How to clean a humidifier, so you can breathe easy

Let's clear the air

Plant next to a humidifier on the table
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sleeping with a humidifier or running one during the day has numerous benefits. If you have a cold or sinus infection, it can help alleviate dryness and irritation, making you feel more comfortable. Humidifiers are also helpful for improving skin and hair. From traditional steam humidifiers to newer ultrasonic mist models, these appliances have so many uses.

However, they do require a little bit of work to maintain, and cleaning them is essential to keep them running well and to prevent mold growth, which can make you very sick. Fortunately, the cleaning process isn’t too difficult and only takes a few minutes. You could easily just tack it onto your weekly cleaning checklist and never forget about it again! Here is the best way to clean a humidifier. 

Good to know

Time: 1 hour

Difficulty: Easy

Helpful hints: If you use a humidifier every night or most nights, you will need to clean it daily as well as weekly. Fortunately, the daily cleaning process is pretty easy and should only take a few minutes. However, the weekly cleanings are a bit more labor-intensive. Still, it’s crucial to take these steps to keep your humidifier not only in good working condition but also because a dirty humidifier simply won’t work as well as a clean one does. 

Here's what you'll need

How to clean a humidifier

According to Dirk Niedermann from Crane, which is a brand that makes humidifiers for both adults and children, daily cleaning is quite simple. All you need to do is empty the base and water tank each day. If you let your humidifier run until the water is empty (from any brand), all the water from the base and tank should be used up. If you don’t let it run until empty, be sure to empty the base and tank before refilling it again. 

Keep in mind that while you can clean your humidifier with regular tap water, it’s best to run the machine with purified water. While you don’t need to go so far as to use bottled water, anything purified at home with a filter will be preferable to tap water, especially if you have hard or very mineralized water where you live. Now let's jump into how to clean your humidifier.

Step 1: Turn off your humidifier and empty out any water

Start by turning off and unplugging your humidifier. Remove the water tank from the base and empty any residual water into the sink.

WARNING: No matter what type or brand of humidifier you are cleaning, never immerse the base in water because it can damage the unit.

Step 2: Add white vinegar

Fill the water tank halfway with warm water and add two tablespoons of white vinegar. Our all-time fave is Heinz, which you can buy in small or big bottles on Amazon.

Step 3: Shake and wait

Once the vinegar is in your tank, shake the humidifier vigorously and let it sit for 30 minutes. Then empty the tank and rinse with plain water.

Step 4: Do another round of a diluted vinegar solution

Fill up the base with warm water, but this time add just 1 tablespoon of white vinegar rather than two. Let the base sit for 30 minutes.

Step 5: Empty and rinse

Empty out the base and give it a few good rinses with plain water. Make sure to pour the water away from the fan outlet when emptying so you don't damage the electronic parts or hurt yourself.

Step 6: Let your humidifier dry

Allow the tank and base to air dry and leave the cap off the tank until you plan on using it again. Now is also a great time to take your microfiber cloths and wipe down the exterior of your humidifier, getting rid of any dust or gunk. And voila, a clean humidifier!


What is the best way to clean a humidifier?

The best way to clean a humidifier is to empty it daily as well as take it apart on a weekly basis using the processes described above, which involves using white vinegar and cleaning cloths.

Can I run vinegar through my humidifier?

You cannot run vinegar straight through your humidifier. Not only can the acid potentially cause problems with the various components, but the smell of warm vinegar is likely something you don’t want wafting through your home. 

However, you can and should clean your humidifier with white vinegar. Any brand will do. Just make sure it isn’t cleaning vinegar because this type of vinegar is highly acidic and can be corrosive. Remember, you only need a small amount and it must be diluted. 

Amanda Lauren

Hi, I’m Amanda Lauren. I’m a design expert and interior stylist who writes for Real Homes, Forbes, Real Simple among other publications. I live in Los Angeles in the historic neighborhood of Hancock Park with my husband, and two dogs, Lulu and Milo. We also have a baby coming in spring 2023. I’m a big believer in finding beautiful things at all price points. There are so many places to find affordable things, you just have to look for them. If you don't find it at first, look harder!