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How to shop for the best humidifiers, according to experts

Humidifiers can benefit your skin and help relieve allergies, according to the pros. Here’s what to know and where to shop for expert-approved models.
Air humidifier in bedroom
Experts told us there are generally four different types of humidifiers, each boasting a different way of emitting hot or cool moisture (or both) into the air.MICROGEN IMAGES / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

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During the winter months, the combination of cold air and overheated homes can dry out the skin. Humidifiers can introduce more moisture in your home by emitting water vapor into the air, which helps alleviate dry skin, chapped lips, nose bleeds and other cold-weather conditions, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Although fewer people think to use them during the summer months, humidifiers can have year-round benefits, too, explained Dr. Jessie Cheung, a board-certified dermatologist.

“Moist air helps slow down the transmission of microbes and can combat the dry air from summer air conditioning,” she said. “It also allows for more comfortable breathing if you have blocked sinuses or respiratory infection and helps to keep sensitive skin from drying out.”

We talked to experts about the different types of humidifiers, their benefits and how to shop for them. We also highlight some top-rated options based on their guidance.

What are humidifiers good for?

Humidifiers help maintain a certain range of humidity in specific rooms or throughout your entire home. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends maintaining indoor relative humidity between 30 percent and 60 percent (below 50 percent, ideally) to avoid the potential of mold growing. When it comes to human comfort, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers notes the humidity level should remain below 65 percent.

According to the Mayo Clinic, low humidity can cause dry skin, irritate your nasal passages and throat and make your eyes itchy, while high humidity can make your home feel stuffy and cause condensation on surfaces that can prompt the growth of harmful and irritating bacteria and molds.

Advantages of using a humidifier

Other than regulating your home's humidity and aiding in the above preventative measures, experts told us humidifiers have a variety of other benefits that many find worth the investment.

Humidifiers can help keep skin looking younger. A humidifier can prevent flaky skin and help get it glowing again, explained Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “The added moisture from a humidifier also helps your skin from looking aged. Fine lines and wrinkles look more prominent when your skin is dry,” she said.

They help calm irritated skin. Jaliman noted that the added moisture released into the air can be soothing for itchy and inflamed skin.

They might help relieve allergies. Humidifiers can help keep allergies at bay by preventing dust mites, mold and bacteria from drying out and becoming airborne, according to the Clinical Research Center. “They can also help those who tend to get a bloody nose from dryness and allergies,” Jaliman added.

What types of humidifiers are available?

There are four main types of humidifiers, each using a different way of producing hot or cool moisture (or both) into the air, according to the experts we consulted.

Impeller humidifiers produce a cool mist that gets pumped into the air. A rotating disc flings water from the tank through a comb-like diffuser.

Evaporative humidifiers create a very fine mist that isn't always visible to the human eye. A fan blowing over the wick lets the air absorb moisture. These humidifiers have no heating element, so there is no risk of burns, Cheung said. But the fans can be noisy, and the wick should be cleaned to prevent bacteria and mold from growing.

Vaporizers have an internal heater that boils the water before releasing it into the air as steam, creating a warm mist. Avoid sitting too close to steam vaporizers and handle them responsibly.

Ultrasonic humidifiers use high-frequency sound vibrations outside the human hearing range to expel water droplets into the air as a cool mist. They usually have a small fan to disperse the mist over large areas. "These devices don't use heat and are quiet, but do require maintenance to keep clean as well as free of mold and bacterial overgrowth," Cheung said.

How to shop for a new humidifier

Whether you’re looking for your first humidifier or just want to upgrade your current model, the experts we consulted highlighted several features to keep in mind.

  • Automatic shut-off: Self-regulating humidifiers can automatically turn off. This avoids putting too much moisture in the air, which can speed the growth of mold and mildew, Cheung said.
  • Mold resistance: Any mold that forms within the water or machine can be dispersed into the air, so this feature helps keep the water clean. However, even with mold-resistant humidifiers, it is imperative to clean them at least once weekly to avoid build-up, according to Dr. Vanessa Rothholtz, a board-certified otolaryngologist and head-and-neck surgeon.
  • Tank size and different settings: The size of the tank and the different speed settings can affect how long the humidifier can run before needing to be refilled, as well as the size of the room it can rehydrate.
  • Multiple uses: In addition to adding moisture into the air, some humidifier models are also able to purify the air, diffuse essential oils through a separate chamber and work with a nebulizer attachment.

Humidifiers to shop now

Since we don't test humidifiers ourselves, we rely on expert guidance about how to shop for them. Experts told us to look for humidifiers that feature an automatic shut-off and mold resistance but also to take into account tank sizes and settings. The following impeller, evaporative, vaporizer and ultrasonic humidifiers list features that align with our research and expert guidance, and they’re all highly rated.

Top-rated overall impeller humidifier: Everlasting Comfort

1. Everlasting Comfort Cool Mist Humidifier

This cool mist, ultrasonic humidifier can hold up to 1.6 gallons of water, can run for up to 50 hours and infuses moisture into the air of rooms up to 500 square feet, according to the brand. This filterless humidifier is designed to automatically shut off when the device detects it has run out of water, and it includes an essential oil tray that lets it act as a diffuser to add a pleasant scent throughout your home.

Top-rated affordable impeller humidifier: Honeywell

2. Honeywell Cool Moisture Humidifier

Honeywell was a favorite among the experts we spoke to, and this cool-mist option from the brand is designed for small to medium-sized rooms at a relatively affordable price, according to the brand. It offers two speeds to adjust the moisture output and includes a 0.8-gallon water tank and wicking filter. The brand says this humidifier can run up to 18 hours on its lowest setting.

Top-rated high-end, smart impeller humidifier: Dyson

3. Dyson Pure Humidify + Cool

With HEPA and activated carbon filters, Dyson's three-in-one humidifying fan purifies, humidifies and cools the room, according to the brand. Plus, Dyson says its Ultraviolet Cleanse technology kills 99.9 percent of bacteria in the water before dispersing it into your home. The multifunctional fan circulates the purified and humidified air with a cool breeze. It also connects with Alexa and Siri and cleans itself for minimal maintenance, according to Dyson.

Top-rated overall evaporative humidifier: Vornado

4. Vornado Evap40 4-Gallon Evaporative Humidifier

With a 4-gallon capacity, this model provides humidification in spaces up to 1,000 square feet, according to Vornado. According to the brand, it senses how much air and circulation is needed in real time and automatically adjusts itself to maintain the ideal humidity.

Top-rated affordable evaporative humidifier: Vicks

5. Vicks Starry Night Cool Moisture Humidifier

If you're looking for a humidifier for your kid's room, this budget-friendly model is a good option. Not only does it self-regulate so the air won't absorb any extra moisture, it can diffuse 95-percent bacteria-free mist, according to the brand. "It also has an antimicrobial filter that removes minerals to prevent white dust in hard water areas and the bonus of a relaxing starry sky projector," Cheung said.

Top-rated high-end evaporative humidifier: Venta

6. Venta LW25 Airwasher

If you're ready to invest in a more robust option, check out the Venta LW25 Airwasher. Ideal for spaces up to 400 square feet, this humidifier cleans allergens and pet dander from the air while infusing moisture, according to the brand. The automatic shut-off feature also makes this filter-free model an energy-efficient option.

Top-rated 'smart' evaporative humidifier: Vornado

7. Vornado EVDC300 Energy Smart Evaporative Humidifier

With an "Energy Smart DC" motor, this humidifier can be up to 90 percent more energy efficient than other humidifiers, according to Vornado. Whether you stick to the 1-gallon tank — which covers rooms up to 750 square feet — or upgrade to the 2-gallon version, the Energy Smart Mode uses as little as 1 watt of power while keeping your space humidified, according to the brand.

Top-rated affordable vaporizer humidifier: Honeywell

8. Honeywell HWM705B Filter Free Warm Moisture Humidifier

Cheung said this 1.5-gallon tank warm mist humidifier is especially quiet because it doesn't have a fan — the only real noise comes from the sound of bubbling water. "There's also no costly filters to replace, but it's important to clean the mineral scale from a warm mist humidifier to keep it running," she added.

Top-rated compact vaporizer humidifier: Crane

9. Crane 2-in-1 Personal Steam Inhaler & Warm Mist Humidifier

This humidifier weighs 2.2 pounds, according to Crane, making it one of the most lightweight and portable options on this list. It also has a personal steam inhaler function that can be set up by replacing the humidifier tank with the included inhaler attachment. The 0.5-gallon tank model can run for up to eight hours of quiet humidification and heats up to 131 degrees Fahrenheit for germ-free mist, according to the brand.

Top-rated high-end vaporizer humidifier: BONECO

10. BONECO Digital Steam Humidifier S450

Although this humidifier heats water until it boils to produce steam, the brand says it's child-friendly, since the vapor output is merely warm instead of potentially scalding. It also has a separate fragrance container for essential oils. Smart functions include automated operation, a sleep timer and a self-cleaning option.

Top-rated "smart" vaporizer humidifier: Vornado

11. Vornado Element SA Air + Steam Humidifier

With an automatic humidity control for a consistent 30 percent to 70 percent output, this model can circulate your ideal humidity throughout a room up to 1,000 square feet, according to the brand. It's aromatherapy-ready with a removable essential oils cup and features lockable touch-sensitive controls, a digital display and an auto-refill notification.

Top-rated overall ultrasonic humidifier: Levoit

12. Levoit LV600HH Hybrid Ultrasonic Humidifier

This ultrasonic humidifier from Select reader favorite brand Levoit features dual temperature control, which means you can choose cool or warm mist around your room. According to the brand, this humidifier can handle spaces as large as 753 square feet and can continuously humidify for up to 60 hours so you don’t have to worry about constant refills. It also includes remote control capabilities that let you turn the humidifier on and off and control mist levels.

Top-rated compact ultrasonic humidifier: MADETEC

13. MADETEC Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier Portable Mini

Not only is this model portable and compact, but it's also at a great price point, according to Jaliman. "It's good for a car, small office and even a small baby's room, because it's small but mighty," she said. "It works for five to 10 hours at a time — one button controls all functions, and you can connect it through USB, as well."

Top-rated affordable ultrasonic humidifier: Pure Enrichment

14. Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier

This humidifier's lightweight design — it’s slightly under 1.5 pounds — can make it great for cozier spaces. The 1.5-gallon model also offers a night function with up to 16 hours of continuous humidification and a nightlight to help create a more soothing sleep environment, according to the brand.

Top-rated 'smart' ultrasonic humidifier: Sharper Image

15. Sharper Image Smart Sensing Digital Ultrasonic Humidifier

"I like this humidifier because it's not only smart but ultrasonic and digital," said Jaliman. "This one adjusts itself based on room conditions and has an ionizer for air purification, as well as an aromatherapy function." It features a 5-liter tank and can provide cool mist in rooms up to 430 square feet, according to Sharper Image.

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