This story is part of Home Tips, CNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
You may notice during the winter months that your lip balm and skin lotion dependencies increase, while the vibrancy of your hair, not to mention your energy level, decreases. What you may not have known is that much of this has to do with the lack of humidity in the air. Colder air has less moisture in it, because it can’t hold vapor in a state of suspension like warm air can without it condensing.
Using a humidifier is a good way to increase the humidity level in a room, but unless you intend to have one going in every room in your home, you might want to consider some of the following DIY solutions. These expert-backed tips can add humidity without increasing your electricity bill or forcing you to spend undue time every day sanitizing multiple devices.
We spoke with two experts, Michael Rubino, a mold and air quality specialist and founder of HomeCleanse, and Viktor Holas, DIY home improvement guru of Simply Swider, about all things humidity. (You can also check out our tips for the best places to put your humidifier, and how much money using a space heater can save you.)
What’s the best level of humidity for a home?
While you probably can’t do anything about the air outside, you can make a noticeable difference in the air quality at home, whether you use an actual humidifier or DIY methods. “Ideal humidity should be managed not only for comfort but also to maintain a safe indoor environment that promotes ongoing wellness,” Rubino said. “The ideal humidity level in a home should be between 35% and 50%. Too high or too low humidity indoors can not only cause personal wellness issues and also problems with the health of the home.” While air that’s too humid can promote mold growth, overly dry air is equally problematic and can lead to splitting in wood flooring and furniture.
According to Holas, “Maintaining this 35% to 50% level of humidity is important for preventing dry skin, itchy eyes, and other symptoms associated with dry air, as well as preventing the growth of mold, dust mites and other allergens that thrive in dry conditions.” Additionally, managing humidity can make the air feel warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. As for home health, not only does appropriately humid air protect your home’s structure and furniture, “it can also help preserve artwork, musical instruments and other items that can be damaged by low humidity,” Holas said.
Rubino recommends a hygrometer, an inexpensive device that can give you data about the humidity in your home if you don’t have a central heating or cooling system to monitor that. “Every home should have a hygrometer,” he said, “so that homeowners can monitor indoor humidity levels in real time. If the humidity tips too far in either direction, they can quickly take steps to remedy the situation and get their home back into balance.”
More comprehensive air quality monitors like the $80 Airthings Wave Mini will send information on your home’s humidity to your smartphone along with other air quality conditions and alerts to keep your space clean and safe.
How does humidity impact health?
Through HomeCleanse, Rubino’s vision is to end the worldwide health epidemic caused by poor air quality and toxic indoor environments, of which humidity and microbial growth play a huge part. “While mold is an important element in nature, it can turn our homes into health hazards,” he said, releasing microscopic spores and toxins into the immediate environment. “Thanks to modern building practices pushing for net-zero energy efficiency, there’s very little airflow between indoor and outdoor environments,” he said, which means that you risk long-term exposure if mold builds up and goes undetected in your home.
“One thing to keep in mind is that if you have to add moisture to the air to maintain the right indoor humidity level, you do not want standing water in your home,” Rubino said. “This can become a breeding ground for microbial growth and lower indoor air quality. Make sure to wipe up any condensation and keep a close eye out for any sources that could allow for contamination to develop.” Again, utilizing a hygrometer is key to ensuring the comfortable humidity level in your home never goes out of bounds.
The best DIY ways to increase humidity at home
While you may still use a humidifier in certain rooms in your house, here are several simple DIY methods for adding humidity to your home during the drier months:
1. “Place bowls of water near heating sources,” Holas said, such as near a heating vent or on top of a radiator. (This isn’t recommended for a free-standing, electric radiator, however.) “The heat from the sources will cause the water to evaporate, adding moisture to the air,” Holas said. When doing this method, make sure to use metal or ceramic bowls; glass bowls can crack from heat stress. Additionally, “empty and clean them daily to prevent microbial growth,” Rubino said.
2. “Open the door while showering to let that steamy air out,” Rubino said. Depending on the temperature and length of your shower, a closed-door bathroom without the vent fan running can get as high as 80% to 90% humidity. You can use that to your advantage in the winter by simply opening the door to capitalize on that steam, and as a bonus, “this also helps prevent mold in the bathroom,” Rubino said.
3. In a similar vein, “Use a cooking pan with water on the stove to boil,” Holas said. “This will add moisture to the air.” You also needn’t limit yourself to just boiling water for the sake of humidity. According to Rubino, “cooking on the stovetop often” will also aid in creating a more comfortable air quality. (Depending on what you are cooking, potentially in more than one way.)
4. “Forgo the clothes dryer and hang wet towels or clothes near heating sources,” Holas said. “As they dry, they will release moisture into the air.” Another bonus for the electricity savings column, as well.
5. “Lower the heat to avoid drying out the air too quickly,” Rubino said. You can utilize a space heater in your immediate workspace instead for comfort. “Ensure that doors and windows are sealed properly” to make sure what humidity you are able to cultivate inside doesn’t literally slip through the cracks, he added.
6. “Grow plants,” Holas said. “Many indoor plants naturally release moisture into the air through a process called transpiration,” he said, and additionally, plants that require regular spritzing will give you an excuse to spray water in the air, and your plants can also be a good barometer for when things are getting too dry.
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