How to Clean Your Humidifier

Humidifier releasing steam near window with houseplant

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

A dirty humidifier can be a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. So cleaning your portable humidifier should be a regular part of your home maintenance routine to keep the air—and yourself—healthy. Proper cleaning methods are a must to keep the humidifier sanitary.

Here are some general tips for how to clean a humidifier.


Always turn off and unplug a humidifier before starting any maintenance on it to prevent electrical accidents. Work in a well-lit space, and make sure the humidifier is on a stable surface.

Sanitizing the Humidifier Water Tank

Humidifier water tanks, or reservoirs, must be regularly disinfected to get rid of any dangerous pathogens. Using the built-in handle, lift and remove the water tank from the humidifier base by pulling straight up. Empty any remaining water in the tank. Next, make a bleach-water solution following the instructions on your bleach bottle for disinfecting. Pour the solution into your humidifier water tank, and let the tank sit for around 20 minutes. Then, empty the water tank, rinse it thoroughly with clear cool water, and wipe the outside with a soft damp cloth.

Bleach-water mixture poured into humidifier tank to sanitize

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Washing the Humidifier Filter

Hand washing can extend the life of your humidifier filter, though it's also generally inexpensive to replace the filters with fresh ones if you choose. Your product manual will confirm whether your unit's filter can be washed and provide instructions on how to do so. In general, some wick filters can be washed by soaking them in a sink filled with cool water to remove scale and other debris. You also can do a quick vacuuming first to remove some dusty scale residue and then proceed to wash your filter under water. The filter then can be returned to the humidifier while it's still wet after the humidifier base has been cleaned. Don't squeeze or wring out a wick filter.

Humidifier filter hand-washed under running sink water

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Cleaning the Humidifier Base

In addition to the humidifier water tank and filter, the base also needs regular cleaning. First, carefully lift the motor housing off of the humidifier base. You can either use a vacuum or a dry cloth to gently wipe the inside of the housing cover to remove any dust and dirt. Ensure that no water drips into the motor housing during the cleaning of your humidifier, as this can damage the electrical components. Only skilled professionals should ever disassemble the housing unit for further internal cleaning or repair. Doing so can render your warranty null and void. If you are concerned about dust inside the fan mechanism, have a qualified repair shop take a look at it.

With the filter and motor housing removed from the base, fill both sides of the humidifier base with undiluted white vinegar. Allow it to stand for about 20 minutes. You can use a soft cloth or soft-bristled brush to help remove scale buildup from the base. Instead of vinegar, you can also use specially formulated humidifier cleaner, following the product label instructions. Rinse the base thoroughly to remove all the cleaning solution. Finally, with the scale and dirt removed, disinfect the base with some of the water and bleach solution you made for the water tank cleaning. Let the solution stand in the base for a few minutes, and then rinse it thoroughly with clean water.

Undiluted white vinegar poured into humidifier base for cleaning

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Reassembling the Humidifier After Maintenance

Once the water tank and base of your humidifier have been descaled and disinfected, insert your new or washed filter, return the motor housing to the ​base, and reposition the water tank. Finally, gently wipe the outside of your unit with a soft, dry cloth. Now you're ready to store the unit or fill the water tank and return it to operation.