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.

The 2 Best Humidifiers

Honeywell HCM350W Germ Free Cool Mist Humidifier

Best
Overall

Honeywell HCM 350

Low maintenance and hygienic, for balanced humidity.
Pros
Cleanliness
Self-regulator
Easy to set and forget
Cons
Loud
Few settings

Why we chose it

Cleanliness

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.

Self-regulator

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

Loud

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.

Few settings

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

Runner-Up

Vornado Evap3 Evaporative Humidifier

Advanced control, but more frequent maintenance.
Pros
Specific humidity control
Easy maintenance
Quiet and unobtrusive
Cons
More frequent maintenance
Small distractions

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.

Easy maintenance

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.

Small distractions

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.

Humidifiers FAQ

How do I know if I need a humidifier?

Humidifiers are most useful in the winter, when dry air can contribute to everything from chapped lips and dry skin to bloody noses and respiratory issues. Dry air can also damage your house, causing peeling paint and the warping of wooden items. Musical instruments and fine art are also impacted by improper humidity. If you’re not sure about whether or not you need a humidifier, we suggest you invest in an inexpensive hygrometer and monitor the humidity over several days. If it goes below 30 percent, you could probably benefit from a humidifier.

How important is it to clean my humidifier?

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.

Will a humidifier help my persistent cough/allergies/dry skin/etc.?

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.

What’s the difference between a humidifier and a vaporizer, and which one do I need?

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

Honeywell HCM 350
Vornado
Best Overall
Runner-Up
$69.88
$89.99
Type
Evaporator
Evaporator
Tank size
1 gallon
1.5 gallons
Built-in humidistat
Refill
Every 12 hours
Every 12 hours
Humidifies
Up to 500 sq. feet
Up to 700 sq. feet

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