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Best Cool-Mist Humidifiers

By: Carl Laron on October 24, 2016

Strong performance and easy maintenance pushes Honeywell to the top

Among evaporative cool mist dehumidifiers, the Honeywell HCM-350 (Est. $60) retains its title this year as the Best Reviewed choice. It's a strong performer in testing at TheSweethome.com, earning that site's recognition as the best humidifier overall, but a middle of the road finisher at other expert review sites. User feedback -- including a 3.9-star rating at Amazon.com based on over, 2,500 reviews, and a 4.5-star rating at Walmart.com based on nearly 150 reviews -- while far from exemplary, is certainly better than we see for many other humidifiers.

Like all evaporative humidifiers, the top negative out of the gate is that it will be louder than an ultrasonic humidifier (see below), but how much louder seems to be in the ear of the beholder. BabyGearLab.com calls it very loud, while TheSweethome.com says that it's very quiet, although not as silent as an ultrasonic humidifier. More important, the editors add, is that the pitch of the noise emitted is unlikely to be too objectionable. "Rather, it's a pleasant white noise that sounds like a box fan on a medium to low setting," they say. A third, independent expert splits the difference and rates the noise performance as Very Good, but without providing further explanation.

The HCM-350 holds its own against even pricier humidifiers in terms of effectiveness, most experts say. "While it didn't top the charts, it was a solid performer, raising the relative humidity of my office by 14 percentage points over the course of three hours," says the Sweethome.com's John Holecek and Tim Heffernan. Another reviewer gives the humidifier top grades when it comes to output.

Maintaining a humidifier is a vexing problem, even with models that earn top grades overall. Not so with the Honeywell HCM-350. "The Honeywell didn't have any of the difficult-to-reach areas and small spaces that some of the ultrasonic humidifiers had, and we could easily fit our entire hand into the water tank to clean it," says Ellen Baker at BabyGearLab.com. TheSweethome.com is thrilled that any parts that come in contact with water are completely submersible for easy washing, and that the tank and bottom water tray are even dishwasher safe. There is a replaceable filter that needs to be changed periodically (how often depends on the hardness of your water) at a cost of around $8, and that ongoing cost is the source of a number of the negative user reviews we spotted. There's a UV light that's said to kill germs in the water, but reviewers say that's more marketing hype than an effective feature.

Everyday ease of use is good -- for the most part. The controls are simple and straightforward, and the tank is easy to fill. One additional plus is that the tank is made from a single piece, without any seams, so that the chances of it developing a leak over time are diminished. "This means it will likely outlast its three-year warranty, which is already generous compared with most models' one-year warranty," Holecek and Heffernan say.

As this is an evaporative rather than an ultrasonic humidifier, the issue of it generating a white dust if hard water is used is eliminated, though one expert reviewer only rates it as Good in performance with hard water. Baker grouses about the size: Between its large footprint, and the need to keep the space around the intake vents clear, "We couldn't fit it on a standard night stand without taking everything else off, nor could we put it on our carpeted floor because the carpeting would block the vents."

The Honeywell humidifier is suitable for rooms up to 500 square feet. If you have a very large room (up to 1,000 square feet), we've seen some encouraging feedback for the Vornado Evap40 Vortex Humidifier (Est. $120). It's recommended in one large independent review, and rated as a Best Buy, though it's compared there to large console humidifiers meant to humidify multiple rooms or a whole house. If you are looking for a whole house humidifier, those are covered in their own section.

Convenience is good with this Vornado model. Its four-gallon capacity is supplied by two easy-to-fill, and easy-to-clean, removable tanks. Noise is an issue with all evaporative humidifiers, and one expert gives the Evap40 its lowest score on that parameter. However, while there are user reviews that agree, others say that the humidifier is actually relatively quiet. How it's used might account for the discrepancy. The expert reviewer at AllergyBuyingClub.com says that operation can be characterized as "whisper quiet" when the humidifier is used at its lower speeds.

User feedback, though limited compared to some humidifiers, is on the high side of what we see for this category. For example, at Amazon.com, it earns a rating of 4.4 stars based on the reviews from more than 200 owners.

Ultrasonic cool mist humidifiers

If you have a smaller space to humidify, and would prefer the quieter operation of an ultrasonic model, the Safety 1st Ultrasonic 360 (Est. $30) draws some kudos from experts. It's the Best Value award winner and the runner up in testing to the SPT SU-4010 (Est. $80) (covered in our section on the best warm mist ultrasonic humidifiers) at BabyGearLab.com, and earns another Best Buy recommendation among small room dehumidifiers in an independent test. That latter test gives top marks to this humidifier's output (for its class), energy efficiency and noise levels. This small humidifier offers adjustable output, with two rotating nozzles to direct the mist, and it can humidify an area up to 330 square feet.

User reviews are a little concerning, however. Some complain that the Ultrasonic 360 isn't very durable, while others say it's prone to leakage. A few owners also say that the humidifier can be knocked over easily. All of that leads to user ratings at sites like Amazon.com -- where it earns a score of 3.5 stars following more than 1,900 reviews -- that sit a notch or two below some other choices, such as the Honeywell HCM-350. On the other side of the ledger, many users say this humidifier produces good mist output and is very quiet. They also like the auto shut-off feature and say the analog controls are easy to use.

The situation is similar with the Crane EE-5301 Cool Mist Humidifier (Est. $50). It draws a recommendation from one well-regarded expert reviewer, but lackluster feedback elsewhere. This small tabletop ultrasonic humidifier has a 2.3-gallon output and can humidify a 250-square-foot room. It has variable mist output, an automatic shut-off feature and a rotating nozzle to direct the mist. It is sometimes referred to as the Crane Drop because of its unique drop-shaped profile. It's available in a spectrum of colors, including blue/white, aqua, black, green, orange, pink, red and white. Experts are split on performance. One expert rates it top for output, but the reviewers at TheSweethome.com and BabyGearLab.com are very unimpressed.

User reviews largely say that this Crane humidifier performs well in appropriately sized rooms and is very quiet. Ratings vary widely, depending on the site, but are about the same as other ultrasonic humidifiers; i.e., not very impressive. The most common complaint among owners concerns the small, 1-gallon tank, which needs to be refilled frequently and may leak when it's removed for filling. Like many cool-mist humidifiers, the Crane may emit fine white particles that settle on furniture and fixtures. The dust is residue from minerals found in tap water; it's harmless, experts say, but annoying nevertheless. Using distilled water can help mitigate this issue, but adds to maintenance costs. A demineralization filter (Est. $9) that sits in the bottom of the humidifier is also available.

Crane also produces a line of animal-shaped ultrasonic humidifiers that are mechanically similar to the EE-5301 Cool Mist Humidifier, yet actually fare better in reviews, making them a top choice for a young child's bedroom.

The Crane Adorable Ultrasonic Humidifier (Est. $35) collection is available in a number of fun shapes. One version, the Crane Adorable Owl -- dubbed whimsically as Oscar the Owl by Crane, and officially as the model EE-8189 -- earns a Best Buy rating from the same reviewer that bestows a recommended rating on the Crain EE-5301. It performs identically to the EE-5301 in output, efficiency and noise, and rates a level better in convenience and how it handles hard water. Aside from their shell, other versions are identical; shapes include a frog, duck, tiger, elephant, pig, cow, pig, panda, dragon, dog, penguin, monkey, hippo and more. Other adorable but non-animal models include a train engine, robot, space alien and Hello Kitty.

User reviews again vary a little by site, but most seem pleased with all versions of this humidifier; for example, the owl version rates 4 stars based on more than 530 reviews at Amazon.com. As with the Crane EE-5301, the Crane Adorable humidifier is only rated to be effective in a 250-square-foot space, and a few owners seem disappointed with that. Also like the Crane EE-5301, some owners had problems with leaking from the tank. The Adorable Animal series uses the same demineralization filter as the Crane Drop. Most say that it helps keep down dust for those with hard water, but that it might not eliminate it completely and that the filters don't last very long.

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