Vinegar In Humidifier: Can You Run The Humidifier With It And How To Use It Correctly?

People resort to humidifiers for various reasons. In general, using a humidifier is the standard method of combating dry air and relieving symptoms of conditions due to it. However, it is something that has annoying upkeep. 

As a natural cleaning agent, vinegar has often been used to clean humidifiers. Some people even put it in humidifier water and let the humidifier run with it, hoping it can disinfect the air. But how effective is vinegar in cleaning humidifiers, and can you add vinegar to humidifier water?

Even though vinegar is one of the best solutions for cleaning the buildup and molds in the humidifier tank and base, you can’t run a humidifier with vinegar in it. It might irritate your eyes, noses, and lungs, causing severe infections you want to avoid. 

I will cover more about “vinegar in humidifier” in this post to help you understand how to use vinegar with a humidifier safely and properly.

Benefits of vinegar

We are seldom to find a home without vinegar stored in the kitchen. Vinegar is so versatile that everyone needs it in daily life.

Vinegar has a lot of health benefits, including lower cholesterol, making skin more bright, and strengthening immune function. You can drink it or apply it to your skin. 

Moreover, it is a natural but effective cleanser, which can dissolve buildup and kill bacteria.

Almost all of these benefits are due to an essential component in vinegar: acetic acid.

Acetic acid is a colorless liquid compound with a strong smell, which has often been used as a microbicide, herbicide, counterirritant, etc.

There are a few types of vinegar we often use at home. But most of them only contain 4% to 8% acetic acid. While the strength is pretty low, it is good enough to use as a household cleanser. (More on that later.)

Can you run the humidifier with vinegar in it?

run humidifier with vinegar

As acetic acid is an effective microbicide and fungicide, many of us will assume that vinegar can kill airborne bacteria and mold spores and decide to add vinegar to humidifier water and run together. 

Don’t do that! You can’t run a humidifier with vinegar in it. It can’t help with disinfecting the air and can irritate your throat, eyes, noses, and even lungs. 

Vinegar is a mixture of water and acetic acid, meaning that it would not be as effective as pure acetic acid due to its low concentration.

It can help kill the bacteria on the surfaces by wiping but is not good at dissolving the microorganisms floating in the air. In fact,  many airborne germs are not so sensitive to acid. 

Even worse, the acetic acid droplets in the air could ruin indoor air quality. When the acetic acid molecule gets into our body through respiration, it can irritate the mucous membrane, causing difficulty breathing, nausea, or even lung infection.

In addition, it could damage the internal parts of your humidifier, leading to malfunction.

Why should you clean your humidifier with vinegar?

Bacteria and mold like to survive and thrive in a damp and dirty environment. The water tank of the humidifier is just such kind of place. Beyond that, tap water contains minerals, which encourage bacteria growth as well.

If you don’t change out the water and clean the reservoir frequently, the standing water could become a petri dish for these germs, and the machine would become the distribution system of mold spores and bacteria. 

When these harmful germs get into the air, they will hunt for new residences, and our body is often the best place to go and contribute to allergies and infections.

Meanwhile, some minerals will also come out of the appliance, which will land on the furniture as white dust, adding your time on cleanliness.

Also, the buildup will clog the device, stopping it from producing mist and shortening the product lifespan.

Therefore, it is critical to keep your humidifier clean for your health and your money.

Now we have had a basic understanding of why you should clean your humidifier, but why you should use vinegar? Here are the three main reasons.

Vinegar can dissolve mineral buildup

The acetic acid in vinegar can act as a solvent to dissolve the mineral deposits. While it will take some for it to work, the hard buildup will become loosen after half an hour or even longer. The best way to prevent mineral buildup is to fill with distilled water which you can make at home.

Vinegar can kill bacteria

Vinegar can’t kill all germs. But it can help fight Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes, which are common reasons of foodborne diseases. 

Aside from that, the higher the strength, the better the vinegar for disinfection. If possible, you can use vinegar with a higher concentration but remember to wear gloves to avoid potential damage to your skin and eyes.

Vinegar is cost-effective

Even if a myriad of cleansers is showing on the shelf of stores, vinegar will not lose the competition in terms of effectiveness. 

The truth is that many commercial cleaners contain acetic acid in their formula, and they also include some other harmful chemicals.

Using vinegar is safe and budget-friendly, and you can get it hands down.

Which type of vinegar is the best for cleaning a humidifier?

different vinegar

While all the vinegar contains acetic acid, cleaning vinegar is the best when it comes to cleaning a humidifier. 

This type of vinegar is specially made for cleaning purposes, which means it tends to have a higher concentration and better performance accordingly. Some of them can also be used for cooking.

They are colorless so that they will not leave any stains inside the machine’s housing. 

Anyway, you can always stick to the regular white vinegar in your kitchen. They are both budget-friendly options.

Some customers have applied apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar to it. Although they can work to some extent, they may leave permanent stains on the machine, which is not what you want.

How to clean your humidifier with vinegar?

Cleaning a humidifier with vinegar is not a complicated task to do. Just follow this guide and you are all set.

Step 1: unplug the humidifier

A general rule of thumb is that you should unplug it from the wall outlet when cleaning any electronics. 

If the water happens to get into the circuit boards or other electrical components, it may trigger short circuits and other hazards.

Step 2: empty the machine and disassemble it

Dissemble the humidifier to make the water tank unattached, and the base can be reached. Dump all the stagnant water in the reservoir and base and observe how dirty these parts are.

Step 3: clean the base

Many people remember to clean the tank but often neglect the base full of scales and microorganisms.

Fill the base with water and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of white vinegar. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes, and then use a spare toothbrush to scrape off all the residues.

Step 4: clean the water tank 

Use a 1:3 solution of water to vinegar to scour all over the inside of the tank and fill the tank halfway with water.

Shake it as long as your arm can handle, and then let it sit for half an hour for the solution to dissolve the buildup. 

You can use either a bottle brush or a toothbrush to help you reach the tiny corners.

Step 5: Rinse off with water

Rinse the base and tank with water until you can’t smell any vinegar odor. The remaining vinegar can do harm to electrical components and evaporate with the water into the air.

Step 6: Air dry

Wipe down the item with a dry cloth and let it air dry. This step is more crucial if you intend to store it in the cabinet and use it a few months later since the damp place is the breeding ground for molds and bacteria.


You can add vinegar to the humidifier but only for cleaning. Running the humidifier with vinegar is dangerous as the acetic acid in the air can affect air quality and irritate the mucous membrane. 

Vinegar can kill some types of bacteria and dissolve mineral deposits. However, it is not effective in killing airborne bacteria and viruses. So it would be best if you only put vinegar in your humidifier when you need to clean it.

To get a better outcome, you can use cleaning vinegar. Otherwise, regular white vinegar can get the job done. 

Let the solution of water and vinegar sit for a while before rinsing off since it will take some time for acetic acid to soften and dissolve the buildup.

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Liz Yang is the founder of Airsmartly. She has been working at home for a few years and realizes that the performance of the HVAC system plays such an important role in our life. She has tested a lot of products in person, like humidifiers, air purifiers, dehumidifiers, and ACs, and wants to share tips about using or troubleshooting these products with you. Her uncle is an HVAC expert with over 30 years of experience in the field, and often offers assistance when she is unsure how to handle a situation. He is also in charge of reviewing the articles on this site.

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