The Basics

Humidifiers come in all shapes and sizes, but these are the main types that you can purchase for a room in your home.

1. Vaporizers heat the water and release warm steam into the air.

2. With an evaporative humidifier , water in the reservoir is absorbed into a wick filter and, aided by a fan, evaporated into the air.

3. Ultrasonic humidifiers have parts that vibrate at a high frequency, creating a fine water mist that is released as a cool fog. They do not involve a filter and are generally quieter than the evaporative models.

According to the Mayo Clinic, humidity in your home should be between 30 and 50 percent. Make sure you keep the right balance. While low humidity dries out skin and irritates your nose and throat, too much humidity can leave wetness around your home, creating an environment for bacteria, dust mites, and mold to grow.

A Room-by-Room Guide

With so many different models available, you may be left wondering which humidifier is right for you. But the question really should be: Which humidifier is right for each room in your home? Let’s go through the rooms that might need relief from winter dryness.

Nursery or Kids’ Room: Your pediatrician has probably suggested that you use a humidifier in the winter months to prevent dry skin and congestion. Babies are particularly susceptible to congestion, and dry air only worsens the problem. Many doctors prefer cool-mist humidifiers because vaporizers produce hot steam that can pose a burn danger for small children. But other experts favor vaporizers because the heating process kills any bacteria present in the water, and warm, moist air is conducive to breathing more easily—and thus, perhaps, sleeping too. You will want to weigh these two options based on your nursery's layout, child’s mobility, and their ability to heed your warnings.

Master Bedroom: Depending on your preference, a cool- or warm-mist humidifier can be used for an adult bedroom. Even if you usually like a cool mist, it may be a good idea to have a vaporizer ready to go when you’re sick and could use the extra jolt of steam. That warm air can feel good when you're feeling achy and have a chill in your bones.

Living Room or Den: Be sure to choose a unit that can provide enough moisture for the size of the room. (Different models will have this information on the box, including the number of square feet it can cover and the hours of operation per full tank of water.) This may be a room in which you’d like a humidifier with an aromatherapy feature. Also, because this is a space where you may host guests, you might want to pay extra attention to the design of the humidifier and how it fits into (or can be hidden from) the rest of your décor. Of course if you have a curious toddler, you'll also want to be careful to place the humidifier somewhere they don't have access, keeping both them, and your nice rug, safe from accidents.

Keep it Clean

A key consideration of humidifiers is making sure they are well maintained and clean. Humidifiers, with their odd shape and so many parts, can be tricky to clean, but it's important to do so because of all the exposure to water. You'll want to empty the remaining water from the tank every morning and leave the unit open to dry. You'll also want to clean the tank and parts at least once a week. Wet parts and standing water are, unfortunately, ideal places for mold and bacteria to grow, and the last thing you want is for you and your baby to breathe that in.

So take a good look at the design of the humidifier: Is the opening of the water reservoir big enough for you to get your hand or cleaning brush inside all the nooks and crannies? Is the water tank dishwasher safe? Does it require any special cleaners or descalers to decrease mineral buildup, or the “white dust” you often see on humidifiers? (Some brands recommend this every two to three weeks, depending on the hardness of your water.) And if you choose a wick humidifier, you need to know how often the filter needs to be cleaned and changed. Make note of the cleaning method that’s recommended by the manufacturer and keep to a schedule to ensure that your humidifier is releasing clean moisture into your home.

A Note About Air Purifiers

Air purifiers contain filters that remove dust, allergens, and odors from the air. They are especially useful for families with pets looking to keep dander in check, as well as those with kids who have allergies. While humidifiers produce humidity, purifiers produce clean air, so often families run both at once depending on their needs.

With those basic guidelines in mind, let’s take a look at the different kinds of humidifiers that are on the market now: vaporizers, evaporative, and ultrasonic humidifiers.