Best humidifiers: is it dry in here or what?

Breathe easier this winter with a humidifier to combat the drying effect of central heating

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Before we start, it should be stated that a humidifier isn’t the most important air treatment product you could have in the home. Air purifiers and dehumidifiers are more practical and ultimately more useful. An air purifier will quite literally suck in the dusty, smoky air in your room, ram it through a series of filters and expel nothing but clean air, while a dehumidifier will draw moisture and mildew out of damp walls, dry out an excessively damp bathroom and even dry your clothes.

A humidifier, by contrast, simply blows 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.

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.

Unlike air purifiers, which just need a set of new filters every now and then, a humidifier requires weekly cleaning to keep bacteria and mildew at bay, especially if the unit is in storage with water still in the tank. Some models, like the Dyson, get around this with ultraviolet technology but others, like the Philips, require a good deep clean of the paper filter and possibly a replacement if it looks too soiled.

So what’s the point of a humidifier and why would I need one?

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 the central 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 (£29) 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.

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.

Finally, putting a simple ionic silver cube in the water tank will help control bacteria and fungi, especially if the appliance hasn’t been used for a week or so.

What’s the best humidifier?

After several days of testing using a hygrometer as back up, it turns out that the Stadler Form Eva is the one to go for if you have a very large room. The Dyson AM10 is an equally worthwhile option even if it does cost a packet. But if you just want a bedside model to help treat a cold or help the baby sleep better, then consider either the Babymoov Hygro + or Vicks Mini Cool Mist.

STADLER FORM EVA

1. STADLER FORM EVA

Simply the best humidifier

Specifications
Type: Ultrasonic
Room capacity: 80m2
Format: Floor
Reasons to buy
+Effective performance +Remote hygrometer sensor
Reasons to avoid
-Poor scent diffusion

Unlike the Dyson and Philips models below, 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 over 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 reducing 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 Philips and conspicuous Dyson are not far behind. It’s a surefire choice for large rooms, is easy to use and simple to clean. And, judging by the surfeit of glowing reviews, most of its current users agree.

DYSON AM10

2. DYSON AM10

Best for high-tech performance

Specifications
Type: Ultrasonic
Room capacity: 16m2
Format: Desk
Reasons to buy
+High efficiency +Smart design
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive -Tricky to clean

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. As if to prove its efficiency, this writer’s excellent Philips Air Purifier kicked into full power about 60 seconds after switching on the Dyson – and that shows that both appliances are doing what they’re supposed to do.

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 but 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. Go on Mr D, you can do it.

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.

BABYMOOV HYGRO +

3. BABYMOOV HYGRO +

Best for babies

Specifications
Type: Ultrasonic
Room capacity: N/A
Format: Desk
Reasons to buy
+Great for babies +Decent scent diffusion +Multi-coloured LEDs
Reasons to avoid
-For small rooms only

This excellent personal humidifier is ostensibly designed for babies though it will work just as happily in any small room. 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.

VICKS MINI COOL MIST (VUL520)

4. VICKS MINI COOL MIST (VUL520)

Best budget buy

Specifications
Type: Ultrasonic
Room capacity: N/A
Format: Desk
Reasons to buy
+Relieves cold symptoms Scent diffuser
Reasons to avoid
-Only for small rooms and personal use

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 free menthol pads but this writer much prefers the subtle scent of the Rosemary and Lavender option (£10.99 for five). However, don’t expect the room to be filled with the scent of lavender because you can only really smell it if your nose is near the mist.

Speaking of mist, this one puffs out a fair plume 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. I know I did.

PHILIPS AIR HUMIDIFIER

5. PHILIPS AIR HUMIDIFIER

Best for pet-free homes

Specifications
Type: Evaporator
Room capacity: 38m2
Format: Floor
Reasons to buy
+Effective air treatment Unobtrusive design
Reasons to avoid
-Paper wick gets dirty Wick requires changing every three months

The Philips uses evaporator technology that creates a mist so fine you can’t see it, even under torchlight. It works with the aid of a replaceable cylindrical paper wick that soaks up water from a two-litre tank. A fan just above forces the humidity created beneath upwards and outwards. It’s an extremely simple process that our remote hygrometer suggests does the job, even though you can’t actually see any evidence of it working.

The only issue with this unit is the cylindrical paper-mesh wick, which is easily discoloured if the machine isn’t used for several days. Having studied other users’ reviews, it seems that a room’s internal pollution levels can easily dirty the wick, and pet dander and smoke can make things even worse.

So, avoid this particular model if you have an overly dusty home or pets are in the vicinity. Similarly, look at another model if you don’t fancy splashing out on replaceable paper wicks every three months.

However, if your living room is relatively dust free but dry as a bone, then this simple humidification system will do the job and do it well.