To humidify or not to humidify

By Mir
January 9, 2007

Actually, that isn’t the question. The real question is how to humidify.

Melanie Marie writes:

Oh wonderful, kind, pretty, wise Mir,

It is that time of year again when all my skin starts to crack and peel and I get sore throats at night from the lack of humidity in the air (not to mention the massive shocks I get when touching anything metal). Do you have any suggestions on how to find a quality humidifier for a reasonable cost? I don’t have central air so I need a stand-alone unit. Any thoughts/ideas would be appreciated!

I must confess with a hanging head that I’ve had this question for a while. I was perplexed. I still am, actually.

Here’s the thing: I have allergies. My kids have allergies. And I have always bought the party line that humidity = mold. When my kids were babies, I owned a humidifier because they would periodically get that deep chest cough that scares the bejeezus out of new parents, the pediatrician would tell me to run a humidifier for them. I would run it as directed, and then go through the hassle and inefficacy of trying to clean it, and meanwhile each and every filter sported mildew the moment I brought them into the house, it seemed.

I am not a fan of humidifiers.

On the other hand, I know that ideal household humidity is between about 30% and 50%, with between 30%-40% being optimal for the cold winter months. When it’s too dry inside, our skin dries out, which is uncomfortable, but also our nasal passages dry out, which may make us more susceptible to illness. (See? Snot is actually useful.)

So, yeah. Sometimes you need to humidify your house.

My house is heated via forced hot water in baseboards, so I’ve not had to do much, here. Occasionally I’ll just boil off an extra pot of water on the stove or take a longer than average shower.

But if you need a humidifier, how do you go about choosing one? I rather like this quick rundown on about things to consider. I can’t tell you “go buy this or that” because I don’t know how big your house is, whether or not you have allergy concerns, whether you prefer warm to cool mist, etc. But that piece will help you consider the various factors, as will this overview from Consumer Reports.

Now here’s where I’m going to say what no one wants to hear. A humidifier is one of those things where you get what you pay for. You can find a cheap tabletop unit, sure, but it’s going to get mildewy and it may not even produce the humidity level it promises. You can’t skimp on a purchase like this (much as I wish you could).

I went and checked out the options at Allergy Buyers Club, because they’re a good source on this sort of thing if you’re concerned about allergies (which I am). Even if you think you’re not concerned about allergy stuff, don’t be so quick to disregard the “allergy-safe” models. No one wants mold in their house, allergies or no.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. If there’s a humidifier expert out there, feel free to share. My advice boils down to “do some research and make sure you’re not buying your own personal mold swamp.” And that an a dollar will get you a cup of (lousy) coffee.


  1. We have started hanging up our laundry to dry in the living room. Our clothes need to dry, and our house is so dry that they dry quickly, humidifying the air. Everyone does not have this kind of space, but a few wet towels in key places will dry before becoming moldy. . .

  2. Our main heat source is a wood stove, and we have a large pot of water bubbling away on it at all times. (If it dries out, you can hear the electricity crack when the cats bump noses with each other.) I realize that not too many people have wood stoves, but this backs up your idea of boiling a pot of water on the kitchen stove.

  3. I can’t believe the allergy thing never occured to me! I do have allergies and asthma. I guess I know what I am spending my Christmas money on!

    Thanks, if it wasn’t for you I would have purchased a very cheap mold-swamp of death.

  4. The laundry in the living room reminds me of college, when we’d put a wet towel on the heater to humidify the dorm room. It worked then, why not now? I guess I won’t need my dryer any more. 🙂

  5. Heh, I fried one of my towels in college when I left it on the heater all day! What a fire hazard, but it was that or constant nosebleeds. Hmmm, that’s about when my allergy problems started too, maybe the dry, cracked inner-nose let SOMETHING in!

  6. Maybe putting a crockpot on with water in it, and the lid off, might add some humidity to the air, but in a more safe manner. I think if the lid was off one would have to replenish the water sometimes but it sounds a lot more safe & space-conserving than some of the options. I don’t know if the crockpot would get hot enough to really make a difference with the water evaporation but I do know that if I put soup in my crockpot all day on high, it will actually bubble it’s so hot, so I think it could work.

  7. We have three of these:

    However, we bought them all at Target and paid less than the price listed on Kaz (I think we paid $45 or $50 apiece). If you scroll down to the related products, you’ll see the “cleaning cartridges” which you throw in every 30 days and don’t have to clean the thing as often. When you do clean it, it isn’t too hard to do. Using this humidifier has prevented the morning sore throat thing, and helped my son who used to wake up every morning and have a coughing fit (and then not cough for the rest of the day). Kaz customer service is very good–we complained about a piece breaking and they said it wasn’t supposed to happen, so we should cut off the cord and send it in, and they would send us a brand new humidifier, just based on what we told them. Good luck!

    bec 😀

  8. Just perch a small bowl of water on top of the radiator. Don’t forget to top up.

  9. Any ideas for a house that has ceiling registers??

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