Best Humidifiers for Babies From Consumer Reports' Tests

But don’t assume your infant needs one

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Person adjusting a humidifier Photo: Dmitry Marchenko/Getty Images

When you’re choosing a humidifier for your baby—and yourself, for that matter—safety is key. And humidifier safety comes down to two major points: Getting the right unit, and maintaining it properly to prevent the growth of potentially unhealthful organisms.

Keep in mind that a humidifier is typically not necessary for your baby’s health. But you may still want one for comfort—for instance, to make heated rooms feel less dry. Here’s how to shop for and use a humidifier meant for your baby. Below, we list several great humidifier choices from our ratings, focusing on units made for small rooms like a baby’s nursery.

Choose a Cool-Mist Humidifier

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of a cool-mist humidifier (PDF) for babies and children. Because these models send a cool mist into the air, they’re safer for children and pets than warm-mist humidifiers, aka vaporizers. Warm-mist machines heat water and send it into the air as steam, which can scald anyone who gets too close.

More on Humidifiers

Cool-mist humidifiers are either evaporative or ultrasonic. Evaporative units draw water through a wick or filter, and a fan disperses the resulting water vapor. Ultrasonic models use a vibrating disc to emit tiny water droplets that turn to vapor after entering the air. They use either a small fan or no fan at all, so they’re less noisy, and they generally rank higher in CR’s ratings than the evaporative kind.

One downside of ultrasonic humidifiers is that they can potentially leave a fine white dust on surfaces, which is residue from dissolved minerals in the water droplets emitted into the air. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says the health effects of inhaling these minerals isn’t clear; it recommends using distilled or demineralized water to minimize them. However, at about $1 per gallon and a typical use rate of, say, 2 gallons per day, the cost of distilled water could add up quickly.

James Dickerson, PhD, CR’s chief scientific officer, suggests a less expensive—and equally safe—option: Buy an evaporative model, which captures dissolved particles in its wick or filter, or an ultrasonic model with a built-in demineralization cartridge. Our recommendations below identify which ones fit the bill. (Keep in mind that the wick on evaporative models will have to be replaced regularly.) Alternatively, you can choose an ultrasonic model and use tap water that has been run through a filter that CR rates highly for reducing minerals and other undesirable materials. The highly rated undersink-mounted Culligan US-EZ-4, $85, fits the bill.

Get the Right Size

Get a humidifier with just enough moisture output for the room where the baby will be sleeping; check our ratings of humidifiers, which we categorize based on the square footage of the room they’re designed to serve. (Click on the models in our ratings to check the specifications for more precise information on the area covered.) Too big a unit could produce too much moisture, which can make a room feel stuffy. It also can promote the proliferation of dust mites and mold, triggering allergic reactions, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says.

Place the Unit Properly

Put the humidifier where it can’t be reached by youngsters or pets. Ideally, that’s on a flat, stable surface raised at least 2 feet above the floor. Avoid wood surfaces, which can get ruined by spilled water. And make sure all furniture is secured well to your wall to prevent dangerous tip-overs.

Clean and Sanitize Regularly

This is the most crucial step to protect your baby’s health, experts agree. A humidifier that’s not cleaned well can spur the growth of potentially harmful organisms. Consumer Reports recommends rinsing and drying the tank thoroughly every day, and sanitizing the unit once a week. Check our ratings of dozens of models for those with the highest convenience scores, which reflect ease of cleaning.

Ensure the Right Humidity Level

In general, indoor relative humidity of between 30 and 50 percent is optimal, says Energy Star; anything higher could lead to bacteria growth. In colder areas during heating season, it should range from 30 to 40 percent to prevent window condensation. Some of the humidifiers in Consumer Reports’ ratings have built-in humidistats, which turn off the units when the humidity reaches a desired level. But you also can measure humidity yourself, with a tool called a hygrometer, available for $10 or less.

Misha Kollontai, the engineer who leads humidifier testing for Consumer Reports, uses an inexpensive combination thermometer and hygrometer, which measures both room temperature and humidity in his baby daughter’s room. That lets him address two sleep hygiene issues at once: “The recommendation for the temperature babies should sleep in is between 68° and 72° F, lower than some people keep their homes,” he says.

Another solution if your humidifier doesn’t have a humidistat: Turn on the humidifier 3 to 4 hours before the baby’s bedtime, then turn it off when you put the baby to bed.

Below, we’ve listed several great humidifier choices from our ratings, focusing on units designed for smaller rooms—defined as spaces from 26 to 299 square feet. All the featured models are highly rated, cool-mist units. With the ultrasonic models here, you’ll need demineralized, distilled, or filtered water to prevent white dust. Evaporative models, like the featured Vornado Huey, don’t need special water because they’re designed to filter out particles that cause white dust.

In CR’s complete humidifier ratings, you can find many other highly rated humidifiers designed for small rooms, as well as models for larger spaces.

Tobie Stanger

I cover the money side of home-related purchases and improvements: avoiding scams, making sense of warranties and insurance, finding the best financing, and getting the most value for your dollar. For CR, I've also written about digital payments, credit and debit, taxes, supermarkets, financial planners, airlines, retirement and estate planning, shopping for electronics and hearing aids—even how to throw a knockout wedding on a shoestring. I am never bored. Find me on Twitter: @TobieStanger