The Hunt for the Best Humidifier
What humidifier is the best to use for baby's nursery? To find out, we compared nine popular room humidifiers using scientific measurements and real-life testing to determine which model came out on top. During our testing, we looked at effectiveness, ease of use (including cleaning - an essential part of up-keep!), noise, and extra performance features designed to make baby more comfortable. We also considered water filtration to reduce mold, bacteria, and the dreaded "white dust." Keep reading to find out which products came on top, and which to pass on…
Read the full review below >
Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Humidifier
Finally, the Sunpentown SU-4010 provides a warm mist option that helps to maintain a comfortable relative temperature, and a continuously variable mist output control so that you can put as much or as little extra moisture into the air as you like.
Read review: Sunpentown SU-4010
Best Bang for the Buck
Safety 1st 360
Like the Sunpentown, the Safety 1st also has a continuously variable mist output control and dual output jets. As an added bonus, it was the least expensive product in our tests and is a great choice for budget-conscious families. It has all of the basic functions and is a reliable performer without demanding too much fuss or upkeep.
Read review: Safety 1st 360
Analysis and Test Results
Choosing the right humidifier for your baby's room is an important decision. Whether your baby's respiratory passages are congested due to an illness, or the weather is very dry due to the season or your geographical location, putting extra moisture into the air can make a big difference in baby's breathing comfort and therefore promote better sleep. But with the availability of so many different types of products and features, choosing the best product for you can be a daunting task. The last thing you want to do while looking after a little one is to spend hours researching the science of humidification and narrowing down your options to the perfect configuration of features.
How We Test article.
We also spent time using each product at home to see how it performed during the daily grind. Our real-life testing gave us valuable information about how a product's features might or might not fit in with daily life, through tank re-fillings, cleanings, and especially during the night-time hours when what you need is peace and quiet.
Types of Products
Whole-house versus console versus single-room
Humidifiers are available in whole-house, console, and single room unit types. Whole-house products do just what the name says - they achieve even humidity throughout your entire house. Console units are designed for a section or large area of a home. They are difficult to transport, but their large tank capacity and output can provide humidification coverage up into the thousands of square feet. Single-room units are designed to raise humidity in a much smaller area usually given as a measurement as "up to 500 square feet" or simply "250 square feet."
Babies don't need much space in the beginning - a room big enough to fit a crib, a changing table, and perhaps a rocking chair is all that is needed. A baby's nursery is often the smallest bedroom in the house, usually much less than, or at least well under, the current average square footage of 481 square feet for a bedroom according the the National Association of Home Builders.
Cool Mist versus Warm Mist
A traditional warm mist humidifier uses a heating element to warm the water, creating steam that rises into the air. Because this type of product produces very hot water and steam, both of which can be a potential burn risk for inquisitive babies or toddlers, we did not consider this type to be appropriate for our tests. It is worth mentioning that two of the units we tested also provided a warm mist feature in addition to cool mist output (Boneco U7147 Digital, Sunpentown SU-4010). These two tested units differed from the basic warm mist process because they only warmed the water before dispersing it through ultrasonic vibration. The temperature in the base was maintained at less than 104 degrees for both units, but we kept these units well out of reach of little hands just to be safe.
The remaining seven products in our testing group produced cool mist, The "cool mist" label is actually somewhat of a misnomer because cool mist units produce mist using room temperature water without any extra cooling procedure. However, if you have ever been exposed to the spray of a waterfall or a sprinkler on a hot day, you know that water vapor, even at room temperature, can feel cool on the skin.
Ultrasonic versus Evaporative
Honeywell 350, uses evaporation by blowing air over a replaceable wicking filter to produce humidification. This type of product uses a fan and is therefore more noisy than ultrasonic units, but it also doesn't have the tendency to produce white dust as ultrasonic units do. Today, evaporative wicking filters are often pre-treated to reduce accumulation of mold and bacteria, but they still require regular replacing for optimal use.
In the past 15 years or so, consumers have shifted allegiance from evaporative and warm mist humidifiers to ultrasonic humidification technology. There are advantages and disadvantages to all three types of humidification. For more information about ultrasonic versus evaporative, check out our Buying Advice article.
Humidifiers for Health
Controlling room humidity can be very helpful during times of illness or in very dry weather. Recommendations for ideal indoor humidity levels change based on outside temperatures. Too much humidity can cause water damage and encourage the growth of mold and mildew on surfaces, but too little can cause cracking in wood and make you more prone to nosebleeds and dry skin. In general, in the winter you should aim for 20-30% humidity to avoid moisture accumulation, and in the summer you can increase to between 40-50% humidity.
Maintaining ideal moisture levels requires regular monitoring of humidity levels, Maintenance of your moisture source, whether it be an ultrasonic or evaporative unit, is equally important. Cleaning regularly (daily or weekly depending on the instructions) ensures that bacteria and fungi do not come along for the ride with the mist.
Also, if you choose to use tap water with an ultrasonic product, you may discover that white dust begins to accumulate on surfaces nearby.
There are a few ways to reduce white dust when using an ultrasonic humidifer:
- Distilled or Filtered Water — Distilled water is best because it contains no extra minerals. For home, water filtered through a reverse osmosis system is the best because it can potentially reduce extra minerals to levels similar to distilled water. Most homes do not have reverse osmosis filtration systems, however, but may have some type of water filter which would work nicely as well, but likely will not eliminate all minerals.
- Use of a Filter — This is highly recommended if you are planning on using unfiltered tap water, particularly if you live in an area of hard water. The reason is that if you are using an ultrasonic product (which as we explained, most single room humidfiers are these days), white dust will be greatly reduced. Some of the units we tested such as the Sunpentown SU-4010 and the Boneco U7147 Digital come with a filter in the box. Others, such as the Crane Adorable and Crane Drop Shape, offer demineralization filters as an accessory to be purchased separately. Regardless, replacing filters at the recommended intervals which are typically anywhere from every 2 to 6 months will be an additional cost which should be considered prior to purchasing a system.
Criteria for Evaluation
We evaluated each competing product using a weighted system divided between four areas: ease of cleaning (40%), effectiveness (30%), noise (20%), and ease of use (10%). For effectiveness, we relied on data collected by BabyGearLab during in-house testing to rate each product. For ease of cleaning, noise, and ease of use, we added real-life testing results to the mix in addition to using testing data and product use guidelines to compare each product. Read on to learn more about each area of comparison.
Ease of Cleaning
We scored each product from 1-10 for ease of cleaning with 10 being the easiest to clean during normal operation. Products with fewer parts and wider openings for cleaning access such as the Honeywell 350 scored highest in this area.
We gave the Ease of Cleaning score the most weight out of all of our rating areas because regular cleaning is essential in making sure that the humidifier helps your baby rather than causes harm. When water is left to sit in the tank base, it will naturally accumulate bacteria and fungi. Although there are ways to reduce the accumulation and presence of these organisms, there is no healthy way to permanently eliminate them. As the protector of your child's health, you are charged with the weekly (or sometimes daily) task of cleaning the internal workings to keep it from spreading mold and bacteria into the air.
You may be surprised to learn that descaling, or reducing mineral deposits on the surfaces of the base is considered to be part of the necessary cleaning routine to reduce the presence of unhealthy pathogens living on the surfaces. The need to descale can be reduced by using distilled or filtered water. To learn more about descaling and how improper maintenance can leave the door open for mold, mildew, and other unwanted yucky things in your baby's environment, see our article How to Choose the Best Humidifier for your Baby.
Boneco U7147 and the Vornado Ultra3 scored well in this area because they were able to put out a lot of mist in a short period of time to bring humidity levels up quickly and keep them there. In our tests for effectiveness, we kept conditions as similar as possible to focus on each unit's mist output. It is important to keep in mind that the effectiveness scores in our tests may not be as important to you as scores for noise or ease of use if your goal is to humidify a very small room, or just a part of a room such as the area around the crib. All of the products we tested were able to raise the moisture level in the immediate vicinity around the unit.
Noise was rated from 1-10 with 10 being the quietest. For this area of comparison, we considered both the measurement on a decibel sound meter placed 1 meter from the unit when operating on its highest setting, as well as the type of sound produced by the unit. We feel that a unit that produces more of a "white noise," or a collection of frequencies that range across the sound spectrum, is much more conducive to 40 winks than a unit that produces noise centered around a specific pitch. For example, even though the Crane Drop Shape produced less noise on the decibel meter than the Duux Ultrasonic, it received a lower score due to the high-pitched whirring noise that its motor produced.
Ease of Use
Each product was judged on a scale of 1-10 for ease of use with 10 being the best by equally considering both features and design. By features, we mean that the product offers more functional capabilities than competitors. The Boneco U7147 Digital is an example of a product with a high feature rating. For design, we considered how easy and intuitive each product was to use. The Vornado Ultra3 scored high in design because it was able to offer extremely effective humidification in a compact design while still allowing for the use of extra features with simple self-explanatory controls. Ideally, a product should be "plug and play:" you shouldn't have to worry about spending too much time decoding how to use the unit and configuring it for use, but you also want it to include enough features and options to meet your needs.
Buying Advice article if you're still unsure of which product is right for you.
— Ellen Baker & BabyGearLab Team
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.
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