In drier climates, as well as in the winter, households can experience a decrease in humidity levels. The effects of dry air on the body can cause many health issues and discomfort including respiratory ailments, irritated skin, and eyes the feeling of being colder than one is as well as the annoyance of static electricity. While many of these conditions are just considered annoying, respiratory issues may include exacerbating or developing asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, and other potential respiratory diseases. You may be able to live with irritated eyes, itchy dry skin, and increased static electricity but why include these with the potentially more severe health issues when you can reduce their threat by adding moisture back into your air?
Humidity plays a huge role in how comfortable we are in our current temperatures. If you have ever vacationed in the sunny Southwest of the U.S. or visited other hot desert locales, you may have heard the phrase, “it’s a dry heat” when referring to the comfort level of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Now consider that same temperature in the Southeast of the U.S., which will, no doubt, come with excessive heat warnings at critical levels.
These wetter climates at higher temperatures make going outside unbearable and dangerous to your health. The reverse is also true and when temperatures drop in the desert, the air feels much cooler while the low temperatures in the wetter climates are refreshing and comfortable. The contributing factor of the apparent temperature or how we perceive our environment is the humidity levels.
Controlling your humidity levels requires knowing your home’s current relative humidity and some people purchase hydrometers for convenience; however, we can use usually detect low humidity through warning signs. You may experience chapped lips, a sore or scratchy throat, dry and itchy skin, and an increase in static electricity. Additionally, you may experience an increase in problems with your electrical equipment and potential damage to your wood furnishings.
Two household appliances are currently available that add moisture to the air; humidifiers and vaporizers, and you may be wondering what the difference between the two is? In basic terms, the difference between a humidifier and a vaporizer is how the appliances release moisture into the air, be it by cool mist evaporation or by heated mist evaporation, as well as the primary use of the device.
Purchasing and using an appliance to add moisture into the air depends on usage. If you are looking to increase the humidity in your house because it is dry and uncomfortable, a whole-house humidifier is most likely the best choice. However, these items can be more expensive than vaporizers and require daily maintenance to prevent contamination.
Because they use cool mist to add humidity back into the air, humidifiers may develop mold or mildew, and it is important to check the water daily as well as clean the appliance often. Additionally, because these humidifiers use cool water, it is suggested that you only use distilled water in the unit to prevent the spread of bacteria. This is especially important when using a humidifier to help alleviate a cold or a respiratory infection. Using distilled water will also prevent dispersing minerals from tap water, a hazard that is avoided when using a vaporizer.
Humidifiers are used to increase the overall humidity levels in a room, which will help soothe dry skin, eyes, and sinuses. By increasing the relative humidity to safe levels, between 40% and 60%, you can help relieve sinus issues and improve the quality of your sleep. Humidifiers typically produce cool mist air and they do not pose a burn hazard because there is no heating element so they are safe to use around children. If a child knocks the humidifier over, they may get a little wet along with your furniture or floors but the chances of a more threatening injury are greatly reduced.
While the benefits of a humidifier are excellent, you should be aware of over humidification in your home or room. Mold and bacteria can grow in low humidity, but they easily breed in cool areas at 60% humidity or greater. Therefore, it is crucial to clean your humidifier out daily and allow it to dry before reusing it. There are two types of humidifiers on the market: Evaporate cool mist and ultrasonic humidifiers.
Evaporate cool mist humidifiers release moisture into the air by using a fan to draw air over or through a wick placed in water. Heat is removed from the incoming air and cool, moist air is released back into the room. Cool mist humidifiers are among the simplest and least expensive but do require replacement wicks or filters. Additionally, these humidifiers do not use much electricity.
The second type of humidifier available is ultrasonic, which has a small metal disc that vibrates at ultrasonic speeds; thus, agitating the water reserve into mist where a fan then pushes the moisture into the room. Ultrasonic humidifiers, like evaporate cool mist humidifiers, are cost efficient and do not use much electricity. They are also low-maintenance appliances and do not require replacement wicks or filters like the evaporate cool mist humidifiers. Some ultrasonic humidifiers may come with the option to heat the water before releasing mist into the air, which is similar to a vaporizer.
If you are planning on using an appliance to add moisture back into the air to assist with a respiratory infection or help with a cold, a vaporizer is an excellent choice. Unlike a humidifier, medications and other aromatherapy sources can be added to vaporizers. The mist is also much warmer and heated enough to kill any bacteria and mold that might become airborne. Additionally, the evaporate steam does not contain any so you can use tap water instead of distilled water.
A vaporizer is technically a warm mist humidifier that uses a heating element to heat water and produce steam for the purpose of inhaling. The steam is released into the room from the top of the vaporizer, thus adding moisture back into the air. However, unlike traditional humidifiers, plant extracts, or other aromatherapy substances may be added to the vaporizer to increase the benefits of the vaporizer. Typically, vaporizers are also directly inhaled whereas humidifiers emit moisture into the surrounding air.
Vaporizers are usually less expensive than humidifiers but are slightly more costly to run in your house due to the heating element. The heating element is also the main risk involved with using a vaporizer, which has the potential to cause burns if touched.
The internal heating element must get very hot to convert the water into steam. The emitted mist, though not as equally hot as the water reserve, is hot enough to burn you in you get too close and the water reserve will burn or scald you if you spill it.
As such, it is never recommended to leave children unattended with a warm mist vaporizer and should be placed out of reach if used in a child’s room. The warm mist emitted from a vaporizer also helps warm the air within the room and will allow you to reduce the central heating for that area. Central air tends to dry out breathing airways and thicken mucus, which can lead to infection. Mucous blocked airways can also make it difficult to breathe.
Adding medicinal inhalants to the vaporizers dispenser, such as products containing menthol or eucalyptus, can assist with keeping mucus levels down. Whether you choose to go with a humidifier to raise your overall humidity levels in a room or throughout your home or you opt to use a vaporizer and add inhalants to the dispenser you should stay aware of the balance of humidity in your home. Too much of a good thing can be dangerous to your health and finding the correct humidity balance is key to your comfort, as well as health.
In the winter, humidity levels inside your home drop due to increased heating efforts by central air and other heat sources as well as the decreasing temperature outside. Adding humidity back into your air can help keep your heating bills down as well as keep you more comfortable. It is important to note that as temperatures outside drop less moisture is required inside. Over humidification is reasonably easy to detect and can occur in environments where the outside temperature is considerably cooler.
If you do not use a hydrometer or do not know the best humidity levels to maintain you may look for the signs and symptoms of over humidification in your home. The first and easiest place to start is on your windows. When the air outside is cold and the humidity builds inside condensation may form on the windows or mirrors in your home. In colder climates, the condensation may form as frost.
If you see any signs of condensation in your home, you will know you have surpassed the optimal humidity levels for your home and may be in increased danger of developing mold, mildew, or bacteria. Similarly, you can look for wet stains on the ceiling or walls, which will indicate increased moisture in your home. Too dry or too wet is both uncomfortable and potentially unhealthy, but you can avoid both by understanding how to control your indoor relative humidity and by choosing a home appliance to suit your needs.