Indoor humidity level during winter

Indoor Humidity During Winter – What Should It Be?

You might question, “What is the best indoor humidity level during winter?” That’s a good question…

Have you noticed how dry it gets inside your house during the winter?

Do you know what’s the best ideal indoor humidity level during the winter?

During winter months, the colder it gets outside, the drier the air gets inside!

First, to solve that problem get a humidifier!

This is the humidifier that I have. I’ve had it for years and it has performed quite well. I simply replace the wick, once or twice during each winter season. This is their current model:

Whole-House Console-Style Evaporative Humidifier
(view on amzn)

whole house humidifier for indoor humidity during winter

>>Jump to Humidity Recommendations

Why does it get so dry in the winter?

It’s just the way the science works. When it’s cold outside, and the heating system in your home warms up that air, the indoor humidity level drops. It gets drier.

When cold humid outdoor air is supplied and heated in a building – the relative humidity of the air is decreased.

And often it gets A LOT DRIER! To the point of being uncomfortable!

Here’s an example of what happens:

If the outdoor temperature during the winter is 20 degrees (F) and outdoor humidity is 60%, when heated indoors to 70 degrees (F) the indoor humidity level will drop to just 6% !

Your real world experience (from the example above) may result in slightly higher humidity levels in the home due to other factors.

– taking a shower generates humidity
– boiling water, cooking
– breathing

However the humidity level will still be low and dry!

What happens when it gets too dry inside the house?

When the indoor humidity level drops below 40%, you begin to notice.

But first, here’s what you don’t notice and you should pay attention to:

You begin to become dehydrated! Our natural perspiration quickly dries out. You probably won’t even feel thirsty at first. However be aware of this. It could lead to issues. Here’s an article I wrote about it:

[ Read: We Don’t Drink Enough Water During The Winter ]

DRY SKIN

That’s probably the first thing you notice during winter. For me, it’s my hands. They dry out first. But it’s everything. All your skin dries out. It even cracks when it gets real bad.

TIP: I’ve been using this stuff for years. Mainly on my hands. It’s great.

Udderly Smooth body cream
(view on amzn)

DRY NOSE

Then goes the nose. The mucus membranes dry out. That gets uncomfortable and annoying. Worst case you might even get a bloody nose…

CHAPPED LIPS

No explanation necessary. It happens during winter, inside or outdoors. We have plenty of Chapstick around the house, in the truck, wherever…

ITCHY SKIN

Yep, dry skin leads to itchy skin…

DRY EYES

Wear contact lenses? Say hello to lots of re-wetting drops. I used to wear contacts all the time. Years ago I switched over to mostly wearing glasses. My eyes just feel better that way. Although it can be a nuisance during winter when they fog up for various reasons. Like going indoors after being outdoors. Or out snowmobiling with my helmet on (I usually wear contacts for that scenario). Or putting on goggles during a snowstorm for whatever reason I might have to be outside…

STATIC ELECTRICITY

ZAP! Handle a fleece blanket and you’re gonna get zapped! Another effect is your hair standing out. Or you go to pick up your pet and he yelps as he gets shocked (followed by the nasty eye like you hurt him on purpose)! Oh, when you go to open that door and grab the door handle… ZAP!

OUR BODIES NEED MOISTURE!

We are about 75% water! Water is crucial to all of our internals. Very dry conditions (very low humidity) will essentially suck out the moisture from our bodies.

Recommendations:

BEST INDOOR HUMIDITY LEVEL DURING WINTER

Okay, I’ve emphasized how it gets too dry indoors during the winter. But what should indoor humidity be in winter?

What’s my generally preferred humidity during winter? 40%
(HOWEVER, See Update below for very cold weather)

Why 40%? Because if I set the humidifier much higher, the edges of my window panes become excessively damp, and even frosty when the outdoor temperatures get really cold. I’m talking wicked cold… especially below 0.

My windows are dual-pane Anderson ‘high performance’. But they will still develop moisture around the edges when it’s extremely cold outside. So, even though 40% humidity will still result with some of this problem (when it’s insanely cold outside), it’s a good balance for me.

UPDATE
I now adhere to the following guideline for indoor humidity settings versus outdoor temperature. It has worked out pretty well to minimize moisture on the windows while still providing decent humidity indoors during the winter months.

Best Winter Indoor Humidity Level

What humidity should I set my humidifier to? Well, that depends a lot on the outdoor temperature.

Here’s a guideline for setting your winter indoor humidity level, based on outdoor temperature. This is meant to minimize moisture on your windows (depending on your own home).

A number of years ago my dad revealed this to me (his winter indoor humidity guideline secret). I started following it, and it worked pretty well at my place. So I’m sharing it with the world :)

Outdoor Temp. 20 – 40 degrees-F > Indoor Humidity 40%

Outdoor Temp. 10 – 20 degrees-F > Indoor Humidity 35%

Outdoor Temp. 0 – 10 degrees-F > Indoor Humidity 30%

Outdoor Temp. -10 – 0 degrees-F > Indoor Humidity 25%

[ Ken adds:

Anything below -10 degrees-F > Head to Florida. Actually, you might set that threshold a bit higher :)

CONCLUSION
A whole-house or large room humidifier placed in the main living area of your home will result in better health and well being during the winter.

Like I said earlier, I have the one linked above, and I simply replace the wicking element each year. It’s that time again…

[ Read: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning During Winter ]

50 Comments

  1. As a child growing up, we had propane blue flame heaters. The kind that had ceramic reflectors behind the burner, and a metal hearth in front. A tin can, usually a one pound coffee can, sat on this hearth filled with water. Many folks had wood burning cast iron heaters and they had either the same can of water or a pan filled with water resting on top. Never thought much about it back then, but I’m sure this practice served as a vaporizer/humidifier

    1. Dennis ,
      As a child growing up, we had propane blue flame heaters. The kind that had ceramic reflectors behind the burner, and a metal hearth in front. A tin can, usually a one pound coffee can, sat on this hearth filled with water.

      We have two of those heaters as our secondary backup heating, with wood as our tertiary backup heat source. A gas forced air furnace is primary. The ceramic “plaque” is not a reflector; but, the primary heating element, since the flame originates from gas passing through small holes in the ceramic, and the jets of flame, heat the ceramic to a red hot state, where it becomes a very efficient combustion surface and radiates the heat into the room. We keep a metal bread loaf pan on top, filled with water for the same purpose as the can.
      The problem with using the coffee can today is that most all of them are plastic.

      1. The Ohio Prepper,

        The heaters I’m describing pre-date the more modern gas heaters you described. One of mine is a “Hearthglo S-108”. The other is a “Dearborn”. What I called “reflectors” were also called “firebricks”. Basically they consist of a cast iron horizontal burner with multiple orifices that have removable “fire brick” reflectors that rest on top of the burner. These reflectors are cast ceramic shaped like an “A-frame” with a solid back and an open decorative weave pattern facing out. The flame from the burner heats the bricks to a yellowish red, adding radiant heat to the convection heat from the burner. The Hearthglo is open faced with a flat hearth in front of the burner. The Dearborn is more enclosed with no hearth, but same type burner and firebrick reflectors. I bought the Hearthglo heater in 1963 at a going out of business auction of a local hardware store with a bid of $13. It is still in pristine condition. Bought the Dearborn reconditioned from another hardware store in The 1980’s.

        These heaters are the primary heat for my two cabins. I have a catalytic propane wall heater for back up heat to my central unit of our home. Also have two Buddy heaters as back up to the back up and portable spot heating.

  2. This is not a dry topic around here, our house gets very dry. But even if you can fix the humidity level in your house you can’t always do that in the workplace. In the winter time I would come home from work any my skin would be itching like I was rolling around in straw.

    For such conditions I discovered “Udderly Smooth Body Cream Original Formula” . And this stuff really works, I use it daily now this time of year.

      1. There is a cheap but effective cocoa butter lotion w/vitamin E sold at the big box store… get a bottle, use 2 or three tablespoons out of it and add 2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil to it… shake well to mix thoroughtly… it will add antibacterial properties and trap the moisture of the cocoa butter lotion into your skin.
        for lips i use the lip tip blistex liquid.tube.. it has more moisture and goes on soft for sore lips., lasts a long time…..can be used several times if needed I used to keep on dash of car by heater vent and use warm on way to and from work…

    1. I use Heel rescue foot cream for hands and feet – it goes on very smooth and absorbs very quickly. It is a little lighter than Udderly smooth, which I also have used. Also use Shikai Borage oil for face right after bath / shower.

      1. i have always had good luck with o’keeffe’s for my hands and carmex for my lips.
        i’m told that beef tallow is the best for hands and feet but i have never tried it.

  3. Hate it when the skin cracks. hurts like all ‘help’ for sure.
    I have a Bionaire, one of those HUGE suckers that holds 2-5gallon tanks and filter/wicks that are the size of a front door hehehehe.
    I let it run all day when I’m gone (a little noisy to say the least) than off at night. Only thing noisier is Blue snoring.

  4. Our primary heat source is a wood stove . We also have a new split unit, electric heat pump that will heat or cool the whole house. We seldom use the heat pump, we prefer wood heat. We always keep a teakettle of water on the wood stove and with cooking,showers, etc. our humidity is around 50 %. We don’t drink soda pop but we have gotten in the habit of drinking water at lunch and dinner and occasionally throughout the day .

  5. Do you heat with a wood stove?
    Put a pot of water on the stove, it puts needed moisture in the air.
    You can add cinnamon sticks or rose hips, or ?? to freshen the air.
    Works for me–

  6. Dry humidity in the house dries out the mucus membrane, causing a person more susceptible to colds and flu. If I’m sick, ain’t much getting done.

    Seems like a preparedness, survival topic to me, along with H2O intake. Hmm.
    We run a humidifier in the living room and a couple kettles of water on the ole wood stove.

    1. I know when i was living in Co my hands and feet and lips got so dried out and cracked, almost impossible to keep them from doing it, was so bad that they would bleed, was hell trying to frame, the cold was manageable, im always overheated anyway, but the cracked fingers, that was brutal, lotion/ udder cream/ whatever, couldnt keep em from cracking,

      1. Root Doctor bb here :-)

        Sometimes stubborn winter skin cracking, bleeding and peeling is a nutritional issue.

        If you haven’t looked at this angle already, do some research on which foods and supplements (like B vitamins, in particular) might play a part in relieving your suffering.

        I am only licensed to practice root doctoring on my property in N.E. GA….

        <bb

  7. Had some friends from here move to Nevada or somewhere like that, came from an old island family, they took some antique furniture that i believe was mid 1800s vintage, koa dining table, some chairs a couple rockers and dressers,
    The humidity over there compared to the island made these ancient pieces of furniture fall apart and twist and crack like potatochips, was heartbreaking as they were exceptional pieces, but the humidity difference was significant and quickly ruined pieces that had survived over 100 years,,
    True story,
    Back to work

    1. Tommyboy,
      I had not read this before my post which mentions the same problem. In our case we keep the furniture from coming apart; but, it is a constant battle of maintenance.

  8. I have several of the clothing hanging racks, you can find them at most stores (mine are from Goodwill). During the winter months I hang dry everything and rarely use the dryer. You may find sometimes your clothes dry in just an afternoon.

    1. We do this also. I have a shower rod in a bedroom door frame (pants and shirts) as well as a wooden drying rack we got when we first married (44 yr ago). I hardly ever use the dryer. Saves about $50 a month on electric bill also :)

    2. Km,
      We use those same racks and hang clothing outside on the line in the summer; but, I hadn’t really thought of it as a humidifier, just a way to save cost and energy that is also easier on some delicate items.

  9. Based on the reference yesterday to a humidifier I ordered 2- one for upstairs and one for the basement. Plus we keep a pot of water on the wood stove. I thought this a timely and useful article and sometimes I just don’t want to think so critically. Thanks Ken for keeping the topics variable but always interesting.

  10. I stopped using a humidifier, the at a minimum weekly tank cleaning got old. Tank “crud” buildup from the well water and I was not going to buy distilled water or filter it. Right or wrong, I always worried about blowing air with questionable water vapor being sucked into my lungs. Most likely a worry not based in any fact, just a personal preference. Primary heat is oil hot water. Woodstove in the basement for backup does not directly hit you with dry heat. If it gets too dry in the winter I open windows, for a few minutes, exchanging the house air. As others have said, cooking, showers and general water use provides some humidity in the winter. Summer is a different discussion, basement dehumidfier runs on an automatic setting with a a hose to the sealed floor drain, wrecked some hunting clothes years ago, mildew does stink up the cloth.

  11. Excellent information. Thanks!
    I’ve updated the article with this additional tip.

    UPDATE: 2 years later – I’ve been using the guideline above with good success.

  12. I keep a kettle on the wood stove. When we have been running the stove non stop for days at a time I put a big pot of water on the cook stove to simmer. I can tell were good when the windows start fogging up LOL

  13. From what I have read, and what works for us, the “proper” indoor humidity in winter should be in the 35-45% range with the proper summer humidity under 60%.
    My big problem with dry winter air is that my nasal passages get dried out and I can sometimes get minor nosebleeds, so I will often take a longer shower in winter, just to hydrate the nasal and sinus passages. To that end, I have a nosebleed kit I used to use when I was on anticoagulants with 3 or 4 solid ways to stop a bleed quickly.
    In the past we have used humidifiers; but, the old ones that actually create steam have gotten harder to find, and the “cool mist” types don’t work as well for our needs.. We heat with a gas forced air furnace; but, have two 30,000 BTU ventless propane plaque heaters and an air tight wood burning fireplace insert for our final emergency backup. We run the ventless heaters quite often when the outside temperature gets below freezing, and the burning of the propane creates combustion products of mostly CO2 and water vapor that helps the dry air a bit; but, on top of each of the ventless heaters is an old metal bread loaf pan we keep full of water. The pan holds about 30 ounces of water and we need to top it off or fill it every other day. We also do a lot of from scratch cooking, so boiling of things like rice, beans, pasta, and from scratch soups adds additional humidity into the air.
    On the hydration /dehydration issue, I keep well hydrated with several methods. I have a sports bottle I keep topped off with orange Gatorade we make from powder and water from our R/O system. I also have a 30 ounce Yeti cup I fill with ice cubes, two tablespoons of lemon juice and keep topped off with water from the R/O system. I generally go through this 30 ounces at least twice per day as I constantly sip a bit at a time.
    After a mostly daily shower, I use Vaseline intensive care lotion / cream on my feet, legs, and hands, since those can get rather dry, especially as I age.

    Static electricity depends at least In part on the materials from which your carpets, furniture, and clothing are made. I get the occasional “Snap”; but, nothing more than that since I have no hair to stand out and my cats are used to getting that little shock, since it’s often their hair that is the culprit.

    OUR BODIES NEED MOISTURE!
    While doing some work and vacationing in AZ, my colleagues were constantly pushing water on me. As it turns out, in that sub 10% humidity atmosphere, one can exhale as much as 1 liter per day, just sitting around and breathing.

    A whole-house or large room humidifier placed in the main living area of your home will result in better health and well being during the winter.

    The problem with that solution here is that our house has been constructed over a 50 year time frame, with the oldest parts of the house (and wiring) dating back to the 1920’s and major expansions in the 1960’s, so we really have no central space from which the moisture could travel to the other areas of the house. It’s a large place; but, can be somewhat of a maze for heat and humidity to fill the spaces.

    One thing that has not been mentioned for the extremely dry living space is the effect it can have on wooden furniture. Some of our older chairs and dressers are what some would call antique; but, are constructed out of real wood with very tightly constructed components using mortise, tenon, and panel techniques with wooden dowels and very few nails or glue. Extreme low humidity can dry out the joints and cause some of this old furniture to creek and start to come apart. An application of Elmer’s wood glue and some clamping until it cures will generally take care of the problem; but, it’s something to think about when you have good, well made, wooden furniture.

  14. Since this article was posted I’ve made a few discoveries. The first is to not use talcum powder, ever. It dries out skin. Secondly my skin is considerably less itchy and less dried out in the winter by switching shampoo type. I was formerly using a castille soap which is supposed to be natural but it is very strong, stripping the hair and skin of oil. It would run down my back in the shower and that was where it was the worst. I have been using a milder variety and there has been a dramatic improvement.

  15. I prefer the indoor humidity to be around 50%. That’s the level I can get out from under a fleece blanket and not shock myself on everything.

    I currently have 8 humidifiers running throughout the house.

  16. Our dogs suffer also, getting dry cracked skin on their noses. I rub coconut oil on them a few times a day. It helps.

    1. Oh, and I also make and use a plantain salve for healing skin problems. This also helps their noses. Love our GSD fur babies!!!!!

  17. And running a wood stove, fireplace will greatly reduce the house’s humidity.
    We run a antique humidifier and have two kettles of water on the wood stove.
    Dry humidity in the house = more accessible to sickness.

    I’ll shut the hell up.

          1. I know.

            You actually got a chuckle out of my grumpiness(es)
            😜
            I shall say
            Thanks!

  18. If you notice your hands (especially the corners of your fingers near the nails) are cracking then consider increasing your B vitamin intake by modifying your diet or supplements.

    Immediate relief for dry, cracked hands that I use is Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream. YMMV because I DO live in N.E. GA and although it gets cold here, it is nothing like some see.

    On a completely different note :-)…If you have cased, hollow bodied stringed instruments (especially guitars) consider adding moisture to keep the sound boards hydrated and the necks straight. There are commercially available devices for this, but you can make your own.

    I cut up pieces of sponge, soak them, wring them out, and put them in plastic sandwich bags with holes punched in them with a paper punch. I tie two bags together and drop them in the sound hole with the tie string draped over the guitar strings. Close up the case and the moisture absorbs into the wood.

    If you have a really dried out instrument, take a whole fresh carrot and put it directly inside the sound hole and leave it in the cased instrument for a few weeks. This will do a good moisture revival job.

    <bb

  19. One thing I see not mentioned is the effect of low humidity on electronics..more precisely, the effect of static electricity build up in very dry conditions. It can and will kill your computer, cell phone and any other semiconductor based items when you hit them with a hot enough static spark. Denver in winter was particularly bad, bad enough an engineer was sent out from Japan to actually see what was destroying the calculators. In his first customer visit he ‘killed’ two brand new units. Before you touch a calculator, computer or cell phone, when the static is noticeable, discharge yourself to a wall switch, a fence post, anything to drop the charge from your body. Modern electronics are much more robust than previously, but they still can be blown. I blew a perfectly good computer even though I knew better.

  20. We use a rice cooker, no rice just water. Has a nice feature in that if you forget to add water it automatically switches(mechanically) to a lower wattage for safety reasons. We put a little 6″ fan behind the cooker to prevent the moisture from going straight up and collecting on ceiling, helps to distribute it as well. We have propane forced air heat.

  21. Now, I must say this subject was a real learning experience for me. Send a man to college and he can come back real stupid! Tomorrow it turns cold in Texas and I am going to fire up the wood stove and put a pot of water on it. Thanks all

  22. Ken
    Thanks for re-posting this timely subject.
    Out of the blue I got a nosebleed on Monday that required cauterizing.
    Figured it was because of the dry winter air. But never had anything like this happen before.
    Then I read, “When the cold humid air is supplied and heated in a building — the relative humidity of the air is decreased.”
    Now it makes sense, one of our dogs has a medical condition requiring him to constantly go outside. Thus the door is being opened constantly, bringing the cold outside air inside…
    Currently it is a balmy zero Fahrenheit outside — 66 inside — and we need at least 50% humidity inside…

    Beats me”s
    idea of using a rice cooker works great! Lot better than a tea kettle. Don’t have a woodstove in town to put a pot of water on…

  23. Thanks for updating this one Ken. Sure nice to be reminded of The Ohio Prepper. Have had bloody noses from dry hot summers in the sandbox and dry cold winters south of Siberia. However, only have had chapped lips when I wasn’t keeping hydrated.

  24. My wife and I are both nurses and we are both older so our skin is thinner with age and we wash our hands frequently. We both lotion up mostly with Aveeno brand products that are hypoallergenic and do a good job providing that protective layer on our skin to do our jobs. For dry nasal passages, I am able to find aerosol saline spray at my local pharmacy that I use before and midway through my shift to keep the nasal passages moist and itch free. I use it when standing near a box of kleenex to complete the process as it is both noisy and messy butt I feel better afterwards. I carry in my pockets: chapstick, artificial tears and Zaditor or Alaway eye antihystamines to reduce or eliminate itchy eyes due to external irritant. For the calloused areas on my feet, I put on eucerin thick moisturizing paste on my feet prior to putting on my socks and stand on my feet all shift long. I have also used A&D ointment on my feet as well to soften calloused areas. My wife loves to have the fireplace on so I tend to cook a lot in the kitchen on days off. Between making rice or boiling pasta, I create a lot of steam in the kitchen on days off.

  25. Reply to Hawk: I do not use Bacteriostatic treatments in my home that are labeled bacteriostatic. We use Dove soap to shower with because we both have dry skin. My hand soap is a dilute castile soap by Dr Bronners using peppermint oil. My wife uses a hand soap that is from the grocery store. At work, we use what is in the dispensers at work.

    We both took microbiology back in the day when many consumer products used the label: “Antibacterial” as a selling point. Our teachers and lab personal all rolled their eyes at this trend and only stressed the need to wash up often and lotion up when you get the opportunity. Working over 20 years in this field, we found what works for us. Why buy a cleaning product that you will never or rarely use? Same goes for skin creams and lotions. In this job we have access to lots of disposable gloves. I have a paper bag at home with “extras” that get brought home by me at the end of my shift.

  26. Though we work as nurses, our home is filled with critters. (one dog and 4 cats that are Humane Society rescues). We use a variety of cleaning products in spray bottles to clean up messes. (Windex and Nature’s Miracle spray cleaner) Lots of rags and cheap paper towels. All the more reason to lotion up after we wash our hands frequently.

    1. Calirefugee,
      try mixing ammonia and peroxide half and half in a spray bottle. it’s the best cleaner we have ever used. we use it on everything and it has never damaged or discolored anything. you name it, and it will clean it. we haven’t used 409, windex or fantastic for years.
      this was passed onto me years ago by a guy that did auto detailing.

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