During the colder months, many homeowners experience dry skin, cracked lips, and itchy eyes caused by dry air inside the home. This occurs most frequently in the winter because of what happens to the outside air as it’s brought inside, heated, and released throughout the home. Though normal heating systems don’t add or remove water vapor from the air, by heating the air they are increasing the amount of water vapor that it is able to hold. Thus, outside air that has been brought into the home and heated will have the same amount of water vapor, but a lower relative humidity. The relative humidity is what causes people to feel uncomfortably dry and develop the physical problems associated with dry air.

One way to allay the problems caused by low relative humidity inside the home is to purchase a humidifier. There are two, general types of humidifiers: central and portable. Central humidifiers are installed in your home’s heating and cooling system. Because they release water vapor directly into your forced-air system, central humidifiers are especially effective at increasing the relative humidity of the whole home, as opposed to just a few rooms. Many central humidifiers are also controlled digitally through a thermostat-like panel. This allows the system to measure the relative humidity inside the home and adjust itself accordingly so the proper amount of moisture is released. Central humidifiers are quieter than portable ones, and while they also require less maintenance, the occasional cleaning is still advised. The manufacturer should provide recommendations for keeping your central humidifier clean. Portable humidifiers, on the other hand, offer homeowners a cheaper and moveable alternative. They’re the preferred option when you don’t want to humidify your entire home or don’t want to make an investment in a central humidifier.

If you do purchase a portable humidifier, it’s important to make sure you clean it regularly, about every three days that it’s in use. Failure to do so could result in the dispersal of microscopic organisms and minerals throughout the home, which may be detrimental to your health. When cleaning, make sure to remove any deposits or film that may have accumulated on the sides of the tank and on its interior surfaces. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, but if they aren’t specific, use a three percent solution of hydrogen peroxide. After using any cleaning products, rinse the tank several times with tap water and dry thoroughly. As for filling the tank for use, the EPA recommends using water with a low mineral content, such as bottled water labeled “distilled.”

Eventually, your portable humidifier will accumulate deposits that will be nearly impossible to remove. This could lead to potentially harmful bacteria circulating throughout your house, so when that time comes, you may need to replace your humidifier.

Whether you decide to purchase a central humidifier or a portable one, failing to keep it clean will negate the health and comfort benefits of a properly humidified home.

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