Honeywell HUL520B Review

From $26 Best

Pros:

  • Humidifies small spaces effectively.
  • Half-gallon tank lasts up to 18 hours on low.
  • Automatic shutoff when the tank is empty.
  • Very quiet ultrasonic technology.
  • Easy to fill and clean.
  • No filter to replace.
  • Small, compact design.
  • Available in white, blue, red, and black.
  • 2-year limited warranty.

Cons:

  • Some reports of limited longevity.
  • Some mention of leaks in online reviews.

Takeaway: The ultrasonic Honeywell HUL520B emits enough cool mist for small rooms or a user's personal space. Reviewers say it benefits from weekly cleaning with vinegar or bleach, while distilled water or demineralization cartridges help minimize white dust. They like the ease of use -- especially the absence of a filter -- and consider this personal humidifier essential for easy breathing.

Vicks V745A Review

From $36 Best

Pros:

  • Slot for inhalants to help relieve congestion.
  • Emits plenty of warm vapor for midsize or even large rooms.
  • Heated water kills most germs, spores, and mold.
  • Runs quietly, with soft bubbling.
  • 1-gallon tank lasts up to 12 hours on low.
  • Automatic shutoff.
  • No filter to replace.
  • Compact design.
  • 3-year limited warranty.

Cons:

  • Scattered reports of leaking.
  • Small fill opening makes cleaning difficult.

Takeaway: This Vicks humidifier is a popular model among consumers with a preference for warm mist and a filter-free design. Many take advantage of the medicine cup to add inhalants when feeling under the weather, and are grateful for the relief. They also appreciate the bargain price. A newer model, the V750 (starting at $30), runs up to 24 hours on a 1-gallon tank and features a small compartment for Vicks VapoPads and a larger fill opening for easier cleaning.

TaoTronics AH001 Review

From $59 Best

Pros:

  • 1.1-gallon tank lasts up to 15 hours on low.
  • Produces enough moisture to humidify 66 to 82 square feet.
  • Nozzle rotates 360 degrees.
  • Ultrasonic technology runs almost silently.
  • Easy-to-fill tank, with handles on top and bottom.
  • Permanent filter.
  • LED display, humidistat, 24-hour timer, auto shutoff, and sleep mode.

Cons:

  • Some reports of malfunctions after short periods.
  • Some reviews mention dripping and pooling water.

Takeaway: The feature-rich TaoTronics AH001 wins accolades from scores of users for its effectiveness and value. The humidity and mist levels can be adjusted with digital controls, and the filter never needs replacing -- just a monthly vinegar bath. This ultrasonic cool mist humidifier sits at the top of the Cheapism price range, but strong reviews and features not often found on budget models convince us it's a very good deal.

Where to buy

Honeywell HWM705B Review

From $30 Good

Pros:

  • Warm mist suffuses well in small to midsize rooms.
  • 1-gallon tank lasts up to 24 hours on low.
  • Easy to clean.
  • No filter to replace.
  • Automatic shutoff when the tank is empty.
  • Medicine cup for liquid inhalants.
  • 2-year limited warranty.

Cons:

  • Some users consider this model a bit noisy, according to online reviews.
  • Some reports of disappointing durability.

Takeaway: Experts at Wirecutter aren't sold on the Honeywell HWM705B, saying it seems a bit flimsy, but dozens of user reviewers like this warm mist humidifier just fine. It's a basic, no-frills model with no filter to mess with. The price is very attractive and the two moisture settings meet the needs of a majority. In short, it serves the purpose.

Vicks V4600 Review

From $40 Good

Pros:

  • Compartment for Vicks VapoPads to alleviate cold and flu symptoms.
  • Cool mist quickly fills midsize rooms.
  • 1.2-gallon tank lasts up to 30 hours on low.
  • Near silent when running.
  • Comes with a demineralization cartridge.
  • Easy to clean.
  • No filter to replace.
  • 3-year limited warranty.

Cons:

  • Some reviewers warn of limited longevity.
  • Some complaints about leaks.

Takeaway: Fans of Vicks products get a twofer with the V4600: an ultrasonic Vicks humidifier with the option of adding up to two proprietary pads that release scented vapors along with cool mist. Reviewers report relief from nosebleeds, congestion, and allergy symptoms (for pets, as well), and talk up the savings of the no-filter design.

Crane Drop Review

From $43 Good

Pros:

  • Sleek teardrop design available in more than a dozen colors.
  • Ultra-fine, cool mist spreads through midsize or even large rooms.
  • 1-gallon tank lasts up to 24 hours on the lowest setting.
  • Super-quiet while running.
  • Antimicrobial material in base.
  • Lid with a nozzle at the tip rotates 360 degrees.
  • Automatic shutoff when the tank is empty.

Cons:

  • Some griping that the midsection of the tank is hard to clean.
  • Some reported problems with mold and need for daily cleaning.

Takeaway: This Crane humidifier is a good choice for anyone who cares about aesthetics almost as much as alleviating dry air. Reviewers are generally pleased with the performance and features of this ultrasonic, cool-mist model but withhold points for cleaning struggles.

Vicks V3900 Review

From $50 Think Twice

Pros:

  • 1-gallon tank runs up to 24 hours on low.
  • Ultraviolet light kills most germs in water.
  • Energy-efficient evaporative technology.
  • Easy to clean and fill.
  • Can be used with Vicks VapoPads.
  • 3-year limited warranty.

Cons:

  • Wicking filter dries quickly.
  • Vents direct mist toward the floor.
  • Some users grouse about noise.
  • Moisture output is weak, according to some reviews.

Takeaway: This cool mist model boasts supporters who say it does the job and never oversaturates the air, but it's also cited for inadequate mist production. Like most evaporative humidifiers, the Vicks V3900 requires frequent filter changes. Some consider the chore a hassle, while others are more irked by the tendency of the filter to dry out overnight. With so many other inexpensive humidifiers on the market, including some with evaporative technology that don't cause users as much grief, shoppers might want to look elsewhere.

Buying Guide

Choosing a Humidifier

A cheap humidifier is a simple solution to the problems caused by dry air. If you suffer from irritants like dry skin, chapped lips, itchy eyes, or nosebleeds, and/or the house is showing telltale signs like static electricity or cracks in wood beams or furniture, you probably need a humidifier. Careful research based on expert and user reviews pointed us to commendable room humidifiers costing less than $60.

The best cheap humidifiers generally are tabletop or portable humidifiers intended for small to midsize rooms. We also looked for a few mid-range models capable of humidifying larger rooms. More powerful console units add moisture to the air in several rooms at once or in large, open-concept living spaces -- and cost more, of course. Whole house humidifiers that connect to a central (forced air) heating system are far more expensive and must be professionally installed.

Humidifier Brands.

The brand names to note at the budget end of the market include Crane, Vicks, Honeywell, Air Innovations, TaoTronics, and Holmes. Climbing up the price ladder gets to manufacturers such as Sunpentown, HoMedics, PureGuardian, Boneco Air-O-Swiss, Winix, and Venta, with Dyson at the zenith.

Cool Mist Humidifiers.

Every humidifier, regardless of brand or price, draws on water held in a reservoir that is turned into moisture and released into the air. Cool mist humidifiers emit cool moisture using a few different technologies. Perhaps the most popular type is an ultrasonic humidifier, which relies on vibrating sound waves to create a fine, fog-like mist. This technology is nearly silent but may produce more moisture than the air can absorb, leaving pools of water and other signs of condensation in the vicinity. Ultrasonic humidifiers also may emit white mineral dust that settles on nearby surfaces, especially in homes with hard water; distilled water or demineralization cartridges can help minimize the problem.

Based on our research, the best ultrasonic cool mist humidifier for small to midsize rooms is the TaoTronics Cool Mist AH001 (starting at $59), which boasts an LED display with a humidistat and other features usually reserved for more costly models. Most other cheap humidifiers have adjustable mist settings but can't automatically maintain a desired humidity level (recommendations vary, but experts say the ideal range is somewhere between 30 and 60 percent). The compact Honeywell HUL520B personal humidifier (starting at $26) is best for smaller spaces or use on a tabletop (like a nightstand). We also chose two runners-up in the ultrasonic cool mist category. The Vicks V4600 (starting at $40) has a large tank and uses the brand's VapoPads to put out scented vapors and help relieve congestion. The Crane Drop (starting at $43) earns buyers' admiration for doing its job well and looking good, to boot.

An ultrasonic cool mist model makes a good humidifier for a baby room, experts say, with near-silent operation and no hot water that could potentially burn a small child. For this purpose, we like the PureGuardian H920BL (starting at $30), which is small enough to put on a tabletop, features a soft blue night light, and is treated to prevent mold and mildew. This personal humidifier is also well-suited to travel and office use. One other ultrasonic cool mist humidifier caught our eye: the Air Innovations MH-509 (starting at $60), which, like our top pick from TaoTronics, is low-priced considering it's a programmable model with a built-in humidistat.

Wick/evaporative humidifiers use a wick or filter to draw water from the tank and a fan to evaporate the water, which is absorbed into the air. The released moisture is invisible and doesn't inject excess humidity, so there is no condensation to fret over. The noise of the fan, however, annoys some users, and the filter must be replaced periodically, an ongoing cost. The Vicks V3900 (starting at $50) also doesn't stand up to the competition in terms of moisture output, according to reviews. If you're interested in an evaporative humidifier, consider stepping up to the Honeywell HCM-350 (starting at $68). It has earned kudos from experts as well as consumers for quietly and efficiently cranking out enough moisture to fill a midsize room.

Warm Mist Humidifiers.

Alternatively known as steam/vaporizer humidifiers, warm mist humidifiers put out warm steam or mist after bringing water to a boil. The virtue of this technology is that the boiling process kills off any lurking bacteria or mold. On the other hand, warm mist humidifiers use more energy than cool mist humidifiers, and can make the air seem muggy if too much moisture is dispersed. They also can be dangerous around young children, because the heating element gets very hot.

Compared with the variety of cool mist humidifiers on the market, the selection of warm mist models is quite limited, but we found a couple worth recommending. The Vicks V745A (starting at $36) and the no-frills Honeywell HWM705B (starting at $30) both win over consumers with low prices and a medicine cup for liquid inhalants.

Dual Mist Humidifiers.

Some models give users the choice of warm or cool mist, so they can opt for whichever suits the particular circumstances. These dual mist humidifiers, like the HoMedics UHE-WM85 (starting at $119), tend to be more expensive. We did find one lower-cost option: the Sunpentown SU-4010 (starting at $65).

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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table

(from $59.00)
Type Ultrasonic cool mist
Tank Size 1.1 gallons
Controls LED display with 3 mist settings, humidistat, 24-hour timer, sleep mode
Auto Shutoff Yes
Warranty 1 year
(from $36.00)
Type Warm mist
Tank Size 1 gallon
Controls Knob with 2 mist settings
Auto Shutoff Yes
Warranty 3 years
(from $26.00)
Type Ultrasonic cool mist
Tank Size 0.5 gallon
Controls Knob with variable mist output
Auto Shutoff Yes
Warranty 2 years
(from $40.00)
Type Ultrasonic cool mist
Tank Size 1.2 gallons
Controls Knob with variable mist output
Auto Shutoff Yes
Warranty 3 years
(from $43.00)
Type Ultrasonic cool mist
Tank Size 1 gallon
Controls Knob with variable mist output
Auto Shutoff Yes
Warranty 1 year
(from $30.00)
Type Warm mist
Tank Size 1 gallon
Controls Knob with 2 mist settings
Auto Shutoff Yes
Warranty 2 years
(from $68.00)
Type Evaporative cool mist
Tank Size 1 gallon
Controls Knob with 3 mist settings
Auto Shutoff No
Warranty 3 years
(from $30.00)
Type Ultrasonic cool mist
Tank Size 0.21 gallon
Controls Knob with 2 mist settings
Auto Shutoff Yes
Warranty 3 years
(from $60.00)
Type Ultrasonic cool mist
Tank Size 1.4 gallons
Controls LED screen with 4 mist settings, programmable humidistat, 24-hour timer, delay start
Auto Shutoff Yes
Warranty 1 year
(from $65.00)
Type Ultrasonic dual mist
Tank Size 1.1 gallons
Controls Knob with variable mist output
Auto Shutoff Yes
Warranty 1 year
(from $119.00)
Type Ultrasonic dual mist
Tank Size 1.4 gallons
Controls LCD digital readout with variable mist output, programmable humidistat, 8-hour timer
Auto Shutoff Yes
Warranty 1 year
(from $50.00)
Type Evaporative cool mist
Tank Size 1 gallon
Controls Knob with 3 mist settings
Auto Shutoff No
Warranty 3 years

Humidifier Reviews: What We Considered

Our research involved reading dozens of online reviews posted by everyday users on retail sites including Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot, Best Buy, Target, and Walgreens. We also consulted expert review sites, including Consumer Reports and Wirecutter, which test products to gauge their performance.

Apart from a few dissident voices, users seem satisfied with the ability of low-cost humidifiers, across the board, to add moisture to the air. They describe plumes of mist that work wonders on sinuses, dry skin, and nosebleeds and enable people to sleep comfortably and plants to thrive. Reviewers judge these small household appliances on several other criteria that separate the best cheap humidifiers from the rest. Attentive maintenance is critical in this product category, and consumers clearly value models that are easy to refill and clean. Noise also is an issue, although humidifiers' reputation for being loud is somewhat outdated. Although the models on our list earn generally favorable reviews from consumers, there are negative comments in every bunch. The chief complaints against these humidifiers concern water leakage and disappointing longevity.

Maintenance.

Lackluster reviews sink a humidifier that proves difficult to clean and refill. For the most part, our top picks get a thumbs-up from users for ease of cleaning. The absence of a filter that needs replacing, notably on ultrasonic and warm mist humidifiers, is a convenience that consumers really value, according to reviews. Filters cost about $10 apiece and are model-specific.

The water reservoir must be refilled more or less often depending on the size of the tank (usually between 0.2 and 2 gallons in the budget range), how often and how long the humidifier is used, the chosen speed or moisture level, the square footage and temperature of the room in question, and the room's ambient humidity before starting up the machine. Some consumers seem irked that the tank runs dry before the maximum number of hours advertised while others simply go with the flow, reporting that the tank needs refilling daily or after a night in a child's bedroom.

As for the actual task of refilling the tank, consumers have plenty to say. Some report minor leaking around the top when removing the tank from its base, adding water at the faucet, or flipping the reservoir bottom side down to reseat it for use. Tanks with an awkward shape, a slippery feel, or no handle also can be cumbersome to fill.

Important note: All humidifiers (reservoir and base) must be cleaned regularly to avoid buildup of mold, bacteria, and other gunk. Users report that a diluted bleach or vinegar solution works well. For models with a filter (primarily evaporative humidifiers), that part must be replaced every one to three months. Countless reviews, however, complain about having change out filters more frequently due to gross-looking gunk and mold. One way to prevent any maintenance-related surprises is to read the cleaning instructions (often available on the manufacturer's website) before buying.

Noise.

Humidifiers generally go where people congregate or sleep, so noise level is an issue for many consumers. Reviews indicate that some models pass the sleeping baby test and some generate white noise, but others are irritatingly loud. Note that as the speed or moisture level is cranked up, the noise level increases. If you're looking for a quiet humidifier, the ultrasonic humidifiers we recommend are reportedly near silent when running.

Durability.

Longevity and reliability are must-have attributes, even in a low-cost humidifier. We read numerous reports of units that ceased functioning after a few days or a season in storage. We also saw comments about humidifiers lasting several years, with consumers sticking to the brand and model (sometimes updated) when the time finally arrived to buy a new one. Warranties on humidifiers at the low end of the market range from one to three years.

Additional Products We Considered

Honeywell HCM-350 Review

From $68

Pros:

  • Easy to use and clean, with dishwasher-safe parts.
  • Releases up to 2.3 gallons of invisible moisture in 24 hours on the lowest setting, enough for a midsize room.
  • UV light zaps germs, mold, and fungus in water.
  • Antimicrobial wicking filter reduces white dust and sifts out impurities in water.
  • Wirecutter's pick for best humidifier.
  • 3-year limited warranty.

Cons:

  • Frequent filter replacement is an ongoing cost.
  • Some users doubt value of the UV light.
  • Some reports of a limited lifespan.

Takeaway: This best-selling Honeywell humidifier uses evaporative (wicking) technology to add cool, soothing moisture to the air. Filling the 1-gallon tank is easy, users say. The major gripe concerns the filter, which gets dirty and requires frequent replacement. At about $10 a pop, the cost adds up quickly. Still, this model is a winner with consumers and experts alike for its effectiveness.

PureGuardian H920BL Review

From $30

Pros:

  • Good humidifier for a baby room, or for travel and personal use.
  • 0.21-gallon tank emits cool mist for up to 10 hours on low.
  • Tank surface is treated against mold and mildew.
  • Nozzle rotates 360 degrees.
  • Automatic shutoff when the tank is empty.
  • Low-water indicator.
  • Optional night light.
  • 3-year limited warranty.

Cons:

  • Reports of limited durability.

Takeaway: This ultrasonic personal humidifier is suitable for a nursery, work cubicle, or nightstand. Reviewers crow about its quiet effectiveness and convenience, as well as the user-friendly features. The soft blue night light garners lots of approving comments.

Air Innovations MH-509 Review

From $60

Pros:

  • Emits enough cool mist to fill 400-square-foot room.
  • Near silent operation with ultrasonic technology.
  • 1.4-gallon tank lasts up to 70 hours on low.
  • 4 mist levels.
  • LED display, programmable humidistat, 24-hour timer, and delay start.
  • Antimicrobial tank and base.
  • Mist nozzle rotates 360 degrees.
  • Automatic shutoff when the tank is empty.

Cons:

  • The tank has a curved top that can be awkward when filling.
  • Irritating beeps when changing settings.
  • Some complaints about inaccurate readings.

Takeaway: This ultrasonic cool mist humidifier sits near the edge of our budget price range but gives buyers frills found on higher-end models. With power and features to spare, the Air Innovations MH-509 (HUMID16-WHT) surpassed the expectations of some user reviewers. Still, others question the accuracy of the humidistat, and some experts doubt the efficacy of the permanent ceramic filter.

Where to buy

Sunpentown SU-4010 Review

From $65

Pros:

  • Produces a steady stream of cool or warm mist.
  • 1.1-gallon tank is sufficient for midsize rooms.
  • 2 nozzles that rotate 360 degrees.
  • Ion-exchange filter removes minerals from water.
  • Overheat protection; low-water indicator light; auto shutoff.
  • Comes with a cleaning brush.

Cons:

  • Lots of surfaces and angles to clean.
  • Some reports of limited longevity, leaking, and weak output.

Takeaway: The ultrasonic Sunpentown SU-4010 claims some loyal users who have bought more than one of these dual mist humidifiers over the years. Experts report that it performs on par with some of the best in class but sells for far less. Still, it fails to win over everyone, owing to cleaning challenges and the usual (for cheap humidifiers) disappointment over units that fail shortly after purchase.

Where to buy

HoMedics UHE-WM85 Review

From $119

Pros:

  • Choice of warm or cool mist.
  • 1.4-gallon tank produces enough moisture for a large room and lasts up to 60 hours.
  • Ultrasonic technology runs quietly.
  • Tank surface is treated with antimicrobial technology.
  • LCD display, programmable humidistat, 8-hour timer, and auto shutoff.
  • Tall, modern profile with optional night light.
  • Comes with a demineralization cartridge.

Cons:

  • Some reports of defects and limited longevity.
  • Some reviewers complain of leakage.
  • Filling the tank can be challenging.

Takeaway: Flexibility is the draw with the HoMedics UHE-WM85, an ultrasonic humidifier that delivers cool or warm mist as needed. It performs admirably in rooms up to 625 square feet, and users report the air smelling fresh and feeling clean. The triple-digit price seems steep to reviewers who bemoan leaks and other malfunctions, but others value the features and relatively long stretch between refills.