The Dry Eye Zone

Rebecca's Blog

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Humidifiers... in homes using liquid propane

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A reader shares his story of noticing a change in their LP gas range's burner flame, and all the detective work he put in to figuring out why - and how it relates to humidifier use.

This is not a subject area I know anything about personally, and it was fascinating to me. We use LP for both cooker and fridge in our tinyhome, but then, we're off grid and don't have a humidifier, so I wouldn't have guessed.

Rebecca,
  
Don't know if you'll remember me but we corresponded a bit a few years ago. As a dry eye sufferer I am a big fan of the work you do to educate folks suffering from dry eyes and I read your newsletter eagerly each time it arrives. 
I recently ran across some info I think might prove useful to your readers and I am writing you today in hopes that you might share it with them. After several, years of being under great control my Sjogrens disease related dry eye symptoms recently began to flare again. It has been a very cold winter here in Maine with attendent increase in the need for home heating which of course creates a very dry inside climate. Thinking that my trusty old humidifier might help I dug it out, filled it with tap water and turned it on.

Sure enough within a few days my dry eye symptoms began to slowly improve and I am actually now able to get some decent sleep.

Alas, shortly after I began using my humidifier my wife began complaining that the burner flame on our LP Gas range began to turn yellow. I checked and sure enough what had been a bright blue flame now appeared a reddish yellow. I did a little checking on the Internet and discovered that the usual cause of a yellow flame was either gas contaminated with water, or an improperly adjusted gas/air mixture. I called my LP Gas supplier who felt that it might have something to do with the LP Gas tank being low and he sent over a truck to fill it.

Sadly this did nothing to cure the problem and the gas company suggested I contact a heating contractor to schedule a maintenance check.

Given that this was going to cost me several hundred dollars, and given that I was looking for an excuse to stop working on my income taxes 😤 I fired up my iPad and did some more research on the yellow flame problem.

Eventually I ran into a YouTube video that proved that running a humidifier in the house would cause a gas range flame to turn yellow! Some folks thought it was because of the moisture added to the air, others felt it had to do with various other factors. Eventually a chemist got involved and he said that sodium was being relased from the water molecules and causing the flame to turn yellow. Someone suggested that using distilled water which is mineral free might cure the problem.

Sure enough I refilled my humidifier with distilled water and within a short time the burner flame changed back to a deep blue color.

Dozens of folks reported having spent hundreds of dollars trying to solve this problem as a yellow flame caused by an incorrect gas/air can result in excessive carbon monoxide production which can prove deadly. Time after time even factory trained representatives were totally unable to correct the problem. And then along came a clever guy...

It is still not entirely clear if the yellow flame created by using tap water in a humidifier creates a carbon monoxide risk but the general consensus is that it does not. I personally have experienced no ill effects normally associated with carbon monoxide but based upon one night's experience it "seems" like using distilled water in my humidifier resulted in a noticeable improvement in my dry eye symptoms. Given that sodium is the major mineral associated with salt, and given that salt is known to have a drying effect it may well be that distilled water is the better choice. So I am going to give it a try...

Might be worth running a short piece on this in your newsletter as I know many dry eye folks use humidifiers.

All Best & Keep Up The Good Work!
Winston Shaw

Just a few notes of my own to add:

  • If you're using LP in your home, I sure hope you have a carbon monoxide detector with fresh batteries! 
  • Cleaning your humidifier regularly is a very important safety tip as well.
  • Ultrasonic humidifiers should be used only with distilled water in any case, as otherwise you can get the "white dust" effect.
  • The EPA says, for mold prevention, you should not let the relative humidity level get above 60% in your home, and ideally, keep it between 30% and 50%.