Smarter: 👿Why Are Humidifiers So Annoying?

Cross Section of a Humidifier Illustration: hitandrun/Début Art

Here’s a weird fact I just learned: When people in ancient Greek and Roman times wanted to moisturize their skin, they applied some unusual things to their faces, such as bread and milk.

For this week, I’m talking about how the humidifier, one of our modern ways to ease dry, cracked skin that doesn’t involve breakfast food, can be extremely annoying to clean, while also offering some simple tips to make the process easier. Other things on the agenda? The problem with Tesla’s reliability, and whether you should use earwax removal kits.


THE BIG STORY

"😫To Clean or Not to Clean, That Is the Question"

Humidifiers: Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. They can be a lifesaver in the dry winter season. They can also be dangerous to your health if they’re used improperly.

It’s also, frankly, kind of irritating to use a humidifier sometimes, as they are one of the few appliances in the house that CR recommends you rinse daily and deep clean every week to prevent the growth of mold and other contaminants. Do I try to abide by that rule? Sure. Can it be a pain in the neck sometimes? Absolutely. 

If you have an ultrasonic humidifier like mine, you may have noticed that certain components, such as the water valve, float, and noise silencer, can be nuisances to clean because of their small size. The nooks and crannies that are part of the interior of many humidifiers also don’t make cleaning it much easier. 

Yet seeing as humidifiers are such a common fixture in many households these days, I turned to my co-worker Tobie Stanger for suggestions on how to clean your humidifier. Tobie has written about everything from humidifiers to hearing aids in her 31 years at CR, and, yes, she cleans her two humidifiers at home using CR’s recommendations.

Get Smarter About Humidifiers & More

🚫 Don’t use bleach. Bleach, while effective, might degrade some of the plastics and seals that keep your humidifier watertight and structurally sound.

Instead, try water and distilled white vinegar. After you’ve removed the tank from the base, fill the well of the base with 1 cup of vinegar or half a cup each of vinegar and water. Then pour 1 cup each of vinegar and water into the tank, cap it, and let it soak for 20 minutes, shaking or swishing it periodically.

Use gentle cleaning tools. A toothbrush, small brush, or cotton swab can help you reach into the crevices and scrub off the scale.

💧 Rinse and dry. After the vinegar has broken down the scale that has accumulated in your humidifier, make sure you rinse each part with water and towel it dry. 

For those who hate cleaning the humidifier, there’s some good news.

In the past few years, a few improvements have been made to the humidifier designs. One is that more have dishwasher-safe tanks. Another is that manufacturers have increased the size of the fill holes and caps on water tanks to help improve access to the tank for cleaning, according to Barry Jacobs, vice president of product development at Comfort Zone Product Group, a home environment product company. 

A design that has also grown in popularity is the top-fill tank, Jacobs says. While the original and still common design of the ultrasonic humidifier requires the water tank to be a sealed chamber, the open-top design of the top-fill tank allows better access to the inside surface of the tank and makes it much easier to wash. 

Misha Kollontai, an engineer who leads the testing of humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and air purifiers at CR, says that while features such as the top-fill tank can provide greater access, the ease of cleaning still comes down to each individual model. Misha and our testing crew take into account access to the tank for cleaning when they calculate the convenience score in CR’s humidifier ratings


DOUBLING DOWN

There are many different factors to consider when purchasing a humidifier, but let’s start with a simple one: Should you get a cool- or warm-mist humidifier?

A cool-mist humidifier is more often the better choice. Here’s why:

Better energy efficiency. Cool-mist humidifiers use significantly less energy than warm-mist humidifiers, which create mists by boiling water, says Misha.

🐶 Safer for pets and children. The boiling function of warm-mist humidifiers could burn or scald kids. It might also be unsafe for curious pets, Misha notes.

👃 It helps with your stuffy nose. Cool mist helps reduce swelling in your nasal passage, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

🛒 More shopping choices. They come in a greater variety of sizes, and the cool-mist units tested by CR typically have more features than the warm-mist humidifiers in CR’s ratings. One is a humidistat, which turns off the unit once the air reaches a certain humidity level.

On the other side of the coin, warm-mist humidifiers tend to generate less noise because they don’t need a fan, nebulizer, or vibrating diaphragm that moves moisture into the air, a common design in cold-mist humidifiers.

When it comes to the most important job of the humidifier, adding moisture in the air, cool- and warm-mist humidifiers are equally effective, says Misha. And if you’re wondering about ease of cleaning, it’s harder to generalize on whether cool- or warm-mist humidifiers are easier to clean because it largely depends on a model’s design.

If you have trouble choosing and you don’t have to worry about pets and children coming into contact with your humidifier, you can always get a dual-mist humidifier for the best of both worlds.


THE GOOD STUFF

Can you guess the surprise element CR uses to test snow blowers?

Hint: It’s not snow.

@consumerreports To have ratings ready when you need a snow blower most—and to maintain consistency when testing—we use wet sand, instead of snow. See top picks at CR.org/snowblowers #winterbreak #snowblower #snow ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

QUIZ

You just bought raw meat and poultry. Where should you store them in the fridge for the purposes of food safety? (The answer is at the end of the newsletter.)

1. Top shelf

2. Middle shelf

3. Bottom shelf

4. Anyplace I can find in my crowded fridge, honestly. Don’t judge me


ASK AN EXPERT

Car Reliability Ratings Chart

Source: Consumer Reports Source: Consumer Reports


THE SHORT ANSWER

Woman using cotton swap on ear

Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images


QUIZ ANSWER

It’s safer to store meat, poultry, and seafood on the bottom shelf of fridges, If you put them on the top shelves, bacteria from these foods might drip down to food that is on the lower shelves. Plus, the temperature on the bottom shelf is cooler anyway.


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"The only thing I like dry is my humor."



Headshot of CR Author Pang-Chieh (BJ) Ho

Pang-Chieh Ho

I'm a newsletter writer who likes looking into the different ways we can live smarter. The topics I cover typically explore unanswered questions we have about the products we use every day and bridge the gaps between what owners' manuals advise and what we actually do. In my spare time, I like to take photos, critique movies out loud while I watch (at home!), and take care of my ever-increasing plant "children."