Solved! How to Increase Humidity in a Dry House
Reduce the irritating, damaging effects of dry heat this winter with these smart, simple, and inexpensive tricks.
Q: During the winter, the central heating in our home makes the air super dry. Not only do my nasal passages get inflamed, this year, I’m pretty sure that drops in temperature and humidity caused the wood grain in an antique dresser crack! We’re not too keen on dealing with humidifiers in every room. Are there any inexpensive, natural ways to increase humidity levels indoors?
A: As if winter isn’t harsh enough outside! When indoor humidity drops below 30 percent during the cold months, people are more apt to experience chapped skin and irritated eyes, noses, and sinuses. And you’re right: Low humidity can cause wood and other plant-based furniture and flooring to shrink and crack; what’s more, wallpaper can detach, and household plants can wither when dryness is extreme (below five percent).
The good news is, with a few tricks and a bit of mindfulness, you can easily add moisture to interior air every day. The key is to ramp up natural evaporation while also employing such heat sources as radiators and stovetops to help transfer water vapor into the air quickly, no humidifiers required.
That said, it is a good idea to pick up an inexpensive digital thermometer with a humidity gauge (available on Amazon) so you can to monitor moisture levels. For optimal humidity at home and healthfulness overall, aim for levels between 30 and 50 percent. (Note that moisture levels above 50 percent can cause problems, too, including mold growth, structural decay, warping of wood furniture, and damage to painted surfaces.) Read on for simple methods that will increase humidity levels, moderating your home’s climate and adding to personal wellbeing.
Lower the heat or use radiant heat sources.
Central heating uses forced air to blow warmth to your rooms, increasing evaporation and drying the air out quickly. To slow this process, turn your thermostat down to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (as recommended by the US Department of Energy)—a move bound to decrease your energy bill. If that feels too chilly, consider investing in a portable oil-filled radiator, a plug-in heater that uses radiant energy, which is less drying. To keep usage costs down, use the device in the room you’re in with the door closed to hold in the heat.
Place containers of water on elevated surfaces to increase humidity in a room.
One of the easiest ways to add moisture to the air is to place bowls or saucers of water on various surfaces around the house. Locate them away from foot traffic to prevent accidental spills, and even higher up to keep them out of reach of children and pets, if necessary. Wide window sills are ideal, since sunlight can warm the water and help it evaporate faster.
If your home has built-in radiators instead of central (forced air) heating, capitalize on these radiant heat sources by placing a bowl of water on top of each unit to humidify your rooms. Depending on how hot your radiators get, be careful and use a cloth or kitchen mitt when you lifting the bowls. If the heat issues from air vents in your home, you can position a small bowl of water near them to blow in additional moisture.
Boil water on the stove when you’re at home.
Boiling water speedily contributes moisture to the air, but you must be mindful when doing this. Never leave a pot or tea kettle on the burner unattended. Once the water boils away, your pot will get dangerously hot and scorch. Set a timer on your phone if you have to step away from the kitchen for a bit so you won’t forget what you’ve got on the stovetop.
Construct a plant humidifier.
If you have houseplants, low humidity can cause brown, curling leaf tips and dried-out soil. Fill a waterproof tray with stones or pebbles and pour on enough water to cover the bottom (half an inch to an inch, depending on the depth), leaving the upper pebbles dry. Place potted plants atop the pebbles, and natural evaporation will keep them moist and happy while creating a humid microclimate in the room. If plants elsewhere look dry, mist their leaves as often as needed with water from a spray bottle.
Leave the bathroom door open.
While you’re showering, that is! This lets steam escape and fill other rooms with much-needed moisture. If you typically use a bathroom exhaust fan to wick away humidity, turn it off in winter. And if you prefer baths, don’t drain the water immediately after use; let it sit and cool naturally instead. Then, make good use of the water by using it for your plants.
Steam fabrics rather than iron them.
A portable steamer provides an easy way to remove wrinkles from clothing and curtains while adding moisture to the air. These handy devices are much cheaper than humidifiers, require no filters, and heat up in seconds.