steam humidifiers—but cool mist units use ultrasonic vibrations to create and release a mist of water into the air. Other humidifiers use a disk submerged in the machine that turns rapidly to create a vibration and release water vapour into the air evenly. On the other hand, warm mist devices use electricity to heat the water and make a mist that dispels it into the air.
It’s nearly impossible to talk about humidifiers without referencing relative humidity. First, humidity is a reference for the amount of water that’s present in the air. In a dry environment, such as a desert or homes with central heating switched on, humidity levels will be low. On the other hand, the humidity will be high for areas on the coast.
Relative humidity also refers to the amount of water in the water compared to the amount of water the air can hold. This type of measurement is expressed in percentages. For example, 50 per cent humidity means that the air is holding 50 per cent of its full capability. It doesn’t mean that the larger the number, the better. Having too much water in the air of your home can cause dampness and mould. Using a humidifier helps to create the proper humidity in the air, which is around 60 per cent.
Effects of Low Humidity
Since the whole purpose of using a humidifier is to eradicate low humidity, let’s look into the side effects of low humidity in a home. One of the most obvious symptoms is the air drying out your mucus membranes. As a result, your lips will become dry, perhaps your skin will get itchy and flaky, and you may even wake each morning with a dry and sore throat.
Dryness in your home can also irritate already dry skin conditions. If you already experience eczema and there’s no moisture in the air, your skin is more likely to become dry, scaly, itchy and painful—even when it’s not winter months. When your skin becomes cracked, it’s because there’s little moisture on the outside, not just on the surface. It can cause discomfort as well as potentially lead to infections.
A low humidity level can also affect your furniture and home furnishings. You might notice cracks on wood floors, some cracks in leather chairs or even cracks in the house infrastructure.
Furthermore, little moisture can increase static electricity, which means that you get a zap. Not only is this irritating (and sometimes painful) too much static electricity can be dangerous if it builds up on electronic devices.
Low humidity can also make your eyes extremely dry and even disrupt the ability to cry. It might sound futile, but a healthy tear film is essential for good eye health and antimicrobial defence on the cornea. Dryness in your home can also affect your productivity levels due to increased blinking, which takes your focus away from the task at hand.
Did you know that viruses can survive lower in low humidity? It can then increase your chances of getting sick. Dry conditions can also encourage virus particles to lose their mass quickly, leading to infections. In simpler terms, if someone sneezes in an environment with dry air, the virus droplets can float in the air and find their way into someone else’s respiratory system.
Moreover, nasal congestion can be the result of low humidity in a home. Think about when you wake up each morning, and your nose feels dry and cracked on the inside. It creates a feeling of nasal congestion. Fortunately, humidifiers add a warm or cool mist to the air in your home, feeling you breathe easier and experiencing less nose irritation.
Effects of High Humidity
As we mentioned earlier, a humidity level that’s too high (e.g. more than 60 per cent) isn’t beneficial for your health. In particular, high humidity can contribute to condensation on windows, wood floors, doors, and other surfaces. Plus, too high relative humidity can trigger dust mite bites, mould, and harmful bacteria. Once grown, these symptoms can be a part of respiratory problems and trigger allergy flare-ups.
Tips for Caring For Different Types of Humidifiers
No matter the type of humidifier you own, it’s essential to properly care for maintaining the device and keeping it in tip-top condition. Below are some steps to managing humidifiers.
Remove Old Water
If you use a humidifier every day, can you easily forget to remove any stagnant water from the machine? Get into a habit of emptying water from the tank every day to prevent using old, dirty water that’ll then disperse into the air. Once you’ve drained the water, wipe down the machine with a clean, dry cloth. Then, fill with more water—preferably using filtered rather than tap, because this is free from minerals.
Sanitise the Humidifier
As well as removing old water from the humidifier, it’s a good protocol to sanitise your unit often, too. But before doing this, check your humidifier’s manual for some guidelines on cleaning the unit. Generally speaking, white vinegar mixed with water is an adequate solution for cleaning your humidifier. Allow this mixture to sit for 20 minutes before rinsing the tank with fresh, filtered water.
Descaling your humidifier is a great way to prevent mineral build-up, which can lead to bacteria growth. So wipe down your humidifier every day using white vinegar to remove any scales. You can purchase a humidifier descaler, but it’s cheaper and much easier to make your solution.
Monitor the Filter
The next step to properly maintaining your humidifier is to see if it comes with a filter. You can check the owner’s manual to see this, but if you no longer have access to the manual, look for a door inside the humidifier. Inside, you should find a cover on top of mesh material. Depending on the model, the humidifier might easily slide out, searching for a handle mechanism that activates a sliding action.
If your humidifiers feature a filter, you’ll want to replace it often with antimicrobial filters to prevent a build-up of bacteria and debris. This type of filter can prevent the growth and spread of bacteria, algae, and mould.
Choosing the Right Humidifiers
How does a humidifier work? It improves the moisture in your house. When choosing the right humidifier, consider its room coverage along with safety features. Additionally, whether you have a warm mist humidifier, an excellent alternative, or any other type, don’t forget to care for it properly.
Do you use humidifiers? Which types do you recommend? How was your experience with humidifiers, and what benefits did you enjoy with it? Share your tips in the comments!
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Amy is a U.K.-based writer and editor with a penchant for helping consumers find the best home products for their needs, as well as providing easily digestible guides for living better at home. Her dedication to her work means she can usually be found elbow-deep in research or hunting down samples of the latest and greatest on behalf of her readers.
An avid DIYer herself, Amy’s passion lies in teaching others how they too can achieve their dream homes by tackling some of those pesky projects themselves! Whether it’s building furniture from scratch or turning an old dresser into a coffee table, Amy is always happy to share what she knows about making your house feel like home without spending a fortune.