How to Get Rid of 11 Common Humidifier Smells

Many homes have adopted the use of a humidifier due to the various benefits that it offers. The humidifiers are easy to use, affordable than continously running central heating. Some of these include having a cleaner house, fewer allergies, and healthier skin, among others. A humidifier is a home appliance that you use during the winter to increase moisture in your air. Warm mist humidifiers releases hot, sterile steam that breaks down viral air prticles while the cool mist humidifiers releases cool filtered air.

Humidifiers for congestion, dry skin, throat irritation is beneficial for individuals with weak immune systems. The humidifier also provides relief from dry air-related problems such as allergies and asthma. 

The problem with humidifiers is they emit a funky smell when they are running. This blog post will teach you what causes the funky smell. Additionally, you will also get a better understanding of what to do when the humidifier smells bad.

Is Humidifier Smell Dangerous?

Yes, the smell emitted from a dirty humidifier can get your entire household sick when in operation. When not cleaned properly, it can spread bacteria, which can result in server health complications.

When you notice a strange, unpleasant, or musky smell from your humidifier, you should suspend using the humidifier at once. You should then clean humidifier thoroughly before using it again.

Dirty reservoirs and filters can cause the smell in your humidifier, accelerating bacteria breeding and mold. Improper cleaning of your humidifier could be another cause. When the humidifier smells bad it can cause problems for people with allergies and asthma. To healthy people, dirty humidifiers are likely to trigger flu-like symptoms.

Breathing in these impurities can worsen an existing asthma condition. Additionally, the smell can trigger humidifier fever, a lung condition caused when you inhale contaminated vapor containing strains of bacteria.

Humidifiers play an essential role in moistening the air in our homes. However, they require consistent maintenance to avoid becoming fouled by odor-causing substances, which can downgrade the quality of life. When your humidifier is producing a noxious odor, it is an indication that your device requires cleaning.

Reasons Why Your Humidifier Smells Bad

The following are some of the reasons why your humidifier may smell bad;

Mold or Mildew

Accumulation of mold or mildew in the humidifier is a reason for the mold-like smell. Stagnant water is usually the cause of mold in the humidifier, which provides a conducive mold growth environment.

When the humidifier is in operation, it emits water vapor that may contain mold and fungus particles indoors, thus the bad smell. When released in the atmosphere, the mold and mildew particles pose a health threat to the people breathing in the circulated moisture. 

Mold infection can cause mild to severe long-term lung problems such as irritated nose and asthma. You should maintain the cleanliness of your humidifier and keep its reservoir dry when it is not operational. 

Cleaning will help discourage the build-up of mold or mildew. It is also a strategy to prevent the encroachment of disease and odor-causing bacteria.

Stagnant dirty water inside the humidifier

Humidifiers use the water in the water tank reservoir during operation. When the humidifier is not in use, the water in the tank remains stagnant favoring the growth of mold and mildew and starts smelling bad and sour.

It can also result from filling your humidifier with mineral-rich tap water. Using mineral-rich tap water can cause a dirt film to accumulate inside the reservoir. Traces of the dirt can be released into the air while the humidifier operates. The concentration of these minerals can cause your home to stink.

Wrongly sized unit

The size and the capacity of the humidifier to be used in your home matter. You can tell if your humidifier is too large when condensation appears on the inside of the windows. Condensations on the window can cause bacteria and mildew to grow, causing a bad smell.

When the humidifier is too large for your room, it will emit equally harmful and too much moisture. Too little humidity also can make your skin feel dry and itchy. 

When the moisture is in excess, it provides an excellent environment for developing dust mites and mold, which can cause allergic reactions.

Dirty filters

Dirty humidifiers release contaminated steam or mist into the air. Dirty humidifiers are a result of not cleaning the filters. On the other hand, dirty filters are a result of clumped minerals collected from the water.

To do away with the smell brought about by a dirty filter, you will need to change the filter. If the smell persists, a deep cleaning is probably required. Also, if the filter has dried out during periods of low humidity, the humidifier can have a musty smell when it gets wet during the month’s high moisture again.

11 Humidifier Smells and What They Mean

Humidifier Smells Musty

Mold has a distinct smell. Your humidifier might have an odor that is musty and earthy which is an immediate sign of mold growing around your home. 

The molds somehow smell like dirty, dumb socks or rotting wood which causes a nasal assault of musty odor. An environment with moisture welcomes the growth of these molds. The molds and mildews multiply and start to release an unpleasant smell that our nose can detect.

If you detect a musty smell, you should thoroughly inspect and clean the humidifier. Using a sponge with hot water, you can use distilled white vinegar to scrub the mildew off the surface. If the manufacturer advises against the use of vinegar then use hydrogen peroxide for cleaning. 

You can also check both humidifier filters to clean them or permanently replace them with new ones.

Humidifier Smell Like Burning

Electrical burning smell from your humidifier can be dangerous. When you experience such a smell, you should not panic, but also you should not ignore it as if nothing happened. 

You can feel your humidifier smelling like burning; this smell can be overheating. You can detect this by smelling its cord, and it may be a result of a faulty cable or from the humidifier’s base when it becomes too hot.

In case of the burning smell, you should check it out. You should first unplug it from the socket to stop its operation if it lacks an automatic on and off feature.

Humidifier Smell Like Urine

Water and mineral deposits can be the causative agent for your humidifier to smell like urine.

When you use hard water in your humidifier, it can leave deposits of mineral residue. Mineral deposits tend to smell like urine when the humidifier operates, resulting from the chlorine, sulfur, and lead residues that build up.

When you suspect or notice signs of mineral build-up in your humidifier, you can remove it using undiluted vinegar or baking soda to dissolve calcium and lime deposits. Place vinegar or baking soda where the deposits occur and allow it to soak for a few minutes; then, you can wipe it with a piece of cloth.

You can have your humidifier disassembled then scrub the mineral deposits away using a small scrubbing brush. Either way, you can use mild soap and water to wipe out minor deposits of the mineral build-up. 

Therefore, it is essential to choose which water to use inside it, always use either treated, distilled or demineralized water

Humidifier Smells Like Pee

When you add floral essential oils to the humidifier and turn it on,initially the humidifier smell good and then smells like urine after some time. The humidifiers used for aromatherapy and essential oils have a distinct compartment for these items.

The essential oils can be corrosive, and the smell and the leftovers of the oil can impact the experience you will have when you put another scent of essential oils in your humidifier. To experience the best longevity and performance of the unit, you will need to clean it after every use with hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is inexpensive, acts as inhibiting agent to mold spores and has enzymes that eliminate the urine smell.

Humidifier Smells Like Ammonia

Ammonia in water can create an unpleasant smell. The presence of ammonia in your humidifier can cause the formation of chloramines. Water poured in the humidifier should be free from ammonium deposits which produce a pungent smell.

Therefore, you should refill the humidifier with distilled water to prevent ammonia smells from emanating from the humidifier. It should be cleaned regularly after short periods, like once a week.

Humidifier Smells Like Vinegar

Vinegar is highly acidic; therefore, it is used to clean and maintain humidifiers. Its acidic composition gifts it the ability to kill bacteria, dissolve mineral deposits accumulating in the surfaces of the humidifier. For these reasons, vinegar is ordinary in many homes for cleaning the humidifier. 

It is advisable not to run the humidifier with vinegar inside. Plugging the humidifier with vinegar in it can irritate your nostrils, throat, and eyes.

After cleaning the humidifier, rinse the base and the tank with running water until the smell is gone. 

Humidifier Smells Like Plastic

When new air humidifiers are kept in operation, it is common for them to produce a plastic-like smell. However, the scent is expected to disappear after several usages.

To keep the humidifier fresh and produce the desired fragrance, you must clean out its components regularly and thoroughly.                  

The Humidifier Smells Like Honey.

Adding floral essential oils to your humidifier to produce your desired fragrance may have your machine smelling fruity, smoky, or like honey. It can also have your humidifier smelling fresh or pungent.

Pouring out the water in the reservoir and cleaning the water tank will aid in removing the honey smell. 

Humidifier Smells Like Chlorine

The chlorine like smell indicates compounds of chlorine known as chloramines. Chloramines create a strong odor resulting from using hard water in your humidifier, and chlorine deposits are trapped in the humidifier filter when in use.

Cleaning the filter using a bleaching solution can eliminate the smell of chlorine from the humidifier. Soak the filter in water with the bleaching solution, and let it stay for about 20 minutes. You can empty the bleach solution from the humidifier, rinse it with clean water until the scent is off.

Humidifier Smells Like Fish

Your humidifier can produce a fishy odor, indicating that mold and mildew are growing inside the humidifier. The presence of static water inside the humidifier also causes a fish-like smell.

To do away with this smell, be sure that thorough cleaning is required. Consider disassembling the unit, then soak each component in hot water. A bleach added to the water will help kill any growing bacteria and the smell.

Humidifier Smells Like a Wet Dog

A wet dog’s smell is characterized by moisture evaporation that carries some of those compounds with it. The scent is distinctive, and it is a result of microorganisms that afterward produce a smelly odor.

The smell of a wet dog is brought about by the water or the accumulation of mold or mildew inside the humidifier’s base. If the smell persists in your humidifier even after cleaning it, replacing the humidifier with newer filters should be in order.

Humidifier Smells Like Dust

Dust from your humidifier can cause musty smells. The smell results from a dirty humidifier with mold and mildew growth inside. The mold particles are released into the atmosphere when the humidifier is turned on, smelling like dust.

To take care of the problem, regular cleaning of the humidifier is necessary. The dust-smelling condition is also mitigated by ensuring humidity levels between 30% to 50%.

How Often Should Humidifiers Be Cleaned?

Without cleaning your humidifier regularly, the parts that interact with water can develop mold and bacteria growth. Therefore, it is advisable to clean your humidifier at least once a week to prevent it from emanating an unpleasant odor. 

Regular cleaning will also facilitate the correct functioning of the filter. You can also empty, rinse, and dry the humidifier tank daily.

How to Clean a Humidifier Step by Step?

Owning a humidifier is arguably one of the most thoughtful decisions you can make for your health and indoor air quality for your home. However, you will need to ensure that your humidifier smell good, is clean and in good condition. 

There are five basic steps, including instructions on maintaining your humidifier clean. Below are some of the cleaning steps and instructions

Step 1

Have your humidifier unplugged from the socket and disassembled. Carefully empty, then remove the water tank. Then detach any other removable part from the base and keep everything separate depending on the kind of humidifier you own. If your model has an air filter, remove it carefully, clean using running water, and dry it.

Step 2

The humidifier’s base that holds water regularly pours enough white vinegar or baking soda to soak. Soak any other part to be washed into a container containing vinegar. Let it stay for at least half an hour to dissolve the mineral build-up. Using a toothbrush or a small soft brush, scrub the residue. A small brush is ideal for adequately cleaning surfaces that may be hard to reach.

Step 3

With the kind of bleaching agent you prefer, use a mixture of 1 teaspoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water. Fill the tank half full and swirl the solution around to ensure that the whole inside is coated. This is required to disinfect the water tank, and disinfecting the tank will take about 30 minutes of waiting time.

Step 4

Thoroughly rinse the base, tank, and the other separable components using clean water. Make sure that there is no trapped moisture. Lay all the parts out to air dry. You can wipe them with a clean, dry towel to help clear away any remaining residues.

Step 5

After all the parts have been air-dried thoroughly, you can be sure to reassemble the components and keep them operational once again. 

If the fillers are entirely damaged, don’t hesitate to replace them with fresh ones. You can then replenish your tank with clean and mineral-free water. 

Then plug the appliance and turn it on to check if it is functioning correctly. You will feel the effects of cozy humidity in your home with other households.

Humidifier Maintenance Tips

Other regular maintenance and usage tips to get the best out of your humidifier. The additional maintenance and usage steps may include but are not limited to:

  • Deep clean at least once a week with the deep cleaning outlined above.
  • Before keeping your humidifier operational, empty and rinse any stagnant water that could be inside the appliance
  • It is recommended to use distilled water since it is free from minerals emitted alongside water vapor.
  • Deep clean and dry before storage to prevent the growth of mold and mildew.


A humidifier is a beneficial appliance that can help you during the dry winter months. For safety always use the cool mist humidifier for children as the warm mist humidifier or stream vaporizer can burn a child if he gets too close.

People invest in humidifiers to add moisture to the air relieving them from the effects of dry conditions. Humidifiers also add fragrance to the atmosphere. 

However, the humidifier can give out fishy urine, ammonia, and moldy smell when not correctly maintained. Stagnant water is the main cause-effect why your humidifier leaves a bad smell while it is in operation.

To eliminate the foul odor from your humidifier, you will need to disassemble the components of the humidifier. You will then clean it with a nontoxic household product like vinegar or baking soda.

You can apply the steps mentioned above to help keep your humidifier clean, functional, and friendly to your health. The critical thing to keep in mind while adding anything to your humidifier is to ensure that the content will dissolve in water and mix uniformly with water.