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Humidifiers for your baby

Humidifier for your baby buying guide

Last updated: December 2012

Getting started

There are several reasons to consider buying a humidifier. Raising the level of indoor humidity can not only ease cold symptoms but also reduce dry skin and itchy eyes, especially during winter.

Ideally, indoor humidity should be 30 percent to 50 percent. In winter, heating in your home or apartment can cause it to drop as low as 10 percent. If you live in a dry climate or a region where winter means turning up the heat, a humidifier can alleviate discomfort for everyone in the family.

"They can be very helpful for upper respiratory and lower respiratory tract infections," says John Santa, M.D., director of the Health Ratings Center for Consumer Reports. "In a winter environment where you have hot, dry air, a humidifier can loosen secretions and help people expectorate and get rid of both nasal and oral secretions." (Subscribers can find the top-rated models in our humidifier Ratings.)

Of course, adults can also turn to cold remedies and get preventative flu shots, but that isn't an option for very young children. The Food and Drug Administration now recommends that children under the age of 2 not be given over-the-counter cough and cold products. Babies under 6 months shouldn't receive a flu vaccine, either.

Parents looking for a way to give their children some relief can try using a humidifier. Along with a suctioning bulb and saline drops (or a fine mist saline spray designed for babies), a humidifier can make it easier for your baby to breathe, even if she is sick. "Definitely they can help kids with cold symptoms because it can help relieve stuffiness and keep the passages more comfortable," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., a pediatrician in Atlanta and editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics parenting site.

Since viruses can grow more easily in cold, dry air, running a humidifier might help prevent children from getting sick in the first place. "Using a humidifier may kill the viruses faster and create an environment that prevents viruses from thriving," Shu says.

Today's humidifiers are better than earlier models, but tabletop and console models still require frequent maintenance. Changing the water daily, as well as cleaning the reservoir and drying it thoroughly, help prevent bacteria and mold growth. Minerals in tap water can cause an accumulation of scale, which should be removed regularly with vinegar and disinfected with bleach. Filters and wicks require periodic replacement. Note, too, that hard water might reduce some humidifiers' output and increase the buildup of scale. (The hardness of your water is measured by checking how much calcium and magnesium is in it.) Some humidifiers also have lower output with hard water. You can remedy that by using distilled water, which has a lower mineral content than most tap water and can help boost your humidifier's efficiency.

Safety matters

Be careful about where you place the humidifier, and remember that it should be on a flat surface. Don't put it on the floor or a bureau, and try to keep where children and pets can't reach it. Always unplug the humidifier if you are going to move it, and don't leave it plugged in when it's not in use.

"One other problem with these is that if you step on them you can spill water on the floor where other electrical devices are," Santa says. "You have to use common-sense safety principles with humidifiers. You should also remember not to close the doors to a child's room while a humidifier is running because the room can get overly humid."

Avoid using warm-mist humidifiers, or vaporizers, in children's rooms. The hot steam can easily cause burns, and some of the surfaces might get hot.

Types

There are three types of humidifiers: small tabletop models (for one room); large stand-alone console models with substantial tanks that can humidify multiple rooms, small homes, or apartments; and in-duct versions used in forced-air heating systems to help humidify an entire house. In this section, we'll focus on tabletop models that you can put right in your child's room. These models can be louder than other types, but many parents find that the white noise doesn't bother their babies and can even help lull them to sleep. To learn about other types, go to our general home humidifier buying guide, and find top-rated models in our humidifier Ratings.

When shopping, keep in mind that a portable model should be relatively easy to clean, fill, and carry when filled. Also look for an easy-to-replace wick, simple controls, and a tank that will fit beneath faucets.

Cool mist


Tabletop humidifiers include evaporative models (often sold as cool-mist humidifiers) that use a fan to blow air over a wet wick or filter. When this happens, the water in the filter evaporates into the air. Another type, such as the Air-O-Swiss Tabletop 7135 shown here, uses ultrasonic technology, in which a vibrating diaphragm creates mist. Ultrasonic models are remarkably quiet, and are available in cool, or in warm and cool mist, styles. There are also impeller-type humidifiers that spin water from a disc to send fine droplets into the air. These typically make a slight hissing sound.

Warm mist


Warm-mist models, which have heating units, are another option. But the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend them for use around children because of the risk of accidental burns or scalding. A curious baby or toddler might touch the unit or knock it over. Warm-mist models also use more energy than cool-mist versions. Some manufactures now offer dual mist (with both warm- and cool-mist functions), such as the Sunpentown SU-4010 shown here.

Vaporizer

Your folks may have used a vaporizer in your room when you were a kid. It used boiling water to create steam, as opposed to the cool or warm mist from a humidifier. Vaporizers are used less often today, but you can still find them in stores. Some models can disperse cough-relieving medicine into the air.

Animal-shaped


Many manufacturers sell humidifiers that look like adorable animals such as frogs, pigs or the Crane Adorable Cool Mist Humidifier shown here. But keep in mind that they can look like toys to a child. While many of them are cool-mist humidifiers, a child might still try to play with one and inadvertently cause it to fall. Make sure any humidifier is out of a child's reach.

Features


Choosing a humidifier involves trade-offs in terms of efficiency, cost, noise, and convenience. Our tests have found that you can't tell how well a humidifier will work based on a manufacturer's claims. (See our humidifier Ratings for more information.) Here are some features to consider.

Ease of use

A tabletop humidifier should be easy to move and clean. The tank should fit easily beneath your faucet. On evaporative models, the wick should be easy to replace. Look for user-friendly digital controls and easy-to-read displays for humidity levels and settings.

Humidistat


Some models have a dial or digital humidistat that shuts off the unit when it reaches a preset humidity level. Humidistats that display room humidity levels and settings are best but they tend to cost more. Models without a humidistat can raise the humidity enough to cause condensation on windows. Also, too much humidification can promote the growth of mold, bacteria, and dust mites. Be aware that most humidifiers won't let you set the humidity below 30 percent, a level that can cause window condensation when outside temperatures drop below 20° F. That means you might not be able to use the humidifier when the weather turns very cold.

Timer


You can program some tabletop and console models to turn on at a set time so that your room is at the right humidity when you get home. But this convenience might pose a problem. Water that sits in the tank for hours can breed microbes if you don't dry the humidifier thoroughly between uses.

Automatic turn-off

Some humidifiers will turn off by themselves if the water runs dry. That's a plus–and one less thing to have to remember. Though with the evaporative type, you want a model that will continue to run for a while after the reservoir is empty so that filter or wick dries, thereby preventing the growth of mold.

Filters

Some humidifiers require you to change the filter, while other newer models offer a "permanent" filter, such as the Holmes HM3608TG-UM Cool Mist Console Humidifier. Whichever type you buy, you will still need to clean and disinfect it.

Brands


Air-O-Swiss

All of the humdifiers Air-O-Swiss manufactures are ultrasonic, but they come in a variety types —from dual mist, to only cool mist, to digital or nondigital, and even a travel-sized version. Purchase through the Air-O-Swiss website (airoswiss.net). Prices range from $100 to $230.
www.airoswiss.net

Holmes

Holmes humidifiers are equipped with the "Lifelong" feature (it is designed to filter out mineral deposits found in water), and "FilterCheck" (it monitors when filter needs changing).  Some models have "AccuSet" digital humidistats (a preset humidity level), Holmes products are available at a wide variety of retailers, including Walmart, Target, and Kmart, and through Holmes' website. Prices range from $25 to $130.
www.holmesproducts.com

Honeywell

Honeywell is available in a wide variety of discount stores, at Target, and Home Depot. It offers whole house and tabletop models. Prices range from $20 to $400.
http://www.yourhome.honeywell.com/Home/Products/Humidifiers/Single-Room+Humidifiers/SummaryList.htm

Hunter

Hunter was founded in 1886 and makes tabletop models that are available nationwide through Walmart, Target, Lowe's, and other mass merchants, and at hunterair.com. Prices range from $50 to $150.
http://www.hunterfan.com/Humidifiers/

Kaz

Kaz started in 1926 in upstate New York and remains a family-owned operation. The Honeywell trademark is used by Kaz under license from Honeywell. It offers tabletop units. Kaz humidifiers are available at retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Home Depot. Kaz also sells a variety of brands on its website. Prices range from $15 to $120.
http://www.kaz.com/kaz/humidifiers/

Sunpentown

Based in California, Sunpentown makes tabletop humidifiers that are mostly ultrasonic. They are available on the company website or at large retailers such as Target. Prices range from $46 to $110.
http://sunpentown.com/humidifiers.html

The Sharper Image

This brand is now available in department and specialty stores, catalogs, e-commerce, and home shopping networks. The brand offers ultrasonic and cool-mist humidifiers, starting at $70 up to $170.
http://www.sharperimage.com

Clean it like you mean it

Mold and mildew can grow very quickly in a humidifier, so if you are going to use one on a regular basis be prepared to make cleaning it part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth.

The more you use a humidifier, the more vigilant you should be. That's because mold can grow within 48 hours on wet surfaces, and mold in the tank or in the water can then be transferred into the air, potentially causing itchy eyes and breathing troubles.

"Any standing water can enable bacteria and mold to grow," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., a pediatrician in Atlanta and editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics parenting site. She advises parents to clean their humidifiers according to the manufacturer's instructions, and let the units dry between uses. If a humidifier is left to sit too long, bacteria could collect and potentially "be aerosolized [or dispersed], and cause more harm than good," Shu adds.

Even units with antimicrobial finishes on tanks and wicks will become slimy and moldy if they're not cleaned and disinfected. Several models in our humidifier Ratings (such as the Sharper Image HD10, and the Sunpentown SU-4010) have cartridges that can reduce or eliminate scaling from hard water. Several models incorporate antimicrobial technology that has been effective in reducing the growth of bacteria in the tank and base. (These include silver ion technology, in which the plastic is treated to prohibit bacterial growth, and UV ultraviolet light.) But testing has found that the effectiveness of these technologies can be inconsistent, so keeping the unit clean–no matter what type you purchase--is critical. Some manufacturers claim that adding bacteriostatic solutions to water will slow bacteria growth, but we didn't test this claim. For the best results, follow these tips:

Change the water daily

Empty the tank, dry all interior surfaces, and refill with clean water.

Clean your humidifier often

Although some parts might be washable in a dishwasher, they still need to be descaled with vinegar and disinfected with bleach. Completely dry all parts between descaling and disinfecting. And after disinfecting, carefully rinse the tank to avoid breathing harmful chemicals. Follow the manufacturer's directions and schedule for descaling and disinfecting parts and replacing filters, wicks, and the like.

Clean it before you store it

And clean it again when you take it out of storage for the heating season.

   

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