Humidifiers release water vapor or steam, which increases moisture levels into the air (1). When the humidity is high within a confined space, irritating conditions and health issues caused by dry indoor air are reduced.
These devices are ideal during winter where the risk of catching a cold is higher and indoor areas are heated. Warm weather and hot temperatures are the source of dry air production and it is under these climate conditions that sinus and respiratory issues arise.
There are certain humidity levels that a space has to be in to prevent certain problems, including the development of allergies and asthma. When one acquires a humidifier, they must be aware of what levels are appropriate for their situation and how to get the device to thoroughly maintain that level.
Each humidifier serves a specific purpose. It is recommended that you do the appropriate research prior to searching for the best one for your preferences and circumstances.
Health Benefits of Humidifiers
The main purpose of a humidifier is to add moisture to the air and to regulate the temperature of a room or household. When a living space has a moderate humidity level, those within in can be protected from nasal and sinus infections, respiratory issues, sleep irregularity, and inadequate oxygen levels. See below for the specifics in how a humidifier can prevent these problems.
1. Humidity Eases Congestions
The nose’s purpose is to clean the air that passes through it, providing as an option to breathing (14). When you are outside during the summer or inside when a heating system is on, you will be breathing in dry air or air that does not have moisture.
If you are inhaling dry air, mucus becomes thick, which causes stuffy noses in addition to agitated nasal passages, sore throat, and painful sinuses (6).
Some doctors compare the congestion of the nose with tears. If tears were thick and sticky, they would not flow as well. The same goes with mucus. Stuffed noses can make breathing difficult, but with mist from a humidifier, you will be able to breathe more easily as your sinuses are cleared (2).
Bottom Line: Inhaling dry air will cause mucus to thicken, resulting in congestion along the nasal area. To mobilize the mucus and clear the sinuses, doctors have suggested using a humidifier, which will moisten the nasal passages, making breathing easier.
2. Humidifiers Prevent Nosebleeds
Nosebleeds are caused by some disturbance or irritation of the membranes that are lined within the nose (15). Dry air, colds, and allergies can lead to a nosebleed since they all cause cracked skin inside the nose and frequent nose blowing (16).
Those who suffer from nosebleeds often or during the winter can benefit from using a humidifier because it adds moisture to the air, which will then lubricate and soothe the nasal passages, thus preventing or stopping the occurrences (3). In fact, humidifiers have been identified as a primary factor in the prevention of nosebleeds.
Bottom Line: When you are breathing in dry air through the nose, the membranes within the nose will become irritated. This occurrence results in nosebleeds. Humidifiers can moisten the air that you breathe, which will soothe nasal passages and prevent nosebleeds.
3. Humidifiers promote well-nourished skin
If you expose your skin to dry air, it can become cracked, dull, and flaky (2). You may even develop wrinkles faster when immersed in dry air. This occurs because dry air removes the moisture from your own skin (3).
Dry air is normally produced in hot temperatures. This can include putting the heat on in your home during winter. It is at these times when you will most likely experience itchy and irritated hands as well as chapped lips.
When immersed in humid air, however, your skin will emit a healthy glow and feel smooth.
Humidifiers can also prevent breakouts on your skin. When the air is dry, the skin on your face produces oil, which causes blemishes. Moisturizing your face often with lotion can reduce acne as well as being under proper humidity levels.
Bottom Line: Your skin can become cracked and damaged when in dry air. Acne can even be developed under these conditions. However, damaged skin and breakouts can be treated through face lotions and moist air, which humidifiers can create.
4. Humidifiers Lowers the Risk of Developing Colds and Flus
When the air is humid, germs soak in the moisture in the atmosphere of the room, which makes them heavy. They are unable to swarm as swiftly as they would in a dry environment (3).
Humidifiers can moisten the air, thus making it hard for bacteria and germs to move around (2). Not only can humidifiers slow the the spreading of viruses, they can also eliminate them, which prevents the development of colds and flus.
Using the best humidifier will also quicken the recovery process as the mist can moisturize both your throat and your nose, reducing the need to sneeze and cough.
In fact, it has been proven that when you raise the humidity in your living or work space up to at least 43%, nearly 85% of airborne viruses are terminated.
Humidifiers can also free the tiny hairs that are in your nose, which will block any germs from entering through that passage.
Bottom Line: In a humid climate, germs are unable to move around easily. Most germs can even die from such intense moisture levels. Through the use of a humidifier, you can raise the humidity levels in your home to at least 43%, which will eliminate a majority of viruses, including those that cause colds and flus.
5. Humidifiers Reduce the Effect of Respiratory or Lung Diseases
Respiratory or lung diseases can include any ailment that troubles the lungs (17). This can include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis, and lung cancer.
A product that is highly recommended for maintaining respiratory problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) specifically, is the COPD humidifier (18).
It is recommended that warm air is inhaled when you have a respiratory illness and with these humidifiers, you will be able to change the temperature and quality of the air within your home, which can be extremely helpful especially during the winter.
COPD humidifiers can help you cough up phlegm more easily and reduce nasal irritation.
If you wish to use a COPD humidifier, however, then you need to have a prescription or a recommendation from a doctor.
Bottom Line: COPD humidifiers are created to reduce symptoms caused by respiratory or lung diseases. They are able to regulate the temperature and quality of the air to your specifications, which will help reduce phlegm build-up and nasal irritation. A doctor must recommend this product to you before you buy or use it.
6. Humidifiers can Soothe Sore Throats
Sore throats can occur when you have a cold or a flu, both of which can develop during winter (19). You will be able to tell if it is simply a sore throat and nothing else if you are experiencing muscle pain, fatigue, fevers, headaches, and hiccups. If you have a sore throat longer than 7 days, you may have strep throat or tonsillitis.
If you have a cold or the flu, you will most likely have a runny nose, also known as post-nasal drip, which can make the throat sore or worsen the pain if it was sore to begin with. When this happens, your throat will feel raw and dry. Drinking water will help, but is irritating to swallow during this state.
With a humidifier in your room, you will be able to breathe in moist air, which can calm your sore throat while you are sleeping (2). This can cure anything from a slight irritation to strep throat. When you wake up, you will be able to swallow without feeling any agitation.
Steam vaporizers are a perfect solution to treating sore throats because you can add a medicated inhalant to the water, which will be soothing to the throat.
Bottom Line: When you have a cold or the flu, you may experience post-nasal drip, or a runny nose. Post-nasal drips can cause sore throats or further influence the pain. To soothe this pain, you should drink plenty of water and use a steam vaporizer to humidify the air. Breathing humid air will rehydrate you and calm your sore throat.
7. Humidifiers Help You Sleep Better
If you have an irregular sleep schedule, you can develop chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes (3).
Sleeping problems can include snoring, which is a result of low moisture levels in your noise.
With the use of a humidifier, moisture will be added to the air that you breathe at night. As the air enters your throat and nose, snoring will decrease, which will improve your sleep quality (2).
Humidifiers can also warm up a room. This will calm you and help you get to sleep faster and keep you asleep throughout the night. Humidifiers are well-suited for babies and toddlers who tend to get fussy when it comes to bedtime.
Bottom Line: Irregular sleep schedules can lead you to develop high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Snoring prevents a lot of people from getting a healthy amount of sleep. Humidifiers can add moisture to the noise, which will reduce snoring, and keep the room warm, thus improving your sleep quality.
8. Humidifiers Quicken Recovery Speeds
Though humidifiers are beneficial in preventing common illnesses, they can also speed up the recovery process when you are already sick with nasal infections, colds, and flus (3).
Amid dry air, sinuses do not drain, which brings forth nasal blockage and irritation. By humidifying the air, your nasal passages, throat, and bronchial tubes will be soothed. It can also make breathing easier during chest, nose, and throat infections.
Breathing in humid air will reduce coughing and sneezing, and moisten nasal passages and throat, all of which will help you heal from nasal infections quicker.
Bottom Line: Your sinuses will not drain properly when you are breathing in dry air. This is particularly problematic when you are sick with a cold, flu, or nasal infection. With a humidifier, the air will be moist enough to soothe nasal passages, throat, and bronchial tubes, which will reduce coughing and sneezing and improve recovery times.
9. Humidifiers Reduce Allergens in the Air
In addition to moistening the air, humidifiers can also purify it, eliminating allergy triggers (3). Humidifiers with anti-microbial and air purifying filters are highly successful in reducing allergy symptoms (6).
However, humidifiers are only effective in the reduction of allergens when properly maintained and cleaned regularly (20). By using a hygrometer, or a device that measures the humidity in a room and is connected to the humidifier, you can monitor the humidity levels in your house. To keep allergens such as dust mites at bay, the humidity range of your home should be between 40 to 50%.
Clean and change the filter in your humidifier often to avoid to production and spreading of mold spores. Use distilled or demineralized water in the humidifier to prevent bacteria growth in the device and in your air. A failure to do so can result in the creation of white dust in your air, which can pose as an allergen trigger.
Humidifiers can either prevent or cause allergies if you are not careful. It may be wise to consult your doctor before you look into purchasing a humidifier for your allergies.
Bottom Line: Humidifiers are effective in eliminating allergy triggers when the devices are properly maintained. To do this, you must keep the humidity levels of your home between 40 to 50%. This can be done using a hygrometer. You must also change the filters of the humidifier regularly and use distilled water often.
10. Humidifiers Preserves Your Voice
If you wake up in the morning with a cracking voice, it means that you were inhaling dry air while you were sleeping (3). Breathing in dry air for too long can cause you to lose your voice.
You can also experience vocal fatigue if your profession requires that you be vocal for long periods of time (21). These professions can include teachers, preachers, lawyers, and customer service representatives. When you have vocal fatigue, you can sound hoarse and raspy and you will be coughing and clearing your throat often.
To be able to talk clearly, your vocal chords need to be well lubricated. This would mean drinking a lot of water and using a humidifier.
It is recommended that those who suffer from a cracking or hoarse voice should rest their voice when they can whilst breathing in cool mist emitted from the appropriate humidifier.
Bottom Line: Crackling or hoarse voices can be the result of breathing in dry air or talking often and for long periods of time. This is called vocal fatigue and can be treated by resting your voice, drinking plenty of water, and hydrating your throat with a humidifier.
11. Humidifiers Reduce Asthma Triggers
During asthma attacks, the inside of airways are inflamed and more phlegm is produced, which makes breathing challenging (22). The air needs to be moist so that there is enough lubrication in the throat to prevent inflammation and the phlegm can flow more easily.
Humidifiers will be able keep the air moist, but they must be at certain humidity levels and temperatures in order to be truly effective.
You can use a humidifier to keep your home below 40 and 50%, which, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, will keep asthma attacks to a minimum (5).
Though you can use either a warm mist or cool mist humidifier to reduce asthma triggers, steam vaporizers and warm mist humidifiers are the most preferred due to the soothing air that they emit.
Bottom Line: To prevent an asthma attack, airways need to be lubricated and phlegm needs to flow more freely. Humidifiers can reduce the occurrence of asthma attacks by keeping the humidity of your home below 40% and producing a warm mist. Steam vaporizers are ideal for these circumstances.
12. Humidifiers Prevents Headaches
The weather can pose as a trigger for headaches and migraines (24). In fact, barometric pressure, or the combination of air and water pressure in the atmosphere, is a leading factor in getting migranes.
It hardly matters whether the barometric pressure is high or low because a migraine is caused by a change in pressure not from a specific intensity of the pressure. This is the reason why some people are able to tell when the weather is changing based on a headache.
Barometric pressure can produce either high or low humidity, which changes oxygen levels. When trying to inhale the proper amount of oxygen in relation to an environment’s humidity, the brain may not function as well as it normally does. To compensate, blood vessels may expand or contract, which compresses nerve fibers and causes headaches.
While you may not be able to control outside humidity levels, you can regulate them inside your home using a humidifier. These devices can ensure that the humidity levels in your living space are always unchanging, which will prevent headaches and migraines.
Bottom Line: Headaches and migraines are caused by a change in barometric pressure or in oxygen levels. When the brain is not receiving the amount of oxygen that it needs, it may not act properly, which results in headaches. To prevent this, humidifiers evenly regulate the barometric pressure of your home.
13. Humidifiers are Good for Babies and Toddlers
When placed in a nursery, a humidifier can keep your child healthy by protecting your child from dry air (25). With a humidifier, you will be able to prevent the development of sore throats, dry sinuses, and stuffy noses, which may be agitating to your children and yourself.
Babies are more at risk to these illnesses to their newly developing immune system, but if you have a humidifier, it will add moisture to the air, relieving your child of illnesses that can be caused by dry air, such as sore throats, and will prevent rashes and redness to their skin.
Humidifiers can also produce a sort of white noise, which can be soothing for your child and eases them into a gentle slumber.
Bottom Line: Babies and toddlers can benefit from having a humidifier in their rooms because it will add moisture to the air, which will lessen their chances of developing symptoms that may be extremely irritating to young ones such as sore throats, dry noses, stuffy noses, rashes, and sleeping problems.
14. Humidifiers Protect Your Hair and Scalp
Your hair can also react well with slightly increased humidity levels.
If you live in a dry environment or within a home that is heated, you may find that your hair is breaking off or reacting to static electricity and that your scalp is itchy to the point of creating dandruff.
Just as unhealthy hair is a result of a dry and itchy scalp, a dry and itchy scalp is the result of a hot climate or temperature (23). Hair can even have a frizzy appearance due to warm weather. While intense humidity can do damage to your hair and scalp, if monitored and evenly distributed, humidity can keep your hair healthy and can even help it grow.
The recommended humidity levels for healthy hair maintenance and growth are between 35 to 45%.
Bottom Line: Warm climates can cause dry and itchy scalps, which can lead to unhealthy hair. When hair is unhealthy, it tends to break off or have an unappealing appearance. The same damage can be the result of high humidity levels, but moderate and evenly distributed moist air, which can be produced by a humidifier, is ideal in healthy hair maintenance
15. Humidifier can Keep Your Houseplants Healthy, Which Will Increase the Oxygen Levels of Your Home
During photosynthesis, plants will be able to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in a home and produce more oxygen. However, plants may not be able to prosper under household conditions if the air is dry. Plants need water in both their soil and their air in order to survive.
Humidifiers will be able to keep a home between the humidity levels of 40 and 60%, the ideal humidity range for plants to thrive (6).
Bottom Line: Plants will be able to do their job at producing oxygen when they are properly hydrated. This means that they need to be watered regularly and that the humidity levels of your home are between 40 to 60%. The more plants you have in your home, the better the oxygen levels inside of it.
How to Choose the Right Humidifier
While humidifiers hold many benefits, they can also lead to many health issues if you buy the wrong one. There are various types of humidifiers and it is recommended that you purchase one that can accommodate to your health and living conditions.
1. Each humidifier Has a Specific Procedure
There are at least 5 types of humidifiers that you can choose from. If you want a humidifier that can increase moisture levels throughout your entire home, you can get a central humidifier which can be built into home heating and air conditioning systems (1).
Steam vaporizers use electricity to moisten the air, but those who have children are discouraged to purchase this type of humidifier because they heat the water before cooling it and emit it into the air. This means that there is a storage of hot water inside the devices. When spilled the hot water can cause serious burns (3).
On the other hand, steam vaporizers are inexpensive, portable, and can be found in most drugstores.
If you want a humidifier that emits a cool mist, you can get either an ultrasonic or an impeller humidifier. Ultrasonic humidifiers produce this mist through ultrasonic vibrations while impeller humidifiers use a rotating disk. Though ultrasonic humidifiers vary in price depending on the size, they can emit both cool and warm mists and are suitable for children.
Impeller humidifiers are less expensive and are the most child-friendly since they produce little to no burns. However, they are only able to work for one room and can cause difficulties for those with allergies and asthma if used too often.
Lastly, evaporators have a wet wick, filter, or belt that a fan blows air through, which adds moisture to the air. While evaporators are the most affordable, they only work one room at a time and are problematic for those with asthma because it produces too much mist, increasing mold growth.
Bottom Line: Humidifiers perform in different manners. Central humidifiers can be built into the heating and cooling systems of your home. Steam vaporizer emit hot steam, but use a lot of electricity and may cause burns. Ultrasonic uses ultrasonic vibrations and impellers use rotating disks, but does not reduce allergens. Finally, evaporators use a fan to distribute mist, but can produce mold.
2. Decide Which Size of Humidifier is Best for Your Preferences
You can purchase a console unit or a portable (also known as personal) humidifier (4). Consoles are intended to add moisture to your entire home. Due to this demanding purpose, consoles are rather large. However, they have wheels, so they can be moved and provide more humidity into one specific room if necessary.
Consoles work best when all doorways within a household are open and are more suited for houses between 1700 and 2700 square feet (7).
Customers typically purchase the portable humidifier, which is the smaller option, making it easier to move. The more popular portable humidifiers are the ultrasonic cool mist humidifiers. However, these types of humidifiers will need to be refilled often.
Another option would be a room humidifier which can humidify a space of 650 to 1200 square feet.
Bottom Line: Console humidifiers are meant for large spaces of 1700 and 2700 square feet and can add moisture to an entire home. Portable humidifiers are the most common since they are small and can be moved around easily. Lastly, a room humidifier can only humidify a single room so long as it is around 650 to 1200 feet.
3. Pick a Humidifier that has a Hygrometer Built In
The ideal humidity in a home is between 30 to 50%, which may seem easy enough to maintain, but levels of humidity can change along with the season (1). For example, during hot weather, the humidity within a space can increase while it decreases during colder weather.
When humidity levels are too high or too low, problems can arise. With high humidity comes stuffy air and condensation on surfaces like walls and floors. Condensation can allow bacteria, dust mites, and mold to grow, all of which can cause respiratory issues and asthma reactions or attacks.
If the humidity levels are too low, the air can irritate your skin, nasal passages, throat and eyes.
You can test the humidity in your home by using a hygrometer, which is like a thermometer, but measures the humidity in your home rather than the temperature. Though hygrometers can be bought at any hardware or department store, they can also be built into certain humidifiers.
Humidifiers with humidistats, or built-in hygrometers, can measure the humidity levels of your space and produce the right amount of moistened air for your home regardless of the season..
Bottom Line: To keep you home between the ideal humidity levels of 30 to 50%, it is recommended that you get a humidifier with a built-in hygrometer, also known as a humidistat. By doing so, you will be able to measure the humidity level of your home and adjust your humidifier to change these levels when necessary.
4. The Maintenance Required for Humidifiers
Should you use certain humidifiers often, they can emit too much mist. This can spawn mold, which negates the reason why you acquired a humidifier in the first place. Steam vaporizers can develop the most bacteria if they were not maintained properly (4). Fortunately, they are also the most easiest to clean.
More often than not, all you have to do is change the water out between uses. Only occasionally will you have to clean the actual unit out, but every two or three days, you will have to wash the bucket and filter system.
Sometimes, humidifiers emit minerals and microorganisms, which do little damage, but may be irritating to those with asthma. The production of minerals and microorganisms can be avoided if you use distilled water in your humidifiers.
Bottom Line: To avoid the production of mold and other asthma triggers, you must clean your humidifier often. This would include changing the water often, cleaning the unit, and washing out the bucket and filter system. You should only use distilled water in your humidifiers to emit clean air.
5. Cool Mist Vs Warm Mist
There are humidifiers that offer either cool mist sprays or warm mist sprays. Both of them have advantages and disadvantages, but one may be more preferable for you over the other.
If you choose the cool mist humidifier, the device will emit a mist at room temperature throughout large areas (6). It uses very little electricity, is quiet, and can run for 24 hours on 2 gallons of tap water.
The water in the cool mist humidifier is then sanitized by a UV light, absorbed by a anti-microbial filter, and emitted as a cool mist. This mist then terminates nearly 100% of germs including viruses, bacteria, fungus, mold, and spores.
Warm mist humidifiers, on the other hand, use a heating tool to warm the water before releasing the mist. These types of humidifiers use more electricity because of this. While it is true that warm mist humidifiers can pose more of a danger to users since the hot water inside can spill and burn, the fact that the water is boiled inside, proves that it is at least 95% germ-free.
In certain warm mist humidifiers, such as the Vicks Warm-Mist Humidifier, there is a medicine cup inside which can hold Vicks Vaposteam or Kaz Inhalant. The combination of both will produce a medicated vapor, which will greatly help those who are sick with colds or flus. This specific device also comes with a built-in nightlight for young children.
Bottom Line: There are cool mist and warm mist humidifiers. Cool mist humidifiers use little electricity, is quiet, can run for long periods of time, and kills most germs. Warm mist humidifiers use more electricity, but eliminates more germs than cool mist humidifiers. They are also more suited in treating colds.
6. Consider Purchasing a Humidifier with a Timer Built into It
If you like, there are humidifiers available that will puff out mist into your room at a particular time each day (8). Both tabletop and console models can have timers built into them. These devices can humidify your home while you are away at work, and by the time that you come back, the air in your house would be just the way you prefer it to be.
The only disadvantage to having your humidifier working with a timer is that the water inside the device can develop microbes as it sits there when the humidifier is not in use. If you were to breathe in these microbes, your risk of getting a cold or any other infectious disease will be increased (9). This can be prevented by drying the humidifier in between uses.
Bottom Line: If you purchase a humidifier with a timer on it, you will be able to humidify your room at a time of your preference. To avoid the water collecting microbes, however, you should dry the humidifier between uses.
7. Beware the Noisy Humidifier
Generally speaking, most humidifiers hardly make any noise. However, some may be more sensitive to sounds than others, and there is no guarantee that any humidifier will be noiseless (11).
If you wish to get a humidifier for the bedroom or home office, an ultrasonic humidifier is ideal because it uses a sound of frequency that is too high for us to hear. Therefore, it is the quietest of all the humidifiers.
In comparison, the Aircare MA1201 Whole House Console Humidifier is one of the loudest humidifiers - a tradeoff for its power. It uses evaporative technology to emit about 11.4 gallons of moisture daily and can humidify a room or space of 2000 to 3600 square feet. It has humidistat control and four fan speeds, which makes it incredibly efficient.
In most cases, you will have to determine whether a noisy humidifier with all of your other preferences is better than a quiet humidifier with nothing else to offer.
Bottom Line: Ultrasonic humidifiers make the least noise and are favored by most, but the Aircare MA1201 Whole House Console Humidifier is an example of a decent working humidifier that makes a lot of noise. It is up to you to decide whether noise is acceptable in an otherwise great humidifier.
8. The Cost in Purchasing, Operating, and Maintaining a Humidifier
You may think that buying the cheapest humidifier will be good enough for your home and your expenses, but just because the initial price tag of the product was reasonable does not mean that it will not drain that much energy, which may be the case for certain humidifiers (10).
Warm mist humidifiers, for example, can waste a lot of electricity when heating up water.
While portable humidifiers are cheaper, usually around $20 to $60, console humidifiers are more expensive due to their size, how much energy they use, and the installation required. A simple central humidifier can cost as little as $100, but the larger the device and the more that it will require, the price can get up to $1,600, not including regular maintenance (13).
Most customers will not be interested in a console since they are mainly used for businesses. Homeowners will generally purchase the portable humidifiers instead.
Bottom Line: Portable humidifiers are cheapest as they cost around $20 to $60. However, console humidifiers can cost anywhere from $100 to $1,600 because of their size and the installation required. Those that run on electricity will waste more money in the long run.
If properly maintained, a humidifier can hold many health benefits. It can prevent congestion symptoms like headaches and sore throats, ward off allergy and asthma triggers, and help babies and adults sleep better at night.
Your health aside, humidifiers can also protect your furnishings and keep you comfortable and warm during cold seasons.
When humidifiers are not cared for, however, they can do more damage than good. Therefore, it is important that you find the best humidifier for your needs and give it the maintainence that it requires.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.