Demystifying Humidifiers: Can They Really Make You Sick?

As an indoor air quality expert, I’ve spent a significant portion of my career exploring the nuances of various appliances designed to make our indoor environments more comfortable. Humidifiers, devices that increase the moisture content of the air, are some of the most commonly used appliances for this purpose. They come in various types, from simple tabletop models to sophisticated whole-house systems, and offer numerous health benefits.

However, like any other appliance, humidifiers have their pros and cons. It’s essential to understand what they can do, how they work, their potential risks, and how to use them safely. If you’re considering purchasing a humidifier or are curious about the one you already own, this article will provide valuable insights.

Read more: Humidity Tips for Green Thumbs: The 7 Best Humidifiers for Plants

How do Humidifiers Work?

Humidifiers work by releasing water vapor or steam into the air to increase humidity levels. The mechanism can vary depending on the type of humidifier. For instance, evaporators blow moisture through a moistened filter, ultrasonic models produce mist through a vibrating diaphragm, and steam vaporizers heat water and then cool it before releasing it into the air.

No matter the type, the goal of a humidifier is the same: to make the air in your space feel more comfortable, especially during the drier months of fall and winter. But beyond comfort, humidifiers can also offer health benefits, particularly when used while sleeping.

Benefits of Using a Humidifier While Sleeping

One of the main benefits of using a humidifier while sleeping is that it can alleviate symptoms of dryness. Dry air can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms, such as dry skin, throat irritation, and even nosebleeds. By adding moisture to the air, a humidifier can help alleviate these symptoms.

Moreover, for those suffering from respiratory issues or allergies, a humidifier can make breathing easier. It can also help alleviate symptoms of the common cold or flu, such as congestion and coughing. But the benefits don’t stop at physical health. Some people find that humidifiers help them sleep better by creating a more comfortable environment.

The Controversy: Can Humidifiers Make You Sick?

Even with all these benefits, there’s a lingering question: can humidifiers make you sick? The answer, unfortunately, is yes. But it’s a bit more complicated than a simple yes or no. The risk comes not from the humidifier itself, but from the way it’s used and maintained.

Understanding the Risks: How Humidifiers Might Contribute to Illness

The primary risk from humidifiers comes from overuse or misuse. If a humidifier is used excessively, it can increase the humidity level in your home to unhealthy levels. High humidity can lead to the growth of mold, mildew, and dust mites, which can trigger allergies and asthma symptoms.

Another risk comes from not cleaning the humidifier regularly. If left uncleaned, bacteria and mold can grow inside the humidifier and then be released into the air, potentially causing respiratory infections or other health problems.

Preventive Measures: How to Use Your Humidifier Safely

Fortunately, there are ways to use your humidifier safely and minimize these risks. First, be mindful of the humidity level in your home. Many humidifiers come with built-in hygrometers, or you can purchase one separately. The ideal indoor humidity level is between 30-50%.

Second, clean your humidifier regularly. This helps prevent the growth of bacteria and mold. The exact cleaning frequency depends on your model, so it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Expert Opinions: What Health Professionals Say About Humidifiers

Health professionals generally agree that when used correctly, the benefits of humidifiers outweigh the risks. However, they emphasize the importance of proper use and maintenance.

Dr. David Hill, a pediatrician and author of “Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro,” recommends using distilled or demineralized water in humidifiers to prevent the buildup of minerals and bacteria. He also advises against using humidifiers around children with asthma, as the increased humidity can make their symptoms worse.

Humidifier Maintenance: Keeping Your Device Clean and Safe

Maintaining your humidifier is crucial in ensuring it functions safely and effectively. This includes regular cleaning and changing the water daily. You should also replace the filter or wick as recommended by the manufacturer.

In addition to regular maintenance, it’s also important to store your humidifier properly when not in use. This means emptying it completely, cleaning it thoroughly, and making sure it’s dry before storing it.

Making an Informed Decision: Is a Humidifier Right for You?

Deciding whether a humidifier is right for you depends on various factors, including your health, your home’s humidity levels, and your willingness to maintain the device properly. If you suffer from dry skin, allergies, or respiratory issues, a humidifier could potentially provide relief.

However, if you’re not willing or able to maintain it properly, or if you or anyone in your household has asthma, it might not be the best choice. As with any health decision, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before making a decision.


In conclusion, humidifiers can offer numerous health benefits, especially when used while sleeping. However, they can also pose risks if not used and maintained properly. By understanding these risks and taking the appropriate preventative measures, you can safely enjoy the benefits of a humidifier. Remember, the key lies in regular maintenance and mindful usage. No matter what, always prioritize your health and the health of those around you.