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The Health Benefits of Humidification

Featured as a Two-Part Article in Lifestyles 55 (Dec. 2021/Jan. 2022)

In the fall and winter months, sales of remedies for chapped lips increase dramatically. While I have my own secret solution for chapped lips - the cause is the dry air that accompanies the drop in temperatures.

Humidity plays a key role in our effort to manage an ideal indoor environment for optimum health. Winter air dries out our eyes, nose, and mucous membranes, increasing susceptibility to airborne pathogens including viruses and bacteria. A humidifier helps protect and maintain the most important of air purifiers, our own bodies!

Humidifier in Living Room

This time of year, our cold climate constantly exposes us to dry air. Our indoor climate should be humidified in fall and winter to maintain a healthy living space. Fortunately, there are a variety of solutions that can make your home more comfortable this winter and help protect your health.

The Body’s Water Priorities

Our body has a system of priorities, and will ‘steal’ moisture from areas that aren’t as critically important to our health to ensure our organ systems function optimally. While our body is about 60% water in total, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, the lungs 83%, muscles and kidneys 79%, and the skin is composed of 64% water. When we’re in a dry environment, the body will draw moisture from our cells, skin, and lips to prioritize organ function. To avoid this stress on the body, it’s critical to drink lots of water and keep the humidity levels in your home at levels between 40% and 50%.

Dry air adversely affects the self-cleansing function of the windpipe, which results in increased susceptibility to infections and respiratory tract issues, and can cause nagging coughs, dry eyes and skin, nose bleeds, cracked lips, eye irritation, and headaches. Dry mucous membranes can make your throat and mouth dry, and increase sinus congestion. Increasing humidity levels can help keep your sinuses clean and clear, which can make you feel better, and result in improved sleep as nasal breathing is much easier when your sinuses are clear.

Fatigue, headache, and reduced ability to concentrate are all symptoms of low humidity. Proper humidification can boost immune function and help speed up recovery from colds and flu. Plenty of rest enables the body to recover sooner.

Mitigate Airborne Viruses

Research in public health has identified a strong connection between humidity levels and temperature, which influences the transmission, survival, and proliferation of influenza viruses. Flu viruses thrive in colder temperatures.

As temperatures rise in spring and summer, the air can hold more water overall. When your furnace warms your home, relative humidity drops dramatically since the warm inside air is higher in temperature than the cold air outside, and heating the air dries out the moisture even more.

A National Academy of Sciences study found a strong correlation between dry living conditions and the transmission and survival of the flu virus. When humidity levels were too low, the flu virus was spread more easily and survived longer. Research has proven that humidity levels in the 40%-60% range work to deactivate airborne viruses, making them far less likely to be infectious. Moisture helps to prevent the movement of germs and viruses, as heavier particles simply drop to the floor rather than remain suspended in the air.

Adding a humidifier to your living space results in a less favourable environment for viruses to survive, decreasing the chance of a flu infection, as low humidity levels create a friendly environment for pathogens to thrive and multiply. In addition, low humidity, and the dry skin that results, can weaken your body's natural defenses against pathogens, including bacteria and viruses.

Ensuring the humidity level in your home is in the ideal range brings a wide variety of health benefits. Not only does it increase the comfort level in your home, but you can reduce the chances of catching a virus, moisturize your skin, and get more restful sleep.

Humidifier Technologies

Humidifiers designed for home applications use either ultrasonic, evaporation, or steam technology. Models are available that work well in small spaces, others can humidify rooms up to 1370 square feet. Boneco is a leader in humidifier technology, offering models that use ultrasonic, evaporation, and steam designs. They also produce hybrid air purifier/humidifier units that both humidify and clean the air. These units feature HEPA technology for air cleaning and utilize evaporative humidification with a wick that can be easily washed, unlike designs that require wick replacement.

Steam humidifiers are excellent choices but produce more sound than ultrasonic and evaporative models. They aren't ideal for use in small bedrooms, but when placed and sized appropriately, a steam unit in a nearby area will still work well. Ultrasonic and evaporative designs are the quietest, making them ideal for bedrooms. In fact, ‘ultrasonic’ means producing sound that is beyond what the human ear can hear (usually above 20,000 hertz).

Humidity levels affect many aspects of our health, and are also important for the maintenance of wooden furniture, musical instruments, and flooring. Humidity reduces allergy symptoms, makes your skin feel better, and can help you sleep. Humidified air actually feels warmer than dry air; it not only makes your living spaces more comfortable, but allows you to lower the thermostat, saving energy and money.

I learned early in life as a professional trombone player that the best solution for healing cracked, chapped lips is to play for at least an hour a day. Ask any brass player, and they'll tell you that they never have chapped lips. But the easy solution for everyone else is to use a humidifier and drink lots of water.

Part II

Humidity levels affect many aspects of our health and property in our indoor environments. Humidity reduces allergy symptoms, mitigates airborne viruses, makes your skin look and feel better, and can help you sleep. Humidified air actually feels warmer than dry air; it not only makes your living spaces more comfortable but allows you to lower the thermostat, saving energy and money.

Snoring and Sleep

While many issues contribute to snoring, a dry airway and nasal congestion are often major causes. The added moisture in the air produced by humidifiers moisturizes the throat, airway, and nasal passages, often eliminating or reducing snoring. This will result in improved sleep not just for you, but for anyone nearby.

Skin Conditions

Many people experience dry cracked skin in the winter months. Healing and protective creams may help, but ensuring your environment is properly humidified is imperative. Babies and young children in particular have sensitive skin that is more prone to dryness and skin conditions, including itching and rashes. Lung and delicate throat irritations can also make breathing difficult. A humidifier can alleviate these symptoms, helping your children breathe and sleep better without the use of harmful decongestants.

Allergies and Asthma

A variety of allergens can develop and circulate more easily in dry environments. Dry air can also make breathing more difficult for asthma sufferers, resulting in increased coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. As humidity levels increase, airborne particles become heavier. This includes pet dander (a common source of allergies), which will see reduced circulation in the air. Humidified air keeps your pets feeling more comfortable throughout the winter months too.

Keep Wood from Cracking

If you have a hardwood floor, fine furniture, a piano (or other musical instruments made of wood), dry air can cause cracking and significant damage over time. Dry wooden bed boards can make it easier for dust mites to find a home, and they can migrate to your bedding and sofas. For spaces with hardwood floors, a humidifier is always recommended to protect the floor from cracks and shrinkage. Humidification is part of proper maintenance that will lengthen the life of a hardwood floor.

Healthy House Plants

House plants can benefit from humidified air, which helps moisturize the soil and keep the leaves from drying out - but you still need to water your plants.

Humidifier Designs from Boneco

Founded in 1956 in Switzerland (where their humidifiers are still designed), Boneco produces a wide range of state-of-the-art humidifier and air purifier products. Depending on the model, Boneco units can humidify spaces ranging from 430 to as high as 1370 square feet. Square footage ratings for humidifiers are based on outdoor temperatures in the normal to cool range, but when the temperature drops below freezing, so does the efficiency and coverage of all humidifiers, regardless of design. For use in environments like Winnipeg, it’s important to take our winter temperatures into account and choose models capable of covering a larger area than the space where they’ll be used to offset reduced efficiency when it’s cold.


Ultrasonic humidifiers use a disc that turns water into a micro-fine mist by vibrating at a high frequency. ‘Ultrasonic’ means producing sound that is beyond what the human ear can hear (usually above 20,000 hertz). There are pros and cons to this approach, which may depend on your requirements.

Ultrasonic humidifiers are quiet, work quickly, and the better models have built-in hygrostats with digital displays so you can program the units to a specific humidity level. The problem with this design is that any impurities present in the water (including dissolved minerals and pathogens like mold and bacteria) may be atomized into the air. If you use plain tap water, the minerals in the mist will settle on surfaces. This fine white mineral dust can be dangerous to the lungs of infants. For this reason, a 2005 US government report on pediatric asthma warned against the use of humidifiers that produce white dust.

The better ultrasonic humidifiers allow you to choose warm or cool mist (choose warm in the winter, and cool mist during the warmer months), utilize carbon disks to adsorb odors, and a special cartridge that absorbs impurities and minerals. These a help prevent the white dust common to units that do not use demineralization technologies. I only recommend models that use these cartridges and activated carbon, though another option is to only use distilled or reverse osmosis water, which are mineral-free.

If you’re looking for an ultrasonic humidifier, choose a model like the Boneco U350 which has the option of cool or warm mist, with a digital hygrometer that lets you adjust the humidity. I recommend using the warm mist option during the winter, and the cool mist setting in the spring and summer. It’s important to follow the cleaning instructions, as regular cleaning will prevent the growth of bacteria and pathogens in the humidifier. Boneco offers EZCal, an eco-friendly powder that dissolves minerals and makes it easy to clean and descale their humidifiers. You can also clean humidifier tanks with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution to help remove mineral solids; just be sure to rinse thoroughly after cleaning.

Steam Humidifiers

Steam humidifiers are often called warm mist humidifiers as they create steam by boiling water. There are noteworthy advantages to steam humidifiers, as the boiling process kills any bacteria, mold, or other pathogens, so the mist that’s generated is pure water. Demineralization cartridges and carbon filters aren't required, as the steam contains no minerals that can cause white dust. Steam humidifiers use more electricity than other designs, and may not be ideal for use in small bedrooms because of their sound levels (they sound like a water kettle), though some users like the white noise and find it soothing. When placed and sized appropriately, a steam unit in a nearby area will still work well to humidify your bedroom.

The Boneco S250 and S450 are a great value, featuring digital displays and a built-in hygrostat allowing you to choose the humidity level you desire. They both produce humidity free of white dust and contaminants. Another nice feature of most steam humidifiers is the ability to add essential oils like lavender or eucalyptus to help you sleep and breathe easier. As quality essential oil diffusers can cost over $100, this is a terrific value-added feature.


With an evaporative humidifier design, a fan blows air over a wick that absorbs water, adding an ultra-fine mist to the air that usually can’t be seen with the human eye. The mist is cool, and a great feature of this design is that the level of humidity is automatically adjusted, so you don’t have to worry about adding too much moisture into the air.

Over time, the wick becomes saturated with minerals and can become quite gross, and the cost of buying replacement wicks adds up. A major exception to the standard design is Boneco’s hybrid air purifier and humidifier, which uses an evaporator wick that can be cleaned in the dishwasher. These units offer the bonus of superior air purification and humidification in one. Like the steam designs, no white dust is produced by evaporative humidifiers, and you can add your favourite essential oils to provide additional health benefits.

Ensuring the humidity level in your home is in the ideal range brings a wide variety of health benefits. Not only does it increase the comfort level in your home, but you can reduce the chances of catching a virus, moisturize your skin, and get more restful sleep.

Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2021-2022. Nathan Zassman is a trained nutrition practitioner and the owner of Aviva Natural Health Solutions.

Related Reading: See Humidification Facts.


Roles of Humidity and Temperature in Shaping Influenza Seasonality. 
Journal of Virology. 2014 Jul; 88(14): 7692–7695. PMID: 24789791

Guidelines for Health Care Providers - Environmental Management of Pediatric Asthma. August 2005. US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences