Senses of Living® Décor

February 2004
© 2004 by Bret S. Beall


In most regions (and certainly in Chicago, where I’m writing this), we need more humidity in the winter, and less in the summer (cooler air can hold less moisture than warmer air; pure chemistry). What are we to do to offset natural laws? For winter, here are some ideas that combine décor with comfort. Keep in mind that some of this will repeat information presented in previous columns. Of course, anyone involved with education knows that the best way to learn is through repetition. Though I personally have been known to become annoyed with too much repetition (by myself and by others), I’m going out on a limb here for the sake of comprehensiveness.

For me, I first start to realize humidity is too low when I start to get dry skin … ick. Before dealing with external fixes, deal with an internal one: you MUST remain hydrated by drinking lots of water and other liquids (including soups, tea, coffee, but watch excessively sugary drinks, and beware too much alcohol). Not only will this help your skin remain healthy, but also being hydrated helps to keep mucus forming. Squeamishness aside, mucus is vital to our survival, because its presence in our noses helps shed viruses and bacteria that try to find a way inside. Hydration also keeps our eyes moist, which allows us to produce tears that also help expel foreign objects, and minimizes our tendency to rub or scratch our eyes, which can cause corneal damage. So drink up! (Professional disclosure: if you have consistently dry eyes, this could be a symptom of a medical problem. Please see your doctor for an evaluation.)

There is also the issue of diet. You must eat a well-balanced diet. That does NOT mean Atkins, or similar high protein/high fat diets; you must include carbohydrates. But, many diets do minimize the effect of fats and oils, which the body uses in its repair processes. Dry skin is due to improper or insufficient repair, so don’t eliminate fats and oils from your diet (and don’t over do them by going on Atkins or similar diets). Just eat a little of everything, and your body will have the fuel and raw materials to repair itself.

You can also minimize the drying effects of winter air by washing your face with water only, and hold washcloths onto your face, rather than employing some sort of astringent soap that strips not only accumulated grime, but also your body’s natural oils.

Now, let’s assume that you are fully hydrated, and you’ve been washing and bathing with a minimum of astringent products. What sort of external remedies can you use to hydrate/humidify your home?

Humidifiers: I have mixed feelings about humidifiers. I sometimes use them to augment my other remedies, but I find that they are often noisy, and frequently the mist is difficult to control, yielding a moist (or downright wet) floor. Of course, I have to admit that I have purchased my humidifiers second-hand (this is Re-use, one of the 7 Rs I have written about for my October 2003 Sensational Living® column, and they may have been defective, but I prefer lower tech approaches to hydrating my home (plus, humidifiers can create a nursery for mold and other nasties that can hurt people, particularly those with compromised immune systems, so keep your machines clean, or just don’t use them).

Bowls of water: If you have radiator heat, as I do, consider placing some bowls of water on top of each radiator. The heat will cause the water to evaporate, and thus increase the ambient humidity. Be sure to use ceramic bowls; plastic bowls will melt! If you have base board heating, try to locate some small or elongated dishes that will sit atop the baseboard units, and the water will evaporate from there. If forced air is your heat source, consider putting bowls of water adjacent to the air vents; while you must be careful to keep the bowls out of traffic areas (especially if you are clumsy, as I am), the heated air will cause the water to evaporate. At the very least, just keep bowls of water scattered around your home, and natural evaporation will increase humidity. As an aside, I have discussed in previous columns the idea of putting whole spices, herbs and/or essential oils into the bowls of water used for humidifying; this will add a pleasant scent to your home will increasing the ambient moisture.

Bathtub and shower: When the moisture level of the air is low, any water will evaporate more quickly in order to create a balance. When the presence of water is increased via a bath or shower, some of the liquid water will evaporate, and steam will be present as well. This can be a nuisance when dealing with the bathroom mirror. Consider cracking the door to the bathroom just a bit while bathing/showering; not only will the mirror not fog up as much (if at all), but some of moisture will find its way out into the adjacent room(s). If the air is really dry in your home, you can consider keeping water standing in the bathtub and/or sinks to allow the greater surface area of the water to enhance evaporation, but this can also lead to mineral deposits on the porcelain, and it really is a waste of water as well. You be the judge.

Fountains and misters: I have written about the psychological and health benefits of fountains in my July 2003 Senses of Living column. But, I didn’t mention the humidifying effects of fountains (and misters), probably because I was writing that column in July when excessive humidity is a problem. Anyway, I keep a fountain in my bedroom running year round for its soothing benefits, and it also helps keep my bedroom air moist (or at least, less dry) in the wintertime. Be sure to keep enough water in the fountain, or you’ll burn out the motor, or be forced to listen to the gurgles of a fountain in too little water, which is annoying until you add more water to the dish. I like www.fountainmountain.com as a source; if you purchase from them, tell them that Bret Beall and Global Organic Designs sent you (no, I do NOT get a kickback)!

Aquaria: It is a good idea to keep aquaria covered to minimize evaporation (which hardens the water, which is unhealthy for the aquatic life), but they will still enhance ambient humidity to some extent. Don’t acquire an aquarium just for its humidifying effects, though. You must be prepared to take care of the inhabitants; do not consider them expendable commodities. Once you do acquire an aquarium, you can begin to receive the many psychological benefits that accompany the physiological benefits (that sounds like a future column to me!).

Plants: I have written a lot about plants in previous columns (some say I’ve written too much, but be assured, I’ll write more!). However, I have not yet discussed the effect indoor plants have on increased humidity in a winter room. Most plant writers will tell you that you must increase ambient humidity to help your plants grow, and this is true. Evapo-transpiration occurs through plant leaves, and if the rate of evapo-transpiration exceeds water intake via the roots, the plants will wilt. Therefore, it is recommended to keep plants on pebble trays (pebbles in dish under the plants), and to mist them often (in the morning, not at night, when mildew or other funguses can attack). Plant care aside, the natural evapo-transpiration from the plants will increase ambient humidity, as will your efforts to offset that evapo-transpiration, as will the transpiration of water from the pots themselves (be sure not to over water, though, or you’ll get rotten plants, unless you grow something like Papyrus that grows in standing water). Think of your home and its plants as an enclosed system, not unlike a terrarium. Increased humidity helps all inhabitants during the dry winter months.

Water gardens: A subset of indoor gardening is the water garden. This can be as simple as a glass of water with plant cuttings in it, or more elaborate composed dish gardens with a variety of cuttings (rooted and unrooted). Watering can be more carefree, and soil is bypassed. However, soil retains moisture better than water gardens, so don’t let the latter dry out, or you’ll have limp (or dead) cuttings.

I hope you’ll try any or all of these. If your skin is still dry, you can resort to oils and/or creams, but those are often costly while not being a cure-all. For full disclosure, I do use lip balm, so a little outside help is often useful. If you need any additional guidance, you know where to find me: 773.508.9208 or email me.