The cold of winter means drier air, inside and out. Cold air tends to contain less water vapor than warm air, which can make the air inside drier even with the high heat. An efficient humidifier can restore that moisture and prevent a host of problems.
On the one hand, a humidifier can prevent or relieve dry skin. If you have a cold, a humidifier that emits cold air can help reduce swelling in your nasal passages and make it easier to breathe, according to the Food and Drug Administration. And higher humidity helps reduce static electricity, so you can avoid the annoying shocks you feel when walking through a carpet.
Humidifiers can also help keep the things you own in good condition. Without sufficient humidity in the indoor air, leather goods can crack, parquet boards can shrink and crack, and guitars and other musical instruments goes out of tune quickly.
Our tests on dozens of humidifiers found that some are much better than others at pumping out the amount of moisture manufacturers claim to produce. And some humidifiers are quieter, more convenient to use and clean, or use less energy.
Another factor determining the proper functioning of a humidifier is the adaptation of the unit to the size of your room. “Make sure the humidifier you choose can handle the square footage of your space,” says Misha Kollontai, the engineer who leads Consumer Reports humidifier testing. Keep in mind, for example, that open-plan rooms may require larger units. “Living spaces often have open doors which effectively increase square footage,” notes Kollontai.
You will see over 50 models in our humidifier reviews. Most are cool mists, the most widely used type. A handful are warm mists, also known as steam vaporizers, which should not be used around children. (The humidifier’s reservoir contains hot water that can burn a child if it gets too close or if the hot water spills.) And avoid hot-mist humidifiers if you have a cold. Hot humidity can cause your nasal passages to swell, making it harder to breathe.
Here is an overview of five top-rated humidifiers, one for each size we test.
For more buying advice, see our humidifier buying guide. For test results and more options, CR members can view our comprehensive humidifier reviews, which include units ranging from personal size to consoles that can humidify 1,000 square feet or more.