3 Tips For Using Your Humidifier This Winter

Crane Tear Drop Humidifier

(I recently moved to Domestic Confessions! Find me there!)

I will first admit that I have been through three humidifiers in the past three years. I basically destroyed the first one by not following the manufacturer’s suggestions, which were, 1) Wash unit between each use, and, 2) Clean entire unit by soaking with either a bleach solution or vinegar solution once a week. Easy enough, yes. Another tedious task to add to my endless daily list? Absolutely. Let me give you my really great, valid list of excuses why these instructions were not followed. I bought the unit for my son’s room when he was a baby. I think that might be enough said, but in case it is not, the piles of dishes, laundry, cloth diapers, dogs, husband, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, sleep deprivation, etc. took priority over messing with this little machine that I simply wanted to have make the air not so dry for my son. I refilled the water basin almost every day during the winter, which means I would have had to haul the top and bottom unit to the sink every day to soap it up and refill it before bedtime. Not a priority. I just really want to fill it with water and leave it at that. Is that so hard? Apparently it is, which is why it ended up growing icky slimy stuff along the bottom mechanical base, along with a nice cement-like crust of minerals that covered the once shiny inside. I did wash it with soap and a scrubbing sponge, but probably more along the lines of once a week or so, rather than in between each refill. I also tried to clean it with the vinegar solution a couple of times, but by then it was sort of too late. I got paranoid of what kind of nasty particles were being spewed into the air in my son’s room, so I ended up tossing the thing out. The second humidifier just simply broke one day when I tried to open the cap to refill it. It was either a bad design overall, or I got a lemon.

I didn’t want to give up on having a humidifier for my son, though, as he would wake up with dry crusted snot around his nose in the mornings during really dry winter nights, so I set about researching how to abate the mineral and slime buildup in a humidifier without me having to perform an extra daily cleaning task. Call me lazy, but I am quite certain few of you out there would disagree with that goal. I came across several products that were designed to combat these issues, mainly filter attachments and antibacterial cartridges. The main problem I have with these things is that they have to be replaced regularly. My secondary problem with the antibacterial product is, what is it made of? Would it end up as a particulate in my son’s air? Hhhmmmm. Too questionable, but it did get me thinking. Antibacterial. How about Grapefruit Seed Extract? This natural substance is known for its antibacterial qualities. After months of use using common sense and natural products, here are my most helpful tips for using a humidifier effectively while saving you time in the tedious maintenance of the unit.

How To Use Your Humidifier

1) Use distilled water. I think this is probably the most important tip. If not distilled, then at the very least use filtered water. I saw a lot of nasty, floaty stuff in the base reservoir when I would remove the basin to fill it with water. Who knows what kind of bacteria and cysts and pathogens were floating around in there, just waiting to contaminate our air as well as slime up the unit. Using distilled or filtered water will not only give the air clean mist, but will also keep the growth of any kind of slime, mold or mineral buildup at bay. We have a reverse osmosis filter installed in our kitchen and it works like a charm for this. Reverse osmosis removes absolutely everything. It is even referred to sometimes as “dead” water. There is literally nothing in it but water.

2) Add Grapefruit Seed Extract. Also referred to as GSE. If you are using filtered water this should take care of anything that gets past the filters, as well as help keep any potential mold growth at bay. (Buy GSE in the supplement section of your health food store, or online here)

3) Buy a pretty humidifier that is easy to use. Okay, so this actually has nothing to do with getting the best use out of your humidifier, but since it will be a big plastic appliance displayed openly in any given room, it’s nice to find one that is somewhat aesthetically pleasing, as well as easy to use. My favorite brand is Crane, in the tear drop shape. It comes in various colors to make it easier to coordinate with decor and is almost pretty in and of itself. Anyone that has been in my son’s room has commented on his humidifier, usually wondering what it was, and then exclaiming how cool it looked after not believing it was a humidifier. Crane also makes cute animal shaped humidifiers, like the frog, cow, penguin and this adorable owl. These little animals are too cute, especially if you have a theme going in your child’s room. The one thing I particularly like about the tear drop shaped design is the spout the mist comes out of swivels, so you can easily direct the mist in any direction, rather than moving the entire machine to aim the mist away from curtains or walls, etc. Lastly, this product is very quiet, a must when running in a room with a sensitive sleeper.

In conclusion, I am happy to report I have used my son’s third humidifier using the above three steps every time and have yet to find a need to clean it. It looks as new as the day I bought it. Not a hint of slime or mineral buildup anywhere and I have had the thing for months. I have rinsed the base out a couple of times, just for good measure, but this thing is spotless.

NOTE: This post has been updated from original publishing. I originally recommended adding essential oil to the water, and while a small amount in a gallon of water is most likely not going to cause problems, essential oil can crack or discolor plastic. Only use essential oil with a unit that is specifically made to work with essential oils. For the aromatherapy benefits of essential oil in your room, a commenter suggested adding drops to a cotton ball and placing where the mist comes out to help disperse into the air. Alternatively, diffusers work very well, or easy to use and require very little maintenance. 

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47 thoughts on “3 Tips For Using Your Humidifier This Winter

    • Hi Trish,

      Feel free to combine them. I like to always add tea tree just because of its antibacterial properties. I am less likely to end up with bacteria issues in the humidifier itself. I love eucalyptus for its ability to clear the nasal passages, especially during winter months. I usually use a little more eucalyptus and/or peppermint than tea tree, but I usually use these three at once. I just enjoy the scent of the eucalyptus and peppermint a lot more.

  1. Heya i am for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out a lot.
    I hope to give something back and help others like you
    aided me.

  2. Any ideas on why the whole room gets soaking wet when we use this humidifier? I mean wet area rug, furniture, hardwood floors, even had to remove the crib skirt this morning. It was soaked.

  3. Hi. I just got the crane humidifier hoping I can use it with the Young living essential oils but the directions specifically say not to add any oils to the water….Are you sure it is safe the use with the oils? I could only find hot air humidifiers that have a special place to put in the oils but that defeats the purpose of the cool mist…please advise.

    • I have always used essential oils with my Crane humidifiers. So far I haven’t had any problems with it and the rooms smell amazing. My guess is that Crane just won’t cover any defect of the humidifier (should one arise) if oils were used with the unit.

      • If I have a hot air humidifier, do you think I should put the oils in the water or in the special compartment? Many thanks for your helpful article!

      • If your unit has a place to add essential oils, I’d stick with that! I would then, perhaps, add grapefruit seed extract to the water basin just to help stave off the growth of bacteria in that compartment.

    • Many essential oils can dissolve plastic (lemon, is one example), so it is probably the manufacturer erring on the side of caution to void them from liability if you ruin your humidifier.

  4. I use a Vicks cool mist humidifier, I wasn’t very keep on the Vicks part (you can buy vicks pad to stick in a little vent area…or not as I decided) My instructions also mentioned not using any essential oils, but I rarely follow the rules. I love tea tree oil, but my husband reckons the smell makes him nauseous. So I use Lavender Essential Oil (LEO) as instead. LEO has many great properties, including being an antiseptic. (antibacterial, antiviral) and also is great to help my little one sleep as it also acts as a sedative. It’s also great for any one coming into the house as LEO is also an antidepressant. I add about 3-4 drops to the gallon of water, and her room smells AMAZING! I originally came here to find out about cleaning as I figured adding EO would help clean the humidifier, I too am guilty of not cleaning it as often as I should. I generally think about it when my baby is sleeping, and needs the humidifier as a white noise! Thanks for the reassurance 🙂

  5. Hi! Thank you for your information and tips. I have a couple questions. First, I have a lot of essential oils, but I don’t have tea tree. Do you know if Lemon Essential Oil carries the same antibacterial properties as tea tree oil? Secondly, do you feel there is any danger running the humidifier for hours at a time in the room with the baby? We run a diffuser in our main area of our home that is made for essential oils, and it will only run for an hour and then shut off. It makes me wonder if it would put too much in the air if I was running it all night long in a small mostly closed off room. I have been adding a drop of lemon and sometimes I will add Breathe (doterra), but I worry about overexposure. Thanks for your suggestions!

    • Hi Teresa,

      Those are all really good questions. I don’t see any problem with running a humidifier in a small room all night. I do it all the time in both my kids’ rooms. If the machine feels hot to the touch after running for some time, then you may want to consider investing in a different unit. Also, I avoid having anything plugged in that comes in contact with fabric, such as behind curtains. Other than those two concerns, you should be able to adjust the moisture output so that you’re not saturating the room. As long as the mist is disappearing up into the air, rather than dropping down like a heavy fog, you’ll be fine.

      I don’t have extensive knowledge of essential oil properties, but I do believe lemon is widely used for antibacaterial purposes. If you own a great variety of essential oils, you may have quite a few that will work just as well as tea tree.

      Hope this helps!


  6. I’m researching the Crane Drop Humidifier for possible purchase and am THRILLED to see others using it with essential oils. Quick question…I’m planning on running it in my bedroom while I sleep. Are there any big bright lights that you cannot shut off?

    I’ve been able to stave off some pretty furious asthma lately by using my Young Living diffuser RIGHT next to my bed all night, with 3 drops each of Tea Tree, Melaleuca, and Peppermint. It keeps my lungs open and breathing well without any traditional medicines! It’s neat to see another person using my preferred EO mix! 😉

    • Thanks for reading! My brother-in-law has asthma, I’ll have to pass along the tip!

      Yes, the Crane humidifier has a light that comes on that you cannot shut off. Definitely one of the annoying features of the machine. When I run it at night I put a dark navy blue toddler shirt over it, and that pretty much blocks the light well enough. Not exactly attractive, but it works so far. If in the future I come across a humidifier that does not light up, I will update this post!

      • I put a bit of black electrical tape over the blue light on my humidifier. 😉
        Thanks for this post. Great insight!

    • I have preferred to use reverse osmosis (or distilled) water in order to avoid a filter. My main problem with filters is that you always have to buy new ones to replace the old ones. Seems like an expense I don’t want to have if I can avoid it. So far using filtered water and adding some grapefruit seed extract for the anti-microbial properties has seemed to work pretty well. I don’t have any mineral build-up on my units and I don’t use a filter.

  7. Wow, great ideas here! Yes I did read that Lavender essential oil has very good properties including antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral. If anyone is interested in getting 100% Chemical Free and Organic Essential Oils plus lot of other products as well as make a good income visit my website at http://www.wealthmaker4u.com

  8. i put tea tree, oregano, three thieves, and one other thing in my sons and as soon as i did it, the essential oils stuck to the plastic humidifiers jug that the water goes in, it is a cool mist humidifier and its kinda loud and makes the room cool BUT the main thing i am worried about is the essential oils stuck to the sides of the water tank. how do i get them out, i have tried scouing them off with my nails and other toons, soap and sponges etc and nothing works… do uhave any solutions to this prroblem? also do you use cool mist or warm/ hot mistn humidifier? my sons dc. said cool mist was better for him, but its chilly, so i just wanted to know what other people thought about this. thanks

    • I use cool mist. I haven’t noticed it being too cold, but I keep the setting low enough so that there isn’t a heavy fog emitting from the unit, and just a nice, fine mist.

      I usually add the oils after I have added water and am not sure I have noticed the oils sticking to the plastic inside. I don’t know that it will create a problem in the functioning of the unit. Perhaps it will just not appear as aesthetically pleasing?

  9. We were using the Crane drop cool mist humidifier without oils for about a year before I started adding TTO, Eucalyptus, and Peppermint. Since then, I’ve gone through three humidifiers in two weeks. I was thinking the oils were causing stress on the plastic, but you ladies seem to be having no problem. Maybe I just got duds? I’m really nervous to keep using oils 😦

    • My guess is the EO are doing something to the units. While I have used EO in three different Crane drop humidifiers without a problem, it is certainly a possibility that the oils are causing issues for you. You may want to try finding a humidifier that is made specifically for use with oils. I added a link below for a Tribest model that might be a good option. Hope that helps!

    • I’m not keen on using oils in my humidifiers. A) Many oils (mainly citrus) damage plastic. I have see lemon EO (which I would love to use in a humidifier for several reasons!) dissolve the plastic in a humidifier. Very disappointing. B) If you heat oils, they will lose some of their therapeutic qualities, so it would not benefit us to use in a heated humidifier.

      That being said, to enjoy the benefits of using EOs with a humidifier, I simply place a few drops of the preferred EO(s) on a cotton ball or tissue (which ever is most conducive to the model of humidifier to use) and place over/on/above where the mist is emitted. This seems to help avoid issues and allow me to use my precious EOs.

      I hope someone else finds this helpful.

      • Great tips! I mainly used tea tree and eucalyptus in my units without a problem, but yes, after using lemon I noticed streaks. I have updated the post to reflect issues with using EO in the units, so this is a great tip and I will have to try it! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Thanks for the article. I wasn’t sure about adding the oils into my humidifier (was afraid to ruin it), but now I feel more comfortable about!
    The only surprising thing I see here is that you add peppermint oil at night. Peppermint oil is known for keeping you alert and awake, people usually use it if you need to stay awake (to work on a project or something).
    Lavender is known as the best oil for sleep problems.

    On a different subject, I found the noisy humidifiers are the best for us, because I use it instead of a white noise machine for my baby, it creates a very monotonous noise that puts her to sleep and blocks all outside sounds. I don’t have to walk around on my teepy toes afraid to wake up my baby. And they say it is better for babies (and adults) to sleep with some sort of noise, it is not good to sleep in dead silence. So our humidifier works great!

    By the way, I got an indoor thermometer that also measures the level of humidity in the room, and without the humidifier we have about 40% humidity, and with the humidifier, it’s usually over 65%, which is pretty good!

  11. Oh my gosh! These are amazing tips! I have had the EXACT same battles you discuss in keeping my son’s humidifier in good/clean working use! I get sooo frustrated every time I (finally) take it apart for a thorough cleaning job only to find hard buildup on the heating element. Grr! Furthermore, with so many doctor’s/specialist’s telling me that I can do nothing for my poor baby boy’s chronic bronchitis except keep him on inhaler meds with tons of side effects, I’ve been searching hard for any natural solutions that may help his congestion and breathing. Considering my challenges & goals, it’s needless to say that I found your post here VERY helpful! It certainly brought a little joy to my morning coffee time lol.

    THANK YOU!!!

  12. hi, do you use the filter cartridge? and also the antimicrobial cartridge that looks like a rattle? they sell them both together on diapers.com. don’t know what is necessary?

  13. Just a warning – I have tried tea tree oil in the past for all the great reasons noted above, however it damaged the plastic water container of my humidifier. The normally smooth container became rough and the clear plastic became cloudy. Not sure if other oils would do the same, but I didn’t chance it when I bought a new one.

  14. I like you. This is the sort of thing that makes life easier while smelling better while also eliminating nose bleeds. Thanks much. I was wondering how I was going to manage cleaning this thing everyday.

    • Thank you for the info! I have updated the post to reflect issues with using EOs. I used them for years without problems with the units, other than mild discoloration, but I definitely don’t want others to experience worse problems with their appliances!

  15. Just want to mention, I work for my local Health Dept. and, I feel it is important to inform you and the readers of this article that, Reverse Osmosis filters do not remove everything from your water. Filtration systems remove many things, but even if you have pH control, Ion Exchange (Water Softener), Carbon (GAC), and Reverse Osmosis Filters installed, your water is not going to be 100% pure, depending on the water you start with. Not much, but some things do get through, regardless of what the company that sold it to you may have told you. I had to stop reading your article and write this before I continued.
    Also, I’ve read that some essential oils can damage plastic, so you want to make sure your humidifier can handle using more than just water.

  16. In my first Crane cool mist I used oils and such but within the first month the unit began to leak and because of the oils the warranty was void. I was told the oils are away at the seems. Did anyone else have this problem?

    • I used essential oils in my units for a long time, however I did notice some streaks appearing on the sides of the plastic. I never had problems with functionality, though. In the future you may want to minimize the amount of the EO you use, or don’t use the EO at all and stick with a diffuser to get the aromatherapy into the room. I have updated the post to reflect the issue of EOs, since it has been a concern for many readers. So sorry you’ve had problems with it!

    • Usually around 10 drops, but I have no scientific evidence for this amount. I have tried to find more information on the amount of drops of GSE per cup of water, etc. but haven’t come across anything. I haven’t looked in awhile though, so if you find any info yourself on recommendations, do share!

      p.s When I use distilled water I have found the GSE is not necessary. Otherwise, when using filtered water, it works great.

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