Vocal health calls for "Goldilocks" humidity this winter. Part 1 of 2.


NOTE: This is the first post in a 2-part article. Click here to read part 2!

EdgeStudio.com has a lot of information about vocal health. You'll find links to much of it at the end of this article. One subject we've barely touched on, however, is the matter of indoor humidity. Moisture in the air is important to maintaining good vocal health, but you can also have too much humidity. There are various ways of maintaining humidity, each with certain advantages and dangers.

Important: We are not medical experts and cannot give medical advice. This is not exhaustive information. If you have any question or concern about your health or any symptom, consult your doctor without delay. If anyone has a respiratory difficulty (e.g., asthma, allergy to mites or mold), consult a physician before using a humidifier. Exercise suitable caution when dealing with steam or boiling water. Clean any device as instructed. If infants or young children are present, consult their physician before use, as microbes and particalized mineral deposits can be harmful to their lungs, and additives can also be problematic.

Cold air is dry, and heating dries it further, but humidity's not just a winter issue. Air conditioning dries the air, too. You feel cooler, but your sinuses may become raw. At some point, you may need to turn off the A/C, or open a window, or add humidity, or step outdoors.

So, at any time of year, what amount of humidity is "just right" and how should you maintain it?

Humidity has benefits

Proper humidity confers a number of benefits. It promotes overall personal health by preventing or mitigating sore throats, colds, dry eyes and nasal discomfort. It also makes you feel warmer, so you might lower the thermostat. And it is specifically helpful to the voice. Humidity allows you to speak longer without "drying out." This is beneficial to long narration work. Proper humidity may also help you maintain a more consistent vocal quality throughout the day and from day to day, making pickups easier to match. Taking care of your voice probably even helps makes it more consistent over the years.

How much humidity is best?

To measure humidity, it will be helpful to have an inexpensive hygrometer. (You don't need a lab instrument – just a ballpark measurement.) They sell for as little as $10. If it's electronic and includes a thermometer, it probably measures "relative humidity," which is the moisture ratio relative to the maximum amount that air can hold at a given temperature. The relative humidity in many homes ranges between 35 and 45%. While the Mayo Clinic advises maintaining 30-50% humidity for good health, for your vocal comfort you will probably prefer to skew toward 50%. Some sources advise 60%, but others say that's too high. Too much humidity promotes the growth of mold – which, in addition to being unsightly and damaging to your home, can cause respiratory problems of a different sort. Very high humidity encourages bacteria and viruses to grow, as well.

How to increase humidity

The first humidity level to heed is your own – keep your body well hydrated. Your physician will probably confirm that, for good health in general, and good vocal health in particular, it depends on your size and activity level:

  • If you're not very active, drink 1/2 ounce of water per day for every pound you weigh (A 160-pound person should drink 80 ounces/day.)
  • If you are very active, drink 3/4 ounce of water per day for every pound you weigh. (A 160-pound person should drink 120 ounces/day)

(One sign of dehydration is dark yellow urine. If you're urinating well and it's clear, your hydration level is probably fine.) Don't go overboard. It's possible to have too much water!

But you'll do better if the air around you is properly hydrated, too.

To increase indoor humidity, you have several options. They range from high-tech to the kitchen stove, or even a pan of water on top of the radiator.

By heating a pot holding 2 gallons of water, you can probably reach your target humidity in that room within half an hour. Then allow time for it to spread. However, we'll add the (hopefully) obvious warnings:

  • Don't leave a flame or burner or boiling water unattended, especially if children or pets are present
  • Don't let it burn all day (without ventilation, there's the matter of carbon monoxide)
  • Don't let it boil away (ruins the pot)
  • Let it cool completely before emptying

(There's a disk-shaped thing called a pot watcher that makes noise at the bottom of the pot, but it's for knowing when the water starts to boil, not when it is almost boiled away.)

For a more "professional" solution, there are several categories. By "professional," we mean that's what you are. Most humidifiers for your home or studio space are household types, marketed only to promote "comfort." Therefore, few are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as medical devices. Exceptions are those specifically designed to deliver medication.

Evaporative: This is a common, low-tech kind. Water is taken from a tank, via a wick or rotating belt or drum, and a fan blowing across or through it puts moisture into the air.

Cool mist (impeller): This, too, has a fan, but the water is pumped and directed toward a high-speed fan blade for dispersal.

Steamer (vaporizer): As the name indicates, these are in effect a pot of boiling water, with moisture created as steam. (The steam might or might not be cooled a bit before it emerges.) In fact, if you have an electric tea kettle with automatic shut-off, that might do. But while inexpensive, steam or hot water could be a hazard to young children or pets.

Ultrasonic (nebulizer): High-frequency vibration creates a mist, either cool or warm.

HVAC-located (central): If you have forced-air heat, this approach might be worth considering. It will cost more initially, but less thereafter, and can be filtered with the rest of your heated air, and runs itself.

Click here to read part 2! Don't let your humidifier turn against you! Why cleaning your humidifier is so important.


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ADDITIONAL READING:

How’s that you say? Taking care of your vocal health
http://www.edgestudio.com/blogs/how%E2%80%99s-you-say-taking-care-your-v...

How’s that you say? (Part Two) A further look at vocal health
http://www.edgestudio.com/blogs/how%E2%80%99s-you-say-part-two-further-l...

The Voice Over Vocal Care Chart
http://www.edgestudio.com/voice-over-vocal-care

Basics of Caring for Your Instrument Webinar with Edge Studio VO coach Lara Hirner,
http://www.edgestudio.com/vocal-health

Super Bowl party? Use “Henny Youngman” vocal care
https://www.edgestudio.com/blogs/super-bowl-party-use-henny-youngman-voc...

What Do You Do To Stay Healthy For Voice Over?
http://www.edgestudio.com/voice-over-blog/archives/2013/02?page=1

Edge Sings! Singing for Voice Overs with Edge Studio VO coach Carolee Goodgold
https://www.edgestudio.com/singing-for-voice-over

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