Buying Guide – How to Shop for a Humidifier
Bedrooms with stale, dry air can negatively affect sleep quality and duration. Other drawbacks include a higher risk of allergies, dry skin, and chronic congestion. Climate is a major factor related to air quality; different regions of the U.S. are susceptible to extremely high and/or extremely low temperatures that dry out indoor air.
Humidifiers, which utilize cool or warm mist to refresh interior air, can be very beneficial for sleepers experiencing uncomfortable conditions related to air quality. However, due to the wide range of humidifier models available, selecting the best one for your bedroom can be a challenging process.
This guide includes an overview of common humidifier types and features, cleaning and care instructions, some notable health benefits, and key factors for humidifier buyers. Read on to learn more.
Common Humidifier Types and Features
Though there are many subcategories for humidifiers, the majority of models sold today are one of two main types:
- Warm-mist humidifiers heat water using a built-in element until it reaches its boiling point, and then release warm steam or steam vapor into the surrounding area. By heating the water, these humidifiers kill harmful bacteria and mold before emitting the steam, which can reduce allergy potential. Subcategories of warm-mist humidifiers include steam humidifiers and vaporizers, which emit steam and steam vapor, respectively.
- Cool-mist humidifiers fall into three subcategories. Evaporative humidifiers use a fan to blow air over a wet wick filter; this design is relatively clean but also one of the loudest. Ultrasonic humidifiers produce cool mist using a vibrating nebulizer, making them fairly quiet but also resulting in tiny water droplets that accumulate throughout the room. Lastly, impeller humidifiers produce mist using rotating discs. These tend to be the quietest humidifiers, as well as the most expensive.
Though specs vary by individual models, most warm-mist and cool-mist humidifiers come with the following features:
- Hygrometer and humidistat: Hygrometers measure indoor moisture levels. Humidistats also measure indoor humidity, but come with a mechanism that automatically turns off the machine when it hits a preset level (such as 50%). This prevents the humidifier from oversaturating the air, which can lead to interior condensation.
- Water reservoir: All humidifiers feature a tank where water is deposited and stored for use. Some models have reservoirs with alerts or indicator lights when more water is needed.
- Germicidal light: Using ultraviolet (UV) light, some cool-mist humidifiers kill bacteria, mold, and other contaminants before the water is transformed into mist. This feature is less common on warm-mist humidifiers, since boiling the water kills most/all of its waterborne contaminants.
- Automatic shutoff: In addition to shutting off when desired humidity levels are reached, some humidifiers will also automatically turn off when there is no more water left in the reservoir. This prevents the unit from overheating or wasting power, allowing safe overnight use while people are asleep.
- Wick filter: Wick filters trap and accumulate dust, pet dander, mold, and other allergy triggers. Most wick filters need to be replaced periodically, so shoppers should determine how frequently they need to replace these components – as well as a reliable source. However, some models have non-replaceable filters while select humidifiers do not use a filter at all.
- Multiple delivery settings: Though older humidifiers may only carry one speed setting, most models sold today have multiple speeds. Increasing or decreasing the speed can impact the room’s overall air quality, as well as energy use and noise.
- Timer: In recent years, many humidifiers have integrated timed release into their designs. Owners can preset the timer to emit mist or steam during times when they normally go to bed, which cuts down on energy use but also preps the bedroom for them in advance.
- Control panel/display: Most humidifiers come with a digital display (though analog control panels are still used for some models). The display usually includes lights to indicate if the machine is turned on or off, controls for speed settings, the timer, and humidistat readings.
- Wireless connectivity: Many modern humidifiers can be linked to smartphones, as well as wireless hubs that control other devices throughout the house.
- Diffuser: Humidifiers with diffuser combinations are designed to diffuse aromas from essential oils while also producing mist or steam. The calming scents can help with sleep onset, though some sleepers prefer scent-free humidification.
When browsing different humidifier models, shoppers can use these specs and features to determining which product is best for them. Important considerations include:
Shoppers should consider their bedroom size when choosing a humidifier based on its strength. Though ideal for larger spaces, powerful humidifiers can be overwhelming – and excessively loud – for those with smaller sleeping quarters.
Alternatively, those with larger bedrooms should opt for a stronger humidifier, since most low-output models will not improve the air quality to a noticeable extent.
The capacity of a humidifier reservoir may fall anywhere between 300 mL and 4 gallons. While 1-gallon or larger reservoirs are recommended for mid- and large-size bedrooms, they may be overkill for smaller sleeping quarters.
Also keep in mind that water capacity is linked to the humidifier’s runtime. The larger the tank, the longer the humidifier will release steam or mist before the device automatically shuts off.
Size and Weight
Though humidifiers are designed to be compact and fit into most bedrooms, shoppers should measure their space to ensure the device will fit in its intended area. Measuring areas in the sink is also recommended to ensure the reservoir can be completely filled.
Additionally, buyers should check the humidifier total weight, since they will ostensibly be carrying the device to the sink on a regular basis in order to refill the reservoir.
Humidifiers are designed to humidify a certain size area. Generally speaking, warm-mist humidifiers have smaller coverage areas than cool-mist humidifiers. The smallest humidifiers are intended for desktop use, while the largest ones can add moisture to an entire house.
Humidifiers for bedrooms fall somewhere in the middle. Over-humidification can lead to mold and other air-quality issues, so finding a model with the optimal coverage area is highly recommended.
All humidifiers produce some sort of noise, though ultrasonic models tend to be the quietest while evaporative and warm-mist humidifiers are usually the loudest. That being said, the noise is not necessarily disruptive and may serve as white noise that helps with sleep onset.
Typically, larger humidifiers are louder than smaller models. Higher speed settings may make more noise than quieter settings, as well.
Cleaning and Care
Recommended cleaning and care procedures vary by model. Some require daily maintenance while others only need to be cleaned and cared for once a week. Check the owner’s manuals to learn more details. Our ‘Caring for a Humidifier’ section below also has additional information.
Price and Energy Use
Humidifiers are generally inexpensive, with most warm-mist and cool-mist models available for $100 or less, though some cost as much as $200. Larger models cost more than smaller ones; likewise, humidifiers with more advanced features and settings will probably have higher price-points than their more basic counterparts.
Most humidifiers can cut costs on the owner’s utility bills. However, some models – namely ultrasonic humidifiers – are more conservative with energy use than others.
Humidifier Health Benefits and Safety Considerations
Using a humidifier to cleanse air and improve air quality carries a host of benefits for sleepers, particularly those who live in extreme climates. These include:
- Improved sleep onset and duration: Sleep onset refers to how much time it takes someone to fall asleep, while sleep duration refers to how much sleep they get over the course of one night. Humidifiers can improve both, leading to better overall sleep quality and more restfulness the next morning.
- Fewer allergies: The best humidifiers eliminate waterborne bacteria and molds that trigger allergies before they release mist, and high-output humidification can also reduce dust, pet dander, pollen, and other allergens that thrive in stuffy bedrooms.
- Better immuno-health: By clearing the air of contaminants and allergens, humidifiers can help users boost their immune systems and make themselves less vulnerable to diseases, infections, and other health issues.
Though humidifiers offer health benefits, owners should also consider the following variables related to safety and human health.
- Excessive humidification: Too much moisture can lead to a host of problems. These include indoor mold growth, condensation, and discomfort while sleeping. Over-humidification can also cause the device to expend an excessive amount of energy.
- Ventilation: Rooms with consistent ventilation are ideal for humidifiers. In bedrooms with poor ventilation, the humidifier may scatter contaminants and allergens throughout the interior space, rather than channeling them through windows and vents. As a result, the bedroom’s air quality may only improve to a minimal extent, if at all.
- White dust: A common issue associated with humidifiers is white dust, which occurs when water with a high mineral concentration is used; as the water turns into steam or mist, it leaves behind fine white mineral deposits that accumulate on surfaces around the humidifier and in other areas of the bedroom. Ultrasonic humidifiers typically produce the most white dust, while evaporative humidifiers usually produce the lowest amounts.
- Water selection: Water selection is also important because tap water often contains minerals, though mineral content in tap water varies throughout the U.S. Generally, hard tap water contains more minerals than soft tap water. Over time, minerals from the water may accumulate within the reservoir, resulting in repeated exposure to white dust particles. Humidifier users can minimize the amount of minerals entering the reservoir by using distilled or filtered water, both of which have much lower mineral contents than tap water in most locations. Additionally, some humidifiers have demineralization filters that collect minerals from the water before it converts to steam or mist.
- Cleaning: Regular cleaning and care is imperative for healthy humidifier use. Failure to maintain the humidifier may result in mold growth and mineral deposits in the reservoir, as well as contaminants entering the device due to blocked filters. Be sure to follow care instructions for a humidifier every day or week as recommended.
- Child safety: Because they contain a heating element and produce steam, warm-mist humidifiers are not recommended for children’s bedrooms. Parents may also want to opt for an evaporative humidifier in kids’ rooms, since ultrasonic models produce more white dust and may pose a higher health risk.
Cleaning and Caring for a Humidifier
While clean, properly functioning humidifiers can improve bedroom air quality, dirty humidifiers often have the opposite effect. Here are some general guidelines to follow to ensure the humidifier is clean and cared for properly.
- Empty the reservoir every day, either in the morning after getting up or in the evening before going to bed.
- Rinse out and/or scrub the reservoir at least two to three times per week, or whenever the water appears murky or discolored (either of which can indicate mold growth).
- Take apart the humidifier and clean each component every one to two weeks, depending on owner manual recommendations. In addition to washing with hot, distilled water, also sterilize the parts with hydrogen peroxide.
- Always dry a humidifier before storing it in an enclosed space, such as under the bed or in a closet. This prevents mold from building up.
- If the humidifier is used once per week or less frequently, be sure to clean all components prior to each use.
- Replace the wick filter as directed. Most filters need to be replaced every three months, but some carry shorter lifespans – one month or less, in some cases.
Important Considerations for Humidifier Shoppers
Before purchasing a humidifier, shoppers should take the following factors into account:
- Should you buy a warm-mist or cool-mist humidifier? For many, the choice between warm-mist and cool-mist humidifiers comes down to personal temperature preference. The boiling process reduces the presence of waterborne bacteria and mold. However, their coverage area is usually smaller and the element component poses a burning risk. Warm-mist humidifiers also use more energy. Cool-mist humidifiers, on the other hand, do not use nearly as much energy as their warm-mist counterparts and their coverage areas are wider. However, they tend to be louder and more expensive, and ultrasonic models can cause white dust to accumulate.
- Which warm-mist humidifier is most suitable? If you’re in the market for a warm-mist humidifier, then you’ll likely choose between steam and vaporizer models. Because steam is thicker than vapor, steam humidifiers are usually more effective at improving overall air quality. However, both warm-mist humidifiers can be beneficial for sleepers who reside in colder areas.
- Which cool-mist humidifier is most suitable? Each type of cool-mist humidifier carries distinct pros and cons. Evaporative models do not produce much white dust, making them cleaner by design, but they are also among the loudest humidifier options. Ultrasonic models are quieter thanks to the vibrating nebulizer, but they produce more white dust. Lastly, impelling humidifiers offer a good balance of noise and white dust accumulation – but these are often the most expensive humidifiers available.
- What type of water should you use in a humidifier? Distilled or filtered water is recommended for humidifiers. Tap water may contain high concentrations of minerals, which make the water hard; minerals passing through the humidifier tend to create white dust, and they also build up in the reservoir. However, tap water in some U.S. locations is softer and has a lower mineral content, so it may be suitable for users who live in these areas.
- What’s the best water capacity for your bedroom? Though a humidifier may have a reservoir that holds up to 4 gallons, a device with a 1-gallon reservoir will suffice for most mid- to large-size rooms. A lower water capacity may be suitable for smaller rooms.
- How much humidity is too much? Though lack of moisture causes many issues, excessive moisture is also problematic in any indoor space because it can lead to mold growth and condensation. Though optimal humidification levels vary by location, most rooms should max out at 50% to 60%. On the low end, a room should have humidity levels of at least 20%. The built-in hygrometer and/or humidistat should provide accurate moisture readings that owners can use to reach the ideal levels.
- How can you prevent white dust from accumulating? Ultrasonic humidifiers tend to produce the most white dust. If white dust is a chief concern, consider buying an evaporative cool-mist or warm-mist humidifier instead. Using distilled or filtered water – rather than tap water – also cuts down on the mineral content that typically causes white dust particles to form, and cleaning the reservoir regularly will prevent minerals from building up. Lastly, some humidifiers come with demineralization filters that will extract minerals from water before the device converts it into steam or mist.
- Are humidifiers safe for children’s rooms? Generally speaking, evaporative humidifiers are the safest option for children. Warm-mist humidifiers contain heating elements and produce actual moisture, both of which pose safety risks for kids. Ultrasonic humidifiers may also be unsafe due to their high potential for producing white dust particles.
- Are humidifiers loud? All humidifiers carry some inherent noise potential. Ultrasonic humidifiers are usually much quieter than evaporative, impelling, and warm-mist humidifiers, but most of these devices are not excessively loud. Many sleepers actually prefer the soothing white noise that humidifiers produce.
- How much do humidifiers cost? The price of a new humidifier may range anywhere from $30 to $200, though most cost between $50 and $100. Larger models with humidistats, timers, variable speed settings, and other advanced features are usually the most expensive. Beyond the up-front costs, shoppers should also determine how often the wick and demineralization filters needs to be replaced; this can help them budget for the device in the months and years ahead. In some models, these components never need to be swapped out.
- Will a humidifier lower energy costs? Yes, for the most part, though some models are more efficient and cost-effective than others. Additionally, faster speed settings use more energy than slower ones.
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