Lower Your COVID Risk and Other Reasons To Get a Humidifier

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It feels like we’re always fighting dampness. For most of the year, we’re trying to stay dry: using our air conditioners to pull moisture out of the air, hoping that clouds overhead pass us by or melt away, keeping our belongings from getting wet while in storage or in use. 

… until winter comes along. Suddenly, dry air becomes one of those “be careful what you wish for” scenarios, as the amount of naturally occurring water in the air falls below 30%. Dry forced heat — especially with the windows closed — evaporates every last water droplet, down 10% or less! In this case, humidity is your friend … and so is an old-school humidifier. 

1What Is a Humidifier and Why Do We Need It?

A humidifier is a powerful ally in combating the negative effects of dry air, of which there are many. Human bodies are fickle and sensitive, and since they’re made mostly of water, they get pretty angry when we don’t give them enough moisture.

Humidifiers are typically small, portable, quiet machines that spray tiny droplets of aerosolized water (like a cloud) out into the air. In other words, they help to restore the balance of water naturally found in the air so that we don’t shrivel up like worms in the sun.

But seriously, exposure to water is critically important to our health. No matter how much we may drink, it doesn’t get to our skin fast enough to counterbalance the aggressive drying of forced air. With our windows closed, dry air continues to circulate around, leaching more moisture from our bodies. This creates minor annoyances like static electricity, and more serious ones like dry, cracked, splitting skin. You can even blame your bloodshot, burned-out eyes on this — for once, it may not be the fault of staring at screens every waking moment! Hangnails, chapped lips, ashy joints; you can chalk it all up to bone-dry air. 

Dry causes your skin to essentially fall apart, aging it faster. It can also make you feel itchy, leading to scratching that will slough off even more skin. This isn’t great for the dust situation in your house, which could spell serious trouble for those who suffer from breathing issues – dry air can aggravate or cause upper respiratory conditions like bronchitis or asthma. 

The simple solution of buying, filling up, and turning on a humidifier fixes literally all of that. A more regular level of moisture in the air can soothe the soft tissues in your nose and throat, keeping them lubricated and preventing issues like scratchy throats and nosebleeds. Running one at night can even help prevent snoring, as well as winter headaches, which — guess what? — is not all in your head. Severe winter headaches and low-level but consistent sinus headaches are a real thing, and it’s because our air is too dry.

Plus, with Omicron making its sneaky but rapid way through our ranks, humidifiers are more important than ever before. According to a study published by scientific journal PLOS ONE, raising indoor humidity levels to 43% had a dramatic effect on 85% of airborne viruses, including influenza. Because COVID-19 is also a virus, it stands to reason that a humidifier can reduce your risks of illness. It’s been proven that environments low in humidity have a 70% to 77% potential of causing virus-induced diseases. Meanwhile, this gets reduced all the way down to 14% when moisture is added.

This is because water in the air actually slows down how mobile nebulized germs can be. It weighs them down too heavily to remain suspended in the air, bringing those cough and sneeze particles below your own breathing level. You can further lower your risk of breathing ick by using an air purifier. Although none of them are “proven” to be 100% effective at eliminating COVID from the air, HEPA filters do go a long way toward removing 99.97% of airborne viruses. The ones with a UV light actually can disable the virus, further reducing your risks. Just note that UV and ionizer technologies are different things, and be wary of those purifiers that produce too much ozone. 

2Other Reasons to Invest in a Humidifier

Your health and physical comfort ought to be reason enough to spring for a misting machine, but there are other solutions available on the market. Did you know that most humidifiers actually make your home feel warmer? This will help you cut down on those big heating bills we deal with every winter. Sweat evaporates more slowly in moist air, and those floating water molecules can hold onto heat better than light, blown air. A warm-mist humidifier does even better — just be sure no kids or pets are around to knock it over, since these do have a burn risk.

A humidifier also protects your past investments. Wood furniture is responsive to its environment, and requires a constant level of moisture to stay in its intended shape. Too dry of a home, and you may find your floor joints loosening, your doors warping, and your chair legs cracking. Of course, you don’t want your wood to get wet, or it’ll swell and warp or break apart in different ways. However, a humidifier doesn’t create enough mist to soak anything that’s not in direct contact. 

Finally, your houseplants will also thank you for the addition of a humidifier in your household. Many of us have spent a lot of time cultivating ‘quarantine buddies’ over the last couple of years, and they can suffer greatly in the winter when the air is too dry. As with humans, direct internal hydration can only do so much. Making sure there’s some water in the air to keep them from being sad and confused in this weird, sunless desertscape they’re living in.

3Tips for Buying and Maintaining a Humidifier

There are four types of humidifiers:

  • Evaporative, which relies on a fan to pull air in. Air passes through a saturated wick filter or belt to pass water molecules out into the room.
  • Ultrasonic, which uses a small metal plate that vibrates with an ultrasonic frequency. This creates water droplets, which are sent out of the machine as mist.
  • Impeller, which uses a combination of rotating disc technology and a running diffuser to create the mist.
  • Steam vaporizer, which uses electricity to create steam that is then cooled by the machine before it’s released into the air.

As mentioned, warm, cool, and dual temperature humidifiers exist, and each have their own pros and cons. Both are great for winter, but the warm mist is best for clearing congestion, inflammation, and nosebleeds. The cool is affordable, energy-efficient, and will disperse more moisture more effectively. The warm mist models tend to be lower maintenance, requiring less cleaning due to less mineral buildup. The cool mist versions are easy to clean as well — just use hydrogen peroxide to remove mineral deposits, then rinse the tank. You’ll want to change your warm and cool humidifier filters per manufacturer instructions.

Finally, for the least amount of contaminants, you’ll want to spring for distilled water. A small portable humidifier is just right for rooms fewer than 400 square feet, since they typically have a 1.5-gallon capacity A medium humidifier services up to 1,000 square feet on one to three gallons. A large is as big as you’ll ever need, but not as common for residential homes. Buy the size that’s most appropriate for the largest room you’ll be using it in, and enjoy breathing easier.

Tags: healthy, Navigating the Pandemic, health

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Written By

Su-Jit Lin

Su-Jit Lin is a food, travel, wellness, shopping, and lifestyle writer who is passionate about writing stories that help. See Full Bio

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