What Happens if a Humidifier Filter is Dirty and Old?

What happens if you don’t change the humidifier filter? You might ask this question if you have just bought your first humidifier.

Today, most cool mist and warm mist humidifiers have filters that capture bacteria, fungi, and, in some cases, viruses that can be dispensed in your mist.

However, humidifiers can develop many problems, as we saw in our post on Pure Enrichment humidifier failing to work properly.

That’s why you need to refer to the user manual to see what the manufacturer says about how to maintain your unit so that it runs properly all the time.

Even the information regarding when to change your humidifier filter will be in the user manual.

So, what happens if you don’t change the humidifier filter? The unit will release air pollutants in the mist that can trigger asthma and cause allergy flare-ups. Dirty humidifiers also cause flu-like symptoms such as chest tightness, itching eyes, and rashes.

Do I need to change the filter in my humidifier?

Do I need to change the filter in my humidifier

Absolutely yes! We believe the question here should be how often you should change the filters.

Of course, some humidifier types come without filters in their design. If you do not want to be bothered about cleaning or changing filters, you can go for such designs.

Just make sure the filter-less model that you get can serve you well. Many of them are small and portable, and some are battery-powered humidifiers.

To function properly and effectively, a humidifier needs regular filter replacement. Replacing the filter on your humidifier is only required every 1 to 3 months.

This depends on how frequently you use your humidifier and what type of water you use in the water tank.

If you stay too long without changing it, it could spread bacteria and mold in the mist. This can cause serious mold exposure symptoms in your family.

How long does a humidifier filter last? 6 to 12 weeks

What happens if you don’t change humidifier filter

This depends on the frequency of your unit’s usage. For instance, if you live in a dry place such as Nevada and you need to use your humidifier daily, you will need to change the filter once every two months.

With irregular usage, say, only a couple of times a week, you should change the filter once every three months.

Some people even push their luck as far as once every five months, but we would not recommend that at all!

Another determining factor for how long a humidifier filter should last is the type of water you use in the unit.

If you use tap water in the humidifier, you might need to replace the filter sooner than a person who uses distilled water.

Tap water has minerals, and since the filter will capture those minerals, it tends to wear out faster. If you have an ultrasonic humidifier, you will know your tap water has minerals when you see humidifier white dust on your surfaces.

3 things happen if you don’t change the humidifier filter

Many things happen when you don’t change a humidifier filter in good time. Here are the three main ones:

1. The humidifier will work improperly or fail altogether

If you find that your humidifier keeps shutting down, well, it means there is a problem. Most modern humidifiers will fail to work properly when the filters are dirty.

That is why you should never miss a cleaning session. It would be better for a misting unit to fail instead of pumping out contaminated mist.

Of course, a humidifier can fail to work for many reasons. Therefore, before you blame the filters, check that everything else is okay.

In some instances, the humidifier will work, but it might keep going on and off, you know, the same way it would behave after cleaning and water gets into the circuitry.

Other humidifiers can produce mist, but it will not be enough. If you have not changed your filter for some time, it can cause the unit to make minimal or no mist at all.

2. Your family will fall sick

What Happens If You Don’t Change Humidifier Filter

Some humidifier models will continue operating even when the filter is overdue for replacement.

If they continue pumping out mist, it will be contaminated.  If the filter has trapped mold and bacteria, they will blow the same into your indoor air.

If you notice that your kids are having ceaseless colds, coughing and congestion, it is time to check the humidifier filter.

Itchy eyes and skin? Those are signs of mold toxicity. Your humidifier could be spreading mold in your home!

It is also possible for dirty filters to spread mold into your indoor air. Unchecked, this can lead to the creation of new mold colonies inside your home.

If this happens, the mold can eventually find its way into the lungs, resulting in serious humidifier sickness symptoms.

3. Scale spreads over the humidifier tank

Scale buildup comes from the mineral-laden water. If the humidifier filter is too old, and it fails to filter out the minerals, there will be more scale in the tank.

As the filters capture minerals and bacteria, you can clean them with white vinegar. This not only kills the bacteria and the fungi, but it also helps to clean the scale out of the filters.

However, please note that when a humidifier filter is due for a change, cleaning it will not help. You need to replace it.

The mist will smell bad. Humidifier mist should be pure and odorless. However, if it smells, it means there is something wrong with the tank or the unit in general.

Dirty humidifiers produce weird smells, mainly because of the mold spores that are captured by the filter

How do I know if my humidifier filter needs changing?

How do I know if my humidifier filter needs changing

You will know that your humidifier filters are due for a change when you start to notice any of the following things:

Decreased performance: If the humidifier is taking longer than it used to raise the humidity level in your room, something is wrong.

If you have started to show symptoms of sleeping in a room with dry air, the filters could have failed, thus affecting the unit’s mist output.

Diseases: If there are frequent visits to the doctor because of colds, coughs, and allergy flare-ups, the humidifier might not be doing its work.

Remember, one of the health effects of sleeping in dry air is inflammation in the airways, causing breathing difficulties.

Impure or smelling mist: If the filters are too dirty, the humidifier mist might smell bad. The mold in the humidifier, grease, and bacteria build-up cause this nasty smell.

What does a dirty humidifier filter look like?

What does a dirty humidifier filter look like

Sometimes when you are doing a general check and maintenance of your appliance, you might not be able to tell whether the filter is dirty or clean.

When they are new, most filters are white, and some are a nice light-bluish color. Some are a lighter gray color.

If you notice brown stuff on the filter, it is dirty. Mold, minerals, grease, and bacteria can cause the brown color.

The filter can also have grayish sludge. If you touch the sludge and feel it between your fingers, it is a collection of minerals, which means your tap water is not soft.

The most telltale sign of a dirty filter is brown material. Usually, water contains minerals such as calcium.

When the water evaporates, the minerals are exposed to the air, and oxidation takes place, turning them brownish.

If you doubt whether your humidifier filter is dirty, you can smell it from a distance. If there is a musty odor, it means there are bacteria, mold, and other contaminants on the filter.

Perhaps it is time for a change or a thorough cleaning the humidifier filter to make it more usable and healthy.

How to tell if a humidifier filter is bad

How to tell if a humidifier filter is bad

Now that you know what happens if you don’t change the humidifier filter, you need to know how you can tell for sure when the filters need replacing.

There is no other special way to know apart from knowing how your unit operates. On the control panel, you will see a humidifier red light that indicates “Filter.” If this light illuminates, then you know that your filter is due for a replacement.

Other faults might cause the filter light not to go on even when the filter is bad. For instance, problems in the circuitry might cause this sort of problem.

Therefore, it is good to know how fast your unit raises the humidity of a given space. If you notice it has been taking longer than usual, you might check the filter.

Another way to tell your unit’s filter is bad is by the musty smell coming from the mist. Usually, a filter that’s dirty and needs replacement will have captured grease, bacteria, mold, and other things. After some time, they will give the filter a nasty odor.

Please note that the musty smell could also be coming from the tank. Check for mold symptoms in tank, usually indicated by pink, brown, or black slime.

Final Thoughts

You’ve seen what happens if you don’t change the humidifier filter.

Diseases, allergies, and breathing complications can haunt your family. Also, there can be nasty smells coming from the humidifier.

A humidifier that doesn’t work properly can fail to raise the humidity level in the bedroom or any other room.

On the other hand, the unit can raise humidity excessively, which can cause mold development in your house. If the mold matures, it’ll produce spores, which can make mold grow in your lungs.

To make your indoor living spaces as comfortable as possible, always keep your humidifier clean. If you have other appliances, such as air purifiers, keep them clean too. If you have a dehumidifier, keep its bucket clean.

Stay on top of the maintenance of your humidifier by referring to its user manual, which you can access on the official website of your model.