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Are Humidifiers Only Adding Moisture To Your Homes Air?

par Jennifer Liong mars 18, 2024 6 lire la lecture

Are Humidifiers Only Adding Moisture To Your Homes Air?

This post is written by our sustainability researcher, Jaclyn Howden who is a student of Environmental Technology at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. 

Humidifiers are a product that consumers have been told to buy if you have a variety of symptoms or irritations that the dry winter air causes. And luckily for us, they are easily accessible to anyone who thinks their home needs more humidity. 

Unfortunately, what we aren’t told as consumers, are the potential dangers of what could happen if there was improper usage of these products. The possibilities include getting sick, or worse; you or your loved ones could develop lung diseases!

So what causes the risks?

Using water that is full of minerals (such as tap water) in an ultrasonic humidifier will increase your risk, because the minerals in the water can create “white dust” when emitted into the air (EPA, 1991, pg. 2 para. 2). There has been research done by the University of Utah and University of Alberta that show the potential dangers of operating an ultrasonic humidifier in this way. 

In the study that was done by the University of Alberta, the assistant professor in the department of chemistry who was also a part of the research said “our study showed that operating an ultrasonic humidifier with tap water resulted in particulate matter concentrations equivalent to a polluted city.” (Willis, 2020, para. 2). Because of the air circulation in the house, the particulate matter wasn’t just found in the room the humidifier was being operated in, it was spread around to the other rooms as well. 

For most types of humidifiers, if the storage tanks for the water are not cleaned or properly maintained, bacteria and mold can potentially grow inside. If that happens,  microorganisms may be emitted into your air, potentially causing something that has been defined as “humidifier fever” (Heid, 2017, para. 4).

Advantages and Disadvantages of humidifiers



The mist being emitted from this humidifier is created from vibrations in the machine, so it isn’t hot. This humidifier has the advantage of being safe to operate around children, when operated correctly. 

Some disadvantages are, you should only use distilled water. You also have to make sure that the holding tank is clean to prevent growth of microorganisms that could be emitted into the air. This type of humidifier is also the most talked about when it comes to developing lung disease because of the “white dust” (EPA, 1991, pg. 2 para. 2). 

Steam (Vaporizer)
The mist being emitted from this humidifier is created through heating the water, so it is steam coming out of the machine. The advantages to this is that there is no risk of emitting minerals into the air, as well as there is a less risk of emitting bacteria and mold into the air if cleaned regularly. 

The disadvantage is that the conditions that the holding tank gives is optimal for growth of microorganisms, due to the warmth and humidity. So they will grow faster if given the oportunity. Another disadvantage is it can be more risky to have around children due to the steam being able to cause burns.


The mist being emitted for this humidifier is created from air being blown across an absorbent material soaked in water. The advantage to this humidifier is that there is also no risk of emitting minerals into the air, and this humidifier is safe to operate around children. 

The disadvantage is that there is still a risk of emitting microorganisms if not properly cleaned and maintained. 


Similar products to humidifiers

Essential oil diffusers can be a good way to help your home smell fresh and clean, without using perfumes or synthetic smells in your home. But are essential oils truly safe to be putting into a diffuser made from plastic?

If you are an avid oil user, it is well known that some essential oils more than others are able to corrode plastics. This means that the plastic that the essential oil and water mix in your diffuser could be corroding the plastic into the mix, to then be emitted into your air. Some of the manufacturers of the plastic diffusers will even advise against diffusing certain types of essential oils (like citrus, lemon, orange, etc.) because they are aware of what the essential oils could be doing to the plastic. 

If you do have a diffuser that is made out of plastic, you want to make sure that it is made out of HDPE or PP, which are the claimed plastics that have a lesser chance of being corroded from the essential oil.

Another thing to consider, most diffusers are mainly filled with water and a few drops of oil. So, it still has the same risk as humidifiers of growing and emitting microorganisms into your air if not properly maintained. And if the diffuser is an ultrasonic diffuser, it will have the same ability as the humidifiers to emit minerals from the water you are using into your air, so it is best to use distilled water and not tap water. 

CPAP Machine

While CPAP machines have many great health benefits, there is still the potential for lung related health issues. Like the humidifiers, if not properly cleaned and maintained, these machines can lead to additional lung disease in the people using them. Especially if there is a humidifying option on the machine that is used frequently. Only the specified water type should be used when operating these machines as instructed by the manufacturer. And any recalls on devices should be taken very seriously and require immediate action, seeing as should these machines malfunction, the worst case scenario is death.   

Keeping up with the maintenance is very important when it comes to humidifiers. Especially if it is something you want to be using in your home on a regular basis. If the maintenance is not maintained it can increase the risk of respiratory health problems for you and your loved ones, and possibly even worse health issues for those that have pre-existing respiratory problems.

Abbreviations and Definitions

Particulate Matter

Solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in the air that can have sizes ranging from 10 microns - 2.5 microns, 2.5 microns being the most concerning because of how small the particles are.  




High-density Polyethylene



  1. Should I get rid of my humidifier?

Make sure that the maintenance is kept up on your machine, and that you are using the right type of water for the humidifier that you are operating. 

No, you should not get rid of the humidifier. 

  1. So what should I use instead of my ultrasonic diffuser?

There are diffusers that are in a similar pierce range as the ultrasonic ones, and for the most part, but they don’t contain plastic so you can use citrus oils in them. There is no water needed to operate them so there is no chance of emitting the white dust into your air, and supposedly they even use less energy to use! 

A nebulizing diffuser.


Venta. (n.d.). Helpful or harmful? How some humidifiers can make you sick. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from,not%20properly%20cleaned%20and%20maintained

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (1991, February). Indoor Air Facts No. 8, Use and Care of Home Humidifiers. EPA. 

Marcin, A. (2023, April 18). Humidifiers vs. Vaporizers: Which is Best for You?. Healthline. 

Heid, M. (2017, March 1). The Creepy Truth About Humidifiers. Time. 

Johnson, J. (2023, March 16). Benefits of using a humidifier. Medical News Today. 

Moore, K. (2022, November 15). Humidifiers and Health. Healthline. 

Willis, K. (2020, November 24). Using tap water in an ultrasonic humidifier may be polluting your air, study shows. University of Alberta. 

Organic Aromas. (2019, December 16). 5 Reasons to Switch to a Plastic Free Essential Oil Diffuser. Retrieved from 

Piatt, M. (2021, February 17). Is the Plastic in Essential Oil Diffusers Toxic. Enchanted Aromatics. 

Melbourne, G. (2023, June 19). The best-kept secrets for maintaining your diffuser. Volant. 

Laura. (2022, February 1). Humidifier vs Diffuser Benefits and Uses. Our oily house.,when%20run%20through%20the%20humidifier

Riddle & Brantley Accident Injury Lawyers. (n.d.). Can Philips CPAP Machines Cause Lung Disease?. Retrieved March 12, 2024, from,the%20consumer%20and%20commercial%20markets

Kelly, S. (2023, Jun 2). Deaths reported with Philips ventilators, sleep apnea machines still climbing. MedtechDive.

Photo Citations
Moor, T. (2023). What Is White Dust and Should I Be Concerned About It? [Online]. HVAC.

Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier [Online]. (n.d.). Vicks.

Humidifier 101: what & how [Online]. (n.d.). Smartmi.

Palus, S. (2024). The Best Essential Oil Diffusers [Online]. Wirecutter.

(2020). Know Who Invented CPAP Machine? [Online]. Oklahoma Otolaryngology Associates, LLC.

Manaker, L. (2024). The 15 Best Humidifiers of 2024, Tested and Reviewed [Online]. Health.


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