Does Your Baby Need a Humidifier?

Comfort is the main reason to buy one. The health benefits are arguable.

Parent holding their newborn baby Photo: Tuan Tran/Getty Images

Buying a humidifier for a baby’s room can help make your little cherub—and you—a bit more comfortable. But can it help maintain or improve their health? 

“Humidifiers help to keep the nares (nostrils), sinuses, and upper airway moist, which may​ help to reduce the possibility of upper respiratory tract infections,” says Joyce Yu, MD, a pediatric allergist and associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. But, she adds, those medical benefits have not been proven.

“The benefit of a humidifier is mainly comfort,” says David Hill, MD, an adjunct assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, who practices in Goldsboro, N.C. “The effect from a medical standpoint is fairly negligible.”

How Humidifiers Can Help Babies

To be sure, humidifiers can address some infant needs, and help adults as well. Here’s what they can do:

More on Humidifiers

Open up nasal passages. “A humidifier might be most useful when the baby has a cold and has mucus drying in their nasal passages,” Hill says. “In theory, a humidifier could help open those up.” But putting over-the-counter saline nose drops into the child’s nostrils and using a suction bulb to remove the gunk—gross as it is—probably is more direct and effective, he adds.  

Emit sleep-promoting white noise. This could help your infant, though you’ll want to check Consumer Reports humidifier ratings to find models that make that white noise quietly. (Keep in mind that our noise ratings only take decibels into account, not dripping noises or other sounds.) Alternatives to a humidifier are a white-noise sound machine, which we found online for about $10, and white-noise smart phone apps.

What Humidifiers Don't Do for Babies

Don’t assume a humidifier is necessary for your baby, especially based on the claims a manufacturer may make. Crane, which manufactures humidifiers in nursery-worthy animal shapes, reports on its website that increased humidity helps reduce nose bleeds. That remedy may be more useful for adults and kids than for babies, though. Nose bleeds typically happen among older children, Hill says.

Crane also mentions that humidifiers help keep babies’ skin soft. Babies’ skin loses moisture faster than the skin of older children and adults, and a humidifier can prevent that loss, the company explains. Nanette Silverberg, MD, chief of pediatric dermatology at New York’s Mount Sinai Health Systems, agrees that baby skin is more vulnerable to moisture loss, and notes that humidifiers can help kids who develop atopic dermatitis, or eczema. But humidifiers aren’t part of her recommendation for regular infant skin care to prevent those rashes. “I recommend daily moisturizing, and avoidance of aggressive cleansing,” she says.

Even newborns don’t require humidifiers as part of their care regimen. “I have never prescribed a humidifier for any newborn, nor have I seen any other healthcare provider do so,” says Mildred Kenney-Lau, a clinical instructor at the Seton Hall University College of Nursing in Nutley, N.J. 

A humidifier isn’t de riguer in a dry climate, either. “I don’t think there are any reports of babies being unable to breathe because they live in a dry region,” Hill says. “Otherwise, you’re saying it’s dangerous to raise a baby in Phoenix.”

If You Choose to Get a Humidifier

Certainly in colder climes many people consider buying humidifiers, mainly to counter the drier indoor air that heating systems can create. 

If you do choose to buy a humidifier for your baby, make sure it’s a cool-mist model, which is the type recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (PDF). We’ve also assembled what you need to know about choosing, using, and maintaining a humidifier for your baby, along with a curated list of highly rated humidifiers chosen from among dozens of units recently tested by Consumer Reports.

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