The Common Cold Remedies Humidifiers

Recent scientific studies report that most popular over-the-counter cold products for children between the ages of 2 and 6 aren’t effective and could be harmful. As a result, many infant cold remedies were recently removed from store shelves for safety reasons.

Antibiotics also aren’t effective at treating the common cold, since viruses rather than bacteria cause colds.

Thus, there is little a person can do to relieve cold symptoms. However, there is still one tool that many people consider to be a safe and useful cold-prevention tool: a humidifier. For many years, people have used humidifiers to fight and prevent the common cold.

Humidifiers are used to relieve cold symptoms, congestion in particular. They are best used in combination with other cold remedies, including getting enough sleep and staying hydrated.

Types of Humidifiers

There are four types of humidifiers:

  • Heater-less fan humidifiers blow air through a moist filter to create vapors. These humidifiers use less power than steam-fan humidifiers, but their output is less predictable. Since they do not get hot, heater-less fan models are considered a safer choice for children’s rooms. However, since they do not heat to boiling, these humidifiers may become a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Steam-fan humidifiers use a heater to create steam. A steam-fan humidifier is a good choice for a large room. However, these humidifiers can be dangerous, since the steam is extremely hot when it leaves the spout. These models also use a lot of electricity. Since heat acts as a sterilizing agent, these humidifiers typically do not grow bacteria.
  • The third type of humidifier is a combination of the first two. Hybrid humidifiers blow air through a filter and also use a heater to warm the air. These models offer electricity savings, since they use sensors to turn off the heater when the humidity in the room reaches the desired level.
  • Ultrasonic humidifiers create a mist by sending ultrasonic vibrations through the water. Studies on ultrasonic humidifiers have not been able to prove that they are safer than heater-less fan models in regards to the spread of bacteria. It is recommended you use distilled water with these models.

It is recommended that if you are using a humidifier and you begin coughing, you should not take a cough suppressant. Instead, let nature take its course. The humidifier is likely easing your airways open. The coughing is your body’s way of clearing out mucous.

How to Clean a Humidifier

The important thing to remember when using a humidifier is to keep it clean. If you do not clean your humidifier on a regular basis, it may grow mold. Breathing air containing mold spores can contribute to a number of health problems.

Every day, you should empty the water reservoir in your humidifier and wash it with hot water and soap. Be sure to rinse it thoroughly. The last maintenance step you should take each day is to refill the water to the right level. If you run your humidifier without enough water, it may damage the motor.

Some people recommend using distilled water to fill the reservoir, but tap water is also acceptable unless the owner’s manual states otherwise.

With most models, you can also run white vinegar through the machine to disinfect it on a weekly basis:

  1. Begin by emptying and washing the reservoir.
  2. Next, add about two cups of white vinegar to the reservoir and fill it with water.
  3. Turn the machine on in a well-ventilated area and let it run for at least 30 minutes.
  4. After the humidifier has run, empty the remaining liquid and wash the reservoir again.
  5. Refill the reservoir with clean water and run the machine again for at least five minutes to get any excess vinegar out of the machine.

Remember to refill the reservoir to the recommended level before using the humidifier again, since running with too little water may be damaging.


National Jewish Medical and Research Center (2007) Cleaning of Portable Humidifiers and Vaporizers at Home. Retrieved November 24, 2007, from the Web site:

No Author (October 23, 2007). Kids With Colds: What Won’t Hurt. The Washington Post, p. HE02.

No Author (December 26, 2006). Tis the Season for Humidifiers. The Nikkei Weekly (Japan).

Steele, Robert (n.d.).Cool Mist Humidifier or Steam Vaporizer? Retrieved November 24, 2007, from the iVillage Web site:,,3qjc,00.html.