Dry Winter Air: Keeping Your Family Comfortable in the Cold
Does anyone in your family suffer from itchy skin, sinus irritation, dry coughs, constant static electricity shocks, dry eyes, chapped lips, cracked hands, or sore throats? They could all be related to dry winter air.
Dry air pulls water out of our skin, nose, lips, mouth, throat and eyes. But, there is something we can do.
Drinking more water helps a little, but the best way to prevent dry air from wreaking havoc on our bodies is to put some moisture in the air. Using a cool mist humidifier in your home during the winter can keep everyone’s spirit up and prevent those nasty static electricity shocks that plague us during this time of year.
Where Does All This Dry Air Come From?
In the summer, when the air is warm, the outdoor air can hold a great deal of water. But cold winter air doesn’t hold water as well.
Water that is held in the air is called humidity. Humidity is measured as “relative” to the total amount of water that air at a given temperature can hold. Warm air can hold lots of water, while cold air doesn’t hold much. If air at 0 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 75% is warmed to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it will have a relative humidity of less than 5%. That is very dry! The Mojave Desert has an average relative humidity of around 20 to 25%.
A hair dryer takes advantage of the change in relative humidity between hot and cold air when it dries your hair. The air around your head is holding water—this air will have a high relative humidity because the air cannot hold any more water. By heating the air around your head with a hair dryer, the relative humidity of the air drops and the air can hold more water. Consequently, the water on your hair evaporates into the hot, dry air and your hair dries.
When it is cold outside, the air may have a high relative humidity but when that air is warmed up by our furnaces, the relative humidity drops dramatically. Basically, our furnaces work like large hair dryers, heating and drying the air. Dry air (low relative humidity) encourages evaporation. This evaporation occurs from sources of water: our lips, eyes, skin, mouth, throat, and nose. The result is chapped lips, dry eyes, itchy skin, chalky mouth, sore throats, and irritated sinuses. Dry air also causes the build-up of static electricity on our carpets and clothes. So, get a humidifier and start it up!
A cool mist humidifier puts moisture in the air and protects our bodies from evaporation. Raise the humidity in your house to 35 to 40%. Most humidifiers can be set to keep a certain humidity level and will only run when they need to add moisture to the air. Be sure to get a humidifier that will handle the major rooms in your house and be large enough to make a difference. If you only have a small humidifier, use it in your bedroom so that you are comfortable while you sleep. This will prevent morning dry mouth, sore throat and sinus irritation.
- Keep the humidifier clean. Remember, fungus and mold like high moisture areas—like the inside of your humidifier. Follow the directions that came with your humidifier for cleaning tips and recommendations about how often you should clean the unit.
- Watch your windows. Window fogging or wetness could mean that you have the humidifier set too high. The same moisture that is on your windows could be forming in your walls. This will lead to mold and mildew. Simply turn down the humidifier to a lower setting.
- Get a hygrometer that will measure the relative humidity in your home. You can get these at discount stores like Target or home/garden stores like Home Depot. Oregon Scientific makes some very affordable thermometer/hygrometers that will help you keep an eye on your home’s humidity.
- Be sure you are drinking lots of water to make up for any water loss from evaporation.
- Vaporizers or warm air humidifiers are acceptable, however the heating element and steam can pose a burn risk to pets and children (and clumsy people). Typically, you need to clean warm air humidifiers more frequently because mold and fungus like warm, moist areas even more than cool, moist areas.
Keeping your nose and throat moist can also help protect you against catching common colds and viruses. With something as simple as using a humidifier, you can dramatically improve your skin, breathing, cracked lips, and overall comfort while avoiding static shocks.
As mentioned earlier, keep the humidity of your house around 35 to 40%. But, there is a caveat. If the temperature outside is less than 20 degrees Fahrenheit, you will need to lower the indoor humidity, or else the very cold outdoor air will cause condensation on the inside of your exterior walls. Remember, the inside of your external walls are colder than the air in your house. This cooler air will cause moisture to form on the insulation and dry wall. (Think about the outside of a glass of ice water on a hot summer’s day.) If the air outside is near zero, try to keep the humidity in your house around 25%.