Humidifier Buying Guide

When outdoor temperatures plummet and you crank up your heat, the humidity level inside your home can quickly drop from pleasant to parched. A humidifier can help prevent or relieve dry skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.  

But excessive moisture isn't good, either: Overhumidification can promote the growth of mold, bacteria, and dust mites, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. You want to get the balance right. Based on information from Energy Star, the ideal humidity level in your home is between 30 and 50 percent. In colder areas during heating season, it should range from 30 to 40 percent to prevent window condensation. 

But with so many models out there, how do you decide which humidifier is right for your home? Read on to find out about the different types of humidifiers available, get advice on how to choose a humidifier for your room size, and learn the factors to consider when you shop.

How CR Tests Humidifiers

In Consumer Reports’ humidifier lab, we evaluate models on six criteria: moisture output, convenience, noise, energy efficiency, humidistat accuracy, and hard water output. 

Our moisture output tests are conducted in a chamber set to 70° F and 30 percent relative humidity, an industry standard for testing humidifiers. Manufacturers typically claim their humidifiers are intended for a specific room size or area, so we measure a humidifier’s moisture output and calculate how well it humidifies the specified area.

We also gauge how convenient a humidifier is to use, meaning how easy it is to set up and operate, as well as how easy it is to clean—that’s important because you’ll need to empty the tank daily and clean the humidifier regularly to prevent bacteria from developing. We measure the sound (in decibels) a humidifier generates when it’s running on its highest speed. Some are louder than others, and if you use a humidifier in your bedroom, you’ll want to steer clear of noisy models that could disturb your sleep.

Testers calculate the amount of energy each model uses to emit a gallon of water into the air. Our humidistat accuracy test measures how well each humidifier reaches and maintains a set humidity level. 

Finally, we test a humidifier’s moisture output when hard water is used. We conduct this test because the dissolved minerals in hard water can clog the humidifier, decreasing moisture output. 

Types of Humidifiers

Tabletop and console (floor model) humidifiers come in warm mist, cool mist, or dual mist, which are capable of producing both warm and cool mist. In our tests, humidifiers range in price from $15 to $500.

Consumer Reports does not test whole-house humidifiers at this time. “However, they’re ideal if you have a forced-air heating system and want to humidify the entire house,” says John Banta, the engineer who leads CR’s humidifier tests. “They’re tapped into the air ducts and plumbed into your home’s water supply, so they usually require professional installation.”

A cool mist humidifier.

Cool Mist Humidifiers

Most humidifiers sold are cool mist. If you have a cold, a cool-mist humidifier can help shrink swelling in nasal passages, making it easier for you to breathe, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

There are two types of cool mist humidifiers in our ratings: evaporative and ultrasonic. Evaporative models use a fan to blow air through a wet wick, and the air cools as it picks up moisture from the wick. Replacement wicks are around $10, depending on the model. Ultrasonic humidifiers use a nebulizer, which is a small vibrating diaphragm, to create a cool mist. Because there’s no fan, ultrasonic models are usually quieter. The majority of the humidifiers in CR’s tests are cool mist, and their prices range from $30 to $500.

Humidifiers Ratings
A warm mist humidifier.

Warm Mist Humidifiers

Warm mist humidifiers, also known as steam vaporizers, are typically your cheapest option. They use a heating element to boil water and create a warm mist, which means they use more energy than cool mist models. But when the temperature drops, you may prefer having a warm mist running in your house instead of a cool one. Warm mist models can cause your nasal passages to swell and make breathing more difficult, however, so they should not be used to relieve cold symptoms, according to the FDA.

CR advises against using a warm mist humidifier around children because the humidifier tank contains hot water that can burn skin if the humidifier tips over or leaks. Of the models we tested, prices range from $15 to $260. 

Humidifiers Ratings

The Best Humidifier for Your Room Size

To determine the humidifier size you need, first measure the square footage of the room. The humidifiers in our ratings are organized by the room size or area they’re intended for, from personal humidifiers that can humidify up to 25 square feet, all the way to consoles for 1,000 square feet or more. 

For small and medium rooms, tabletop humidifiers are the least expensive option, but their small tanks require frequent refills. For large spaces, console models are best because they generate lots of moist air, and because they have larger water tanks, they need fewer refills. But because of their size and weight when they’re full, they can be awkward to maneuver.

Humidifier Shopping Tips

Think about where it will go. You may want to sidestep the legwork of figuring out the right humidifier for your room size, and just get the biggest humidifier available. Not a good idea. You’ll wind up with too much moisture in the air, and that can breed dust mites and mold, and trigger allergic reactions to them, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Get only the humidifier with the moisture output for what you need.

Ease of use matters, too. You want a humidifier that’s easy to move, whether it’s a table model or a floor model. With evaporative humidifiers, check that the wick is simple—and economical—to replace; how often you have to replace it varies by model and how much you run the humidifier. Look for user-friendly controls and clearly visible displays of the humidity level and settings. You can see how user-friendly the humidifiers in our tests are by checking a model’s convenience rating. 

A humidistat helps. Almost half of the humidifiers in our ratings have a humidistat that shuts off the unit when it reaches a set humidity level—most are humidifiers meant for large rooms. We note which models have a humidistat in the Features & Specs section of our ratings. If your humidifier doesn’t have one, buy a hygrometer (they cost around $10) to monitor your room’s humidity levels.

Consider how much cleaning is required. Some humidifiers are easier to clean than others, so check the convenience scores for each model in our humidifier ratings to see what you’re willing to live with when choosing a model. Generally, you need to drain, rinse, and dry the humidifier daily; follow the manufacturer’s instructions for routine cleaning. Bacteria grow in a moist environment, so it’s important to clean your humidifier. Otherwise, a humidifier can release bacteria from standing water into the air, potentially causing flulike symptoms, especially in people who suffer from asthma or allergies, according to Don Huber, director of product safety at CR.

More on Humidifiers

Watch our interactive video below for more details on humidifiers. In the video you can skip to chapters on room size, maintenance tips, key features, and more.

Humidifier Brands

There are over 15 brands in CR’s humidifier ratings. Here is a look at some of them. 

You’ll see a number of Crane humidifiers in the ratings, including their Adorable lineup—a penguin, a polar bear, and a hippo.
Colorful styling and innovative features have helped Dyson products to become popular in the U.S. Their humidifiers are also colorful and stylish—and on the expensive side.
Essick specializes in whole-house or console humidifiers.
Honeywell, a well-known brand, offers whole-house and tabletop humidifiers.
Hunter is often associated with fans but also offers a small line of humidifiers.
Vicks, a well-known brand, offers a broad range of humidifiers that are sold at mass retailers.
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