In winter,‘tis the season to be CRANKY, particularly when the temperature begins to drop and the relative humidity falls to about 10%. Add to this the increased use of indoor heaters and your home environment begins to feel like the Sahara! Having a humidifier may reduce the irritating symptoms of dry, itchy eyes, nose, and skin. One study found the increase in air humidification from 10% to about 13% on an intercontinental flight resulted in the sensation of better air quality and fewer complaints of dry eyes and nose. With winter also comes the cold and flu season, so a humidifier may be necessary if you or a loved one suffers from one of the following: croup, whooping cough, bronchitis, sinusitis, or chronic cough.
There are different methods to humidify room air. First is the evaporative method, one of the most popular, which uses a wick (also functioning as a filter) placed in a reservoir of water. With the help of a fan(s) water evaporates off the wick (assuming the room’s relative humidity is low). Once the relative humidity has reached a certain point the humidifier will shut off. These humidifiers give off a cool mist. Since no water is boiled they are also energy efficient. An ultrasonic humidifier uses a metal diaphragm which vibrates and sends water droplets into the air. Another type is the impeller humidifier that uses a rotating disc that sends water into a diffuser sending tiny droplets into the air. One frequent complaint of the ultrasonic and impeller humidifiers is there is no filtration system so minerals from evaporated water sometimes cause a fine white dust on objects in the room. The last type is the vaporizer. Remember the Vick’s vaporizer your parents used to place near your bed when you had a bad cold, leaving the room stinky with that menthol smell? It’s new and improved makes my “Best of the Best” and “Best of the Rest” categories. This humidifier boils water, releasing moisture into the air. It may not be the most energy-efficient but it is effective.
Choosing a humidifier is easier once you answer the following questions:
1. How many rooms are you trying to humidify?
2. Is there a specific medical condition you are using it for?
3. Is an “energy-efficient” model important to you?
I will limit my review to the tabletop humidifiers that humidify single rooms. However, know that there are console humidifiers that have the power to humidify multiple rooms. You can even have a humidifier installed into a forced air furnace to humidify the whole house.
Next, you have to decide, do you want “cool-mist” or “warm-mist”? This is where “What are you using it for?” becomes important. If you are using the humidifier for a medical problem, such as those listed above, a cool-mist humidifier may be your best bet, particularly if there is a child in the house. The last thing you want is a warm-mist humidifier to get knocked over. The boiling water will bring a howl from anyone nearby!
Last, but certainly not least, my two cents. I am compelled as an allergist to end with a “warning”. Humidifiers can be a breeding ground for nasty mold and bacteria. Make sure to empty and clean the reservoir daily and refill it just before use. It’s ok to be obsessive about this, otherwise you run the risk of spraying mold and bacteria throughout your house and having an even bigger problem.
Additionally, if you suffer from allergies to dust mites you may want to reconsider a humidifier or use it sparingly as needed. Dust mites thrive in overly humid environments. You don’t want these visitors taking a vacation in a tropical paradise your humidifier has created. So try to keep relative humidity between 30-50%.
1. Norback D, lundgren T, Wislander G. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2006 Apr; 32(2):138-44.
Health Care Expert Reviews
These tabletop humidifiers are great for single rooms.
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