How to Clean a Humidifier (And Maintain It Too)

Paul Pogue
Written by Paul Pogue
Updated March 14, 2022
Woman reading while using humidifier
Photo: Vladeep / Getty Images

Breathe new life into your humidifier

Humidifiers are a quick and easy way to improve the air quality in a room. However, they can be a haven for mold and bacteria if they’re not cleaned and disinfected properly. Use this guide to learn how to clean a humidifier on a regular basis, as well as discover how to perform a deep clean when needed. 

Difficulty: Easy (1/5)

Cleaning a humidifier is a quick and simple task that provides instant results. 

Total Project Time: 20–30 minutes

It will take around 20 to 30 minutes to allow the cleaning solution to soak in and disinfect the humidifier, plus drying time. It can take a bit longer if the humidifier is extra soiled or moldy.

Cost: Under $10

You can effectively clean a humidifier with cleaning products you likely already have at home.


Note: You can choose between cleaning the humidifier with vinegar or bleach, but never mix the two together. 

  • White vinegar

  • Bleach 

  • Distilled water


  • Soft-bristled brush

  • Cleaning cloth

How to Clean a Humidifier

Learn how to clean most portable humidifiers using these easy-to-follow steps. Remember, always refer to the humidifier’s manufacturer recommendations for cleaning instructions, as they can vary depending on the model. 

1. Empty the Tank and Disassemble

Woman taking apart humidifier
Photo: Daria Kulkova / Getty Images
  • Unplug the unit, and completely empty the tank of any liquid. Remember, when water sits too long, mold and bacteria form. 

  • Once the tank has been emptied, assess the condition to determine if you will need to disinfect it using bleach for a deep clean or if a regular cleaning with vinegar will suffice.

  • Then, disassemble the humidifier and separate the pieces that have electronic components, as these can’t be submerged in liquid. 

2. Clean All of the Pieces

  • Rinse off all of the non-electronic pieces with water (except for the tank and the base), then allow them to air dry. 

  • If any of the pieces are grimy, you may need to scrub them with a soft-bristled brush and vinegar. Be sure to check in small crevices, such as the lid, which can be a haven for mold and grime. 

  • If you have a dishwasher-safe unit, refer to the manufacturer directions to determine if there are any pieces that need to be left out from the dishwasher before running a cycle.

  • Lay the cleaned pieces on a towel to let them air dry while you move onto cleaning the tank and base. 

3. Clean the Water Tank and the Base

  • To clean the tank and the base, you can either use vinegar or bleach (but never both at the same time). Vinegar works well for mildly to moderately soiled humidifiers, whereas bleach works as a disinfecting agent to provide a deeper clean for heavy buildup or visible mold. 

  • If you’re using white vinegar, pour 1 to 2 cups directly into the tank. Some models may call for a mixture of water and vinegar, so be sure to be sure to check the model-specific cleaning instructions first. 

  • If you’re using bleach, use a ratio of ½ gallon of distilled water to ½ tsp of bleach, and pour it into the tank to disinfect your humidifier.

  • Swirl the vinegar or bleach solution around in the humidifier tank to ensure the sides have been saturated. 

  • Let the mixture sit in the tank for 20 minutes to 30 minutes to allow it to fully soak in.

  • Repeat the same process to clean the base. 

Note: If you don’t have bleach on hand, you can pour 3% hydrogen peroxide into the tank and base to use as a disinfecting cleaning solution as well. 

4. Scrub Away Stubborn Stains

  • Once the cleaning solution has soaked into the tank and base, rinse it out with warm water. Keep washing the tank or base out until there’s no longer a vinegar or bleach smell.

  • If you notice any remaining mildew spots, grease spots, or mold, use a soft-bristled brush to scrub off leftover stains. 

  • It’s helpful to use the scrubbing brush around crevices and in the corners of the unit to make sure all of the spaces have been cleaned.

  • You can also wipe down the entire tank or base with a cloth soaked in vinegar to give it a final clean.

  • Rinse the tank and base generously with water until it runs clear and doesn’t smell of cleaner. 

5. Air Dry and Reassemble

Man reassembling humidifier
Photo: Елена Гурова / Adobe Stock
  • Wipe off cleaned pieces with a clean cloth, and let them air dry.  

  • Replace the wick or filter, if needed. (More on that below.)

  • Reassemble the humidifier.

Humidifier Maintenance Tips

Humidifier running in room
Photo: Sebastian Gorczowski / Getty Images
  • Never let water sit inside the tank or base when not in use, as stagnant water is a breeding ground for mold and allergens.

  • Flip the filter or wick in the opposite direction each time you change the water so that it doesn’t wear down as quickly.

  • Always use distilled water rather than tap water in the machine to avoid introducing mineral particles, which can cause bacterial buildup in the machine.

  • Replacing the filter or wick every few months (or every month during periods of frequent use) or when there’s noticeable dirt or odors can prolong the life of the machine. 

Humidifier FAQs

How often should I clean the humidifier?

For best results, clean your humidifier with vinegar once a week, or every three days if you use it frequently. Do a disinfecting deep clean with bleach or peroxide every month. It’s important to note that if you have anyone in the household living with respiratory conditions or allergies, you may need to clean the humidifier more often.

How humid should my home be?

A general rule to follow is to keep your home under 60% humidity in the summer and between 25% and 40% humidity in the winter. Check out our How to Measure Humidity In Your Home guide to learn more.

What if the unit is particularly soiled?

If the unit is soiled with visible mold spots, you can plug the device in outside and run vinegar through the tank to clean all of the working components of the machine. Let the vinegar work its way through the humidifier by letting it run for 30 minutes to an hour outside (as using vinegar indoors can be an irritant). 

Then, run distilled water through the unit for another 30 minutes to an hour. If you still notice a vinegar smell, you can add a few drops of essential oils to the reservoir to eliminate the odor (as long as they are safe to use in your particular model). 

What about cleaning the humidifier’s wick?

Certain humidifier models use a wick or filter to help absorb water from the reservoir. Over time, this part can get dirty, and it’s important not to use any harsh chemicals to clean it, as harsh cleaners can damage the fibers of the filter. You can gently clean the wick using running water, but remember, it will still need to be replaced every few months.

Should I run my humidifier throughout the year?

While humidifiers are most commonly used during the winter months to add moisture to the home’s environment, there are other uses throughout the year that make it a worthwhile appliance. For example, humidifiers can help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms in the spring and summer months by moisturizing irritated and dry nasal passages. 

What are the benefits of a humidifier?

You can browse through our What Are the Benefits of a Humidifier for Your Home? article for a more in-depth description, but here are some of the basics on how a humidifier can benefit you: 

  • Helps relieve allergy and asthma symptoms

  • May reduce the spread of germs

  • Reduces static cling in clothing

  • Helps to keep your skin moist

  • May promote healthier sleep and eliminate snoring

  • Protects hardwood floors and wood furniture when kept at a certain humidity level 

What should I do with the humidifier when it's not in use?

Empty the reservoirs completely, and allow them to fully air dry. Then, take out the filter and discard it before storing the humidifier for an extended period of time.