We didn’t originally set out to review humidifiers. Air purification is a much more comfortable and familiar topic. As is water purification. But, when we had our first baby… things changed. He always sounded super congested. But, being new parents we assumed that he just needed a little NoseFrida attention. Sounds logical, right? Baby appears to be stuffed up… suck out the mucus and he’ll be as good as new.
We couldn’t have been more wrong. We live in the high desert, and in the winter relative humidity hovers in the 20 percent range. Which, dries people out. Especially babies. His congestion was actually just the noise a baby makes when their dried out. He need a bit of humidity. That’s when we turned to reading a ton of humidifier reviews.
Unfortunately, they were the typical “reviews” that list a bunch of best sellers and say that they’re all great. And… we fell for a recommendation on one of the huge baby review sites that we now believe has probably never used that specific model. Sure it looked cute, and evidently other baby review sites had read this one’s review… because they were also touting it as the “best humidifier for babies.” But, we were left disappointed.
So we decided to apply our fairly nerdy approach to humidification as well. After all, we’re kind of obsessed with making sure the air and water we ingest is as pure as possible. So, without further ramblings… let’s get into reviewing some humidifiers.
|Humidifier / Rating
|Venta LW45 Airwasher
|Cool Mist Humidifier
|Cool Mist Humidifier
|Warm Mist Humidifier
First, Let’s Categorize Humidifiers by Type…
A warm mist humidifier uses a heating element to boil water… which creates steam. And, as we all know steam is humid. These humidifiers we ubiquitous before the “cool mist craze,” and while they’re less popular today they are still available. Though somewhat harder to find. Back in the 80’s and 90’s we called them vaporizers, because that’s what they do – vaporize water. We’ll get in to “pros and cons” below, but let’s move on to cool mist.
Cool Mist (aka ultrasonic humidifiers)
If you stop into a big box store, pharmacy, or read the majority of humidifier reviews online you’ll see cool mist humidifiers everywhere. Instead of a heating element they use a nebulizer to send water molecules into the air. In a cool mist humidifier the nebulizer is typically a metal disc or plate connected to an ultrasonic motor. The plate sits at the bottom of a reservoir and its high frequency motion (similar to a Sonicare toothbrush) basically sends tiny water droplets into the air.
Filtered Cool Mist & Evaporative (non ultrasonic)
The only reason cool mist humidifiers are called cool mist is because there’s no boiling involved. So, all of the humidifiers that don’t boil water are technically cool mist. Even the ones that aren’t ultrasonic. With that said, we can group the other cool mist humidifier devices into a “non-ultrasonic” category. Within that category you’ll find evaporative and filtered cool mist appliances.
Evaporative is pretty self explanatory, but filtered cool mist is a little more abstract. But, in practice they’re both very simple. The filtered version is just using a wick and fan to expedite humidification.
Warm Mist Pros and Cons
First, we’ll set the record straight and point out that by the time the humidity reaches you, or your baby’s, lungs, it is pretty much the same. It doesn’t matter if it came from a vaporizer, a ultrasonic cool mist, or a bucket of water. Humid air is humid air; generally speaking.
The biggest differences start showing up in and immediately around the appliance itself.
Warm Mist Pros: First, a big pro of heated vaporizers is that if there is any bacteria in the reservoir it will not survive when boiled. The next big benefit of a warm mist unit is that the moist air exiting the humidifier is actually a gas. Ultrasonic cool mist humidifiers, on the other hand, are releasing tiny water droplets. The big benefit if gas over water droplets is that it will not carry minerals or bacteria with it into the air.
Warm Mist Cons: Turning water from a liquid to a gas requires a fair amount of energy. And, in the case of a warm mist humidifier that energy is heat. If you remember reviewing H2O in science class you know that it boils at roughly 212 degrees fahrenheit (100 degrees C). Boiling of course transforms liquid to gas, so we know that the gas (steam) leaving the water is at lease 212 degrees. This is definitely enough to burn small hands… or yours if you’re careless. Fortunately the steam cools pretty fast. So a burn would require a spill or touching the steam exiting the device. Also… a humidifier like this will not really work in a large space.
Ultrasonic Cool Mist Pros and Cons
For some reason these humidifiers are all the rage these days. We assume that it’s marketing and the fact that steam can burn children. In our experience, however, it seems that a “good” cool mist unit is the hardest humidifier to engineer. When done right they work great as long as you frequently maintain them. But when they are less than good… they’re terrible.
Ultrasonic Cool Mist Pros: First, these humidifiers are everywhere. Pretty much any place that sells cold medicine also sells a cool mist ultrasonic humidifier. They’re also much safer than a warm mist unit when it comes to burns. In fact, we don’t even know how you could burn yourself on a cool mist humidifier. Though we assume some Darwin award winner out there has figured it out…
They’re also pretty affordable, energy efficient, and can be really really small.
Ultrasonic Cool Mist Cons: First… they can send bacteria and minerals into the air. So keep them clean and use distilled or RO processed water. Second, when they do release minerals into the air expect to see a white powder on surfaces around the device. That’s the minerals after the water evaporates. Also, if you turn them up to their highest setting expect wet flooring, carpet, etc.
They also do a great job of attracting that pink mold that collects in your shower. Some of the better models somehow avoid this, but others seem to be pink slime magnets. The Crane humidifier we bought when we set up our nursery would grow this stuff like it was a pink mold farm. After just a few days of use you’d go to refill it and the mold was back.
Another con (that they share with warm mist units) is that they an be a little loud. And, the final con that comes to mind is getting them restarted when you run the reservoir way down. Most of these humidifiers have a max fill line somewhere but few have a “needs at least this much water” line. So if you can’t get the vapor going; just add water to the part below the reservoir.
Cool Mist Filtered Humidifier Pros and Cons
Alright so we’ll go ahead and seperate the two versions of non-ultrasonic humidifier to cover pros and cons. That should make this section a little easier to digest. So let’s start with the machines that use a wicking alement to soak up water and a fan to send it airborne after it evaporates.
Pros: Like their ultrasonic cool mist distant cousin, these machines will (probably) never burn you. They’re much quieter. Very energy efficient compared to ultrasonic and warm mist units. They generally require less attention when it comes to refills. And, maintenance is less frequent (weekly cleanings are a good place to start). They can also humidify a much, much larger space. This Honeywell humidifier will handle a space as large as 500 square feet, and it’s a mid size room model. And, like the heated unit these are not releasing droplets into the air so minerals and bacteria (if present) are left behind in the machine.
We also like that you can’t really over humidify with these humidifiers. As the relative humidity increases it becomes more difficult to add humidity. Therefore, unless you have some heat or a nebulizer… getting too far above 50% rH is pretty dang hard.
Cons: The big con with these units is that when you have to clean them it’s a little more intensive. Most manufacturers recommend that you soak the wicking element in diluted white vinegar anywhere from once a month to a couple times a year. And, since the water can sit in the tank a little longer than other styles it can get kind of nasty if you don’t keep an eye on it. There are additives, however, that help with this shortcoming.
Another con is that they are not as fast as a warm mist or ultrasonic model. They are literally evaporating water, so be patient. They do have a fan to speed things up, but just understand that these are more of a long term solution than something that you pull out once a year when you have a cold of something.
Cool Mist Evaporative Pros and Cons
The final sub genre of cool mist humidifiers is a little less restrictive when it comes to a definition. You’ll find everything from a fan blowing over water to rotating discs that are partially submerged in a reservoir. However, within this ill defined category you’ll find the humidifiers for the largest spaces (aside from HVAC humidifiers, obviously).
Pros: Like the other cool mist evaporative humidifiers these machines are simple. And, that means that they are reliable (generally speaking). They are generally the easiest to clean, cheapest to run, and provide the longest spans between a refill. They’re quiet and some even provide some air filtration (our favorite is probably the Venta Airwasher product line).
Cons: These are pretty slow to humidify. But, as long as you maintain that reservoirs water level, these will provide a very stable relative humidity for a very long time. Another con is that some do collect debris and such inside the reservoir. So keep an eye on that initially.
And, the final con… they are probably the hardest to come by when you’re shopping locally. But, that could be because most of them are fairly large and some are much more expensive than the ubiquitous ultrasonic models.
So… Is a Cool or Warm Mist Humidifier Better?
To cop out completely… it depends. As is the case with pretty much anything in life, there is no best humidifier. And, for many people a small warm mist or a small cool mist will offer approximately the same results. But, if you start taking room size, furniture, duration, and other details into consideration… there are some huge benefits. Here are some of the common ones…
Is a Cool Mist Better for Large Spaces?
The best humidifier for large spaces is almost always a evaporative or filtered cool mist humidifier. When it comes to big rooms humidification is a marathon… not a sprint. Ultrasonic cool mist and warm mist units definitely lean more toward sprinters. They just don’t have the capacity or the slow, steady stream of a humidifier that relies upon evaporation.
Which is Best for a Cold, Flu, Asthma, etc. ?
If you have an acute need for increased humidity go with a warm mist humidifier. Or a ultrasonic cool mist if you’re worried about the kids getting burned. Both are typically small and pack away easily when not in use. They also crank out humidity at a very rapid pace. Especially the warm mist humidifier.
The evaporative humidifiers are a bit too big and take too long to get up and running for quick relief. So, if you feel a cold coming on or your asthma is flaring up… go for the warm mist or ultrasonic. However, if you know allergy season is coming and your asthma flares up every May; get an evaporative unit and start running it a week or three before those plants start running your spring.
Who Should Avoid a Cool Mist Humidifier?
If you have nice furniture, think twice about buying an ultrasonic humidifier. They mechanism they use to humidify tends to get things wet, and if you have minerals dissolved in your water you may get white powder collecting on some surfaces. In a warm mist humidifier, the water is transformed to a gas which easily disperses into the air. A evaporative cool mist (or filtered cool mist) also does a great job of dispersing moisture into the air. That’s not really the case with a ultrasonic unit.
Ultrasonic cool mist humidifiers tend to have a bit of an arc. The visible water molecules head upward as the exit the machine but many droplets fall to earth within a foot or two. On carpet, every ultrasonic unit we own will wet carpet within a few hours, unless you run it on its lowest setting. The only solution we’ve found is to place it high on a table or counter, but even then you need to be careful. Especially on wood used in table, cabinets, and dressers.
Who Should Avoid Warm Mist Humidifiers?
Despite their drop in popularity over the past 20 years there aren’t many reasons not to buy a warm mist humidifier (aka vaporizer). If you have kids… you might consider avoiding the vaporizer as they could get burned if they put their hand into the steam or knock the unit over.
You may also want to skip a vaporizer if you have a large space to humidify. They just aren’t up to the task. But, with that said… even if you do have kids or a large space, we think you should get one for occasional use. They’re great when you get sick; almost as good as a hot shower. And, if you live in the desert (like we do) and have a relative that gets nosebleeds when they visit (like we do) get one. Stash it away and bust it out before they arrive. They’ll thank you. Plus vaporizers are easier to avoid messing up furniture or soaking the carpet… so you can rest easy knowing your guest room night stand is safe.
Do Cool Mist Humidifiers Cool a Room?
Theoretically yes. But, it’s noticeable in real life applications. The theory is that a cool mist humidifier is basically a tiny evaporative air conditioner (aka a swamp cooler). That’s partially correct, but its so small you’ll never notice. Plus your room fluctuates in temperature way more than you might think. When we bought our Sensor Push we were pretty surprised to see just how many small fluctuations a room experiences in a 24 hour period. Open the door… temp and humidity drops. Close the door and both metrics spike.
Bottom line… you will not notice a drop in temperature when you use a cool mist unit. Likewise, a vaporizer is not a heater. There is however a bit of a change in how effective your home’s heating and air conditioning works at different relative humidity levels. But, that starts getting into a discussion about thermodynamics and science stuff… so we’ll stop there for now.
Are Humidifiers Good for Babies?
Ask your healthcare provider , but for us and our little one; a humidifier is a must. It’s so dry here, and if the humidity drops below about 30 percent, he sounds terrible. His little sinuses dry out and he sounds like he has the world’s worst cold.
Too much humidity can be bad though, so be careful if you live somewhere like Seattle, Hawaii, or Florida where it’s already humid. You may actually want to consider a dehumidifier to keep the air quality well balanced.
Does a Warm Mist Humidifier Help You Sleep Better than a Cool Mist Humidifier?
Long term… a evaporative humidifier will better balance humidity and give you a better night’s sleep in the long haul. But, if your sinuses start feeling strange right before bed… or you think you’re getting a cold reach for a warm mist humidifier. Like we said earlier, they are about the closest thing to a hot shower you can get. And, as you probably know a hot shower is like heaven when you aren’t feeling well.
At the end of the day each type of humidifier has its place. We just hate to see random junk review sites pushing a lame humidifier just because another site did, or because it’s a “bestseller.” Everyone has different needs and relying on ecommerce star ratings to make a decision isn’t always the best approach.
Confirmation bias runs rampant in customer product reviews. That’s one of the main reasons we started down the path of reviewing purifiers, and now humidifiers. Some friend or relative says that they “love” thier ultrasonic humidifier without knowing much about the other options out there. Then you buy one, and not knowing any better you confirm your preconceived notions because it works. Is it the best; no. But, you’ve sold yourself. Fast forward a few years and now every Walgreens shelf is stocked full of ultrasonic cool mist humidifiers… for no good reason other than “they’re so great” or “my neighbors love theirs.”
So… with all that said. Here’s where we’ll close out this article. All humidifier types are good. Some are better for one family, others are better for another. We’ll do our best to let you know what we think of the popular ones and break down where they’d work best. We’ll also let you know which ones are overrated; like the one we bought because a baby blog told us to…