If you constantly experience having cracked lips that easily bleed, skin that seems drier than the Sahara, and a stuffy nose that makes you feel like it has been filled up with cotton balls, a humidifier is going to be your new best friend.
The main role of humidifiers is to increase the amount of moisture present in the air. They do that by releasing steam or water vapor, which can then improve the quality of the air present in your home.
It is important to check the humidity levels every now and then, as both low and high humidity levels can be harmful to the entire household. This is why it is vital to have a humidity level that falls around 30% to 50% in your home.
On this page:
- Mold in the Humidifier: Is It Toxic or Not?
- Can Mold in a Humidifier Make You Sick?
- But, how does mold develop in your humidifier in the first place?
- Symptoms of Mold in Your Home’s Humidifier
- How to Clean a Humidifier with Mold
- What to Put in Humidifier to Prevent Mold
- Get Help from AC Contractors for Your Home Maintenance Needs
However, not a lot of homeowners know that extreme humidity levels is not the only thing they should watch out for when it comes to their humidifiers; there is something else much worse than that.
Mold. A.k.a. every homeowner’s nightmare.
Whether you use an Aqua Stone, a central humidifier, steam vaporizer, an ultrasonic one, or any other model of humidifier out on the market, they are all not immune to mold growth.
And, it is not just the notorious black mold that can make their presence known in your unit. If you see something that looks like white powder, pink residue, or even a reddish slime in your humidifier, there is a big chance that you are also looking at a different type of mold.
If you regularly use a humidifier at home, you need to pay attention and keep reading to learn why you should not ignore the presence of black mold, red mold, pink mold, or any kind of mold in your unit. Did you know mold can also be purple?
And if you suspect that your humidifier already has mold present, we will also show you how they can be removed.
Mold in the Humidifier: Is It Toxic or Not?
Black mold is the most infamous type of mold present. Whenever we see it anywhere in our home, our initial reaction is to avoid it because it is supposedly dangerous.
This is a common misconception, although it has some truth to it as well. Any kind of mold can be considered toxic, but only if it contains mycotoxins. So even if you see black or any color of mold, yet there are no mycotoxins present, the worst they can do is cause respiratory ailments or allergic reactions. Mold of any color that has mycotoxins, on the other hand, can be fatal.
Since there is no way for a typical homeowner like you to determine if the mold you see has mycotoxins or not, it is always safest to err on the side of caution. That is, treat every mold you see as toxic and have it removed asap.
But in the case of mold in your humidifier, it is more likely that the mold you see is of the garden-variety type. That is, it does not have mycotoxins present and is the type you regularly encounter, whether knowingly or not.
Although it is a safer kind, it still does not mean that you should ignore its presence and leave them alone to thrive in your unit.
Can Mold in a Humidifier Make You Sick?
How do you think would you be directly affected by mold?
Most people believe that the only way for people to experience any mold-associated effects is by getting into direct contact with it. While it is true that you should never touch mold or have any skin contact with it, what makes it more dangerous is the fact that mold can easily spread around.
Mold spores are present everywhere, and we don’t realize it because of how small they are. In fact, these spores are a large reason why it was discovered in a recent study that mold is present in all homes. These spores are easily transported in the air, and they end up in different places at home.
These spores, not the mold itself, are also primarily responsible for the health issues we normally associated with mold. Because these spores are so microscopic, it is easy to inhale them without us noticing.
A mold-infested humidifier will not only release water vapor into the air, but mold spores as well. And, it is not going to be a one-time thing; mold rapidly reproduces, so mold spores will always be released whenever you switch on your humidifier. From all these, it goes without saying that mold in your humidifier is a disaster waiting to happen.
But, how does mold develop in your humidifier in the first place?
Humidifiers consist of a tank or reservoir that holds all the water that will be released in vapor form. When it is switched off, it starts becoming a breeding ground for mold and other microorganisms if there is water that remains inside, especially if it does not undergo regular cleaning.
Mold loves a moist environment, and a humidifier with a reservoir that has stagnant water meets that requirement. If you do not switch on your humidifier for some time, and water remains undisturbed in the tank, mold will eventually grow and rapidly reproduce.
And if you are not aware, it only takes as little as 24 hours for mold to develop. So, keep that in mind the next time you feel lazy about discarding the leftover water and cleaning your humidifier.
And if you use a CPAP machine, you should also know that it also needs to be cleaned regularly. Just like a regular humidifier, mold can also grow and reproduce in the CPAP humidifier tank.
And when it does, it is a lot more dangerous, especially if you use a mask with it.
With a mask connected, the vapor coming from the CPAP machine flows in a single path. As a result, all that vapor and mold spores it produces ends up being concentrated on your nasal region. This greatly exposes you to the spores that can trigger various respiratory issues.
Respiratory issues, such as asthma and sinusitis, are not the only ones you can acquire. In fact, the “white dust” produced by humidifiers reportedly caused a serious lung injury to an infant who got exposed to it. This white dust mainly consists of minerals, not mold, but they give off similar respiratory to those who inhale it.
Although the presence of mold in your humidifier is a pressing concern, take note that it is not the only thing that you should be wary about. The white dust and the so-called “humidifier fever” are other concerns you should also know about.
Symptoms of Mold in Your Home’s Humidifier
Mold is not that easy to detect in any home. We already know that mold spores easily get airborne, and their miniscule size makes them impossible to see with the naked eye. You will likely discover their presence only when you see them growing on the walls, flooring, furniture, and other parts of your home.
Now that you know that humidifiers can be a breeding ground for mold, you might wonder how you can detect their presence. If you use a portable humidifier, such as the ones manufactured by Crane, it is quite easy – you just have to open it up and inspect its components.
But if you use a central or whole-house humidifier, it would be a lot more challenging to to do so. This type of humidifier does not have easily removable components for you to inspect for mold, and it also has air ducts connected that goes to various parts of your home. Unless you get it inspected by a HVAC contractor, you have no means of confirming if mold is lurking in your system or not.
The best warning sign you can use to determine the presence of mold in your humidifier is also the most unfortunate one: by experiencing various health effects commonly associated with it.
If you smell something musty and suddenly develop respiratory issues or allergic reactions, but searched every nook and cranny of your home for any sign of mold and came up empty, there is a chance that the mold is in your humidifier.
Some of the health issues you can experience when this happens include:
- Itchy skin
- Irritated eyes
- Chronic sinusitis
- Respiratory infections
- Asthma attacks
- Coughs and colds
- Difficulty concentrating
- Other symptoms akin to a flu
And if you constantly experience any of these health issues for some unknown reason, even after paying a visit to your doctor, the cause may likely be mold-related, and not due to a bug or virus.
It is easy to mistake these symptoms for an ordinary bug that anyone can experience every now and then. But if you only experience them while at home and you soon feel better after stepping outside, these symptoms may have been triggered or exacerbated by the mold spores being released by your humidifier.
Your sense of smell and sight are what you should normally rely on when it comes to detecting the presence of mold in your home, but you cannot really do that in the case of humidifiers. That is, unless you use portable ones.
This is why aside from getting yourself checked out by the doctor when you regularly experience any of these symptoms, you also need to have your whole-house humidifier inspected by an AC contractor who is familiar with molds and can also do an indoor air quality test in your home.
Confirming the presence of mold in your humidifier is the first step in addressing it.
How to Clean a Humidifier with Mold
Regular cleaning is vital for humidifiers, and this is the most common mistake homeowners make when it comes to their units.
They think that it is okay to leave them alone with some water remaining in the tank, not knowing that by doing so, they have set the perfect breeding condition for mold, mildew, and other harmful microorganisms.
If you use your humidifier and already made it a habit to clean it every now and then after using, there is only a slim chance of these microorganisms breeding inside.
But when the humidifier already has a mold infestation, it is another story. It will take more than your usual method of cleaning with soap and water to get rid of the mold present and lessen its chances of reoccurrence.
Although deep cleaning is needed, it is not really that difficult to do so. In most cases, you can even do it by yourself. Just make sure to keep it away from members of your household that are sensitive to mold or easily get allergies.
Portable humidifiers are easiest to clean. Since you can easily remove their components, you can make sure that each of them gets a thorough cleaning, and that the mold present is removed. To do that, you need the following:
- Gloves, mask, and other safety gear to prevent mold and its spores from getting into contact with your skin
- Hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, or bleach to kill any microorganisms present, including mold
- Brush with soft bristles
- Bucket or container
Deep cleaning a portable humidifier involves these steps:
- Make sure that your humidifier is switched off and unplugged before detaching all of its removable components. It is better to do so outside your yard to prevent mold spores from becoming airborne and ending up somewhere inside your home.
- If there is water present in the reservoir, pour it down the drain.
- Sanitize its components by placing them inside a bucket or container and pouring white vinegar on them. If it is not possible to completely submerge them, at least make sure that the sections constantly exposed to the water in your humidifier is submerged in vinegar.
- Allow them to be soaked in vinegar for a minimum of 30 minutes in order to break down any residue or buildup that formed.
- While waiting, combine a gallon of water with a teaspoon of either bleach or 3% hydrogen peroxide. Pour the solution into the tank or reservoir of your humidifier, making sure that it fills up more than half of the reservoir. Coat the entire reservoir with the solution by swirling it and allow it to sit inside the tank for 30 minutes as well.
- Wash the tank and its components with water. It usually takes several washes before the smell of the solution completely disappears. Make sure to shake them to dislodge any moisture that gets trapped between its spaces.
- After washing, place them over the towels and allow them to completely dry up before reassembling your humidifier.
Even if they rarely get molds compared to the portable ones, whole-house humidifiers are still not completely immune to its presence. They also require cleaning, but not nearly as frequently as portable ones. And because this type involves several components that are hard to remove, HVAC technicians should be the ones to work on them.
The steps in cleaning a moldy central humidifier will depend on the type, but it generally involves using a water and vinegar mix to kill the mold, and then scrubbing the remnants with a brush. Mold usually grows in the components of your humidifier that frequently come into contact with water.
The technician will have to open up the unit to find any mold, as well as any buildup of mineral deposits, and remove them. Here is how they generally do it:
- Switch off both power and water supply to the unit.
- Remove its cover by loosening the bolts, nuts, or clips holding it in place.
- Locate the drum and detach it.
- Find its evaporator pad and clean it by using a commercial solution for calcium buildup or a mix of water and vinegar. If the mineral deposits present are not fully dissolved or removed, you have to replace it.
- Brush away any mold with the water and vinegar mix.
- Reattach the evaporator pad and drum to the unit and check if the water level in the reservoir is correct. The technician will adjust the float arm and water supply until the right water level is reached.
Drip Style or Flow-Through Humidifier
- Cut off the humidifier’s power and water supply.
- Separate the water inlet tube from the distribution manifold by removing the clips holding them in place, and detach this manifold from its housing and evaporative screen pad.
- Remove the mineral deposits present on the manifold (if metal) with a screwdriver or chisel. For scale in the pad, dissolve it with a liquid calcium remover or vinegar and water mixture, but replace it if the buildup does not fully dissolve.
- Locate any mold, dip the brush in the water and vinegar mix, and scrub it away.
- The technician will also check if the unit is working as it should be by switching on the furnace and checking its components, such as the humidistat, solenoid valve, and water inlet tube while running.
- The detached components will be reinstalled once necessary repairs or adjustments are made to the unit.
- Make sure that the humidistat is set to a low level to prevent the unit from going into a heat cycle while maintenance work is ongoing.
- Drain the water present in the tank. How this should be done will depend on the unit.
- Allow the humidifier to cool down before removing its lid, overflow pan, main drain tube, and overflow tank.
- Get rid of any mineral deposits by using calcium-removing liquids or a solution of water and vinegar, as well as mold by using the same water and vinegar solution.
- Check the water supply tube and metal water discharge for scale, which the technician will also have to remove.
- If needed, the technician will also replace the water filter before reassembling the unit.
Your HVAC technician will also have to check on the ducts and vents connected to see if mold infestation is also present. If so, he or she may first attempt to remove it with a solution of water mixed with either bleach or vinegar. Note that this solution has to be applied in every inch of the ducts or vents to completely kill the mold and its spores.
But if the mold growth is too severe, there is no other option other than to get new ducts or vents installed. Read our article on another problem when water starts dripping from the bathroom exhaust fan or vent.
While these are the steps normally followed when cleaning humidifiers, make sure to always refer to the instruction manual first before doing so. Some humidifiers require different methods of cleaning, as well as using different materials for doing so.
What to Put in Humidifier to Prevent Mold
Now that you have a perfectly clean humidifier, you need to make sure that mold does not grow again.
You do not have to do anything fancy just to make sure that mold will not reappear. All you need is to make it undergo regular cleaning and maintenance.
For portable units, it can be as frequent as every day or every after three days, depending on how often you use it. Central units, on the other hand, can be cleaned a few times each month. What is important is to remove the water every day if using portable ones, and before it will be left unused for lengthy periods for central humidifiers.
But aside from cleaning, you can also add the following to the water of your humidifier to inhibit mold growth:
- Tea tree oil
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Humidifier tablets
These additives will dissolve in the water and stop mold from growing and reproducing, owing to their antimicrobial properties. If the possible smell is your concern, especially with vinegar and bleach, you will hardly smell it once is dissolved.
Among those on the list, adding bleach can be quite risky, as it has the capacity to damage the components of your unit, such as the hose, with prolonged exposure to it. And while humidifier tablets are effective, they have the same effect as that of natural additives but will cost you more.
The type of water used by your unit also plays a part in mold growth prevention. Water contains a lot of minerals that can accumulate and form deposits inside your unit, which can affect its operation and promote the growth of various microorganisms. To prevent this, using distilled or demineralized water is recommended.
Get Help from AC Contractors for Your Home Maintenance Needs
At this point, you are now fully aware of the dangers of mold being present in your humidifier and how it can be eliminated. It all seems easy to do, especially if you just use a portable one.
But once you see mold lurking in your unit, cleaning it is not enough – you also have to make sure that the infestation is limited to your humidifier. Even if this is the case, there is no guarantee that the air quality inside your home has not yet been compromised.
Mold spores can easily get airborne, and if they land in a spot in your home that has the perfect conditions for them to breed, expect a full-blown infestation anytime.
If you have a humidifier that has been infested with mold, whether a portable one or a whole-house type, you should make sure that the air quality in your home is still at the safe level. For that, you need to get in touch with an AC contractor who can test it.
The role of an AC contractor is not limited to installing or fixing your air conditioner; they are also capable of testing the indoor air quality of any home or building, including those that may have been compromised by the presence of mold.
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