Humidifying, low-light, cat-friendly plants? Or a better humidifier?
November 29, 2014 9:29 AM   Subscribe

We'd like to humidify our bedroom. Can we make a meaningful difference with houseplants? What kind, for low light and non-toxicity to cats? Alternatively, is there a humidifier that isn't annoying?

My husband's been waking up with his throat irritated, he suspects by the dry winter air. We have a small bedroom that we'd like to humidify.

We're thinking of getting a humidifier, but I've heard they're annoying to maintain. Is there one that's pretty care-free? And not expensive and not bulky? Would it work even if we don't keep the door closed?

I like the idea of houseplants as an alternative. Can a reasonable number meaningfully boost humidity in a small room? Again, even if we don't keep the door closed? We'd need them to be non-toxic to cats and happy in low light. How many would we need, and what kind would you recommend?
posted by daisyace to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Think about where a plant gets whatever water it puts into the atmosphere: it comes from the water you supply to the plant through watering. Even a small single-room humidifier will put out a gallon or two of water vapor a day. To get the same effect through plants, you would need to have enough plants that you needed to supply them with at least a gallon of water a day. I've got several large peace lilies that I give about 2 cups of water a week. You would need more than 50 of these to go through a gallon of water a day. Not only would there be no room in the room for anything else, but watering 50 plants is a lot more work than maintaining a small humidifier.
posted by drlith at 9:44 AM on November 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Cleaning my humidifier weekly is a PITA but very worth it during the dry, winter months. I have and love the Crane's teardrop. It is reasonably priced and attractive.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:03 AM on November 29, 2014

I also have a Crane teardrop. It's really quiet, works well. And yeah, as drlith points out, plants aren't going to make much of a difference.
posted by Specklet at 10:09 AM on November 29, 2014

an easy way to test whether you want a humidifier or not is to get a Vick's Vapo-rub steam humidifier at the drugstore. they run around $25-$30 so it won't break the bank. i've used one for years. clean once or twice a season. it's steam so i assume an nasties get killed by the heat. still, it's not that hard to dump out and rinse while filling. it's not pretty but i like it much more than the cool mist humidifiers. my sinuses del the difference within minutes.

you'd have to have a lot of plants to get any benefit and they'd need to be really, really big and would probably require a lot of sunlight.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 10:13 AM on November 29, 2014

Plants are not going to cut it, as noted above. I like the steam humidifiers myself. I usually clean mine once a month or so -- it's not that hard. The new models are all fairly easy to clean and come with filters and so on. Just put distilled water (not spring or tap water) in them and you'll be fine. Way easier than caring for an army of plants.

This will work way better if you do keep the door closed, as you have guessed -- the humidity will equalize throughout the house if you leave the door open. If this is a night time issue, just run the humidifier at night and keep the door as closed as your cats will allow you to.
posted by ananci at 12:00 PM on November 29, 2014

Plants, on their own, probably won't do enough humidifying but they can help to purify the air. NASA did some research on which plants work best.
posted by VTX at 12:26 PM on November 29, 2014

I have this humidifier. It's inexpensive, quiet, doesn't leak and the light turns off. Highly recommended.
posted by ohisee at 12:48 PM on November 29, 2014

The absolute key is to get an ultrasonic humidifier. They don't require the filters that tend to get super gross.
posted by barnone at 1:59 PM on November 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

An ultrasonic humidifier using tap water puts mineral dust into the air.
posted by H21 at 2:07 PM on November 29, 2014

Peace lilies, which have now been mentioned twice in the thread, are toxic to cats, as are other plants on that NASA list.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:50 PM on November 29, 2014

We're using Venta humidifiers which work without filters, just airflow and cold evaporation. You basically just have the hum of the fan, and they also clean some dust out of the air. They're rather easy to maintain, the only thing to recall is to refill them, and perhaps empty and rinse once a week or so.

It might also be an idea to vacuum the bedroom really thoroughly. I'm having similar issues and it's always better after a thorough cleaning session.
posted by Namlit at 1:45 AM on November 30, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks all. drlith, your explanation of why plants won't do makes immediate sense.

Sounds like people just skip the recommended maintenance on humidifiers, which I guess is one option. The Crane that a few of you mentioned, for example, calls for: Daily: empty, wipe, and dry. Weekly: 20-30 min soak with warm water and white vinegar, shake, rinse. Repeat. Wipe dry. I can't imagine many Crane owners do that faithfully, though.

The other option is to continue searching for a lower maintenance one. I'll look through the manuals for the other models mentioned, plus some others that came up in my googling for 'low maintenance humidifier' (including this ask. thread). I'll post here if we find anything exceptional. Thanks again.
posted by daisyace at 7:37 AM on November 30, 2014

While you decide what to buy, may I suggest a saline spray? I hate the dry air of the winter months and so I regularly use a saline spray before going to bed. I "clean" my nose out with it (spray then blow) and then I spray some more until I feel it go down my throat. Really helps.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 2:13 PM on November 30, 2014

The absolute key is to get an ultrasonic humidifier.

But be aware of their major drawback. If you have mineral rich water they will coat everything that can hold a static charge with white dust. I have one and it does the job for our 660 sq ft apartment in all but the very coldest weather. Until the last week or two we have been largely static free. But everything is coated in a thin white dust - our tv, my laptops, the floor, the garbage bin, the kettle, the fridge, the cupboards... I have given up on fighting it and will clean it up in the spring and next year I will get a new humidifier.
posted by srboisvert at 2:04 PM on February 25, 2015

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