The dry skin, the cracked lips, the stuffed nose, and the wheezy breathing, that’s how every winter begins for me! Luckily, I’ve always got my humidifier by my side. It allows any person who suffers from respiratory ailments to enjoy winter just like everybody else.
It’s not all good news, though. You must regularly clean your humidifier, or else you’d be breathing harmful microorganisms!
Fortunately, the best cleanser is right there in your kitchen. Add vinegar to humidifier water, and you’d get a clean, disinfected, and shiny humidifier.
Why vinegar? How to apply it? And what else to consider? That’s what we’ll discuss in this article. Take a deep breath, and let’s get going!
Table of Contents
Why Is It Important to Keep Your Humidifier Clean?
I’ve seen people saying that if the water is constantly flowing through the humidifier, there’s no need to clean it, which is totally wrong.
Regular humidifier cleaning is essential to maintain the humidifier and fight infection.
To Maintain the Humidifier
Tap water usually has high mineral content. Over time, using tap water in your humidifier will cause these minerals to deposit inside and build what’s known as limescale.
Why is limescale bad? Well, most types of humidifiers transform water into a micro-fine mist by ultrasonic vibration. Limescale dampens these vibrations to some extent, which leads to lower device efficiency.
Not to mention that if limescale builds up to a thick mass, it’ll decrease the amount of water your humidifier can hold.
That’s why nearly all manufacturers suggest using only mineral-free or distilled water for your humidifier.
To Fight Infection
Bacteria and mold thrive well in water and humid areas in general. Therefore, when you leave the water to stagnate, you’re giving a chance for the microorganisms to replicate and infest your humidifier.
If you use the humidifier without thoroughly cleaning it, you’ll be risking the release of these harmful microorganisms into the air you breathe. This would be especially risky for people suffering from respiratory ailments, like asthma and seasonal fever.
I’ve actually suffered from this issue myself, being an asthmatic patient. You think you’re breathing pure air when you’re, in fact, breathing thousands of bacteria and mold.
Bacteria isn’t the only harmful pollutant, though. A study showed that inhaling the mineral-rich white dust deposited in your humidifier can lead to serious lung injuries, especially for infants and young children.
Why Should You Use Vinegar?
Now that we’ve agreed on why your humidifier needs to be cleaned, what can you use to clean it? Vinegar is hands down the best option. It’s able to solve the two problems I mentioned earlier.
It Dissolves Limescale
Acids interact with limescale and produce soluble salts that can be easily washed away. Lucky for us, vinegar may contain 5-20% acetic acid.
It Kills Microorganisms
Acetic acid is found to be effective against a bunch of household microorganisms. For instance, applying 6% vinegar for 30 minutes can kill S. aureus and E. coli. As you might already know, an S. aureus infection can be pretty bad for people with lung problems.
Use the same concentration for longer than 30 minutes, and you’ll spare your delicate lungs from tuberculosis, as proved in a study published by the American Society of Microbiology. If you use 10% malt vinegar for 10 minutes, you’ll get rid of the flu virus.
Last but not least, applying a mixture of vinegar and lemon juice for 15 minutes can drastically reduce salmonella pathogens in water. It’s worth mentioning that salmonella is responsible for 1.35 million infections every year in the US alone.
Types of Vinegar to Add to Humidifier Water
Believe me, I’ve been there! After you do the research and decide on vinegar for a cleaning solution, you end up in the store aisle confused between white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, you name it.
To keep things simple, we can agree that any type would work. The effective ingredient is acetic acid, which is found in all vinegar products.
However, each type holds something special, and that’s what we’ll explore in this section.
This is my personal favorite type. It’s made from fermented grains, like corn. That’s why it ends up a lot cheaper than other types. An ounce of white vinegar lies around 20 cents compared to 40 cents for apple cider vinegar.
Moreover, white vinegar is usually made with the highest acetic acid percentage. This makes it more effective against microorganisms and limescale.
But being clear is the most important benefit for me. Frequent use of colored vinegar increases the likelihood of staining surfaces, which is the last thing you’d want to happen.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Although I said that white vinegar is my favorite, it usually bothers me with its strong smell, to be honest. If this sounds familiar to you, then apple cider vinegar would be your best bet.
While white vinegar is made from fermented grains, apple cider comes from fermenting apple juice. This is why it has a pleasant and sweet scent.
The only thing you’d be trading off is the possibility of staining. This can be solved by diluting it with water, but you’d be decreasing the acetic acid concentration.
Also, most apple cider vinegar bottles contain a substance called “the mother”. In short, this substance is a kind of beneficial bacteria that holds a nutritious value rather than a cleaning value. It would be a waste of money to spill this vinegar in a humidifier.
I have friends that use balsamic vinegar for cleaning. But frankly, I don’t know why!
This type of vinegar is made from grape must, which makes it so much darker than apple cider vinegar. It’s almost inevitable that it would leave a stain or two.
Most importantly, it costs around $3 per ounce! I’d willingly pay this much to enjoy its unique taste. But for cleaning, I’d go for the cheaper and more effective options.
Industrial vinegar is the only type that’s solely made for cleaning. It may contain 20-50% acetic acid, which makes it inappropriate for culinary use.
As you might’ve guessed, this vinegar would be the best option in terms of efficacy. Yet it has the strongest smell that also lingers for more time. That’s why it might not be a suitable option for people suffering from respiratory ailments.
On a side note, industrial vinegar is highly effective against weeds. But it can bleach your patio stone due to the high acid content. So it’s better to do a patch test before using it.
How to Clean Humidifier With Vinegar
After picking your favorite vinegar type, it’s time to do the actual cleaning. In this section, we’ll discuss how to perform the regular cleaning cycle for your humidifier.
How often? Well, it depends. I prefer to clean my humidifier every three days. But you might notice that your water forms limescale sooner, which requires cleaning more often. Therefore, this is left to your personal judgment.
Step 1: Prepare the Humidifier
To start, turn off your humidifier before disassembling it. Get rid of any residual water inside the tank.
Depending on your model, detach any removable part from the base to be able to reach the deepest and most constricted areas. Make sure you remember where every part goes to be able to install them back.
Step 2: Clean the Filter
If your model features a filter, you should clean it separately. Hold it under cool water to rinse the impurities.
I don’t prefer using vinegar for this step, though. I’ve learned by experience that the vinegar smell lingers inside the filter pores for a long time.
Instead, use a toothbrush to scrape any stubborn spots. If you can’t return the filter to its original condition, it might be the time to replace it.
After finishing, place the filter on a clean cloth to dry until you clean the other parts.
Step 3: Clean the Tank
Fill the tank halfway with water, then add 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar. Close the filter and shake it vigorously to cover all the surfaces with the vinegar.
Let the water sit for at least 30 minutes. This is the required time for vinegar to kill bacteria and mold.
Scrape any resistant limescale with a toothbrush. If your tank doesn’t have enough access for a toothbrush, add 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar to increase its potency.
Step 4: Clean the Base
Fill the whole base with water and add 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar. Similarly, you should let the mixture sit for 30 minutes. Use a small brush to reach the confined areas.
Collect the detachable components and clean them inside any container with the same mixture and for the same time.
Step 5: Rinse
Rinse all the components under running water. Shake them well to get rid of any residual vinegar.
Don’t freak out if any vinegar smell lingers after you finish. It should completely disappear after drying.
Step 6: Wipe and Let Dry
Clean the outer parts of your humidifier with a clean cloth dampened with water/vinegar mixture. After you finish, place all the components on clean towels and let them air dry.
Some people prefer to dry with a cloth to instantly use it, but I advise against that. Air drying will get rid of any remaining vinegar smell.
How to Disinfect a Humidifier
Don’t get me wrong. The regular cleaning cycle I mentioned earlier disinfects your humidifier, but not completely. In this section, we’ll see how you can perform deeper and stronger cleaning.
Expectedly, you don’t need to do it as often. Once per month is what most of the manufacturers recommend.
Use Bleach or Hydrogen Peroxide
Although vinegar is antibacterial, it’s not as strong as bleach or hydrogen peroxide.
Mix 1 teaspoon of bleach or 3 cups of hydrogen peroxide with each gallon of water. Then, perform the same cleaning steps, as mentioned before.
However, it’s important to check the device instructions before using these heavy-duty solutions. Otherwise, some humidifiers may be permanently damaged.
Also, pay special attention to the rinsing and drying steps. If a humidifier is turned on with bleach inside, it may cause serious respiratory problems. That’s why I don’t like to use this method on my humidifier.
Run the Humidifier With Vinegar
Fill your humidifier with water and add 4-5 tablespoons of vinegar. Then place the humidifier outside your home and let it run for an hour. Afterward, pour any remaining water and rinse the tank and the base.
Before you use the humidifier indoors, it’s better to run it one more time with distilled water. This will make sure that there isn’t any vinegar inside.
Humidifier Maintenance Tips
Aside from the cleaning, I thought I should share with you some tips that could extend the life of your humidifier.
Turn It Down
A long time ago, I used to prefer running my humidifier on the highest setting. I loved to see the mist coming out of the device crystal clear. I thought that would alleviate my asthma and cracked skin faster. But I was wrong.
Remember what I said earlier about bacteria and mold? They love moisture. If you turn up your humidifier settings, you’re actually making it easier for microorganisms to thrive in your home, especially around the humidifier.
Deep Clean Before Storage
It’s the end of the winter, no more fever, dry skin, or breathing difficulty. Hallelujah!
Good news for you, but maybe bad for your humidifier. A lot of my friends prefer to postpone the cleaning until the next winter, arguing that a deep clean is due after storage anyways. Do that, and you’ll be amazed by how much mold grows around the year!
Therefore, it’s imperative to do a deep clean with vinegar before storage. Make sure to thoroughly dry every part of your humidifier to prevent the growth of microorganisms.
Use Essential Oils for Remaining Scent
Vinegar scent should wear off on its own. If you want to speed up the process, add any essential oil to the humidifier water.
I like to use Breathe Easy by GuruNanda. In addition to the lovely scent, it eases my seasonal fever to a large extent.
My Favorite Brands to Add Vinegar to Humidifier Water
How does every vinegar perform? What’s great and what could be better? That’s what I’ll cover for each of my recommended products. Let’s see!
1. Heinz White Vinegar
One customer says that it works great and doesn’t leave a scent behind.
On the downside, I don’t remember the last time I liked Heinz packaging. Sometimes the bottle is too thin and sometimes the cap doesn’t properly seal. There’s always something!
That’s why I prefer to use Heinz vinegar after putting it into another bottle.
- 5% Vinegar
- Faint odor
- Poor packaging
2. Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar
As I mentioned earlier, I prefer to reserve my apple cider vinegar for food, especially because Bragg’s vinegar contains “the mother”. Then again, due to its pleasant scent, it’s a lot less irritating than white vinegar.
One user explains that Bragg’s products are authentic, untampered with, tried and true products. He adds that you can even see “the mother” in every bottle.
The only thing that I don’t like is the price. It costs considerably more than other apple cider products, mainly because of the “mother”.
- Sweet smell
- Contains “the mother”
- Superior quality
- Can stain the humidifier
3. Calyptus 45% Industrial Vinegar
One customer suggests mixing this vinegar with some pure citrus oil and you have a cleanser that’ll clean anything off.
This vinegar costs the same amount as the 5% white vinegar. I think that this provides the best value for your money.
However, such a high concentration wouldn’t be suitable for food. Therefore, make sure you’d need to use a gallon entirely for cleaning. Also, the smell is notably strong. Don’t use it if you have respiratory problems.
- 45% acetic acid
- Exceptional results
- Can’t be used for food
- Strong smell
4. Lucy’s White Vinegar
This vinegar from Lucy stands out by its economical price. Unlike Heinz, this vinegar comes with superb packaging that doesn’t leak, smell, or disturb you by any means.
One of the customers says that he was expecting some kind of leakage during transit, but the bottle turned out perfect with an intact seal.
It features 5% acetic acid, just like any other white vinegar. Its smell is quite stronger, though.
- Great packaging
- 5% acetic acid
- Pretty strong smell
To Sum Up
It’s not practical to clean with more expensive types like balsamic vinegar. It’ll also increase the risk of staining your humidifier.
To maintain your humidifier, clean it with 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar every three days. Raise that to 4-5 tablespoons in case you’re performing a deep clean.
Lastly, I hope you have a smooth and disease-free winter!