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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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.