When discussing the relative humidity of your home, it’s usually in terms of high humidity. While living in humid, heavy air can be a miserable experience, having air that’s too dry is just as uncomfortable — and just as dangerous. Low humidity levels can result in:
- Property damage. Very dry air can dry out wood, causing it to shrink and warp. It can also cause adhesives to turn brittle and fail, resulting in peeling wallpaper and paint.
- Health problems. Low humidity can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory conditions, cause itching and cracking skin, induce nosebleeds, and make you more prone to diseases like the flu. Dry air also breeds high static electricity, resulting in frequent painful shocks.
If the air in your home is too dry, you can use something like an ultrasonic humidifier to raise the humidity levels in the home (don’t use a diffuser, as they don’t do much to increase humidity levels). But if you don’t have (or want) a humidifier, you have other options.
Three DIY ways to humidify the air
If the air in your house is too dry, you don’t necessarily need to invest in a humidifier to improve the situation. Here are three ways you can increase the humidity without a trip to the store.
1. Existing sources of humidity
Your home generates a lot of humidity. An easy way to get more water vapor into the air is to harness these existing sources.
- Take longer showers. Take a longer shower than usual and leave the bathroom door open to release humidity further throughout your home.
- Air dry laundry. Instead of putting clothes in the dryer, hang them on a drying rack inside.
- Air out dishwashers. Skip the drying cycle, open the dishwasher door, and let that humid air circulate.
2. Add more sources of water vapor
An easy way to increase humidity is to increase the number of sources of water vapor.
- Heat water. Fill a pot with water and boil it on your stovetop, or place a container of water on radiators or sunny window sills to evaporate.
- Get some houseplants. Many plants add moisture to the air via a process known as transpiration. Adding the right varieties can increase the humidity in a room noticeably.
- Place water vessels. Standing water increases humidity through the process of evaporation. Adding a fish tank or flower vases to your home’s decor will make an impact.
If you have a wood-burning stove, consider investing in a stovetop humidifier. These kettle-like devices add humidity to all spaces.
3. Make a DIY humidifier
A humidifier is a very simple machine — you can easily make one yourself with a water container (like a bucket or a bowl), a sponge and a fan.
- Place the bucket or pan on a flat surface like the floor, a chair, or a table.
- Place the fan behind the bucket or pan so that it blows air across the surface.
- Place your sponge in the container:
- If using a shallow container like a baking pan, lay the sponge flat on the bottom.
- If using a taller container like a bucket, use a skewer, chopstick, or other material to pierce the top of the sponge and lay it across the top of the container.
- Fill the container so that the sponge is about half immersed in the water.
- Turn the fan on low.
The sponge will wick up water, which then evaporates. The fan then blows that moisture across the room, raising the humidity.
The ideal humidity levels at home
Relative humidity in the home should be maintained between 30% and 50% for your comfort, personal health, and home environment. There are two easy ways to measure humidity in your home: using a hygrometer, or via the “wet/dry bulb” method.
A hygrometer is an electronic device that measures the amount of water vapor in the air. After calibration, it’s very easy to use:
- Place the hygrometer on a flat surface a few feet off the ground
- Turn it on
- Wait 3-5 minutes
- Read the humidity level on the screen
Common questions about dry air and humidity at home
Dry air and low humidity in your home can be caused by many factors, such as low temperatures, poor insulation or failing weather seals, excessive use of heating, air conditioners, or dehumidifiers, and external climate factors.
Common symptoms of sleeping in a dry room include Dry and itchy skin, irritated eyes, morning coughs or uncomfortable congestion, nosebleeds, and exacerbated symptoms of respiratory conditions like asthma.
If you’re experiencing respiratory symptoms, also consider using an air purifier with your humidifier to reduce dust and other allergens in the room.
There are several ways to quickly increase a room’s humidity:
- If you have an en suite bathroom, run a warm shower with the door open
- Open or close windows depending on the weather
- Use spray bottles to mist the air in the room
- Place a bowl of water on a heat source
- Soak some towels in water and hang them in the room to dry
Both cool-mist and warm-mist humidifiers can be effective at relieving cold symptoms including congestion, sinus pressure, and a sore throat. Cool-mist humidifiers may be slightly more effective in relieving swollen sinuses but also carry a greater risk of contamination and the spread of diseases.
The CDC recommends that you use only distilled, boiled, or disinfected water in any humidifier. Using other water sources (tap water, bottled water, or collected water) can introduce organisms and other materials to your home environment, potentially making you sick and reducing the quality of the air.
A dry home is an uncomfortable and unhealthy one. If you frequently suffer from symptoms related to dry air, there are some fixes you can employ right now. It’s easy to raise your home’s humidity levels, and it doesn’t require any expensive equipment. A few simple steps can turn your home back into the comfortable oasis it was meant to be.
- AAFA Community Services. (2021). Humidity’s Role in Asthma and Allergy Management. aafa.org
- American Skin Association. (2020). Dry Skin. americanskin.org
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Preventing Waterborne Germs at Home. cdc.gov
- Cleveland Clinic. (2019). How Dry Winter Air Can Cause Respiratory Problems— From Bronchitis to Nosebleeds. clevelandclinic.org
- Environmental Protection Agency. (2023). Mold Course Chapter 2. epa.gov
- Goda N. and Simpkins, K. (2023). Tend to get sick when the air is dry? New research helps explain why. colorado.edu
- Hamer, A. (2019). Here’s Why Static Shock is Worse in Winter. discovery.comIvey, AG. (2023). Cool Mist vs. Warm Mist Humidifier: Which One Is Best for You?goodrx.com