Can I use a CrockPot as a room humidifier?
December 2, 2011 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Could I use a Crock-Pot as a room humidifier?

I need a room humidifier in our bedroom. It is the only room in the house that doesn't have radiant heat and we use a plug-in heater. We live in an area that gets the dreaded lake-effect snow so heat is not optional. In order for my sinuses to not dry out (I neti routinely) while sleeping in a room with dry heat I'd like to humidify.

I have an extra, decade old Crock-Pot. It has High, Low and Off settings. According to their website both the High and Low settings arrive at the same temperature of 209F, High just gets there quicker.

I figure the radiant heat of a crock-pot would be a plus over a humidifier, but I can't wrap my head around other variables such as:

Rate of evaporation - would it evaporate quick enough? Or too much and drench the room.
Safety of running a crock-pot continuously to heat cooler water or
when adding water, should I pre-heat/pre-boil it to keep crock at simmer?
Could it reach/stay at simmer without a lid? Partial lid?
Would I want to run it on High/Low? Maybe switch to low during the day?
Would that temp keep bacteria at bay?
Would the electrical requirements be more/less/similar?

Any insights are appreciated.
posted by iurodivii to Science & Nature (23 answers total)
This sure seems like a bad idea. Why not just get a humidifier? I'm guessing the extra electricity savings would pay for it eventually.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:57 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Crock-Pots tend not to reach their maximum temperature with the lid off. You're not going to get enough evaporation, and the crock pot isn't meant to be operated like that - the heating element will be constantly on, which might not damage it, but will probably shorten its useful life.

Get a real humidifier.
posted by WasabiFlux at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

If the cost of a humidifier is making you balk, try a vaporizer instead -- those are much cheaper and do the same job. (I have the exact same "sinuses dry out" issue, and the $12 vaporizer running overnight while I slept worked like a total charm.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:03 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

"I figure the radiant heat of a crock-pot would be a plus over a humidifier"

posted by Cosine at 12:04 PM on December 2, 2011

I just picked up a cheap humidifier for around $12 at the local supermarket on sale. It's designed for small rooms and what I use in our bedroom at night. You could probably rig something up with a crockpot though I suspect it wouldn't really get hot enough to make a difference, maybe if you poured just boiled water in it would help but that might also crack the "crock" part. I'd buy a humidifier.
posted by wwax at 12:04 PM on December 2, 2011

As Wasabi said, I doubt most Crockpots would ever be able to boil with the lid off anyways. I have two and neither of them would ever get close to hot enough to boil without a lid.
posted by Cosine at 12:05 PM on December 2, 2011

Slow cookers are designed to not let water evaporate. So you would have to leave the lid off to some degree, and you're already running below the boiling point of water, so you'd be relying one evaporation to get water into the air.
posted by artifarce at 12:05 PM on December 2, 2011

I figure the radiant heat of a crock-pot would be a plus over a humidifier

If you want heated mist then you just want a "warm mist humidifier."
posted by Jahaza at 12:10 PM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Crock pots are designed to be operated for a long time. Water evaporates even if it isn't boiling. There's nothing that could go terribly wrong, why not try it and see if it goes right?
posted by Jon_Evil at 12:24 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

It would be a slight improvement over an open bucket of water, probably.

A warm mist humidifier, as others have said, will help keep the room warmer. You do have to be careful, though - I don't use them because I have dogs and nowhere absolutely rock-solid, out of tail-reach, impossible-to-knock-over. The mist is quite hot as it comes out of the appliance; you don't want kids/pets getting close to it.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:29 PM on December 2, 2011

Humidifiers are cheap. We have one in our baby's room when she has a cold and it makes it noticeable warmer and moister. "It just works"

We have one from Honeywell that looks a lot like this $32 one.

The low setting is usually good enough, but high will make it really steamy.

It's designed not to burn your house down also, which is a plus.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:30 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to buy anything, fill a baking pan (or 2 or 3) with some water (more surface area the better), and blow a fan on it.
posted by wongcorgi at 12:35 PM on December 2, 2011

Also, constantly boiling water in the same place in a room is probably going to cause mold on the ceiling.
posted by wongcorgi at 12:41 PM on December 2, 2011

I can say from experience that:
a) a not-tightly-covered crockpot will indeed allow liquid to evaporate (to the point that one may need to add extra liquid to make up for it over the course of cooking something)

b) an uncovered pot of boiling water on the stove will generally produce more water vapor than you'd want being put into the air constantly

which suggests that your crockpot, at its not-boiling temperatures, might strike a good balance.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:42 PM on December 2, 2011

Give it a try, and see if it's humid enough or too humid - trail and error is the only way to tell.
A big pot of continuously warm water makes an excellent humidifier. This is standard practice for people with woodstoves - just keep a full pot/tray/kettle on top of the stove. It does get gunked up with mineral deposits after a month or so, though. Bacteria was never an issue, but I think Mom washed it afterward if she did something fancy like toss some mulling spices in to make it smell nice when we had people over.

About the crock-pot specifically:
There are probably more energy-efficient ways to humidify.
The stress of continuous running might kill it, but if you don't actually need it at all now, that's kind of a non-issue.
The difference between high/low may be how close it gets to its nominal 209F when the lid's off.
It doesn't seem dangerous to keep it running, they get left alone all day in normal use - but boiling dry is bad, so you should find out the water loss rate with the lid off before you assume it's safe to leave the house.
Room-temp water shouldn't crack the crock unless maybe if it's boiled dry.
posted by aimedwander at 12:55 PM on December 2, 2011

I'd say "try it," except you need to consider what will happen when you inevitably let it run dry. Real humidifiers are designed to cut off when this happens. The crock pot will just stay hot ... and I don't know if that's good for it or not. I doubt it, since it's supposed to and designed to have food in it.

I'd just buy a really cheap humidifier, honestly. Or boil water and use some fans to move the resulting humidity around the house for a few hours a day, if buying a single-purpose machine is anathema. But having a humidifier is totally worth it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:04 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are probably more energy-efficient ways to humidify.

This room is heated with electricity anyway. 100% of the energy "wasted" on the inefficiencies of this humidifier is heating the room.

Assuming this crock pot can't overheat the room (it can't), and the other, real, electric heater has a thermostat, approximately no additional electricity will be consumed by this system.
posted by fritley at 1:05 PM on December 2, 2011

> I figure the radiant heat of a crock-pot would be a plus

If you can feel the heat from a crock-pot from more than a foot away then you have a fire hazard.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:07 PM on December 2, 2011

If you track your humidity, and have a target in mind, you might find that you'll need 10 or 20 gallons of water to go from 15% to 55%, depending on the room size.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:53 PM on December 2, 2011

I'd say "try it," except you need to consider what will happen when you inevitably let it run dry. Real humidifiers are designed to cut off when this happens.

Beat me to it. This is the situation that would worry me the most.
posted by gimonca at 2:53 PM on December 2, 2011

My mother did this when I was younger, and occasionally the crock-pot would run dry. The house and I are both still around, but I would not recommend it regardless.
posted by calistasm at 3:13 PM on December 2, 2011

I would be concerned that a guest/child/pet would pull down boiling water down onto themselves as well. Sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:22 PM on December 2, 2011

I make several things in my crockpot that require the liquid to reduce slowly, I do this by leaving the lid ajar (usually by sticking a wooden spoon in it.)

The two big downsides for you are the risk of it running dry, and wear on the heating element from using it every day for months.

Also, it may not simmer enough to prevent pink slime from forming in the crock. It's a harmless bacteria that causes it, but it is kinda gross and tiresome to clean up. I have a hard time keeping it at bay in my mist humidifier.
posted by desuetude at 1:57 PM on December 3, 2011

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