Warning: Winter Can Suck the Moisture Right Out Of Your Body — #ThanksScience

Some common winter ailments can be attributed to the low indoor relative humidity that often comes with low outdoor temps. These ailments can include dry itchy skin, eyes that are dry or sticky, cracked or chapped lips, increased thirst, sinuses and nasal passages that are dry, sore, and maybe even bleeding. But there are some easy and inexpensive ways to moisturize those dry days of winter.

When you heat air, you increase the amount of moisture it can hold. So if you heat it without adding moisture, you DECREASE the relative humidity. A rule of thumb is that with every 20 degree increase, the relative humidity of the air is cut in half. So if the air outside is 10 degrees and at 80% relative humidity, and you heat your home to 70 degrees without adding moisture, you could be dealing with an indoor relative humidity of 10%.

The average relative humidity of the Sahara Desert is about 25%.

This level of dryness can be stressful on everything in your house, including you, your family, and your pets. Why? Because this dry air will literally suck the moisture out of anything more wet than it is — bad news for humans and other creatures whose main ingredient is water. With every breath, your lungs and mucous membranes give up moisture to the water-hungry dry air. Those who live full-time in the Sahara have grown accustomed to such dryness. We who live in the moist southern U.S. have not.

Your house and furniture can also be affected. The moisture content of your doors and floors can change with fluctuations of indoor humidity. That’s why winter often brings creaky floors and warped doors.

The solution? Humidify. Adding moisture to your indoor air will make everyone more comfortable and will probably save you money. The dryness and itchiness caused by dry air will gradually ease. And the air will feel warmer, so you might be satisfied with a lower thermostat setting. There are several ways to raise your indoor relative humidity. Here are three:

  1. An integrated central humidifier added to your existing HVAC system can be very effective and maintenance free. But it can be expensive and requires professional installation. And you probably can’t get it done right away.
  2. A source of heat that adds moisture. You might hear a lot about how one source of heat is drier than another. The truth is that most home heating sources are completely dry. Even heating with a hot water radiator is dry heat, because the water is completely contained in the pipes. The only conventional heat source that actually adds moisture to the air is the unvented burning of fossil fuels, like natural gas or kerosene. These methods can be used safely, but there are concerns about fire safety, especially with children and pets. Carbon Monoxide is also a concern. Please don’t heat with fossil fuels if you don’t have Carbon Monoxide detectors and smoke detectors. Read and heed ALL of the warnings that come with your heat source.
  3. Portable Humidifiers — my personal favorite. While there are several types of portable humidifiers, I like the quietness and high capacity of the cool mist ultrasonic units. These humidifiers vibrate water into a fine mist and blow it out into the room where the dry air evaporates it quickly. You can find them in drug stores and big retailers.

So how do you know when you have humidified enough? The ideal humidity level varies with personal preference and outdoor temperature. While 30 to 40 percent humidity can be right for comfort, you may need to settle for a lower humidity in order to prevent excessive condensation on cold outer walls and windows. Although I have a smart thermostat with a built-in hygrometer, I usually let the windows near my humidifiers guide me. If I see more than a little condensation on those windows, I give the humidifiers a rest.

You may be amazed at how much water it takes to regain a comfortable humidity level. In the coldest parts of winter I can pump three gallons of water into the air in my home each day and still have minimal condensation on the windows.

And don’t forget good body hydration in these dry times. Don’t worry about the dehydration myths that abound about various beverages. A little caffeine or sweetener in your favorite water-based drink does not turn it into a magical dehydration potion. But that’s another post for another day.