Zero Maintenance Humidification
November 28, 2010 7:55 AM   Subscribe

Please help me find a very low-maintenance humidifier -- and help me understand what I absolutely must do in order to keep my humidifier safe and functional.

I've used various kinds of tabletop units in the past, but I have trouble getting myself to remember to do complicated cleaning routines, and then they get gross and scary very quickly. I really need something that is maintenance-free, if possible! I've read previous questions, but I haven't seen one that addresses the issue of maintenance/cleaning specifically.

Our house is around 1500 sq ft, but I'm mainly interested in using the humidifier in the bedroom at night. The bedroom is way in the back of the house and is around 200 sq ft. DH and I usually sleep with the door open, but we could close it if needed.

I can handle throwing some parts in the dishwasher regularly, but my ideal solution would be zero maintenance. I don't think I want to have a whole-house system installed, though, because we'll only be here for a couple of years (so I'm assuming cost would outweigh benefits there). We do have an undersink water filter on our kitchen sink's cold tap, so the water going into the humidifier would be filtered, but I don't know how much that helps...?

Please recommend specific models that might work, and also please explain what all has to happen with the cleaning of the model you're recommending if you can. I appreciate your input!! Thank you!
posted by hansbrough to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
We use a Holmes wick-based evaporative humidifier similar to this model and it serves us fairly well. It's not maintenance-free, but it's close. You have to re-fill the tanks and add a combination bacteriostat/de-limer to the water in order to retard bacteria and scale growth, but that's it. We clean it at the end of the heating season, and replace the wick at the start of the next heating season, or if the wick becomes scaled-over because we let the machine run dry or didn't use the bacteriostat. If you're using filtered water, all the better.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:06 AM on November 28, 2010

You need to clean humidifiers weekly so that bacteria and mold don't grow on it.

There's not much maintenance to be done other than rinsing this stuff off the container.
posted by dfriedman at 8:08 AM on November 28, 2010

Zero maintenance is impossible. Water always contains some residue, and if you don't want to have it spread all over your furniture, like in the humidifiers from the sixties that worked with a strong mist-making fan, you'll end up with the residue being filtered out, or otherwise kept in the machine.

That said, the Venta system that I recommended before is relatively easy to keep in order (and I have tried humidifiers of most systems over 30 years). The principle is moistened stacks of plastic discs and a fan that evaporates the water off the surface.
If you use the detergent provided by the manufacturer, most of the residue is kept suspended in the water and doesn't rot, and the only two things necessary are
-- to replace the water once a month or so (instead of simply topping up) and to refill the detergent, and
-- at the end of the season, to run a special cleaner provided by the manufacturer through the machine for some time, rinse, dry and store.
It can't get much easier.

[Venta humidifiers typically collect some greasy substance in the corners during the first year of operation, which is apparently left from the production process on the plastic surfaces. It looks messy but doesn't do any harm. Seen the high price of these machines, I nevertheless think they should come cleaned; my only quibble with this product]
posted by Namlit at 8:11 AM on November 28, 2010

Have you put any thought into a furnace humidifier? Some of the drip ones really help cut down on maintenance, and they're not too difficult to install.
posted by backwards guitar at 8:25 AM on November 28, 2010

I have been using two Vornado humidifiers for 3 - 4 years, after replacing several other ones that were a PITA to clean. Maintenance for these is to replace the wicks and wipe them out with a weak bleach solution. They accumulate far less crud than any other machine I've used. It takes me a half hour to do both of them, and every three weeks works about right for us.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 8:42 AM on November 28, 2010

Have you put any thought into a furnace humidifier? Some of the drip ones really help cut down on maintenance, and they're not too difficult to install.

When we replaced our furnace, our regular furnace maintenance guy recommended a flow-through "power humidifier" from GeneralAire. I was skeptical, remembering the horrid old ineffective drum humidifiers, but he convinced me to give one a try. (At that time, we had had a fleet of the tabletop models going every winter in the early baby days.) It has worked like a charm for 5+ years and the humidity stays at a perfect 45% all winter long. It is essentially maintenance free - - we have changed the filter element twice and there's a switch you have to flip for summer/winter mode twice a year. It has been by far our best humidifier.
posted by fairmettle at 9:57 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all for the input so far.

Can anyone tell me whether the Venta detergent is smelly/noxious? Does it make your house smell like cleaning products? That could be an issue.

I have no idea how to go about having a furnace humidifier installed. Who would do that, and how much does that kind of system cost?
posted by hansbrough at 12:24 PM on November 28, 2010

I have no idea how to go about having a furnace humidifier installed. Who would do that, and how much does that kind of system cost?

The type of furnace humidifiers I described can be retrofitted onto an existing duct - - it's not a complicated procedure. We had our local heating/AC contractor install it, though I don't know how much that labor cost was out of the total cost of the new furnace. The units themselves currently cost $200-$300 (from a quick Google search).
posted by fairmettle at 12:51 PM on November 28, 2010

Smelly: not in the least. [they do offer some perfuming additives but you don't need them].
Noxious: no idea. Highly unlikely, however. Their adverts from day one have made a great point of the de-dustifying, de-germifying potential of their gear, and how great it is for dust-and-other-allergic people.
posted by Namlit at 1:03 PM on November 28, 2010

I hang wet, well-wrung-out hand towels near the heat source in each of our bedrooms. I re-wet them each night before sleep, and as needed during the day (usually not at all). Totally works. I send the towels through the washer and dryer now and then.
posted by Ellemeno at 12:09 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

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