Picking the right humidifier
Humidifiers can help restore the balance of moisture in your home, particularly in dry climates and during the winter. They also can alleviate discomfort and symptoms associated with colds, asthma and other ailments by keeping the air moist.
The two main types of humidifiers are cool-mist humidifiers and warm-mist humidifiers.
There are three types of cool-mist humidifiers. Most popular are ultrasonic humidifiers, which use high-frequency sound waves to vaporize water. They are also the quietest. Some ultrasonic humidifiers also can emit warm mist. Evaporative humidifiers soak up water into a wick and use a fan to expel the moisture. As a result, these models can be noisy. Humidifiers can be inexpensive, but replacing their wicks or filters is an ongoing cost. Some cool-mist humidifiers use impellers to force (impel) water into the air as a fine mist; however, we found no positive reviews for those humidifiers.
Warm-mist humidifiers (sometimes called vaporizers) boil the water before expelling it as steam. This can eliminate bacteria that's present in the water if it's heated to a true boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, but it also means that minerals can build up in the tank and on the heating element over time, and they're not always easy to clean. Some people prefer warm-mist humidifiers, saying the heated vapor is easier to breathe (especially if you're congested) and that it gently raises room temperature. But experts say the difference between cool mist and warm mist is minimal, and doctors, such as those at the Mayo Clinic caution that warm-mist humidifiers pose a safety hazard because they can be tipped over by young children, scalding them. They are also less energy efficient. Expert reviews are generally neutral to negative for this type of humidifier, and users aren't that much more pleased. In general, if you want a humidifier that can emit warm mist, we recommend an ultrasonic model that can produce both cool and warm moisture.
Finding the best humidifiers
In selecting the best humidifiers we weighed several factors, including performance (moisture output), ease of use, noise and the ownership experience, looking for both the best performers, and those that deliver the best bang for the book.
Both experts and users were consulted. On the expert side, it's tough to find a better resource than ConsumerReports.org, which tests more humidifiers than anyone else. However, not all of the humidifiers listed on the site are current models (though many are) and the results of its hands-on tests can only be viewed by subscribers. TheSweetHome.com also consults ConsumerReports.org and other experts and reviewers, but then conducts its own testing to find the best choice. We also looked at comparative reviews conducted by Good Housekeeping and Slate; though both are now a little dated, enough of the models covered there are still available to make both resources somewhat useful.
While experts often agree on which humidifiers are best, we found a sometimes startling divergence of opinion when it came to user reviews. This is likely because issues that don't always manifest during the short time experts have to evaluate a humidifier do show up after weeks or months of use. In some cases, issues apply to one user -- hard water, for example -- but don't apply to others. As a result, user ratings for humidifiers as a class are often mixed. Be that as it may, we consulted the user reviews at Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com, Sears.com and others in compiling these recommendations.
Elsewhere in this Issue:
Best Humidifiers: Ultrasonic humidifiers get the lion's share of attention and positive feedback from experts, but how do they stack up in owners' eyes. We look at the feedback and name top choices.
Best Cool-Mist Humidifiers: If you have a smaller area to humidify, or want to keep an eye on your bottom line, these evaporative cool-mist humidifiers make terrific choices. Here are the best of the best.
Best Whole House Humidifiers: Is your whole house as dry as a tent in the desert? These whole house humidifiers will get things moist in a hurry.
Best Warm Mist Humidifiers: We look at the pros and cons of warm-mist humidifiers, and make our recommendations for those who find warm moisture preferable to cool.
Buying Guide: Need more information before deciding on a type and model of humidifier? You can find the answers to many common questions regarding humidifiers in our helpful Buying Guide.
Our Sources: These are the sources of expert and user reviews we used to prepare this report on humidifiers. We rank them in order of timeliness and helpfulness.