Humidifying – without a humidifier

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I don’t know what winter is like where you live (if, in fact, it IS winter where you live), but here in the Ottawa Valley winter is cold. Very cold. And very, very dry. It’s not uncommon to spontaneously bleed from the nose as you battle a searing headache and croak for more water through parched lips. And that’s not even an extreme case. In our house, the Pie’s sinuses dry up and cause him to snore. My asthma acts up, meaning I cough and wheeze all the time, and, because we have wall-to-wall carpeting, Gren has been avoiding us because we static shock him every time we pet him. It’s no fun.

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We have a humidifier in our bedroom, and it helps a whole bunch. We did our research and got the one that worked the best for the money we wanted to pay and we’re very happy with our choice (remember, kids: always do your research when buying an appliance). I also picked up a travel-sized humidifier for the various hotel rooms I seem to be finding myself in these days (and Winnipeg is even colder and dryer than Ottawa, and I’m in it as we speak).

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But sometimes you don’t want to buy a humidifier. Sometimes you can’t afford one (the ones that won’t give you Legionnaires’ Disease or fester with black mould tend to run a bit expensive). Sometimes your dormitory has ruled them out (usually for mould reasons). Or maybe you just need to give a bit of extra oomph to the humidifier you have. Here are seven quick-and-dirty tips to help you humidify your home the old-fashioned way.

1. Shower with the door open.

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Yeah, so this won’t work if you have roommates or small children or larger children or children at all. But if you don’t, skip turning on the exhaust fan and get things all good and steamy.

2. Get more house plants.

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So plants, when they’re done with all the nutrients and stuff in the water they suck up through their roots, basically sweat out water vapour through their leaves. It’s called transpiration. And sweaty plants make for a more humid environment.

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3. Skip the dryer.

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When you’re doing laundry, hang your clothes to dry inside the house in a warm spot. As the clothes dry the water on them will evaporate into the air in your house, making it more moist. MOIST. Plus you save on energy costs.

4. Spritzy-spritzy.

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Grab a spray bottle of water and gently – GENTLY – spritz your curtains with a little bit of water. You don’t want them soaked or anything, but a little misting on them will produce the same effect as wet laundry – without putting your skivvies in the middle of the living room.

5. Set out bowls.

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Place shallow dishes of water on sunny windowsills or on top of heating vents and the water will evaporate as it warms. Make them pretty crystal vases and you’ll add to the decor of your home. Add a floating bloom or some pretty pebbles. Granted, if you have small children or pets, leaving a bowl of water on the floor in your kitchen is asking for trouble, so be warned.

6. Wet a towel.

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Run a small dish towel under your tap and then wring it out thoroughly. Lay it over a heating vent (make sure the fabric isn’t so thick that it blocks the warm air completely) and let the heat percolate through and humidify the air as the towel dries. Again, probably not a good idea with small children. This is why we can’t have nice things.

7. Cook!

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When in doubt, cook. Whip up a batch of chilli or soup, anything on the stovetop that will get hot and steamy. I like to make a giant pot of tea, and when the kettle whistles and I’ve poured my pot and turned off the burner, I put the kettle back on the cooling element to let it steam itself out.

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You could also try a “simmer,” which is super trendy right now. Set a saucepan full of water on your stove and heat it to a low simmer. Toss in some whole spices: bay leaves, cardamom pods, star anise, cinnamon, and allspice; or rosemary, citrus zest, and lavender – or some combination thereof – and let that sit there simmering and scenting your house while it steams it up. Just keep an eye on the pot and add more water occasionally so it doesn’t all boil away.

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Aromatic Fire Starters

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These easy peasy lemon squeezy fire starters are a perfect stocking stuffer for anyone who loves to curl up in front of a nice wood fire on a cold evening. They’re great for avid campers or armchair bookworms alike, and don’t contain any of the scary chemicals you find in a lot of commercial fire starters. And you can make them as cutesy as you like. So I’m going full cutesy.

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Now, the whole point of a fire starter is that it keeps burning long enough to get the larger pieces of wood in your fire going. For that, it’s handy to have some sort of wick/candle thing going on. So we’re going to start by making our own wicks. Now that I know how to do this I’m never buying pre-made wicks from the store ever again. All you need is water, borax, salt, and cotton string. I’m going to guess that most of you have those on hand. You can pick up borax from the cleaning aisle of your grocery store. It’s a very handy item.

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Anyone else find it super meta that the Borax girl is holding a box with a picture of herself on it, holding a box with a picture of herself on it … ?

Dissolve 4 tablespoons borax and 2 tablespoons salt in 1 1/2 cups warm water. Or dissolve it as much as you can. Mine didn’t dissolve all the way.

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Now cut a length of cotton string (butcher’s twine, anything like that). I decided seeing as I had the solution going I’d make a lot of wicks ahead of time for future use.

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Submerge the string in the solution and leave it overnight. Mine started to grow a few crystals as the supersaturated solution cooled. SCIENCE. The next day, hang the wet string to dry completely.

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Now all you need to do is melt some paraffin wax, which you can find in the canning aisle of the grocery or hardware store. You *could* use beeswax for this project but I think it’s a little pricey for something you’re going to chuck in a fire.

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Melt the wax in a double boiler or heatproof bowl suspended over simmering water.

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Dip your borax string in the wax two or three times and let it harden between dippings.  Tada. You have made wicks.

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Keep that melted wax going – make sure to check your water periodically to make sure it doesn’t boil away, because that happens and it’s not very good for your pot.

Line a muffin tin with cupcake cups. I picked owls because they’re all woodsy and stuff. And hella cute.

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And I’ve been saving my dryer lint for like forever. It’s full of dog hair, which is also flammable. Yay.

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So I put some dryer lint in the bottom of each cup, together with half a cinnamon stick, a sprig of fresh rosemary, and a dried bay leaf.

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Then I stuck the wick in and added a bit of melted wax, just to get the wick positioned where I wanted it. The wick doesn’t have to be centred in this thing – this is not a candle – it just needs to be sticking up and out of the cup.

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Then I added in enough wax to mostly fill the cup. Don’t worry about submerging all the tidbits inside. They add visual interest.

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Let the wax set for several hours. Once it starts to develop a skin on top like this you can start moving things around in the cups if you can’t leave well enough alone or if the wicks fall down.

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Set the finished fire starters on your mantle in a pretty bowl.

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Or hand them out in matching gift bags to the pyromaniacs in your life.

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