Humidifier Buying Guide
Finding the Right Humidifier

When outdoor temperatures plummet, moisture and humidity inside your home can quickly drop from pleasant to parched. Replacing moisture via cool or warm mist humidifiers can relieve a host of physical discomforts, from chapped skin to allergy irritations to cold- and flu-related symptoms. But excessive moisture isn’t good either: Over-humidification can promote growth of mold, bacteria, and dust mites. You want to get the balance right. This guide will have you breathing easier in no time.  

Know the Types

Humidifiers come in two general types: Warm Mist and Cool Mist. The process they use differs, but they both add moisture to the air. Choosing between them is largely a matter of personal preference. The price ranges for both types stretch from $45 to $170. 

Make sure the model you choose is easy to clean. As we discovered in our clean-air tests, humidifiers can harbor bacteria if not cleaned regularly. Read the full story in, "Is your humidifier putting you at risk?"

Note: There is a third type of whole-house humidifier. In-duct or furnace humidifiers are the ideal choice if you have a forced-air heating system and want to humidify the whole house. They are tapped into the air ducts and plumbed into your home's water supply, so they usually require professional installation. (We do not test that type.)

Warm Mist

Warm Mist humidifiers heat water to a boil, then emit the resulting steam. Some warm mist humidifiers include mineral filters that trap water deposits. These filters are not pricey to replace, but they do need changing, so factor that maintenance cost into the equation. Due to risk of burns, some pediatricians caution against using warm mist units near children. 

Cool Mist

There are three kinds of Cool Mist humidifiers: Evaporative, Ultrasonic, and Impeller. Evaporative models use a fan to blow air over a wet wick. The cost for a spare wick is around $10, depending on model. Ultrasonic humidifiers use a vibrating nebulizer to emit water. Impeller models produce mist using a rotating disk. 

Choose by Room Size

Ideally, indoor humidity should be 30 to 50 percent. But without humidification assistance, that level can drop to 10 percent in winter. Cold air holds less moisture and dries out even more when heated by furnaces or wood fires.

To determine the humidifier size you need, measure the square footage of the room. Based on the size you need, you can shop an array of humidifier styles. Making the right choice involves trade-offs in efficiency, noise, and convenience.

Small humidifiers, for rooms up to 300 square feet
Medium humidifiers, for rooms 300 to 499 square feet

For small and medium rooms, tabletop or portable humidifiers are the least expensive, but their small tanks require frequent refills. Make sure your faucet height will accommodate the refill tank.

Large humidifiers, for rooms 500 to 999 square feet

Console models are larger than tabletops, and can also be moved from room to room. Whether evaporative or ultrasonic, console humidifiers generate lots of moist air.

Ultrasonic humidifiers are quiet because they trade the usual fan for a vibrating nebulizer. Some warm-mist tabletop models make little or no noise beyond mild boiling and hissing sounds.

Extra-large humidifiers, for spaces 1,000 square feet or more

For large areas, consider buying a quiet ultrasonic console model. Alternatively, buy an evaporative model and place it away from sleeping areas. A console's larger tank needs fewer refills, but can be awkward to maneuver. Evaporative models are also considerably louder than ultrasonic models.

Interactive Video Guide

Watch our interactive video below for more details about humidifiers. You can skip to chapters on room size, maintenance tips, key features, plus more.

Consider These Features

Humidifiers don't have to look humdrum. There are lots of models designed with décor in mind. Just remember, form should follow function. When you're shopping, stay focused on models that best suit your room dimensions and space requirements.

Easy to Clean
The key to maintaining a properly functioning humidifier is simple: Keep it clean. So you want one that's easy to maintain. Drain, rinse, and dry it every day. Every week, remove any visible residue with vinegar, disinfect with a bleach solution following the manufacturer's instructions, then rinse thoroughly. Do the same before and after storing your humidifier for the season. The bottom line is: regular, frequent cleaning is a must to ensure the moisture it puts out is safe to breathe. (See the results of our clean-air tests.)

Ease of Use
A tabletop or console humidifier should be easy to move and clean. The tank should fit easily beneath your bathroom faucet. With evaporative models, the wick should be easy—and economical—to replace. Look for user-friendly controls and clearly visible displays of humidity level and settings.

Some humidifiers have a humidistat that shuts off the unit when it reaches a preset humidity level. Models without a humidistat can raise the humidity so much that it causes condensation on windows. If you model doesn't have one, consider purchasing a separate hygrometer to monitor humidity levels.

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.

Humidistat and Timer.
Crane has brought an element of design to humidifiers. Offered in a rainbow of colors and playful shapes, they can be found at baby, home goods, and mass-market retailers. Prices range from $40 to $100.
Essick specializes in whole-house or console humidifiers. Most are made in the U.S. and are evaporative type. Styles include credenza, pedestal, and more utilitarian looking humidifiers. Prices for the consoles range from $100 to $200.
Holmes is part of the Jarden group. Products are available at a wide variety of retailers, including Walmart, Target, and Kmart, and through Holmes' Web site. Prices range from $25 to $75.
Honeywell is part of the Helen of Troy group. Humidifiers are available in a wide variety of mass-market and home-center stores. It offers whole-house and tabletop models. Prices range from $40 to $75.
Hunter is a brand usually associated with fans. Hunter also offers a line of utilitarian humidifier models that are available nationwide through home and hardware retailers. Prices range from $40 to $80.
Vicks is part of the Helen of Troy group. Vicks offers a broad range of humidifiers, which can be found in mass-market and drug stores. Prices range from $40 to $90.
Additional brands to look at include: Safety 1st, HoMedics, Vornado, Air-O-Swiss, Aprilaire, Sunbeam, and Bionaire.
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