For many, even the best humidifier isn’t the most important air treatment product you could have in the home but for people with air conditioning or central heating, they can be a boon. Unlike a dehumidifier they do not help remove bacteria from the air – in fact they can even add to it unless the device sterilises the moisture being put out – so their health benefits are less clear cut than their general 'nicer atmosphere' ones.
The best humidifiers blow ultra-fine water vapour around a room, raising its humidity to more comfortable levels. You could feasibly raise the internal humidity levels yourself by leaving the door open when having a shower, letting your laundry dry naturally or leaving a few windows open. Even cooking on a hob increases humidity in a room. However a humidifier is a more consistent and, sometimes, visually pleasing way of doing it.
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So what’s the point of a humidifier and why would I need one?
Humidifiers are of most use in arid countries and well-sealed modern homes with air conditioning, which is very drying. It’s also worth noting that a humidifier won’t be as practical if your home has poor insulation, old-fashioned floorboards with no carpeting or you leave your windows open all year long. This is because outdoor air already has a relatively high level of natural humidity. and what’s outside comes inside.
A humidifier requires regular cleaning to keep bacteria and mildew at bay, especially if the unit is in storage with water still in the tank. Some ultrasonic models, like the Dyson, delay the need for cleaning by using ultraviolet light to kill bacteria. But even these humidifiers need cleaning on occasion, while all evaporative models require a regular deep clean of the paper filter and possibly a replacement if it looks too soiled.
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In most of the West, low humidity isn’t much of an issue during the summer, but when winter sets in, outdoor humidity levels drop and the air becomes dryer. It’s even worse indoors when your heating is in full swing; it doesn’t take long for the natural moisture in the room to dry up, leading to possible health and wellbeing issues. It’s a well documented fact that a decent level of internal humidity helps people with dry sinuses, asthma, dry skin and cracked lips. It also apparently helps reduce symptoms of colds and flu.
Similarly, it doesn’t take a knowledge of rocket science to deduce that dust in the home will be reduced with the aid of a humidifier – those microscopic water droplets cling on to dust and smoke particles and bring them to ground, and that means fewer issues for those who suffer from dust allergies.
Finally, humidifiers are also great for keeping expensive floorboards and delicate wooden instruments like acoustic guitars and violins in tip top shape.
If you’re not sure about the humidity level in your home, consider buying a separate humidity measuring hygrometer. The Stadler Form Selina (£27) is an excellent model that comes with a large, easy-to-read LCD screen.
Types of humidifier
There are two main types of humidifier: ultrasonic and evaporator. Ultrasonic models use a vibrating diaphragm that agitates water droplets which are then blown out of the unit by a fan. These machines tend to produce a fog-like mist that is clearly visible. However, they also tend to leave a very fine layer of white calcium dust on furnishings, unless, of course, you use expensive distilled water.
By contrast, evaporators use a paper-type filter that half sits in a pool of water. They call it a filter but it’s essentially a large wick that absorbs the water. A fan then blows across it releasing an invisible plume of microscopic droplets. The problem with this type of humidifier is that the filter needs regular cleaning – especially if you smoke and have pets – and you can’t really see any evidence of it working because the mist is so fine. It's also a good idea to completely empty the water container if the product isn't being used for a few weeks or mould will start to grow on the filter. However, putting a simple ionic silver cube in the water tank will often help control this issue.
What’s the best humidifier?
After several days of testing using a hygrometer as back up, it turns out that the Dyson AM10 is the one to go for if you have the financial clout. However, for a much smaller outlay, we highly recommend the Elechomes SH8820, which is superbly designed and exceedingly efficient. Alternatively, if you want to humidify the air in a room while purifying it at the same time, consider the excellent 2-in-1 Philips 3000i. And if you just want a little bedside model to help treat a cold or help the baby sleep better, then opt for the very practical Vicks Mini CoolMist. Yes, it is that Vicks.
Dyson doesn’t do budget-priced gear so prepare to fork out quite a bunch on this humidifier. That said, the ultrasonic AM10 performs admirably well. For starters, its vapour outlet faces outwards like any Dyson fan and that ensures the moisture it expels is blasted over a very wide area.
The AM10 is equipped with an ultraviolet cold cathode UV-C bulb that kills 99.9% of bacteria – including E.coli – before any moisture leaves the unit. The whole shebang is operated using a magnetic remote control that sits on top of the unit – don’t lose it or you’ll be stuffed because the machine only features an on/off button. You get 10 air speeds here with correspondingly higher volumes of vapour and an auto mode that uses a humidistat to measure the level of moisture in the air. In this mode the fan stays on and vapour is only emitted if required. A full three-litre tank of water lasts about 18 hours and you can also use the unit as a bog standard fan if required; handy for summer.
The mist this machine expels is invisible in average light, although if you shine a torch from behind it and you can easily see it streaming from the front vent, like circular vapour from a jet engine. It’s a brilliant optical effect that would look even more amazing with a row of blue LEDs hidden just inside the circular outlet.
In the pantheon of humidifiers, this one’s a king of the misters. Yes, it’s blooming expensive, but it works exceptionally well, is easy to use and commendably quiet – even if it isn’t very easy to clean. And like the Eva, it too has also garnered a veritable smorgasbord of five-star reviews from its horde of happy users.
The Elechomes SH8820 is an excellent value ultrasonic humidifier that comes with a full gamut of features. At 26.5cm x 18cm x 30.5cm, this humidifier is a perfect size for both floor or desktop use. We especially like its simple Apple-esque styling, the clearly etched lettering on the touch sensitive control panel, the ingeniously simple uni-directional vapour spout with integral aroma diffuser, and the way you can fill its ample 5.5-litre water tank without having to lift it out. Small wonder it’s one of the most popular humidifiers in the USA.
Despite its diminutive size, the Elechomes is designed for large rooms up to 70 square metres. In our tests it spewed out a huge metre-long plume of clearly visible mist from its two adjustable ports which can be aimed in any direction. Also, its built-in humidistat displayed the same percentage of humidity as our nearby hygrometer so its accuracy is clearly spot on. This means that if your room has a humidity reading of about 35% and you set the Elechomes’ target value to 45%, you can safely bet it’ll continue emitting vapour until the room reaches that value. It also features three volume levels of vapour and three heat settings for winter use. The addition of a remote control can be considered a bonus..
If you’re on the hunt for an exceptionally efficient and easy to use humidifier that is not only keenly priced but a decent looker, then this is the model to plump for. Pound for pound, the Elechomes SH8820 is easily one the best humidifiers on the market right now and it seems Amazon’s multitude of happy users wholeheartedly agree.
This tabletop model won’t win any prizes for sophisticated looks but it’s just the thing for both localised humidification and cold and flu treatment.
Rather conveniently, this writer contracted a nasty cold just as this arrived at the door. I’ve had it beavering away every night on the bedside table ever since and can vouch that it has definitely helped moisturise the sinuses and nostrils, and made the air a little easier to breath, especially when used in conjunction with a Vicks’ Vapopad.
The Cool Mist comes with a pack of seven free menthol pads but this writer much prefers the subtle scent of the Rosemary and Lavender option (about £13.99 for seven).
This model puffs out a fair plume of visible vapour and that’s a good thing because it tells you it’s actually doing something. To control the amount of vapour being emitted, simply turn the on/off dial to your preferred volume. It’s also quiet enough for bedside use. Yes, you can just hear it in the stillness of night but its fish tank-like sound is strangely soporific.
So, if you’re feeling a bit stuffy, have the winter sniffles or the baby’s having trouble sleeping, consider popping one of these by the bed. Chances are you’ll get a better night’s sleep.
This new Philips appliance provides the best of both worlds: humidification and air purification. From a humidifying point of view, it uses NanoCloud evaporation to provide up to 600 millilitres of vapour per hour. Granted, you can’t actually see the vapour (which isn’t quite as satisfying as the mist belching models also on this page) but we do know it works because we tested the room’s humidity after two hours of use and the index on our hygrometer increased by nearly 10%. According to Philips, its NanoCloud technology ‘spreads 99% less bacteria than leading ultrasonic humidifiers and prevents wet spots and white deposits on furnishings’.
To use, simply insert the NanoCloud rotary humidification wick, fill the water tank and set your room’s target humidity (from 40%, to 60%). The appliance will slowly boost moisture levels in the room, switching itself off automatically once the target humidity has been reached.
The Philips 3000i also happens to be one of the most efficient air purifiers on the market (see our air purifier guide) so having a humidifying function on board at the same time can be considered a major bonus. It is quite a big beast, mind, so you will need a decent sized room to accommodate it or it may look a little too incongruous.
Unlike the Dyson and Philips models above, you’ll have no problem seeing the mist coming out of the Eva because it creates more vapour than Strokkur Geysir. In fact, at full bore it produces a plume nearly a metre high that spreads to a width of around 40cm at its highest point, so there’s no question of you wondering whether it’s working properly.
Designed in Switzerland and available in black or white, the Eva uses ultrasonic technology and an ionic silver cube for reduced bacteria and easier maintenance. It also comes with a remote hygrometer sensor-cum-controller that measures the humidity in the air. Simply position it a few metres away from Eva and, when the main unit is in auto mode, it’ll start humidifying automatically as and when required. You also have a choice of both cool and warm mist.
This model also has a fragrance dispenser for essential oils though this writer found it difficult to detect the scent beyond the actual vapour trail; even with my face in it, the scent was extremely subtle. In other words, don’t expect your room to be infused with a scent of jasmine unless, perhaps, your home is already clinically clean and completely free of odours – and that means no pets!
The Eva is arguably the most stylish model here though the understated Dyson isn’t far behind. It’s a surefire choice for large rooms, is easy to use and relatively easy to clean. That said, some users’ have reported that their Evas started playing up after a year. In the Eva’s defence, this writer hasn’t had any major issues after 18 months of use though I have performed fairly regular maintenance like rinsing the water reservoir and gently cleaning the various components. We’ll let you know if anything changes.
This excellent personal humidifier is ostensibly designed for babies though it will work just as happily in a small room with adults in. It comes equipped with an adjustable 360˚ spout, a built-in hygrometer that displays current humidity levels around it, an easy-to-use backlit touchscreen and seven different coloured LEDs for night time use. Its 2,500ml water tank will produce enough fine mist to last around 22 hours and the whole thing will automatically switch off when the water runs out.
The Babymoov punches out a fair dollop of vapour and it will also subtly diffuse essential oils by simply adding a few drops to the thimble-sized container near the vapour outlet. As it happens, this one’s scent is a bit more detectable than both the Stadler Form Eva and Vicks Mini Cool Mist.
If you have a newborn babe, an older kid with the sniffles or someone with a dust mite allergy, consider this keenly priced and effective little mist wafter.