Retrofitting Vintage

DIY: Humidifier

It’s cold in the Midwest, my friends.

The temperature is low, the freeze is on, and moreover, the air is dry. Dry, dry, dry. The steam heat radiators in our apartment go full blast at night (so vintage, so charming, so very loud) and while it’s nice to be warm, they obliterate any moisture in the air.

We apparently own a humidifier. It’s supposedly in the basement. This was not a thing I knew when, in the middle of the night, feeling like I was slowly becoming a human raisin, I decided to throw a wet towel on the radiator.

Immediately after doing so, my “I am going to burn the house down” instincts kicked in, and I began to Google. My initial impulse was correct: You can put a wet towel on your radiator, nothing will happen. Note: An electric space heater is not a steam radiator. Don’t put anything wet on your electric space heater. Something will definitely happen, and it will probably be DEATH and MAYHEM.

In my paranoid web searching, I was reminded of something I already knew: a simple DIY tactic to humidify. Ready for it? It’s very complicated.

  1. Put a pan on your radiator.
  2. Put water in the pan.
  3. That’s it, you’re set.

I read charming accounts of special pans that hook on your radiators, and recollections of mid-century childhoods spent keeping the water filled using special watering cans. These all sound great, but really, anything you can safely balance on your radiator will do.

My complex humidifying system.
My complex humidifying system.

Another good way to introduce moisture into the air is to hang your laundry to dry. I always think of this in the summer, but the dryness of the air really speeds the drying process. If you can rig a clothesline inside, go for it. Otherwise, put things on the backs of chairs, door knobs, etc. If you have found that having clothing hanging from every possible place is distressing to your roommates, start small. You probably shouldn’t be drying your sweaters in the dryer anyway. Lay them out on a towel. Voila, you are now better at laundry and less parched. Tell your roommates you’re a genius who isn’t paying for the dryer, they should respect that.

Only chumps pay for dryers when the air is this dry.
Only chumps pay for dryers when the air is this dry.

So why not use the actual humidifier?

  1. I told you, it’s in the basement.
  2. I am deeply skeptical of humidifiers. I think they harbor dust and mold. I don’t really have a scientific basis for this belief, but I believe it all the same.*
  3.  This bread pan solution is so easy and it doesn’t require any electricity.

How are you fighting the dry air?


*Aha! I’m maybe not wrong about this! The Mayo Clinic writes: “Dirty reservoirs and filters in humidifiers can quickly breed bacteria and mold. Dirty humidifiers can be especially problematic for people with asthma and allergies, but even in healthy people humidifiers have the potential to trigger flu-like symptoms or even lung infections when the contaminated mist or steam is released into the air.”


  1. Yes to all of it. We only have humidifiers that do not use filters AND you have to use distilled water. Which costs money. But I don’t have radiators to use or I would totally do that. 🙂

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