The Best Humidifier

If you suffer from dry skin, sinus pain, or cracked lips, chances are the air in your home or office is too dry. Humidity levels will also naturally drop as winter approaches — cold air holds less moisture than warm 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 30 to 60 percent.

Our top pick for humidifiers is the Honeywell HCM 350 ($58). The Honeywell is an evaporator — the only type of humidifier that self-regulates to prevent over-humidification that can lead to mold and bacteria. That means you can enjoy safe and balanced humidity levels without having to supervise your machine. Better still, studies also show that the Honeywell is not prone to growing or emitting bacteria — a common problem for competing models. It’s also a breeze to clean and we appreciated its low-maintenance design. We missed the built-in humidity meter that other models offered, but its natural failsafe for preventing too much humidity means that’s not a dealbreaker — the Honeywell was hands-down our favorite.

If you want a bit more control over the humidity levels in your home, we recommend the Vornado EVAP3 ($90). Like the Honeywell, It’s an evaporator, so you won’t have to worry about over-humidifying your home. With the higher price tag comes a built-in humidistat — a device that measures humidity levels and adjusts output — so you can set a specific humidity level within the 30 to 60 percent range for maximum comfort. The tradeoff? The humidifier is prone to growing bacteria in the reservoir tank (don’t worry, though, it won’t spew it into the room) and a bright blue light on the machine can be a nuisance during the night. We prefer the hygienic and less-intrusive design of the Honeywell, but the Vornado Evap3 is a solid alternative.

Our Picks for Best Humidifier

Best Overall
Honeywell HCM 350
Honeywell
A low maintenance and hygienic humidifier for balanced humidity

When it comes to maintaining safe humidity levels without accumulating bacteria, the Honeywell HCM 350 takes the crown. It may 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. 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.

Honeywell parts for Humidifier

The Honeywell’s parts are easy to take apart and reassemble for straightforward maintenance.

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 low $8, and you have an affordable humidifier that provides comfort with fewer germs.

The Honeywell HCM 350 does have a few flaws. The high setting is fairly loud, which can be distracting, making this a poor match for light sleepers. In addition, the humidifier doesn’t have a humidistat to set a specific humidity level, although as an evaporator it naturally decreases output as humidity increases. The Honeywell HCM 350 outperforms all others when it comes to the criteria that count: producing safe and healthy humidity levels.

Runner-Up
Vornado Evap3 Evaporative Humidifier
Vornado
Advanced control over humidity levels but requires more frequent cleaning

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 — a device that adjusts the output of mist to match a pre-set humidity range (with outer limits of 35-60 percent). More importantly, its humidistat is actually 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.

Honeywell-Vornado-comparison-for-Humidifier

The Vornado’s control panel (R) lets you target a more specific humidity level than the general settings of the Honeywell (L).

Customization options aside, 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 worried that 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.

Regular cleaning (daily rinsing and one deeper clean each week) is essential with the Vornado. 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 build up 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 may 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.

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.

Humidifiers 101

A primer on different humidifier 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 (it depends on the humidifier and manufacturer). 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.

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.

You can make your own humidifier cleaner

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, 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.

A humidifier won’t cure what ails you

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.

Pets share our ideal humidity range

Keeping humidity levels within 30 to 60 percent is also important for pets. Humidity levels under 30 percent can lead to dry skin and aggravated allergies while humidities above 60 percent can make it too hot for your dog or cat. The symptoms are relatively easy to spot — for example, dandruff during the dry winter or abnormal thirst are good signs that your humidity levels are unbalanced. We recommend keeping a hygrometer handy as its the easiest way to ensure the humidity levels in your home are keeping both you and your pets happy and safe.

Our Humidifier Review: Summed Up

Humidifier
Best
Honeywell HCM 350
Overall
Vornado EVAP3
Runner-Up