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Heating and air conditioning strip your home’s air of its natural humidity. The result: An uncomfortable dryness that leaves your skin feeling dehydrated, contributes to sinus and respiratory problems, and even promotes static electricity—that annoying shock you get every time you cross a carpeted room and touch the television. A little added moisture in the air helps alleviate dust mites and soothes irritated nasal passages. In addition to a handful of household hacks, homeowners can rely on humidifiers to help the situation. Humidifiers have been around for decades but today’s models offer more choices than ever before. We’ve done the legwork and found out what features buyers want most in room humidifiers as well as which models they rate as the best room humidifiers.
Demystify cool mist versus warm mist. Both cool mist and warm mist humidifiers add much-needed moisture to dry indoor air, with slight differences.
• A standard warm mist humidifier brings its water to a boil to inject the room’s air with a little extra moisture; this high heat reduces the risk of bacterial transmission, leading it to be considered slightly healthier. Warm mist humidifiers are also typically quieter to operate since steamy mist naturally rises, eliminating the need for an internal fan. They do require additional cleaning, however, because the boiling process leaves behind mineral deposits.
• A cool mist humidifier uses a fan to blow air through a damp wick, so it can be noisy when it turns on. Cool mist humidifiers are preferable to warm mist humidifiers, however, in homes with small children since undo the dry air without presenting a risk of steam burns to little fingers.
Understand ultrasonic technology. Ultrasonic humidifiers—the new kids on the block—can disperse a warm mist or a cool mist, or both. Cool mist option is more common, but some models include an internal heater that facilitates a cool mist in the summer and warm mist in the winter. Instead of utilizing a strong fan, as your standard cool mist humidifier might, an ultrasonic humidifier breaks up water droplets into mist using a ceramic diaphragm that vibrates at a frequency too high to be audible to the human ear. Best of all, most ultrasonic humidifiers are whisper-quiet, so they won’t interfere with your sleep.
Size up your needs. A humidifier that is too small may not be sufficient, while one that’s too large could add so much moisture in the room that droplets appear on furniture and other surfaces. Fortunately, humidifiers are rated by intended room size. A small room humidifier effectively treats rooms with less than 400 sq. ft. of floor space. They are often portable and lightweight, making them a good choice for bedrooms, nurseries, kitchens, and other small rooms. Medium-size room humidifiers treat rooms between 400 to 900 sq. ft. and are only semi-portable. For a room with 1,000 sq. ft. or more, look for a large room humidifier. Large room humidifiers feature bigger water reservoirs and therefore are stationary.
Here’s what reviewers—everyone from the experts who tested selections out in their laboratories to the consumers who have grappled with the pros and cons to find the best room humidifier long before you—said about today’s top models.
Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier with Auto Shut-Off ($30)
In the warm mist humidifier category, SweetHome recommends one of the oldest names in the vapor industry, Vicks. The Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier with Auto Shut-Off is a small, affordable choice for those who prefer warm mist. This model holds one gallon of water and runs for up to 24 hours before needing to be refilled. For extra decongestant and sinus-soothing power, fill the built-in medicine cup with Kaz Inhalants or Vicks Vaposteam. This model’s lower noise level and soft nightlight option earn the machine a strong 4-star rating on Amazon. The auto shut-off feature turns the humidifier off if the reservoir runs dry. The medicine cup, removable tray, and mist chimney are dishwasher safe for easy cleanup. Available on Amazon; $29.86.
Luma Comfort Cool and Warm Mist Humidifier ($110)
Home Depot reviewers give the Luma Comfort Cool and Warm Mist Humidifier an enviable 4.5-star rating. This preferred table-top model’s reservoir is just under one gallon and easily humidifies a room up to 538 sq. ft., making it suitable for any mid-size room in your house. Running on its lowest speed, a single fill-up can last up to 40 hours. You can set the timer for up to 12 hours, and with the Luma’s built-in hygrometer, you can select the level of humidity you prefer, from 30% to 70% relative humidity. While the Luma Comfort humidifier tops the charts in cool mist humidifiers, it has the additional advantage of being able to switch over to warm mist if desired—its demineralization cartridge reduces hard water deposits formed from the boiling water, make cleaning a snap. Available at Home Depot; $109.99.
Boneco Air-O-Swiss® 7144 Digital Warm & Cool Mist Ultrasonic Humidifier ($230)
Good Housekeeping puts the Air-O-Swiss 7144 at the top of the list of best-performing ultrasonic humidifiers. This model earns high praise for its large, easy-to-see digital display and the use of silver ions that reduce microbial bacteria transmission. With a hefty 3.5-gallon tank capacity and high output, the Air-O-Swiss easily humidifies rooms up to 650 sq. ft. for up to a week on a single fill. That sort of capacity makes it ideal for larger mid-size rooms, like great rooms or recreation rooms. In addition, this model is virtually silent, so it won’t disrupt sleep or study. It comes with the ability to disperse either warm or cool mist, and you can set the timer so it turns on and starts emitting comfort an hour or so before you’re due to arrive home. At just over $200, it’s the most expensive model in our roundup, but customer reviews, at 4.3 stars, indicate it’s worth the extra money. Available at Kohls; $229.99.