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During the winter months, as the combination of cold air and overheated homes dries out the skin, humidifiers can boost much-needed moisture, emitting water vapor into the air. That moisture helps alleviate dry skin, chapped lips, nose bleeds, and other cold-weather conditions. Although fewer people think to use them during the summer months, humidifiers aren’t just for the wintertime, explained Jessie Cheung, MD, 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.” Therefore, investing in a humidifier gives you year-round benefits.
What are humidifiers good for?
Humidifiers help maintain a certain range of humidity in specific rooms or your entire home. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the EPA recommends "maintaining indoor relative humidity between 30 and 60 percent" to avoid the potential of mold growing. When it comes to human comfort, the CDC noted the humidity level should remain below 65 percent, according to the American Society for Health Care Human Resources Administration.
"Humidity that's too low or too high can cause problems," the Mayo Clinic notes:
- "Low humidity can cause dry skin, irritate your nasal passages and throat, and make your eyes itchy.
- High humidity can make your home feel stuffy and can cause condensation on walls, floors and other surfaces that triggers the growth of harmful bacteria, dust mites and molds. These allergens can cause respiratory problems and trigger allergy and asthma flare-ups."
Advantages of using a humidifier
Other than regulating your home's humidity and aiding in the above preventative measures, 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 Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at 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. The added moisture released into the air can be soothing for itchy and inflamed skin.
They might help relieve allergies. Humidifiers can help those who suffer from seasonal allergies. “They can also help those who tend to get a bloody nose from dryness and allergies,” added Jaliman.
Best humidifiers by type
There are four different types of humidifiers, each boasting a different way of producing hot or cool moisture (or both) into the air.
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 noted. But the fans can be noisy and the wick should be cleaned to avoid overgrowth of bacteria and mold.
Steam vaporizers have internal heating technology 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 above 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 looking to upgrade your current model, there are different features to keep in mind.
- Automatic shut-off. Self-regulating humidifiers are able to automatically turn off. This avoids putting too much moisture in the air, which can speed the growth of mold and mildew, said Cheung.
- Mold resistance. Any mold that forms within the water or machine can be disterpsed 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, explained Vanessa Rothholtz, MD, a board-certified otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon.
- Tank size and different settings. The size of the tank as well as the different setting speeds will impact how long the humidifier can run before needing to be refilled was well as the size 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.
Best impeller humidifiers
According to our experts, if you're looking for a new impeller humidifier, these are the best cool-mist options across various price points.
Best compact impeller humidifier: Homasy
The Homasy Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier is compact yet holds 2.2L of water. It can run on 24 hours of continuous use when using the low mist level and features a dial knob for you easily adjust the mist. Jaliman enjoys the similar Homasy Upgraded Cool Mist Humidifier for its filter, which he describes as a "very unique filter style that helps to keep the water dispersed germ-free."
Best overall and affordable impeller humidifier: Honeywell
Jaliman loves this one-gallon tank that infuses moisture into the air because of it's UV technology that kills 99% of bacteria in the water. "This allows for the moisture the humidifier emits to be virtually germ-free," Jaliman says.
Cheung agrees with this top pick and also loves her Honeywell Cool Mist Humidifier because "it can also run continuously for 24 hours on the low setting and at least a full night on the high setting."
Best high-end, smart impeller humidifier: Dyson
A splurge is Dyson's three-in-one humidifying fan purifies, humidifies and cools room. Plus, it kills 99.9 percent of bacteria in the water before dispersing it into your home, according to Dyson. The multi-functional option circulates the purified and humidified air with a cool breeze. It also connects with Alexa and Siri and cleans itself for minimal maintenance.
Best evaporative humidifiers
Our experts recommend checking out these models for those interested in a humidifier that uses a wick system.
Best compact evaporative humidifier: AIRx
This self-adjusting humidifier can run multiple days without needing a refill. It can handle rooms as large as 300 square feet and allows you to set the desired humidity level with three different output options.
Best affordable evaporative humidifier: Vicks
If you're looking for an option for your kid's room, this budget-friendly model is a fantastic option. Not only does it self-regulate since the air won't absorb any extra moisture, but it diffuses 95 percent bacteria-free mist. "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.
Best high-end evaporative humidifier: Venta
If you're ready to invest in a more robust option, check out the Venta LW25 Airwasher. Ideal for larger spaces up to 400-square-feet large, this humidifier could be especially useful for allergy sufferers. Not only does it clean allergens and pet dander from the air while infusing moisture, but the filter-free model is more energy efficient with an auto-shutoff.
Best "smart" evaporative humidifier: Vornado
With an "Energy Smart DC" motor, this efficient humidifier uses 90 percent less emergency. Whether you stick to the one-gallon tank or upgrade to the two-gallon version, the Energy Smart Mode uses as little as one watt while keeping your space humidified.
Best overall evaporative humidifier: Vornado
With a four-gallon capacity, this powerful model provides humidification in spaces up to 1,000 square feet. It's also about to sense what is needed in real-time to maintain your ideal humidity and automatically adjusts itself accordingly.
Best vaporizer humidifiers
The experts we consulted also recommended these steam humidifiers, often known as vaporizers.
Best compact vaporizer humidifier: Crane
Not only does this, humidifier's portable design makes it ideal for personal space, but it also has a second component: Personal steam inhaler function. The 0.5-gallon tanks model can run for up to eight hours of quiet humidification and heats up to 131 degrees for germ-free mist.
Best high-end vaporizer humidifier: BONECO
Although this humidifier heats water until it boils to produce steam, it's child-friendly because the vapor output is hand-warm instead of potentially scalding. It also has a separate fragrance container for essential oils. Smart functions include automated operation, sleep timer and self-cleaning.
Best "smart" vaporizer humidifier: Vornado
With an automatic humidity control for a consistent 30-70 percent output, this model effortlessly circulates your ideal humidity throughout a room up to 1,000 square feet. It's aromatherapy-ready and has lockable touch-sensitive controls.
Best affordable and overall vaporizer humidifier: Honeywell
Cheung said this 1.5-gallon tank warm mist humidifier doesn't have a fan and it's ultra-quiet — aside 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," Cheung added.
Best ultrasonic humidifiers
According to the pros, these ultrasonic humidifiers are top-of-the-line, whether you want to splurge or stick to a budget-friendly option.
Best compact ultrasonic humidifier: MADETEC
Not only is this model portable and compact, but it's also at a great price point, Jaliman explained. "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 5-10 hours at a time, one button controls all functions and you can connect it through USB as well."
Best affordable ultrasonic humidifier: Pure Enrichment
This humidifier's portable design makes it ideal for personal space, and it's also surprisingly quiet. The 1.5-gallon model also offers a night function with up to 16 hours of continuous humidification and nightlight to help create a more soothing sleep environment.
Best "smart" ultrasonic humidifier: Sharper Image
"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."
Best high-end ultrasonic humidifier: Dyson
Certified as asthma and allergy friendly by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, this Dyson ultrasonic humidifier kills 99.9 percent of bacteria before hydrating the air through an "ultraviolet cleanse" technology. This machine also has dual functionality, so the hygienic mist can also cool you during the summer.
Best overall ultrasonic humidifier: Homech
With a nozzle that rotates 360 degrees to bring even mist throughout a room and mist output that's one-meter high, enjoy hydrated air that won't dampen floors. Plus, with a six-liter tank, you can get up to 100 hours of uninterrupted humidification without refilling it.
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