The best humidifier: Fight dry air (and a dry nose) all winter long

The best humidifier: Fight dry air (and a dry nose) all winter long

Here are some of the most important things to consider when looking for a new humidifier.

Here are some of the most important things to consider when looking for a new humidifier. (Jon’Nathon Stebbe via Unsplash/)

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that indoor air humidity levels are kept between 30 and 50 percent for optimal health. Dry air, whether indoor or outdoor, is a recipe for a host of potential inconveniences including dry skin, irritated eyes, and overall dehydration of your body. For individuals with preexisting respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis, dry air can worsen symptoms and cause additional discomfort. Adding a dedicated indoor humidifier to your space is an affordable way to mitigate this common issue, and it doesn’t require a lot of setup or maintenance once you get going.

Humidifiers come in many shapes and sizes, but they’re typically simple systems that take water from an onboard tank and propagate as a fine mist into the air, adding moisture and bumping up the humidity levels. The benefits of increasing the humidity in your indoor space extend far and wide beyond the obvious health boost—it’s just easier to breathe air that’s not dry. The best humidifier for your space will allow you to sleep better, breathe better, and enjoy an overall higher quality of life when spending any amount of time inside.

  • <b>The best central humidifier:</b> <a href=”” target=_blank>Aprilaire 500M Whole House Humidifier</a>
  • <b>The best evaporative humidifier:</b> <a href=”” target=_blank>Pure Enrichment MistAire Eva</a>
  • <b>The best ultrasonic humidifier: </b><a href=”” target=_blank>Homech Cool Mist 6-Liter Humidifier</a>
  • <b>The best humidifier for aromatherapy:</b> <a href=”” target=_blank>TaoTronics Top Fill Humidifier with Essential Oil Tray</a>
  • <b>The easiest to clean humidifier: </b><a href=”″ target=_blank>Canopy Humidifier</a>
  • <b>Best humidifier if you’re on a budget: </b><a href=”” target=_blank>Pure Guardian H910BL</a>

Things to consider when buying a humidifier

The size of your space as well as the level of humidification needed will determine the best humidifier for your needs. This is a category of product with wide variations of size and portability, as well as method of humidity distribution, which means that noise, energy usage, maintenance, and installation requirements are all factors that will determine the experience you ultimately have with your humidifier.

Do you want it to connect to your existing HVAC system?

A central humidifier, or whole-house humidifier, connects to your home’s existing heating and cooling ducts, allowing for thorough and widespread humidity control. If the space in question already has an HVAC system and ductwork, this is by far the easiest and most efficient type of humidifier to add into the mix. These units typically connect to the house’s furnace and use warm air or fans to distribute the moisture into the system.

There are a few subtypes within this design category, and each has small distinctions that will affect which types of homes and designs it’ll excel. The most energy-efficient of these is the bypass humidifier, which extracts the existing moisture from the house’s ductwork and collects it in a tray, where it is evaporated and redistributed. A common variant of this design is a fan humidifier, which behaves the same way but uses an added fan system to accelerate the evaporation process. The third most common type of central humidifier is a steam system, which uses boiling water to provide fresh, clean humidity in the form of steam. Each comes with its own costs of operation as well as size and form factor, but all things being equal, a bypass system is typically going to be the most compact and most cost-effective.

The best central humidifier: Aprilaire 500M Whole House Humidifier

The included water panel evaporator is optimized for high performance when replaced once per season.

The included water panel evaporator is optimized for high performance when replaced once per season. (Amazon/)

This central humidifier from Aprilaire is ideal for homes up to 3,000 square feet in size and has a water capacity of 12 gallons per day. Its streamlined design makes it ideal for tight spaces like utility closets, and it uses a manual control panel and a single sensor to monitor your home’s humidity levels and adjust them accordingly.

What about the classic evaporator?

An evaporator, or evaporative humidifier, increases the air’s relative humidity using—you guessed it—evaporation. This design is simpler and more time-tested than other methods of humidification since it harnesses the same natural process that occurs when you leave a bowl of water in a dry room. Evaporator units typically consist of a water chamber containing a wick, along with a fan that blows through the wick to expel and evaporate the water and distribute it as a mist. When stacked up against other common designs, evaporators are generally more affordable, but the added internal parts, including the wick and filter, require a bit of maintenance and replacement from time to time.

The major plus of an evaporative humidifier is the function of the filter, which keeps mineral scale and other contaminants from being diffused and distributed into your air. This design prevents white dust and other unwanted particles from appearing in the stream of mist, which can sometimes happen with other unfiltered designs. Since humidifiers are products meant to increase your health and well-being, this is important to keep in mind. If allergies, asthma, and other sensitivities are your main consideration, look to an evaporator for your humidity needs.

The best evaporative humidifier: Pure Enrichment MistAire Eva

Whole-room coverage and an included antimicrobial filter for extra peace of mind.

Whole-room coverage and an included antimicrobial filter for extra peace of mind. (Amazon /)

The MistAire Eva evaporative humidifier offers four fan speeds and an auto-shutoff feature that you can set to two, four, and eight-hour increments, making it useful for nighttime and away-from-home applications in spaces up to 500 square feet in size. The dedicated sleep mode offers a seven-color rotating night light as well as an all-lights-off function so you can customize your restful sleep experience.

Consider the noise level

The process of humidification usually requires some form of mechanical intervention, which shows up in designs as a motor-driven fan, boiler, or some other combination thereof. These designs are frequently found in large-scale units, and are almost necessary when required to cover multiple rooms and square-footage. This, however, comes at a cost in noise production, making these units less ideal for sensitive situations such as babies’ rooms, offices, and overnight use. If you want the quietest user experience possible, an ultrasonic design is generally going to be your best bet thanks to its novel usage of inaudible, high-frequency vibration.

In ultrasonic humidifiers, a ceramic diaphragm is placed within the water tank and vibrates against the water at a high rate, causing mist to form and be forced out of the unit. This vibration is created by a piezoelectric transducer, and while this is technically a mechanical vibration, it occurs at frequencies of between one to two Megahertz, making it virtually inaudible despite being high energy. The only drawback of these quiet systems is that this vibration will disperse material contained within the water, which means it’s essential to clean the unit frequently. This can be mitigated greatly by using distilled water.

The best ultrasonic humidifier: Homech Cool Mist 6-Liter Humidifier

Large capacity tank for extended runtimes up to three days.

Large capacity tank for extended runtimes up to three days. (Amazon/)

This whisper-quiet mist humidifier from Homech uses a patented water-drip system that allows it to operate around 26 decibels, making it virtually undetectable even in the quietest rooms. It includes a night mode with optional night light and lights-off functionality, and the tank sports a convenient water-level window and the unit shuts off automatically when the water runs low.

Add a scent

Aromatherapy applications are a convenient and often overlooked way to enhance the health benefits of a humidifier. Oil diffusers are a popular aromatherapy product, but these units are essentially tiny ultrasonic humidifiers, and they use the same process as larger full-room humidifiers to disperse water and oil into the air. Typically, this diffusion happens by adding oil to the surface of the water and letting it diffuse simultaneously, but some humidifiers offer a dedicated oil diffusion tray, which keeps oil from building up inside the water chamber and distributes it at an even rate throughout the humidification process.

The benefits of essential oils run parallel to the benefits of humidifiers in many ways, making them an ideal pairing—since humidifiers condition the air in your space for better breathing and respiratory comfort, they’re a popular sleep aid, and many essential oils are likewise used as sleep aids as well as anxiety reducers. This can be a powerful combination that stimulates the senses, eases tension, and aids respiratory health all at once. When stress is reduced, inflammation is reduced, and the immune system is better equipped to fight off infection and illness.

The best humidifier for aromatherapy: TaoTronics Top Fill Humidifier with Essential Oil Tray

A wipe-clean design equipped with cool and warm mists and automatic humidity monitoring.

A wipe-clean design equipped with cool and warm mists and automatic humidity monitoring. (Amazon/)

This top-fill humidifier has a six-liter tank and a diffusion rate that make it perfect for rooms and spaces up to 753 square feet in size. It’s set apart by an essential oil tray, which sits below the water tank, allowing for easy access and refill, and it includes a remote control for toggling between mist temperatures, mist levels, night mode, and more.

Make sure the humidifier easy to clean

Like all appliances, humidifiers take some care and maintenance to stay clean. Because they distribute moisture into the air, they can be prone to collecting dust and mold if left untreated or unattended for extended periods. If you’re short on time and don’t want to bother cleaning your humidifier often, or if you’re planning on running it constantly, this reality can be mitigated by choosing a unit that requires cleaning less often and offers an easier tidying-up experience when you do have to dive in.

One of the most common and misunderstood features of humidifiers is the inclusion of a filter, which requires infrequent changing, but is designed to keep the rest of the humidifier unit relatively free of contaminants. In the absence of a filter, be prepared to clean your humidifier’s internal parts more frequently and vigorously. Some units are designed to be taken apart and cleaned in the dishwasher, which is a huge plus when it comes to saving time and effort. Another key feature that will keep your humidifier cleaner longer is the use of ultraviolet light to mitigate the formation of mold and bacteria. This will prevent accumulations of gunk inside your humidifier and require less hands-on cleaning when the time comes.

The easiest to clean humidifier: Canopy Humidifier

A compact design with an included diffuser puck for distribution of essential oils.

A compact design with an included diffuser puck for distribution of essential oils. (Amazon/)

The Canopy humidifier is a unique unit that employs a paper filtration system as well as an ultraviolet light to ensure that the water distributed into the air is free of contaminants, bacteria, mold, and viruses. The design is easy to maintain and clean as well, and all parts can be disassembled and washed in any dishwasher.

FAQ: More info on finding the best humidifier

What is the best humidifier for babies?

The best humidifier for babies will be a quiet, ultrasonic unit that doesn’t make too much noise and that releases cool mist—instead of steam—to prevent accidental burns from occurring. Some units include onboard night lights in soft, relaxing colors, which can help lull little ones to sleep without fear of the dark.

What is the best humidifier for asthma?

The best humidifier for asthma sufferers is one that employs filtration of some kind to keep the mist free of dust and water-borne particles. Most evaporation humidifiers use filtration, and some even take it to the next level with mold- and bacteria-destroying UV light, making these the best choice for managing asthma and allergies alike.

What is the best humidifier for large spaces?

The best humidifier for a large space should include a filtration system and a fan as well as a sizable water tank. The fan will help speed up the evaporation mechanism and distribute moisture over a wider area, the larger water tank will accommodate infrequent water changes, and the filter will prevent large-scale dust and mold buildup.

Best budget humidifier: What you get for under $50

For under $50, it’s possible to get a barebones humidifier that forgoes some of the conveniences of more pricey models at the cost of higher maintenance operation. The Pure Guardian H910BL has a simple and easy-to-use design that gets the job done, but the coverage is limited to 210 square feet and the tank is on the small side. It runs for 14 hours, and it features an optional night light. Keep in mind that budget models usually don’t include filters or fans, which adds further cleaning requirements on top of the frequent refilling faced with small tanks. These will work in a pinch, but spring for the next tier up if you want to save time and effort in the long run.

So, what’s the best humidifier for you?

You don’t have to be an allergy or asthma sufferer to benefit from adding a humidifier to your room—it’s a popular way to improve indoor air quality and promote the health of your respiratory system. If you’re looking for a long-term solution, go with an evaporative or steam model that includes a filter, since these will require less frequent maintenance. Ultrasonic models are favored for quietness, and when paired with essential oils, they can be the ultimate way to get to sleep at night. If you’re looking to take charge of the air and stay healthy indoors throughout the year, a humidifier is the key to maintaining the proper level of clean moisture in your space.

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