Dry skin, itchy eyes and throat, and static-electric shocks every time you touch a door handle are all sure signs it’s time to invest in a humidifier. Useful in warm, dry climates and during winter in colder climates, humidifiers put moisture back in the air, creating a balanced, more comfortable living environment. Humidifiers can be small enough to carry from room to room or large enough to combat dryness throughout your entire house. No matter what size you need, all humidifiers function in the same basic ways however, they’re not created equal. Pronto’s Humidifier Buying Guide takes you through the essentials you need to know to select the best humidifier for your needs and home.
Choose a cool mist humidifier if you live in a warm, dry climate. Evaporative (wick) humidifiers filter the water as it’s released into the air, minimizing bacteria or mineral release and provide the most benefit for your dollar. If noise is an issue, ultrasonic humidifiers are quietest, but function without a filter and require more maintenance.
You can add medicated inhalants to warm mist humidifiers to soothe colds and croup and they’re the best choice for cold, dry climates. No need to worry about bacteria or mineral release. These humidifiers boil off the bad stuff before release moisture into the air. Need cool and warm mist? Some humidifiers switch between the two.
Humidifier capacity is measured in square feet. Room and console humidifiers generally cover an area from 400-1000 sq ft, while furnace humidifiers can manage an entire house.
Replacement filters should be easily available and easy to change. Regular cleaning is key to maintaining air quality and extending the life of your humidifier. Look for convenient dishwasher-safe reservoirs to make cleaning a snap. For easy refills, choose a warm mist humidifier with a hose if the unit appears too big to fit under your faucet (cool mist models should only be filled with distilled water).
Auto-shutoff when reservoirs are empty may reduce the risk of warm mist humidifiers becoming a fire hazard. Auto-shutoff also stops moisture release when your desired level of humidity is reached so you don’t have to check for condensation buildup on windows and other surfaces.
This term refers to the water storage container found in all humidifiers. Reservoirs vary in size and ease of cleaning. When shopping for a humidifier, look for a detachable reservoir which easily fits under a faucet or includes a hose for refilling. Dishwasher-safe reservoirs make cleaning even easier.
This type of warm mist humidifier functions by boiling water and releasing it into the air as steam or vapor. Because of the boiling water, these units can be noisy and present burn hazards.
An evaporative humidifier is a cool mist humidifier that uses a fan to blow water onto a wick, which functions as a filter. From the wick, the water evaporates, releasing moisture into the air and leaving behind bacteria and mineral deposits on the wick.
An impeller type humidifier uses a fan to blow water onto a diffuser, which may resemble a comb, and from there the water is disbursed as fine water droplets resembling a cool mist.
An ultrasonic humidifier includes a metal drum that vibrates at ultrasonic frequencies, releasing fine water droplets into the air as a cool mist.
A humidistat can be used to set the desired humidity level on a humidifier.
A hygrometer measures the level of humidity in the air.
If you live in a warm, dry climate you’ll want to look at cool mist humidifiers because in addition to adding moisture back to the air, they can also help cool a room. Although they’re more energy efficient than their warm mist cousins, they’re not as quick to raise humidity levels. Cool mist humidifiers come in three types: evaporative, impeller, and ultrasonic humidifiers and all but the evaporative humidifier can release minerals and/or bacteria into the air. If you have allergy sufferers in the house or know you won’t be diligent about frequent filter changes and/or using distilled or de-mineralized water, stick with an evaporative humidifier.
Evaporative humidifiers, sometimes called wick humidifiers, use fans to blow water through a wick filter, which traps mineral dust and bacteria. The filtered water evaporates, bringing moisture to the air. The amount of evaporation depends on the humidity of the room. In a low-humidity room, the evaporation will occur faster; in a high-humidity room, evaporation will occur relatively slowly. This makes wick or evaporative humidifiers self-regulating, meaning you don’t have to worry as much about the humidity level in a room becoming too high.
Impeller humidifiers use a fan without a filter, so the water is blown out along with the bacteria and minerals that are trapped by filters in the evaporative models. For this reason, evaporative or wick humidifiers are generally preferred over impeller humidifiers. If you don’t want to be bothered with the added cost or maintenance a filtered humidifier requires, an impeller might be right for you, but keep in mind that most experts agree that this inconvenience is outweighed by the bacteria-trapping benefits filter provide.
Lastly, you can choose an ultrasonic humidifier. In general, ultrasonic humidifiers are the quietest of the three cool mist humidifier types, making use of vibrations at ultrasonic frequencies to release very small droplets into the air in the form of cool mist. They share the dangers of impeller humidifiers or releasing bacteria and minerals into the air, but if noise reduction is an issue for you, it might be your best bet so long as you clean the unit often and use only distilled water when it runs.
For colder climates where winter dryness is a concern, warm mist humidifiers (also known as steam humidifiers or vaporizers) are the best option to soothe skin and other irritations. Warm mist humidifiers boil water to eliminate bacteria and then release moisture directly into the air by way of steam and it’s the boiling process that makes them need more energy than cool mist humidifiers. If you or a member of your family suffers from frequent winter colds, coughs or croup, a warm mist humidifier allows you add medicated inhalant to the water to be released during the humidifying process.
Another benefit of warm mist humidifiers is the warmth of the mist may actually help heat the room and let you turn down the thermostat down a notch or two. If you’re worried that a warm mist humidifier presents a burn hazard when it’s in a child’s room, look for models that mix steam with cool air to minimize that risk. Some humidifiers also come with the ability to switch between warm mist and cool mist functionality, which, if you’re planning to use the humidifier year-round, is the best way to go.
Humidifier capacity is measured in square feet and should be clearly listed on the box or in the user’s manual. How much capacity do you need? A general rule of thumb is that a portable or room humidifier is typically good for 400-600 sq ft; a console humidifier can be useful in an area around 1000 sq ft, such as an office or apartment; and a furnace or forced-air humidifier can provide enough moisture for an entire house. It all depends on where you want it and much humidity you need to achieve your desired comfort level.
A comfortable indoor humidity range is 30-50 percent. As the air temperature drops, it is necessary to lower the humidity level to prevent condensation from forming on windows and cool surfaces. If you don’t want to be bothered checking for that, some humidifiers feature humidistats, which can measure the humidity in the air and turn the humidifier off when the desired humidity level is reached.
If you purchase a humidifier that has a filter, be sure to factor in the cost of replacement filters, their availability and how easy they are to change. Failure to change often enough can result in bacterial growth, as well as releasing ‘white dust’ into the air which can become a health hazard and lead to breathing problems. You’ll also want your humidifier, if it’s a warm mist model, to be easy to fill, so if the one you’re interested in looks like it won’t fit under a faucet, be sure it includes a hose to make refills a snap. Keeping your humidifier clean is essential, not only to maintain air quality but to extend the life of the humidifier. If you have a dishwasher, choose a humidifier with a dishwasher-safe reservoir for the ultimate convenience.
Like any appliance, you can purchase a basic model or one with added features. Humidifiers are no different. If you want set it and forget it, choose a humidifier with a humidistat, which measures the humidity in the air of the room and allows you to set a desired humidity level that the humidifier will maintain. Auto-shutoff functions are useful to turn the humidifier off when the desired level of humidity has been reached, and for when the water reservoir runs dry–in fact, if you’re purchasing a warm mist humidifier it must feature an auto-shutoff when the reservoir is empty to prevent fire hazards. For allergy sufferers or if anytime health matters are a concern, you’ll want to focus on high-end humidifiers which feature air filtration systems. These filtration systems not only filter the water before releasing it into the air, but also help to clean the air itself, by removing pet hair, pollen, and other allergens.