How to Clean Encrusted Mineral Deposits From Inside a Humidifier

Lately I’ve been a cleaning fiend around here. I understand now why you hear so much about “spring” cleaning. When winter begins to fall away and the days start getting longer and warmer, something inside you just makes you want to clean and freshen up everything in sight.

It’s kind of fun to put up away some of the things I’ve been using this winter, a sign that winter is pretty much a thing of the past. I know we are due for a little cold spell this weekend, but it’s officially spring and I’m all in!

One of the first things I decided to store away this week were the two Vicks Warm-Mist Humidifiers I’ve been using all winter. They worked awesome all winter so if you need a humidifier, I can definitely recommend this one.

Before putting them away for the winter, I wanted to give them a good cleaning so they would be ready when I pull them back out next winter.

Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier

 

When I opened them up, I expected to find something down inside that would need cleaning, but I was pretty shocked when I saw this! Yuk!

How to Clean Hardened Minerals off Vicks Humidifier

 

When I purchased these humidifiers, I noticed in the questions/reviews on Amazon, folks were asking how to clean off the hard deposits that form on the heating element inside after using them a month or two. Sure enough, when I opened mine up, I found exactly what those folks had been talking about. Over the couple of months I ran them this past winter, a very, very hard crust had encased the thing that heats up inside to create that warm mist that keeps us so comfortable during the winter. This crust is so hard, you can’t even cut it with a knife!

The humidifier on the left below is the one that ran in my bedroom each night. I noticed it was in a lot worse condition than the one I ran in the office. I guess that’s because it ran all night long while the one in the office only ran as I felt I needed it each day.

How to Clean a Vicks Humidifier

 

I remembered in one of the answers someone had asked a question about how to clean them. A person who answered recommended soaking the element in a vinegar/water solution about once a month. I decided to give that a whirl. This was the vinegar I already had in my pantry so this is what I used.

Please note: This method worked for my humidifier, but check the manual that came with your humidifier for the manufacturers recommendations. I can’t be responsible if this method causes any damage or problems with your humidifier.

Heinz Distilled White Vinegar

 

At first I just poured it in until it was fully covering the heating element. As I stood staring down at this weird little science experiment, I could tell the vinegar was going to work because I could see teeny, tiny little bubbles coming up from the surface of the crusty stuff. Something was definitely happening!

I began to worry that the vinegar could possibly damage the little spring that’s inside the blue slide thingy that helps hold parts of the humidifier in place when it’s reassembled. I figured if vinegar could eat this impossibly hard, crusty stuff off a heating element, it could probably do some pretty significant damage to a metal spring.

Vicks Humidifier Before Cleaning Minerals off of Heating Element

 

So, I tilted the base of humidifier upward and put a soup bowl under the other end. That forced all the vinegar down to the end where it really needed to be anyway and left the spring and blue slide thingy clear of the vinegar.

In the photo below you can see how the crusty stuff was beginning to look on the bedroom humidifier after about 4-5 hours soaking time. I think the crusty stuff that forms is most likely caused by the minerals in our tap water. I guess when heated up, that’s what they do.

How to Clean a Warm Mist Humidifier

 

Here’s how the office humidifier was looking after 4-5 hours. Someone in the reviews/questions section on Amazon said the stuff that forms is calcium. Whatever it is, I’m sure it reduces the performance of the humidifier and probably reduces the life of it, as well. It definitely doesn’t need to be there.

Soak Vick Humidifier Heating Element in Vinegar

 

I left the humidifiers soaking overnight and this morning I noticed the bubbling action had stopped. So, I dumped out some of the vinegar and added some fresh vinegar back in. By this afternoon, most of the crusty stuff was gone and I was able to gently scrape off the small pieces that remained. Here’s how the bedroom humidifier looked.

Vinegar Great for Cleaning a Humidifier

 

And here’s how the office humidifier looked.

Vinegar Soak to Clean Humidifier Heating Element

 

I dumped out the solution and rinsed out the humidifiers and here’s how they looked…much better. If you have this type warm mist humidifier, you may not want to use the vinegar full strength. I decided to just go for it because I’m impatient. I think next year I’m going to do this about once a month instead of running them for 2-3 months and letting it build up so much.

Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier After Cleaning with Vinegar

 

Just to make sure everything was still in working condition, I filled one of the humidifiers with water and turned it on. Do you see the steam coming out the top? It worked great, so all is well!

Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier Working After Cleaning Minerals from Heating Element

 

Please note: This method worked for my humidifier, but check the manual that came with your humidifier for the manufacturers recommendations. I can’t be responsible if this method causes any damage or problems with your humidifier.

Have you ever had to clean a heating element inside a warm-mist humidifier? If so, what method did you use?




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Comments

  1. Vinegar is all I’ve ever used and that might be lime deposit rather than calcium.

    • I bet you’re right, Barbara…it sure was hard to get off!

      • I use to use my dremel tool to lightly sand that gunk of the heating element of my humidifier. It did ok, but it doesn’t fit to get to the hard to get places near the bottom, so an hour of scrapping with a small electrical flat head screw driver. My way has been the hard way for sure. So have any of you ever tried C L R for removing that calcium build up. That is what I have it soaking in right now, but if it doesn’t work, vinegar will be my next step bc I have to have a humidifier all winter bc the dry air cause bad head aches.

        • Niteowl says:

          Dremel – genius! It removed the deposits on the heating element that resisted a knife, a box cutter and a screwdriver. I was about to take a hammer and chisel to it (not really … well maybe) when I saw your suggestion. It worked like a dream – thank you very much!

  2. lately the rave has been use coke soda to clean everything. I wonder if that would of worked for you.

  3. Nice clean job! You can speed up the vinegar process by warming the vinegar in the microwave first. I also use distilled water in my humidifier which is a much cleaner steam. I began to notice a white film on the furniture and discovered it was coming from the humidifier–the manufacturer recommended distilled water to stop the film–much easier clean up in the spring.

    If you heat a bird bath in the winter, the warm vinegar is great to clean the heating element! What would we do without vinegar?

    • Thanks for that info Diane…I didn’t think about heating it up. I kept it away from any furniture but I’ll double check that, too. It definitely made sleeping at night a lot more comfortable.

  4. I’ve been cleaning our humidifier this week, too! The directions on mine said to clean it with vinegar once a week, but it was more like once a month when I got around to it!

  5. I have heard that these humidifiers also create mold …and that is bad stuff
    to spew in the air. That is why they recommend cold mist humidifiers in
    place or else use a disinfectant made especially for humidifiers. Why take
    a chance….

    • I think cleaning it out with vinegar on a regular basis should prevent that. I never noticed any moldy smell or anything. I’ll clean it more often next year. It really made the dry air from running the heat a lot more comfortable.

    • Pamela Krugman says:

      Alyce, that is what my doctor told me as well many years ago.

    • Alyce – your info is incorrect! It’s cool-mist vaporizers that produce mold. But none of this makes any difference for those who follow instructions and CLEAN the units, whether cool or warm mist. It’s stagnant water that produces mold. Warm mist is much healthier & more soothing in dry climates or dry homes during heating months.

      • I use a cool mist humidifier in the winter. I clean it every time I replace the wick (some call it a filter). But even though it (the humidifier) looked clean, after two years I had a buildup of hard mineral deposits in the bottom water trough. It’s so thick I could hardly scrape it off with a knife, so I have it soaking in vinegar to hopefully loosen it enough so I can remove it. About the mold issue. I was replacing the wick in my humidifier about every 6 weeks (until this winter when our city water was unusually hard). Last year I forgot to replace the wick for a couple months, and developed a bad hacking cough. This lasted for a month or so, until I realized that whenever I left the house, I felt better and the cough subsided. When I returned home it started again. Then it hit me. I checked the humidifier wick and realized I hadn’t changed it. It was pretty dirty, and although I didn’t see mold, I’m sure there was mold in it, because within a day after changing it, my cough was gone. Since then I change the wick every 3 to 4 weeks, even if it doesn’t look bad. Wish me luck on removing the hard deposits in the water trough.

  6. MJ Venturi says:

    …..if you try using purified bottle water instead of faucet water you should not have the crusty mineral deposit. It works well in spray irons. mjv

    • Thanks for that suggestion, MJ! I did think about doing that, only thing is, it goes through an entire tank full of water each night, as well as another tank full when I ran it here in the office during the day, so that could get a little expensive, I’m afraid. I just have to do a better job of cleaning it more often.

    • Yes, distilled water will totally prevent any mineral crust build-up. I’ve tried 50/50 tap/distilled and there is less build-up, but this year I’m using 100% distilled and there is never build-up on the heating element. The only caveat is the cost. We have 2 units and each hold 1 ⅓ gallon & both units are filled at least twice daily. At $1/gallon, the cost adds up. I might go back to 50/50 and just go thru the pain of soaking & use a spare unit during the overnite soak as I will need at least overnite due to the extreme minerals in our tap water!

  7. Oh my goodness Susan, that certainly does not look good. Do you have well water…or did you not check it when you put water in it. We invested on a humidifier on furnace that you can turn on without heat running.

    • No, it’s city water, not well water. Georgia is supposed to have some pretty well-balanced water…we don’t have to add anything conditioner or anything to our water like some places do. But I guess all water has minerals in it…and they apparently do weird stuff when they come in contact with a heat element. lol I thought about a whole house humidifier, but they are a big job to clean out regularly, or at least they were the last time I checked. How often do you have to clean yours and is it pretty easy to clean?

      • We had a whole house humidifier installed when we built our house 25 years ago & it never worked as we expected. And no one told us we had to clean it. Live & learn! It’s also a cool water method with spongy filters that get gross. I can’t imagine breathing that without changing them weekly…I hope to hear how the newer one works for you!

  8. The instructions with my iron said to use distilled water to prevent mineral deposits. My husband’s golf cart batteries require distilled water. I would try that next winter.

    • Thanks, Mary! I do that for my iron but since these humidifiers go through about a gallon a day, I don’t think I could store quite that much water, plus it would run about $30 a month to run them. So, I’ll just need to clean it more often and I think the tap water will be okay if I do that. That is so interesting about the cart batteries!

  9. Susan, it is Aprilaire Humidifier, water panel, we change filter yearly. I love it, no more dry nose in winter, it was costly $500, to get installed, but well worth it for us. Not sure how to send pic. Will go on F.B. to send you pic. what I am talking about. Do not know how else to do it. watch for it tomorrow. This girl is ready for some beauty sleep. :))))

    • Oh yeah, I’ve heard very good things about Aprilaire! That’s awesome that you only have to change the filter yearly, too…sounds reasonable and doable! $500 isn’t that bad for the comfort it provides year after year. Thanks for that info, Renate!

  10. We talked about getting a humidifier for next winter, and I wouldn’t have thought to clean it until spring, so the cleaning tip is so helpful. I hope the mineral buildup didn’t affect you healthwise.

    • I didn’t notice anything. I think mold is the thing you have to watch for, that would be bad for sure. I loved it, made such a difference in the comfort level with the heating running this past winter. I think I’ll probably shoot for clean it out every couple of weeks this next winter and hopefully it won’t take very long. I’ll probably be able to let it soak overnight and then be good to go the next morning.

  11. I have never used a humidifier except when sick and it has been years. Is that why my nostrils dry up in winter?

  12. We keep 2 pots on the wood stove and several humidifiers on in the winter. I rinse out the dehumidifier every day when I fill it and use vinegar once a week. We have hard water even though we have a water softner

    • You house sounds nice and comfortable, Theresa. Wood stove sounds so romantic, one of my Aunts had one and it was fun watching her put the wood in when I was visiting.

  13. If you have a Britta or other water filter, it may cut down quite a bit on the deposits from tap water. I use the filtered water from our refrigerator in the coffee maker and have almost no issue with calcium deposits there. We have hard water here, and I use vinegar soaks to keep our faucets and shower heads clean. The vinegar is an acid that dissolves the alkaline calcium (lime) deposits. It’s also useful for cleaning the shower doors or anything else that has build-up.

  14. Judith L. says:

    I’ve always used distilled water in this type of appliance and routinely cleaned it once a week, so I have never seen this amount of buildup. Routine cleaning with a vinegar/water solution works well on humidifiers, waterpiks, and various medical equipment that is used daily.

    • Distilled water just isn’t an option since using it daily throughout the winter, would cost about $30 a month. Distilled water runs about .88 cents a gallon at Walmart and I went through about a gallon a day, I’m guessing. Plus, trying to haul home and store 30 gallons of distilled water a month would be a storage nightmare…don’t think my bathroom closets are big enough. 🙂 Just have to clean it a bit more often next year and good ole tap water should work great.

  15. Hi Susan! I think it must be similar to de-scaling a coffee maker, which is what I did yesterday. I’m like you…if 50% vinegar is good, then 100% must be better! It sure worked for you. Wonder what that water is doing to our insides?!?

    I would love a blog on how to clean outdoor patio cushions. My project this week was to give my screen porch furniture a new coat of paint. It all looks so fresh and clean. The cushions are in perfect condition, but they sure need a bath. I found out the hard way with previous cushions they are not machine washable. Now the pollen has started falling in upstate SC, so everything is covered with sheets. . Have a super weekend!

    • lol That thought crossed my mind, too. I guess our body isn’t heating up all those minerals like a humidifier does.
      Roxanne, I was talking with the Vice President of the company I use for my lawn care yesterday and he was raving about something called, Spray and Forget. He said that he used to have a terrible time with mold and mildew on his outdoor curtains that hang from their pergola and on their outdoor furniture cushions. Apparently, you just spray this stuff on and do nothing and it eats up all that mold/mildew. Plus, you can use it on fabric and it won’t hurt it.
      I was going to buy it to spray on the front porch steps and on the columns on the front porch, but I couldn’t find it anywhere but on Amazon. I called an Ace Hardware near me to see if they had it and they didn’t, but they had something called Wet and Forget and they said they can’t keep it in stock this time of year. I bought some of it to try on my decks, but haven’t used it yet. It looks like Lowes stocks that, too.
      I also ordered a spray bottle of the Spray & Forget on Amazon. It should come in a day or two. From what I read, it doesn’t work quickly, but once it works and the mold is gone, you just occasionally spray it on again and it keeps it gone. You can read more about it here: https://www.sprayandforget.com/
      I’m hoping it will keep my front porch columns clean.
      Also, you’re not supposed to let pets walk through it while it’s wet, so keep that in mind if you spray it on a sidewalk or deck.

      • Wow, that sounds like a miracle solution! My columns and porch swing get really mildewy too. I’m going to look for both of those products. (My sister is having 3 kidney stones removed this week, so maybe those minerals really don’t go through as fast as we hope!)

  16. That residue happens in your humidifier because as the tap water boils to create the steam, there is evaporation and the minerals that cause limescale (calcium, magnesium, carbonate, and sulfate) remain and become even more concentrated. The process that distilled water goes through removes the minerals that cause lime scale so that’s why distilled water is generally recommended. Other bottled waters are not a substitute for distilled water. In fact, some bottled drinking waters even have minerals added for our bodies’ benefit. I use distilled water in my iron, steam mop and even my Keurig coffee maker but if the cost is prohibitive for you, an alternative would definitely be frequent cleaning with the white vinegar. Otherwise, if the high mineral concentrations build up enough, your humidifers (or any other appliance that uses water and heat) will eventually plug up.

    The Wet & Forget from Lowes is great. We use it each spring on our concrete front porch, the outdoor wicker furniture and the vinyl siding on our daughter’s home. Although you don’t have to pressure wash first to use the Wet & Forget, we do simply because we get instant results. Then we spray on the Wet & Forget (no rinsing) to keep the mold/mildew at bay. If you don’t pressure wash first, the Wet & Forget will still work to kill the mold/mildew but it does take time.

  17. Susan, I envy you! Even though today is officially the first day of Spring; where I live they are forecasting light snow flurries for the next three days. (As the say,”in like a lamb and out like a lion” … ☺.) Regarding your humidifiers, so glad that the vinegar worked and again where I live most furnaces are equipped with them so I myself have never experienced having a portable one. HAPPY SPRING BTW! -Brenda-
    P.S.: Re your proposed bathroom upgrades. I am currently in the midst of doing four of mine and shall add; really reconsider having a free standing soaker tub (for a multitude of reasons). Shan’t go into detail now and shall leave that for a later date if or when the topic is open for discussion.

    • Brenda, definitely would love to hear more about the soaker tub. I doubt I’ll do that for the hall bath since it will be a “kids” bath for most families who live here and will need to be a bath/shower combo since that’s a small bath, but am very interested in a soaker tub for my master bath. So would love to hear any suggestions. I’m leaning toward the type that sits on a pedestal…not crazy about the look of the slipper tubs. I originally thought I wanted a claw foot when I thought about it years ago, but I love the look of the tubs that slope upward on both ends and sit atop a small pedestal. They just look so finished with the little pedestal underneath. I’m just starting to plan though so welcome suggestions! 🙂

  18. I have a funny story to share about using a humidifier. When my son was very small we went to visit my mother. He was getting over a cold and was still congested, so I brought the humidifier with us to use in the bedroom. The next morning when we woke up the whole room was damp. The furniture was wet and the wall paper was peeling off the walls. The sight of the whole room with bubbled paper rolling off the walls was horrifying. Luckily we were able to roll the paper back up the walls and get it to stick. Needless to say, that was the last time I used a humidifier.
    Moral of the story: Be careful using humidifiers in wallpapered rooms! 🙂

  19. This is exaclty how I clean mine and I do it about once a month during the wintrer months!

  20. This is the vicks Vaporizer, not humidifier since humidifiers let off cool mist rather than warm (thus the need to heat up). But other than that, I’m glad that trick works after a month or two… I’ve been doing it once a week, soaking a paper towel in vinager and wrapping it around for 6 to 8 hours then scraping it with a bendable knife. Soaking it really makes it melt away huh?

    Thanks!

    • They call it a “Warm Mist Humidifier with Auto Shut-Off”where I purchased it here: http://amzn.to/2edxYh4
      So I guess humidifiers can let off a hot mist, too. Yeah, soaking worked, it just took a while. I was really glad it worked! You’re smart to do it more often! I’ll definitely be using them again this winter, made a huge difference at night and in my office. I just need to clean them a lot more often. lol

  21. Did u notice that the mist or Vick’s inhalant wasn’t as strong as it was when u first started using it? I noticed the medicine really strong the first night but the last few nights I haven’t been noticing and change. Just thought maybe u could kinda help me figure out what’s going on.

    • I only used one of the little menthol medicine pads that came with my humidifier, still have the other sample one around heresome where, so I really haven’t had much experience with using that feature. I just use mine for the warm mist to add moisture to the air. After I cleaned it, it seems to put out as much mist as it ever has. You may want to read some of the reviews and answered questions on Amazon to see if anyone else mentions having had that issue. I have my two humidifiers going again this year and so far they are doing well. But I don’t use the medicine pads with them. I wonder if your nose has just gotten used to the smell? I know they say that we become “nose-blind” to smells we are around on a regular basis.

    • It’s called your senses getting use to it. It will get to where you won’t smell much of it at all, but when other people come in your home, the vicks smell will burn their noses because you like most folks will ad more vicks because you can’t smell it as well anymore.

  22. Oh my goodness! I’ve been fighting these granite-hard deposits for years. I’ve even had to throw away a couple of humidifiers because I couldn’t get the gunk off and they ended up causing the motors to burn out, rendering the units useless. My dad used some kind of mechanical wire brush to get in there and cut the stuff off. It did work, but needless-to-say, the original coating on the heating element came off, too, and I was left with a very shiny, very metalic-looking surface where one did not exist before. If vinegar is all it takes to get rid of this stuff I’ll be amazed. Going to try it immediately on my current unit.

    • Cindy, let it soak over night. If it’s really bad, it may need to soak for a couple of nights. It worked great on mine, hope it works for your humidifier, too.

      • Thank you, Susan. I have two small humidifiers. One worse than the other. I let them both soak last night. I need to do the worse one again, but the other came out great! Hoping a second soak will do the trick. Am pretty amazed at what just straight vinegar has accomplished so far!

  23. the instruction manual says once a week and I can see why I just took mine apart to clean it after using it for a couple of weeks and it was pretty scary lots of lime and rust I was able to wipe out the loose stuff with a damp paper towel then used a plastic dental pick to loosen up the stuff on the warmer and pic it off in chunks It didn’t get it all off but enough it should work a little better

    • I’ve been cleaning once a month this winter and that’s worked great. I live in Georgia so the water may have less minerals, etc… than some other areas. Just soaking overnight seems to be enough if I do it once a month. I know I’d never take the time to do it once a week, I’m doing good to remember once a month.

    • Theres, I just realized that I wrote I had been cleaning them once a week. I meant once a month! lol Sorry if that was confusing! 🙂

  24. Ahmad Ghosheh says:

    That is the same brand I have, the thing will stop working and I get the red light meaning it’s out of water or something. I normally scrape it off with a butter knife but this year it’s not budging. I tried the vinegar but I was too impatient and dumped it after an hour, I will do it again and let it soak overnight.

    • Yeah, it has to soak overnight. And if it’s really thick, I’ve found it’s helpful to soak it a couple of days. The vinegar definitely works, it just takes a couple of days if it’s encrusted really heavily with mineral deposits. I just cleaned my two humidifiers again a couple of days ago, and they only had to soak for one night since I do it about once a month now. Once it’s done, I take a scrubbing sponge and use it to scrub away any small left over pieces that are still stuck.

    • Shelly A DiPhillipo says:

      Just to let everyone know you are not supposed to scrape the mineral deposits off with a knife or any hard or sharp object, because you can harm the heating element…only vinegar and a toothbrush if needed..if you clean it once a week you won’t have this problem and your product will work great for years to come:-)

  25. I”m happy for all who used vinegar and got good results in cleaning humidifiers. Mine never got clean despite soaking for several days- changing the vinegar a number of times. Any suggestions?

    • Carole, when I was soaking mine, after it had soaked for about 12 hours, I chipped a little of the stuff away so the vinegar could get in there and work. Just make you’re using a good name brand of vinegar. Mine was in terrible shape but it did work. Also, after it soaks for about 12 hours, pour it off and add some fresh vinegar. I found that helped, too.

  26. My favorite humidifier as well! Love the before and after. Cleaning mine right now, hubby has the flu. 🙁

  27. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been cleaning the water basin with vinegar but neglecting the inner parts. When I read your post, I immediately got my Vicks humidifier, (I have the same kind) and check the innards. It was full of calcium, everywhere. Most of it came off with a little soaking and a soft toothbrush but the blue part in the middle will have to soak overnight. Your simple yet complete instructions with clear pictures made my task easy and anxiety free. Thanks again. Tara

    • Thanks, Tara…glad this helped. It may take a bit more than just soaking overnight. Tomorrow morning, dump out the vinegar and clean off as much of the calcium/mineral build up as you can. If there’s still some left, just add more vinegar and let it soak a while longer. That’s what I had to do since mine was so badly built up on the heating element. The vinegar will work, it just may take a few soakings to get it all off. This year I’ve been cleaning my humidifiers once a month and that has worked out well. I have found that an overnight soaking is all they need when they are being cleaned at least once a month.

  28. Most of mine came off over night, just a few stubborn fragments are left but I can see it would be a lot easier to do this every month.

  29. The calcium all came off but it softened the coating on the heating element and some of that came off also. My humidifier is a bit old so maybe that’s why. I hope this still works ok. Using a humidifier in the bedroom has definitely helped my breathing and I think I will use it during the day in my working area. I use filtered water from the tap.

    • Ummm, I wonder if it is due to being older. I’ve cleaned mine 4 times now this way and it hasn’t effected the cleaning element. Maybe you’ll need to dilute the vinegar with water each time. Mine had a few stubborn pieces, too…but I was able to get those off by lightly scrubbing it. You may eventually have to replace it, not sure how long these humidifiers are supposed to last. Yeah, it made a huge difference in my sleeping at night, definitely having one here during the day in my office.

  30. Colette Hugh says:

    I have the same Vicks humidifier. I rinse the whole unit out each night and soak the heater element in vinegar and baking soda (or is it the baking powder–the one in the little yellow box) once a week for a few hours and once a month for at least two days straight for a deep clean. Adding the baking powder to it gets it nice and fizzy–just gives it a cleaning boost. I use my humidifier year round, every night, and about 6 feet from my pillow. I have dry eyes (ughhh, contact lenses!) and it’s the only thing that helps. I don’t want to use medicated or OTC drops the rest of my life so it’s the humidifier every night!

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