Humidifier Health & Safety
Dry winter air, especially when combined with home heating, can contribute to uncomfortable dryness and irritation of the nose, throat, lips, and skin, as well as household nuisances such as peeling wallpaper, static electricity and cracking paint and wooden furniture. A simple and inexpensive remedy is to use a humidifier, which releases mist into the air, raising the humidity in the room.
Humidifiers come with their problems, however, because excess moisture can encourage the growth of biological organisms in the home, including dust mites and mold, both of which are implicated in allergies and other respiratory problems related to poor indoor air quality. Recent EPA studies suggest that ultrasonic and impeller humidifiers, also known as “cool mist” humidifiers, can disperse both microorganisms and mineral pollutants into the air. Breathing these pollutants has been linked to a malady called “humidifier fever,” an inflammation of the lungs and breathing passages.
Young children, the elderly, and those who have respiratory problems or lung diseases are particularly susceptible to certain types of airborne pollutants, including the minerals, bacteria, and molds released from household humidifiers. But by following a few simple tips, you can greatly reduce the potential problems caused by your humidifier.
HUMIDIFIER TYPES AND POTENTIAL POLLUTANTS
Home humidifiers may be a central unit built into the central HVAC system, smaller console-mounted units designed for floor use, or smaller portable units, but they all generally fall into a few basic types:
Ultrasonic – creates a cool mist by means of ultrasonic sound vibrations.
Impeller– also called “cool mist,” which produce a mist by means of a high speed rotating disk
Evaporative– transmits moisture into the air invisibly by using a fan to blow air through a moistened absorbent material, such as a belt, wick, or filter
Steam vaporizer– creates steam by heating water with an electrical heating element or electrodes. “Warm mist” humidifiers are a type of steam vaporizer humidifier in which the steam is cooled before exiting the machine.
Typically speaking, studies have shown that Ultrasonic or Impeller humidifiers are among the worst offenders when it comes to mold and mineral dust pollution. But while evaporative and “warm mist” humidifiers have not been shown to release significant amounts of molds or bacteria into the air, be aware that mold can grow in any humidifier which uses a tank of standing water. Excessively humid conditions may also contribute to condensation on walls and other surfaces, which also encourages mold to grow.
The first tips of humidifier use in the home is to only use a humidifier when you need it: most recommend keeping the indoor humidity at or below 50-55%. You should also position your humidifier at least a few feet away from walls and furniture, if possible.
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