Humidifier Buying Guide

Most people bring out their humidifiers around the time that they trade flip flops for boots, but you may benefit from using one year round if you suffer from severe sinus problems. These machines add moisture into the air of your home or work environment, offering relief from dry skin, chapped lips, bloody noses and sinus congestion. You may also find humidifiers helpful when someone in your home comes down with a cold or the flu.

Types of Humidifiers

If you want to add moisture throughout your home in an efficient manner, consider adding a central humidifier to your HVAC system. While this is the most expensive type of humidifier, it allows you to pump water vapor into every room of your home just as you deliver cool air and heat through your centralized system. Many people use these systems to prevent damage to the wood and carpeting throughout their homes, which is a problem for some people living in extremely dry climates.

Humidifiers that sit on a dresser or tabletop are more common than central systems because they require a more reasonable upfront investment. They also allow you to limit the humidifier's output to specific areas of your home. For instance, you may want to use the machine in a child's room when they are suffering from a severe cold. You will have to select between cool and warm mist humidifiers, depending on your intended use.

Cool mist humidifiers feature a wick filter that soaks up water and traps impurities from the surrounding air. A fan blows air from the room through the filter, disbursing water vapor to add moisture to the air that you breathe. While the fan in this type of machine will make more noise than most warm air humidifiers, the fan also allows the machine to treat a larger area. If you don't want to change the filter on a routine basis, look for models that feature washable, reusable filters. Some brands are now making cool mist units that don't require a filter, but they are often more expensive than systems with a filter.

Warm mist humidifiers eliminate the filter entirely. The machine boils the water, releasing the natural water vapor directly into the air. These machines are quieter during operation because they don't need fans, and some units allow you to add Vicks or other medicinal vapors for maximum relief of cold and flu symptoms.

If you travel a lot and want to moisturize the air in your hotel room, look for compact humidifiers. These machines are often marketed as "travel humidifiers" because they're smaller and lighter than most tabletop or tower units. You can take some of them in your luggage while on business trips, or you can keep one in your car when you visit family for the holidays.

Pay Attention to

If you can't afford to invest in a central humidifier, you may need more than one portable unit to moisten the air throughout your home. Some users prefer to keep one machine in their bedroom or another room where they spend most of their time. Others set up one machine in each area of the home, especially during the dry winter months. Read the box or online description to determine the square footage covered by each machine.

While reading the instructions for setting your humidifier up, pay attention to the care instructions. Whenever water is present, you have to worry about the growth of mold and bacteria, and that includes accumulation inside your humidifier. You will need to take the machine apart and clean it thoroughly, and each manufacturer will provide instructions for cleaning and other maintenance tasks.

If someone in your household suffers from severe allergies or asthma, discuss the use of a humidifier with their doctor. While some sufferers find these machines helpful or even essential, others report that their condition worsens with added humidity.

If you intend to run your humidifier daily or want to make sure that you actually need one, pick up a hygrometer, otherwise known as a humidity gauge. This inexpensive tool will help you determine the current humidity level in the air, and you can use it to monitor humidity while your machine is in use. You don't want to exceed 55 percent humidity because it can attract insects into your home or encourage the growth of dust mites, mold and bacteria.

Since warm mist humidifiers produce hot vapor that can make a room feel warmer, you may not want to run this type of machine during the summer. Consider buying two machines so that you have the warm vapor on hand during the cold and flu season while using the cool vapor to improve the humidity as needed during the warmer months.

Top Brands and Product Lines

Vicks

If you will use your humidifier primarily during cold and flu season, pick up a Vicks unit that allows you to distribute soothing Vicks medicine into the air. This will help relieve congestion and some other cold and flu symptoms.

Dyson

This brand offers a unique type of humidifier that treats the water with cleansing ultraviolet light to prevent the growth and distribution of bacteria. The machine can treat more than 170 square feet and has a modern design that is aesthetically pleasing.

Crane

This brand is most popular for creating a line of adorable humidifiers shape like fun animals, monsters and trains. Each colorful machine comes with a funny name or slogan, such as "Something to Squeal About" for the pig humidifier and "Hip, Hip, Humidify" for the hippo machine. Crane also makes a line of drop cool mist humidifiers that don't require a filter.

Honeywell

This is a leading brand for central humidifiers, but they also sell tower humidifiers that cover larger areas than most tabletop machines. If you invest in one of their fan-powered systems for whole-house treatment, you may also want to buy one of their humidity monitors to ensure that your home is kept within a healthy humidity range.

Air-O-Swiss

If you're shopping for portable humidifiers that you can easily take away from home, this is a brand to consider. They make a lightweight base that allows you to create water vapor from any 16-ounce water bottle. Just remove the lid from the water bottle and screw it into the base before turning the machine on.