This time of year, I get a lot of questions about humidifiers. As temperatures drop outside, we turn up our thermostats for relief. But that warm air is dry, leaving our skin, hair and mucus membranes parched. Add in a cold or flu, especially a sick baby, and you’ll be temped to run out and buy the first humidifier you can get your (very dry) hands on—but wait!
The humidifier market is crowded with products–cool-mist and warm-mist humidifiers; big units, small units, and whole-house humidifiers; cute humidifiers for baby; humidifiers with “air washing” and UV features; etc. When I started researching humidifiers and saw all of these options, I understood why so many readers and clients ask me for help choosing one!
You may have also heard about some of the health risks associated with humidifiers. They can over-humidify a space, which may lead to the growth of mold and bacteria in your home. If not cleaned regularly, the humidifier itself can be the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. And warm-mist humidifiers, also knows as vaporizers, come with a burn risk because they heat water to create steam. Many pediatricians warn against using these units near children.
All that said, a good humidifier could become your best friend this winter. Here are my top tips for humidifiers–what kind to choose, and how to use it to maximize benefits and eliminate drawbacks:
- Choose an evaporative cool-mist humidifier. According to my research, one of the best cool-mist humidifiers is the Honeywell HCM-350. (Shoppers agree; it’s the best-selling unit on Amazon!) Warm-mist and cool-mist are the two basic types of humidifiers. Aside from the burn risk mentioned above, warm-mist humidifiers are higher maintenance and often more expensive. You should also avoid ultrasonic cool-mist humidifiers, which are more likely to over-humidify your space.
- If you’re set on the idea of warm mist, consider Stadler’s HERA Ultrasonic Humidifier, which produces both cool and warm mist. This is a good humidifier, but because it’s ultrasonic, you run the risk of over-humidifying your space. Get a hygrometer and monitor it to make sure the humidity level in your home stays in the safe range of 30-50%.
- Avoid humidifiers that require the addition of quaternary ammonium compounds, as they are linked with asthma and respiratory disorders, as well as skin allergies and irritation. For instance, Venta humidifiers require a “water treatment additive,” which contains the aforementioned compounds.
- Keep your humidifier clean! This might mean cleaning it daily or every few days. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. I recommend using white vinegar to clean them.
- But don’t worry about features that kill water-borne microbes or purify your air. Some units (including the Honeywell cool mist humidifier I recommend) have UV bulbs that are supposed to kill germs in tap water. Unless you’re living off the grid, your drinking water shouldn’t have these germs. Also, some humidifiers claim to have “air washing” abilities. Studies by Consumer Reports and others conclude that these claims are pretty much bogus. Don’t rely on a humidifier to purify your air. Instead, try a natural charcoal purifier, like a Moso bag.
- Last but not least, start with good water. One of the most important (and overlooked) considerations when it comes to humidifiers is the water you put into the unit. Unfiltered tap water is full of all kinds of unhealthy stuff. If you use water that contains chlorine, for instance, the humidifier vaporizes chlorine and spreads it through your home.