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Five Things to Consider When Buying a Humidifier

For many, having a humidifier in your home is essential in order to maintain comfort and better control allergies during the drier fall and winter months. Dry air may bring on or exacerbate eczema, may lead to itchy or inflamed mucous membranes, and can dry out allergens which makes them more easily airborne and more readily inhaled. Before choosing a humidifier to help you this season, take a moment to look over these five things to consider when buying a humidifier. Considering each before investing in a humidifier can help ensure that your purchase is not only suited to your specific needs, but that it will run as efficiently and safely as possible.

Should I get a warm mist or cool mist humidifier?


In terms of humidifying the air in your home, there is really little difference between warm mist humidifier and cool mist humidifier. However, there are specific differences that may make either a warm mist or a cool mist unit ideal for you:

  • Warm mist humidifiers may be especially soothing for those who have a cold or the flu.
  • Most warm mist humidifiers offer germicidal protection by boiling the water before it is released into the air.
  • Some warm mist humidifiers can be used in conjunction with medication.
  • The boiling water and steam emitted by older warm mist humidifiers could potentially be dangerous if young children are around.
  • Warm mist can help make the cold air in your home feel warmer (although humidification in general, whether through warm mist or cool mist, will help make your home feel warmer).
  • Cool mist humidifiers are often easier to keep clean.
  • Cool mist humidifiers, particularly ultrasonic models, can have much higher moisture outputs.

Air O Swiss 7135 HumidifierIf you cannot decide between warm mist and cool mist humidification, there are a few units that allow you the option, including most Air O Swiss/Boneco and PureGuardian humidifier models. Enjoy the best of both worlds with these units that enable you to select either warm mist or cool mist humidification. Just note that often dual mist models only preheat the water, so the warm mist feature is often nowhere near as warm as the a warm mist only humidifier.

What type of humidifier should I get?

There are a few different ways that humidifiers propel moist air into your home environment. These various functions translate to different maintenance requirements for you. Before purchasing a unit, it's good to know how your unit works so that you understand how best to care for it and keep it working at peak performance. Here's a brief breakdown of humidifier types:

Air-O-Swiss 2055 Air Washer/HumidifierImpeller humidifiers - Constantly rotating discs break water into ultra fine droplets. Impeller humidifiers release cool mist into the air. The Air-O-Swiss Air Washer and Humidifier turns its rotating discs into "air washing" feature, allow particulate to "stick" to the damp discs. As the discs rotate back into the water pool/reservoir, the particulate remains in the humidifier, out of the air you breathe. The output of these models generally isn't as high as an ultrasonic or warm mist humidifier, but air washers can be a good way with the benefit of some particulate removal.

Stadler Form Oskar HumidifierEvaporative humidifiers - These use a fan to draw air over a wet wick to release moisture into the air. Lightweight and low on power usage, evaporative humidifiers are effective but tend to have one drawback. They can't warm the water like an ultrasonic or boiler-style warm mist humidifier. As a positive though, as humidity levels increase, they tend to be less effective. So they can be somewhat self regulating. Overall, most people enjoy them because most have a convenient top-fill feature.

Air O Swiss S450 Steam HumidifierWarm mist humidifiers - As mentioned above, warm mist humidifiers boil the water which is then emitted as steam. Not only is this warm mist very soothing, but many have optional medicine cups that can be used to vaporize some medications. On the downside, older models could cause problems if spilled by pets or children, but most newer models reduce or eliminate the chance of burns associated with spilling the very hot/boiling water. Power consumption is a little slightly higher since the water is boiled/heated. Note: the "warm mist" features of a dual mist humidifier, is NOT as warm as a traditional warm mist humidifier.

Germ Guardian Ultrasonic HumidifierUltrasonic humidifiers - High frequency vibrations in ultrasonic humidifiers turn liquid water into a fine mist. This cool mist fog is then dispersed into the room via a small, integrated fan inside the unit. This type of humidifier offers the highest moisture output of all, very low power usage, and operates in near silence. Conveniently, the vibrations used by ultrasonic humidifiers kill most microbes. Due to the high output, low noise level, and an array of optional features, ultrasonic humidifiers generally offer a very wide variety of models in terms of price, moisture output, and hygienic features.

What germicidal measures should my humidifier have?

If not properly maintained, humidifiers can actually cause more problems than they solve. Standing water can breed bacteria and mold which is then spewed into the air and inhaled. Thus, humidifiers need to be emptied and cleaned consistently. But improper cleaning in itself can also pose health hazards. When harsh chemicals such as bleach are used to clean the unit, the chemicals can become airborne and inhaled.

Due to the possible risk and the high-maintenance nature of humidifiers, manufacturers have taken measures to provide germicidal protection. (Note: These measures do not replace the need for regular maintenance.)

Some germ fighting options include:

  • Ionic Silver or Carbon Filters - Air-O-Swiss humidifiers now use their included Hydro Cell (a carbon filter) to help keep water clean. While Pure Guardian used integrated silver ions in the tank, and Stadler Form opt for the more traditional Silver Ion Cube.
  • UV light - Kills microbes safely and effectively, but requires the replacement of bulbs. This method has become less common, in favor of carbon or ionic silver.
  • Ultrasonic vibration - Kills germs at the same time as water is "shaken" into tiny droplets.
  • Boiling/Heat - Warm mist (boiler-style) humidifiers kill germs by boiling water before it is released into the air as steam. Dual mist units prewarm the water in warm mist mode, but often not warm enough to kill microbes.
  • Combination - Several units include more than one germicidal feature to provide you with a more well rounded effort to keep the water clean and hygienic as well as some added peace of mind.

How many humidifying units will you purchase?

Five Things to Consider When Buying a Humidifier - Where to Place Your HumidifierGiven the many benefits of home humidification - keeping your home's paint, wood, and furniture from drying out; offering natural relief from cold and flu symptoms; soothing irritated sinuses; and lowering heating costs by making the air feel warmer - you may decide to purchase multiple units. Most humidifiers are single room humidifiers, whose effects are often slow to be felt in other rooms, if at all. Unless you opt for a whole home humidifier (tied into the existing HVAC system), most opt for 1-3 units for better coverage throughout the home.

For instance, if you have young children, you know first-hand how many colds they pick up during the colder months - and you know how miserable it is for them (and you) to get up in the middle of the night to tend to stuffy noses. Furthermore, given the FDA's recommendation not to give children under two years of age cough medicine or other over-the-counter cold medication, natural relief is more important than ever. Humidifiers placed in children's rooms offer significant nap-time and night-time relief.

The same goes for sick adults. Enjoy the benefits of night-time relief and the good night's sleep you require through humidification in the bedroom. Some units even feature a medicine cup for adding vaporizing cold medications.

If you're interested in cutting down on heating bills, you may consider humidifying units for other areas of your home as well. Adding moisture to the air - up to a certain level - helps the air feel warmer and lessens the need to turn that thermostat up.

Ultimately, a humidifier falls under the same advice as many allergy relief products - start in the room you use the most, namely, the bedroom.

What capacity should my humidifier have?

Deciding what type of capacity you want your unit to have is not as daunting as, say, deciding the same for an air purifier. Basically, the larger the capacity of your humidifier, the less often you will have to refill it. However, this must be balanced against considerations such as how easy or hard the unit is to refill, how much space you have for your unit, and how heavy the unit will be if you have to carry it to the bathroom or kitchen to refill. Many of our largest capacity humidifiers hold almost two gallons of water and can literally run for days without needing to be refilled. Our smallest unit, the portable Germ Guardian Table Top Humidifier holds slightly less than a quarter of a gallon. Other models like the Stadler Form Oskar are top-fill models that hold a large amount of water. While there is a fairly wide range of humidifier capacities to choose from, this choice largely boils down to how much convenience do you want.

Once you answered these five things to consider when buying a humidifier, you may find that you've effectively narrowed your options down, and now have a much easier decision than when you started. While there are certainly other factors to consider before you buy, these five questions are a great place to start.

For more help choosing the right humidifier, see our Humidifier Buying Guide or call one of our experienced and friendly customer service representatives at 1-800-339-7123.