Dry Air at Home: How to Tell if You Have It and How to Fix It

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Do you struggle with nose bleeds, dry skin, or eye irritation during the winter months?

Indoor air quality plays a role in your overall health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, when the air temperature drops, dry air at home is a common problem.

Cold air can't hold onto as much moisture as warm air. Plus, during fall and winter, you spend more time using indoor heating. It may feel nice and toasty, but indoor heating and roaring fires dry out the air even further. It can cause cracked skin, dry sinuses and impact the condition of your home.

In this article, we'll show you how to tell if the air in your house is dry and why dry air in the home impacts your long-term health. We'll also explore how to put moisture into dry air. Let's dive in!

How to tell if the air in your house is dry

A comfortable humidity level — the amount of moisture in the air — is around 35-60%.

Drafty homes with poor insulation may be more likely to have dry indoor air in winter. Homes that use central heating, air-conditioning, or indoor fires are also prone to dry air. However, it's tricky to know whether the humidity of the air indoors has fallen below healthy levels.

Some of the common signs of dry air in the home include:

  • Static electricity — getting regular shocks when you touch objects, animals, or people
  • Damaged, warped wooden floors
  • Creaky wooden floors
  • Cracked or peeling wallpaper
  • Wooden furniture damage
  • Dry skin
  • Dry sinuses

These are all signs of a dry home. However, for a definitive answer, a hygrometer device can measure the moisture in the air.

Symptoms you may have due to dry air at home

Dry air in the house can pull moisture from your body and play havoc with your physical health. It can trigger physical symptoms and worsen certain health conditions.

These are the most common dry air symptoms:

  • Regular nosebleeds
  • Allergies
  • Runny nose
  • Difficulty breathing and asthma flare-ups
  • Dry, scratchy throat
  • Coughing
  • Snoring
  • Flakey, itchy skin
  • Rough skin
  • Dandruff
  • Eczema
  • Cracked lips
  • Dry, red eyes
  • Headaches
  • Frequent respiratory infections

A sore throat, scratchy eyes, stuffy nose, and cracked lips from dry air can make it difficult to get comfortable and focus during the day. It may also disrupt your sleep quality.

Unfortunately, these symptoms are just the beginning. Exposure to drying air long-term may create chronic health issues.

A humidifier for dry indoor air

How dry indoor air affects your health in the long run

Ongoing exposure to a dry atmosphere is bad news for your body's overall health. It puts stress on your physiology — even if you aren't aware of it. A dry environment can trigger a serious flare-up of eczema, dermatitis, allergies, or asthma.

Dry air is also one of the reasons that you're more likely to get sick during winter. In fact, research suggests a drop in humidity may increase the survival and transmission of viruses.

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Dry air dehydrates your skin and mucous membranes — the barriers that should protect your body from pathogens. These protective membranes need moisture and lubrication to work efficiently and stop foreign invaders from entering your body. So, when germs swirl around during winter, dry air means you're more likely to pick up infections.

Cracked skin, eczema, nose bleeds, a scratchy throat, runny nose, and dry eyes indicate that your skin barrier and mucous membranes are damaged.

So, how can you rectify this and reduce the unpleasant side effects of a dry house?

How to put moisture into dry air at home?

Adding moisture to your indoor environment is essential for improving air quality and keeping your skin and respiratory system healthy. This is known as humidifying the air and is achieved with a few practical changes around your house.

Here are our 5 tips for how to add moisture to air and minimize dry air symptoms:

1. Invest in a humidifier

The best way to improve the air quality in your home and reduce dryness is to use a humidifier. This can help you control the humidity indoors and keep levels around 40-60%.

Depending on your needs and budget, you can improve the humidity in your whole house or individual rooms. A central humidifier is a unit that attaches to your central air-conditioning system and regulates the humidity in your home. For something more cost-effective, place console or portable humidifier units in the rooms you use most often.

Using a humidifier can reduce your risk of getting the flu. 

And you may also notice an improvement in your sleep and productivity.

Tip: To avoid mold and bacteria growth, clean and replace the water in the humidifier every few days and change the filter regularly. You should also monitor the indoor humidity to prevent it from becoming too high.

2. Buy houseplants

Placing some greenery inside a dry room during winter is great for air quality.

Plants suck water up from the soil through their roots. The water then moves up the plant, and some of it evaporates into the air via pores — or stomata — in the stems and leaves. This is known as "transpiration" and can help to counteract dry air in the room.

House plants to improve dry indoor air

Some of the best house plants for dry air symptoms include:

  • Spider plants
  • Yellow palm
  • English ivy
  • Rubber plants
  • Peace lilies
  • Dwarf date palms

Stick with indoor plants that have larger leaves — they have a greater surface area for transpiration to occur. But avoid succulents as they draw moisture from the air.

Keep your indoor plants watered and mist their leaves regularly to help them flourish and brighten up your home.

3. Place bowls of water in dry rooms

Not everyone owns or wants a humidifier at home. If it's not an option for you, you can make a DIY humidification system.

  • Place open bowls of water around your home. Pay special attention to the main living area of your home and the room you use the heating or fireplace the most.
  • Leave your bathroom door open when you shower or bathe to disperse water vapor through the air.
  • When you boil a pot of water, leave it without a lid on when you're finished to allow it to evaporate.
  • Owning an aquarium is a novel way to raise indoor humidity. It can also add some interest to your home.

While these tips aren't as efficient as a humidifier, they will improve the moisture content of the air.

4. Diffuse essential oils

Did you know essential oil diffusers can double as humidifiers?

Using a diffuser at home is a great way to treat dry air in the room. Plus, you'll reap the therapeutic benefits of these potent plant oils!

There are a few types of essential oil diffusers, but the two most popular are:

  1. Ultrasonic diffusers: Ultrasonic vibrations mix the essential oils with water and break them into tiny particles that disperse into the air.
  2. Heat diffusers: These release steam into the environment.

Eucalyptus and peppermint oil make a great blend for use during winter to open up your airways. Add 3-5 drops of essential oils — along with roughly 100 ml of water — to your diffuser and let it run for 30-60 minutes to reduce air dryness and soothe respiratory systems.

5. Stop dry air from flowing into your home

You can add moisture to the air in your home, but if dry air from outside is rushing in, the humidity will keep dropping. It's crucial to find and plug air leaks in your windows, doors, attic, and crawl spaces. Insulating your home not only minimizes air dryness but also helps to retain heat and save your energy bill.

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Lifestyle tip: Hydrating your body during winter is vital — even if you don't feel thirsty. Sipping water, fresh juice, warm tea, and soups throughout the day will moisten your mucous membranes and help to reduce the effects of dry air.

Does humidity make it feel colder?

The short answer to the question of whether humidity makes it feel colder is: sometimes.

In winter, your body warms the air between your skin and your clothing to protect you from the cold. 

Unfortunately, damp air can make you feel chillier due to the increase in water vapor in the air and moisture touching your skin. However, this is only noticeable if the indoor humidity becomes higher than 60%.

On the other hand, humidity in summer makes it feel warmer. Moisture clings to your skin and prevents sweat from evaporating and cooling you down.

Wrapping up

Dry air at home is something you need to be aware of during the colder winter months. If left unchecked, it can affect your comfort and impair your immunity.

You can't avoid dry air entirely, but you can protect yourself and your loved ones by implementing changes to regulate humidity levels in your home.

January 10, 2023