Staying warm in the winter comes at a cost—and we don’t mean just your heating bill.
Dry skin, itchy eyes, scratchy throats, cracked lips, and nosebleeds are just a few of the health issues that can kick in when you fire up your home’s heating system for the season.
Winter’s discomforts don’t have to keep you up at night, though. There’s an easy way to instantly improve indoor air quality for a more comfortable night’s sleep during the winter months: a home humidifier.
What’s a humidifier?
A humidifier’s job is simple: add moisture to the air.
There are a few different types of humidifiers:
Warm mist humidifiers
- Steam vaporizers: Steam vaporizers boil water to create steam, then release it into the air. Because water is boiled before being released, this tends to be one of the most hygienic types of humidifiers.
- Central humidifiers: Central humidifiers are connected to a home’s central air conditioning/heating system. There are a few different types, but the most popular create steam that’s distributed back into your home’s airflow.
Cool mist humidifiers
- Ultrasonic humidifiers: Ultrasonic humidifiers use vibrations to release water molecules into the air. They’re very quiet, and because they don’t use boiling water, they’re a safe option for children.
- Evaporative humidifiers: Evaporators release moisture into the air through a fan. They’re typically inexpensive, and the filter helps to keep bacteria and other harmful microorganisms out of your air.
- Impeller humidifiers: Impeller humidifiers use a spinning disk that sends water into the air through a diffuser. The spinning disk makes a low humming noise, and the tank needs to be cleaned regularly to prevent bacteria from being released into the air.
Which is better: warm mist humidifiers or cool mist humidifiers?
Cool mist humidifiers tend to be either evaporative (they produce moistened air) or ultrasonic (a high frequency shakes up water and releases droplets into the air). Warm mist humidifiers, on the other hand, add moisture to the air from boiling water through steam or water vapor.
Either one will get the job done, but the choice depends on how much maintenance you want to do and whether you have children at home. (In that case, a cool mist humidifier, which has no heating element, might be safer.)
Healthier air: the health benefits of humidifiers
Dryness and low humidity can make your body’s defense mechanisms, like mucus, less effective. Humidifiers offer a great range of health benefits, especially during the winter months when you’re most susceptible to illness.
Humidifiers can help:
Prevent respiratory infections
Along with bloody noses, dry air can make bronchitis, sinusitis, and even the influenza virus much easier to contract. Humidifiers can keep your nasal passages moist and ready to trap and expel harmful viruses and bacteria, lessening the likelihood of illness during the winter months.
Soothe asthma symptoms
Dry air can cause inflammation in your lungs and lead to constriction, worsening asthma symptoms, and, in some cases, triggering an attack. More moist air, on the other hand, relaxes the lungs and is much easier to breathe.
It’s important, however, that indoor humidity levels stay just right. Indoor humidity should stay between 30% and 50%—anything more might have the same impact as dry air and tighten your airways. Air that’s too humid can also trap allergens like pollen, dust, and dust mites, which can also worsen asthma.
You can use a hygrometer to keep an eye on the humidity levels in your house. A good rule of thumb: If you see droplets forming, it’s a sign to turn down the dial.
Other health benefits of humidifiers
Humidifiers can help with a slew of health problems caused by dry air, including:
- Bloody noses
- Dry and itchy skin
- Sinus congestion
- Cracked lips
- Unproductive cough
- Irritated throat
Humidifiers: know the risks
While humidifiers can certainly have their benefits when it comes to sleep, they’re not without their drawbacks.
No matter which kind of humidifier you choose, make sure to clean it regularly. Water that’s left sitting around in the device can lead to the growth of bacteria, mildew, and mold, which can exacerbate allergy symptoms and even lead to respiratory problems like pneumonia.
Many humidifier tanks are dishwasher safe, though be sure to follow the cleaning directions on your device. It’s also important to clean the filters in your humidifier as well.
Risk of fire
Warm mist humidifiers can become scalding hot, which can come with a risk of fire. In fact, the National Institutes of Health recommends using a cool mist humidifier to avoid the risk of burning.
Especially if you have kids running around the house, a cool mist humidifier might be the best choice to reduce the chance of burns.
Can I sleep with a humidifier?
If you sleep easy in cooler, drier weather, you likely don’t need one. But if you’re noticing symptoms—a dry throat or skin, nosebleeds, or if you have a cold-it’s worth amping up the humidity to find out if a little moisture can do you a lot of good.
Consider these three humidifiers:
- Honeywell Germ-Free Humidifier: It’s relatively inexpensive, easy to clean, easy to refill, and nearly silent on the lowest setting. Because it’s a cool mist humidifier, it also doesn’t use as much electricity.
- Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier: If you must have warm mist, this top-rated pick is a warm mist humidifier that’s also affordable, clocking in at just about $43.
- Levoit Ultrasonic Humidifier: You’ll pay a little more (about $80), but you’ll get features such as a display that lists the actual humidity in the room.
Should I use filtered, distilled, or tap water in my humidifier?
While any type of water is usually fine for most humidifiers, it’s best to use distilled water. Tap water and filtered water contain minerals that can cause bacteria growth in the tank. The minerals can also cause a layer of white mineral dust to form around the area of the humidifier. If you use tap or filtered water, just be sure to clean your humidifier a couple of times a week.
Will a humidifier kill my houseplants?
No, actually the opposite. Many types of plants prefer more humid air and would benefit from a humidifier in the house.