The Best Humidifiers
If you suffer from dry skin, sinus pain, or cracked lips, it might have to do with the air in your home or office being too dry. Humidity levels will also naturally drop in the winter months — cold air holds less moisture than warm air, and heaters dry out the air even more. A good humidifier can add the right amount of moisture to the air to alleviate pesky symptoms and maintain an optimal humidity level of 35 to 50 percent.
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How We Found the Best Humidifiers
To find our contenders, we looked at best-of lists from consumer advocacy and tech sites, such as Consumer Reports and Digital Trends, for humidifiers that outperformed others when it came to reaching optimal humidity levels. We also compared consumer reviews on sites like Amazon, Target, and Bed, Bath & Beyond to find humidifiers that earned high marks for hassle-free cleaning and maintenance. After hours of research, we found the most consistently celebrated humidifiers to maintain balanced humidity levels in an average-sized room (think living area or bedroom).
Separated by type
Not all humidifiers are created equal. Different technologies for producing mist affect the comfort and humidity level in your home, as well as the time you’ll spend cleaning the humidifier. We separated our contenders into four categories — evaporators, ultrasonic, warm mist, and airwashers — to compare the pros and cons of each method. You can read more about the differences between them below. The bottom line? Evaporators are the best bet for most people. For one, they self-regulate, relying on the natural process of evaporation, which decreases when humidity levels are high. They also have a lower risk of emitting bacteria, meaning you can breathe easy while enjoying safe and balanced humidity levels.
That said, the 14 humidifiers we brought in for testing were not all evaporators. After all, other models — in particular, ultrasonics — are incredibly popular, and we wanted to see for ourselves if they offered anything to outweigh the benefits of an evaporator. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.)
Safe humidity levels
The best humidifiers should maintain humidity within a range of about 35 to 50 percent. If the moisture level drops too much, you won’t escape dry noses and staticky doorknobs. Go too high over-moist air leads to mold or mildew that can be harmful to your health and home. We placed hygrometers (devices that measure humidity levels) around our testing room to see how well each humidifier could reach and maintain specific humidity levels throughout a whole room.
We tested humidity levels between 30 and 60 percent as recommended by most of our manufacturer manuals. All our humidifiers reached optimal humidity levels, but several came close to over-humidifying our testing room. For example, the Boneco 7135 Ultrasonic’s built-in humidistat wasn’t accurate, underestimating the real humidity level of our testing room by as much as 20 percent. That means its impressive mist output could keep pumping to as much as 80 percent humidity, leading to moist walls and dangerous mold. Others, like the Sunpentown Su-4010 Dual Mist Ultrasonic, didn’t fare much better. In the absence of a built-in humidistat, their impressive mist output easily over-humidified our room.
We gave preference to humidifiers that reached and maintained optimal humidity levels with minimal supervision. We like humidifiers that we can set and forget (until it’s time to refill) and the Honeywell HCM 350 and the Vornado Evap3 aced our testing.
Ease of use & maintenance
Most of our humidifiers were pretty easy to use and maintain. The controls were straightforward and removing the tanks and replacing the filters was simple. Though if we nitpick, the SPT SU-9210 evaporator had controls that produced a loud beep and a bright display that would be disruptive at night. The humidifier also had parts that were just more difficult to clean and refill.
As for cleanliness, the Honeywell HCM 350 takes top spot. According to a Consumer Reports evaluation of humidifier cleanliness, it had no significant bacterial growth in the reservoir and no potential to emit bacteria. The SPT SU-9210 and Vornado Evap3 both had some bacterial growth in the reservoir, although no potential to emit that bacteria. To be fair, we are nitpicking again, since none of our finalists actually emit bacteria and regularly cleaning your humidifier tank will reduce the likelihood of it forming in the first place. But when it comes to finding the best, small differences matter.
The 2 Best Humidifiers
Honeywell HCM350W Germ Free Cool Mist Humidifier
Easy to set and forget
Why we chose it
The biggest draw of the Honeywell HCM 350 is its cleanliness. Cleaning the machine is easy — all the parts that require cleaning are submersible and easy to rinse, unlike competitors that have parts attached to electronics. It’s also the only humidifier on our list with no significant bacterial growth risk in the reservoir or potential to emit bacteria. Add to that replacement filters that cost a meager $8, and you have an affordable humidifier that provides comfort with fewer germs. It might be lacking the high-tech features of other models, like a built-in humidistat, but the Honeywell HCM 350 is the best at what it’s designed to do: safely humidify.
As an evaporator, the Honeywell relies on the natural process of evaporation to humidify — as the amount of moisture in the air rises, the ability of water to evaporate naturally decreases. That means the Honeywell self-regulates and you won’t have to worry about the mold or mildew that comes from exceeding safe humidity levels. The machine also emits moisture as water vapor, instead of heavy mist, which means you won’t have to worry about puddles or white dust — common problems for ultrasonic models.
Easy to set and forget
Using the humidifier is as simple as filling it up and turning it on, and out of all the machines we tested, the Honeywell HCM 350 was the easiest to set and forget. Of course, you will have to refill the one-gallon tank every 12 hours, so you can’t forget it completely, but the tank has a large hole and sits upright, which makes refilling a breeze.
Points to consider
The high setting is fairly loud, which can be distracting, making this a poor match for light sleepers. Lower settings were much less annoying, though, so unless you want a high level of humidification at night, it might not matter to you.
The Honeywell humidifier doesn’t have a humidistat (a device that is similar to a hygrometer, and which adjusts the output of mist to match a pre-set humidity range) to set a specific humidity level, although as an evaporator it naturally decreases output as humidity increases. Whereas our next pick, the Vornado Evap3, allows you to set a specific humidity level from 35 to 60 percent, the Honeywell only has three settings — low, medium, and high — which correspond to the fan speeds.
Vornado Evap3 Whole Room Evaporative Humidifier
Specific humidity control
Quiet and unobtrusive
More frequent maintenance
Why we chose it
Specific humidity control
Going above and beyond the basic self-regulating perks of other evaporators, the Vornado Evap3 has an intuitive button interface that allows you to set specific humidity ranges, giving you more control.
The Vornado does this thanks to its on-board humidistat, which adjusts the output of mist to match a pre-set humidity range between 35-60 percent. More importantly, its humidistat is quite accurate, with just a five-percent margin of error. Translation? You can choose the range that brings you the most comfort without having to worry about reaching unsafe humidity levels. By comparison, the Honeywell HCM 350’s only customization is its fan speeds.
We also gave points to the Vornado for being easy to maintain. It comes with a 1.5-gallon tank that only needs refilling every 12 hours. And while we were initially concerned the use of two filters would make maintenance tedious and costly, we were glad to see that replacing filters was painless and that a $13 replacement will last a standard one to two months.
Quiet and unobtrusive
Despite a slight resemblance to a Keurig coffee maker, the Vornado Evap3 is a pleasant and unobtrusive addition to any room. It will fit neatly in a corner or on a table and, on its lower fan settings, will quietly add moisture to the air without producing the distraction of wafting mist. For those who want a safe and reliable humidifier with just a bit more control over humidity levels, the Vornado Evap3 is a solid alternative to our top pick.
Points to consider
More frequent maintenance
Regular cleaning (daily rinsing and one deeper clean each week) is easy, as we’ve noted above, but must be done frequently. After all, the Consumer Reports study we mentioned earlier shows its reservoir is susceptible to bacterial growth. Rest assured, the same studies show that the Vornado won’t emit bacteria, but regular cleaning will help prevent its buildup in the first place.
There are two small annoyances we should flag with the Vornado: the small blue light on the control panel is very bright, which might disturb some sleepers, and the machine is noticeably loud on its highest fan setting. Popular user hacks for these minor shortcomings include covering the blue light with some tape, and sticking to the lower fan settings, at least at night, so they weren’t dealbreakers for us.
Guide to Humidifiers
How to find the right humidifier for you
Measure your space
Humidifiers range from small, single-person units to behemoths that can service 1,000 square feet or more. So one of your first tasks is to determine the square footage of the room where your humidifier will live. Consider, too, that the humidifier will take up space itself — we focused on tabletop and small to medium-sized console units. These can sit unobtrusively in the corner of a room or on an end table and work well in a medium-sized room. If it will be in a small room, you don’t want to be tripping over your humidifier every time you walk in, so look for a smaller unit and choose its space carefully. The tradeoff? Smaller units have smaller tanks, and require more frequent refills.
Know your technologies
At their core, all humidifiers are designed to add moisture to the air. But different humidifiers use different methods to produce mist. The short version is that an evaporator is the best choice for most people, but we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each type below.
Evaporators blow air over a wet wick or filter to release moisture as a cool mist. The evaporation from the wick depends on the humidity of your room — as humidity levels rise, the output of mist naturally decreases. In other words, evaporators self-regulate to maintain a safe and comfortable balance of humidity. According to a study led by Consumer Reports, they are also the least likely to grow and emit bacteria. The catch? The wicks need replacing every two to three months, and they tend to be slower and louder than their counterparts.
Ultrasonic humidifiers vibrate a diaphragm with sound waves to produce mist quickly and quietly — no wick or filter necessary. But their silent and efficient design comes with a few tradeoffs. Since they don’t use the natural process of evaporation, most do not self-regulate. Those that do rely on a built-in humidistat, a device that measures humidity levels and adjusts output, but these aren’t always accurate. That means ultrasonics require supervision to prevent over-humidification. You will also have to spend more time cleaning — ultrasonic models are more prone to emitting bacteria and white dust (a powder of minerals from water that is harmless but a chore to wipe up).
Warm mist humidifiers use an internal heater to boil water and release steam. The warm mist can be soothing in colder months, and many let you infuse menthol for even greater comfort. But we couldn’t overlook one glaring flaw: safety concerns. A snagged cord or bumped table could easily lead to scalding. For any household, especially those with young children or pets, this adds unwelcome danger. Also, the temperature of the water makes no difference to the spread of germs, although regularly cleaning your humidifier can prevent it.
Airwashers are a combination of evaporators and air purifiers. They promise balanced humidity levels and the ability to remove large particles, like pollen and dust mites, from the air. But since air quality experts recommend an air purifier with a True-HEPA filter (the standard for filtering airborne pollutants and something air washers typically lack), you’re actually better off getting a separate air purifier to work alongside your humidifier. Airwashers are also expensive — even purchasing the best air purifier alongside one of our humidifier top picks will save you about a $100 compared to investing in a pricey airwasher.
Impeller humidifiers use spinning discs to fling water at a diffuser that then sends water droplets into the air. In theory they should work well, but all the impellers we looked at received a lot of negative reviews on sites like Amazon. Customers report low moisture output and excessive white dust. Simply put, the other styles were far more popular, and impeller humidifiers didn’t show up on any best-of lists during our research.
Consider maintenance needs
Your humidifier requires regular attention. Consumer Reports and most manufacturers say you should drain, rinse, and dry the water tank and filter or wick (if you have an evaporator style) every day, and disinfect them weekly with a bleach solution. If your humidifier is running constantly, you’ll also need to add water to the tank regularly, usually around once every 12 hours. Keep that in mind when you’re shopping: your humidifier should be simple to move and clean, and the tank should fit easily under your bathroom faucet. If it has one, the wick should be a cinch to swap out, since you’ll be doing it once every few months.
Dr. Sarah Kohl, a clinician with over 25 years of experience, told us “bacteria are everywhere … if people don’t clean their humidifier, it can spew mold or bacteria into the environment. Cleaning your humidifier regularly will take care of any health risks.” While our top picks aren’t prone to emitting bacteria, waiting too long to clean your machine will eventually result in bacterial growth — moisture makes this unavoidable.
You can pick up a humidifier cleaner for around $10 or less, but most manufacturers suggest a DIY method in their manuals. Common solutions use a teaspoon of bleach or vinegar mixed with a gallon of water that is poured into the base tray.
According to Dr. Kohl, manufacturers will promise a lot of health benefits from using a humidifier, but “there are no real good scientific studies to support these claims.” She explained that humidifiers “do what they’re designed to do — humidify the air. They’re just going to make you feel more comfortable.” That’s not to say humidifiers aren’t useful. Dr. Kohl explained that while you’ll still have to wait for any cold or flu to pass, there’s no harm in a little extra relief from dry noses and skin while you recover.
They’re similar in that both add moisture to the air. Vaporizers have a heating element that boils water before dispersing it, as steam, into the room, whereas most humidifiers (but not all) feature a cool water mist. Vaporizers sometimes allow you to add a medicinal inhalant to help with breathing, so they’re sometimes recommended by doctors for those suffering from a cold or the flu. They also tend to be smaller and more inexpensive. For general household use, you’re better off with a humidifier. It needs less fussing over and doesn’t come with the risk of injury from the hot water — which means we do not recommend using vaporizers around children or pets.
The Best Humidifiers: Summed Up
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