Q: I’m a recent New England transplant and aside from the fact that the word “wicked” has started to creep into my everyday vocabulary, I’ve begun to notice another unsavory side effect of my new environs: cracked, dry and itchy winter skin and parched sinuses. I’ve never dealt with these afflictions before — I hail from a region that’s delightfully moist year-round (aka Miami) — so, in addition to some top-notch body moisturizer and saline spray, I’m considering investing in a home humidifier. But before I do, I wanted to see if there were any alternative ways to humidify my apartment. I’m not totally against using a plug-in device, but I’d love keep things on the cheap and avoid wicked high electric bills. Any thoughts?
A: Well, lucky you … it looks like you escaped actual alligators only to encounter alligator skin. This is a great question and something I’ve considered myself since running a plug-in humidifier only adds to the wintertime terror of sky-high energy bills, and slathering on colloidal oatmeal lotion will get you only so far (trust me on that one). That said, if you and your baby-soft epidermis are truly in a state of peril, I wouldn’t completely throw out the notion of investing in a humidifier. However, the Energy Star program does not qualify humidifiers (there are Energy Star-rated dehumidifiers on the market, however), and energy consumption differences among different models are moot. Try toying around with these alternatives before going the electric humidifier route:
Yes, you read that right: wet clothing. If you don’t have one already, get yourself an indoor clothes drying rack or two and put them to good use. You’ll save yourself a nice chunk of change by not using one of the household’s biggest energy hogs, the clothes dryer, while introducing moisture into the air of your parched apartment. If you don’t have a dryer at home, you’ll at least save on all those quarters (and precious time) guzzled by machines at the laundromat. When laundry day rolls around, try placing a small drying rack in each room or just get a large one and place it in a centrally located area of your apartment.
Miss all that lush tropical foliage of southern Florida? Get yourself a few houseplants and place them around your apartment. In addition to adding air-purifying aesthetic appeal, plants naturally release moisture through a process called transpiration in which the pores on the underside of leaves essentially sweat. However, many types of houseplants require high levels of humidity to thrive (many folks actually place humidifiers near sickly looking plants), so make sure to water and mist your indoor greenery on the regular. And since you’re in New England, one specific plant with top-notch air purifying and humidifying capabilities to consider is the Boston fern. And you needn’t turn your pad into a jungle; a few houseplants placed in clusters should do the trick nicely.
Dishes of water
A nifty little trick to adding moisture to a room sans humidifier is to add a shallow ceramic dish or pan of water (any vessel will do, really) near heat sources. The science behind this method isn’t exactly mind-boggling: The heat evaporates the water that, in turn, adds a decent amount of moisture to the air. We aren’t talking Miami Beach in August here, but you’ll probably notice the difference. If you have an old-school radiator, consider investing in a low-cost radiator humidifier, a non-electric device designed to produce steam out of dry heat. I’m in love with these charming but hard-to-find decorative models from Germany, but there are more traditional, less design-y options, like this guy, out there. This sleek, stainless steel model from Blomus is also quite lovely if you’d rather not sacrifice your ceramic dishware to the humidifying gods.
Since we’re trying to conserve natural resources and energy here, not waste it, I certainly wouldn’t recommend taking epic showers to steam up your home. But when you do shower, I’d experiment with leaving the bathroom door open to release moisture into other parts of your apartment (proceed with caution here if you have roommates, OK?). Or, keep the bathroom door shut and seal off the bathroom and proceed to hang out in there for a spell post-shower as a treat for your parched skin. But keep in mind that if you regularly turn your bathroom into a makeshift steam room, you may inadvertently start a mold and mildew farm. So play it safe … dry skin may be yucky but a mold infestation can be much, much yuckier.
Sweaters and stovetop cooking
Finally, before you consider going the humidifier route, you should try nipping the source of that icky, artificial dry heat in the bud by simply cranking down that thermostat. Weather strip those windows, grab your favorite wool sweater and get all cozy this winter. And while you’re all bundled up and hunkered down, why not flex your culinary prowess by trying out your favorite stovetop recipes? Cooking on the stovetop in lieu of in your oven or microwave is another humidifier-free way to introduce a bit of much needed moisture to your home.