Clean my humidifier without poisoning me and my loved ones
January 5, 2015 8:43 AM   Subscribe

I currently use vinegar to clean my humidifier, but it's starting to act funny and I'm wondering if I need to do a better/deeper clean.

I have this Air-O-Swiss ultrasonic humidifier and I love it. It's been running great for 5 years now.

Except in the past week or so, I've woken up in the morning a few times to find the tank still half full of water and the display showing that it's humidifying but no mist coming out. So far, pulling the tank out and putting it back in gets it started again but I figure this can't be good.

I clean the humidifier regularly with vinegar, though probably not regularly enough. I've never replaced the demineralization cartridge so I'm ordering one on Amazon immediately. What I'm also wondering is a two-part question:

1. Do I need to do a better job of descaling with something other than vinegar?
2. If so, can I get this distiller descaler stuff at $25 for 40oz rather than the recommended descaler at $10 for 3oz? Or is there something different about distiller descalers that shouldn't be used in humidifiers?

I just want to thoroughly clean my beloved humidifier and not accidentally poison myself in the process. (Note: when I mean "poison" I mean actually poison, I have no problem using chemicals that work as long as they won't like burn my lungs out or whatever.) Thanks!
posted by misskaz to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have an Air-O-Swiss warm mist (essentially steam) humidifier. I am so happy to have a decent humidifier after all the de-facto disposable ones. I went ahead and got the EZCal - I think the $10 pack will last you all winter, you know what you're doing, you know you're not hurting the humidifer, and it seems to work amazingly well.

In conclusion: go Air-O-Swiss!
posted by amtho at 9:30 AM on January 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you never done any routine sanitizing of the humidifier other than vinegar? Cool mist humidifiers can be extremely efficient at distributing bacteria and mold if they are not sanitized properly and frequently (sanitizing as often as once every three or four days is often recommended). Vinegar every so often ain't cutting it.

Personally, I think this is a very strong reason to use a vaporizer that effectively boils the water and releases warm mist. Not for nothing, but they also cost only about twenty bucks.

If you are determined to continue using this ultrasonic humidifier, I would take it apart to the greatest extent possible, scrape off any visible mineral deposits, descale, and then soak all the parts in a mild bleach solution (you might even consider putting it outside and misting some of the bleach solution through it). Changing the tank water daily and bleaching once a week should help keep mold and bacteria from growing.
posted by slkinsey at 9:45 AM on January 5, 2015

According to the amazon reviews, the ingredient list of the cheaper descaler is sulfamic acid and citric acid, whereas the more expensive one is only citric acid.

citric acid is basically safe, unless you ingest large quantities, or poor a lot into your eyes or something.

I couldn't find a dangerous dosage level for sulfamic acid, though this seems to show it's safe enough when diluted to 20% or less.
posted by garlic at 10:05 AM on January 5, 2015

I have a CPAP machine with a built-in humidifier and, on the manufacturer's advice, I use distilled water in it. Store-brand distilled water costs about a buck a gallon at most supermarkets I've been to. (I know, there appear to be people who buy name-brand distilled water.)

Based on your humidifier's water usage and your disposable income, is this economical for you compared to sterilizing and de-scaling? It could still use cleanout to remove mold and such at some frequency of 1-2 weeks, I bet, but there will be no additional scale, and the water should be sterile in the bottle, at least.

The only other drawback is hauling around a bunch of 8-pound gallon-jugs.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:05 AM on January 5, 2015

Thanks for the answers everyone! I'm gonna buy the more expensive stuff to be safe - garlic's link about sulfamic acid doesn't list plastic as a surface it is safe to use on, and I'd hate to ruin my humidifier for want of a few bucks.

Buying distilled water at the rate I'd go through it would be prohibitively both expensive and a pain in the ass (I rarely drive, usually travel via bike or public transit). The tank on my humidifier is over 3 gallons and it goes through a whole tank every night in the winter.
posted by misskaz at 10:27 AM on January 5, 2015

« Older Let the laughs come to me   |   How to address burnout and work overload when... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.