Humidifiers can be essential tools for increasing people's health and comfort. When the air quality in a home has very low humidity, it can cause one to experience breathing problems, dry nasal passages, increased static electricity, skin problems and other health complications. Too much humidity, however, makes the body very uncomfortable, and it too can cause one to have difficulty breathing.
And while in most cases adding humidity to the home isn't a concern in the summer months, during the dry winter months a humidifier can greatly improve your quality of life. In this buyer's guide, we'll take a look at the different types of humidifiers so you can choose the best one for your home.
Things to Consider When Purchasing a Humidifier
Do you have young children in the home? If
mist humidifier will be a safer purchase than a warm mist or steam
What's your budget? Professionally installed humidifiers are much more expensive than smaller, one-room models, but once installed, they're often less expensive to operate.
How much humidity does your home or room need? Determine the square footage of the area that needs the humidifier. This can either be a single room or the entire house, depending on your needs. Keep your purchasing selections within your ideal range for the best results.
How precise do you need the moisture to be in your home? Some humidifiers feature a built-in hygrometer that will actually tell you what the moisture level is for the room or home and a humidistat that will automatically control the unit's operation, depending on the moisture level. Less expensive models come with variable fan speeds.
How often do you want to refill your water reservoir? A humidifier works only when there is water in the reservoir, and it's up to the user to refill the tank as needed. Reservoir tanks are available in a wide range of sizes, so keep that in mind when choosing a humidifier. Other considerations include the level of ease of reservoir removal and how much the reservoir will weigh once it's refilled with water. Of course, more expensive models have permanent water supply hook-ups that eliminate these problems.
How quiet do you need the humidifier to be? Some models claim to be quiet, but in reality, all humidifiers make noise, whether it's from hissing water or vibrations. Some models do feature nighttime settings that enable them to run a little quieter, and of all the humidifier types, ultrasonic models operate the most quietly.
When choosing a humidifier, always look at the unit's safety features. One of the most important safety features to look for is the automatic shut-off. With this feature, the unit will automatically shut off if it runs out of water. This is essential!
For the best benefits, the unit must be cleaned periodically to prevent growth of bacteria. Check a unit's cleaning recommendations and any warranty information before making a purchasing decision.
There are a wide range of humidifiers to choose from, each with its unique advantages, so understanding what's available is the first step toward making a good purchasing decision. Humidifiers typically fall within the following categories:
Cool mist humidifiers -- A cool mist humidifier expels a cool mist-like vapor into the room, which serves to moisten the air while also cooling the environment. Individuals who benefit from cool mist humidifiers are typically those who have difficulty breathing in a sauna-like environment. Cool mist humidifiers come in two different types, evaporative and ultrasonic, and models range from whole-house units that get connected to the ductwork to smaller one-room models and portable floor console units.
Warm mist humidifiers -- A warm mist humidifier is essentially the same thing as a cool mist humidifier except that it boils the water and uses the steam to add moisture to the air. This type of humidifier is best used by people who breathe easier in a sauna-like environment. Warm mist humidifiers are commonly used for steaming medications, and some even come equipped with a compartment for the medicated liquid.
Console humidifiers -- A console humidifier is a stand-alone unit. It is not connected to the home's ductwork, although many larger units are capable of humidifying the entire home. Console humidifiers do range in size, and they are normally rated by "X number of gallons of water per day up to X square feet." Some console models are dual units, meaning that they have both warm and cool mist capabilities.
Personal humidifiers -- Personal humidifiers are exactly as described, for personal use. This type of humidifier comes in a number of varieties, including personal inhaler types and models designed to sit on the nightstand at night. Many people use personal ultrasonic humidifiers with an inhaler tube attached to breathe in medicated vapors or to help break up congestion before bedtime.
Tower humidifiers -- Tower humidifiers are single versions of console humidifiers and designed to humidify one room. They typically range between using 3 and 6 gallons of water per day, and their tower design allows them to be inconspicuous in most rooms.
Furnace humidifiers -- A furnace humidifier is one that gets installed in the ductwork of your home's heating and cooling system. The forced air flows through a sponge, screen or rotary disc (depending on the model) and delivers the moist air throughout the home every time the furnace kicks on. While slightly more expensive than stand-alone models, a furnace humidifier has a water supply connected to it, so homeowners never have to remember to refill the water chamber. In the summer months when humidity isn't a problem, the water source can be turned off to prevent too much humidity in the home.
Ultrasonic humidifiers -- An ultrasonic humidifier is one that features a vibrating metal diaphragm that causes water droplets to exit the humidifier in the form of a cool fog or mist. Most stand-alone humidifiers are available in an ultrasonic version, and since the unit uses a reservoir, it needs to be cleaned periodically to prevent bacteria from growing in the container.
Filter-free humidifiers -- Traditionally, humidifiers feature a water reservoir and a filter to catch any impurities that may be in the water. A filter-free humidifier doesn't have a filter. Instead, impurities receive an electrostatic charge that causes them to be collected by an opposite-charged grid. Filter-free humidifiers are easy to clean, as the grid can be removed and simply wiped down and users aren't hassled by having to replace the filter from time to time.
Steam humidifiers -- Steam humidifiers are similar to warm mist humidifiers, and they can range from tabletop and wall-mounted models to whole-house units that get integrated into the home's forced-air ductwork. Steam humidifiers use an electric heating source to boil the contained water. On all types except for tabletop models, the water source is physically connected to the unit. Since the water is boiled, the steam that's released is free of bacteria and minerals, but frequent use of the humidifier can cause an increase in one's electrical bill because of the heating element.