What Are the Different Types of Humidifiers?

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There are many different types of humidifiers, but they can be grouped into one of two main categories: Cool mist and warm mist humidifiers. While they sound like polar-opposites that would result in very different outcomes, the reality is that they do the exact same job.

By the time moisture from the humidifier reaches your nose, it is already at, or near, room temperature, regardless of what condition it was in when it left the machine.

So, the choice really comes down to a matter of safety: Humidifiers that produce warm mist can pose a mild risk of burning to infants and small children, due to the heat they put off when processing the water.


Let’s take a look at the subcategories of humidifiers on a deeper level:

Cool mist humidifiers

The four most common types of cool mist humidifiers on the market are ultrasonic, evaporative, air washer and impeller. The most quiet of the three is usually the ultrasonic model, as it does away with the traditional internal fan and uses a vibrating nebulizer instead. Evaporative models tend to be noisier, by comparison. These models blow air over a wet wick, and as expected, this produces some sound effects.

An impeller humidifier breaks water into fine droplets by flinging water at a diffuser with a rotating disc. Sounds a bit crude, but these types of humidifiers get the job done well. The mist produced by these humidifiers tends to be more fog-like.

Rotating discs in an air washer humidifier help to remove airborne impurities, such as pollen particles and dust. While this doesn’t necessarily replace a quality air purifier, it can significantly improve the cleanliness of the humidified air coming your way.

All four of the above mentioned cool mist humidifiers are hard-workers, and they do an effective job at raising the moisture levels in your home or office to alleviate some of the symptoms of allergies.

Warm mist humidifiers

These are your more “traditional” consoles that emit steam produced from heating water to a boil. A common name for one of these types is the steam vaporizer. Some people refer to these as being different from humidifiers, but in reality, a vaporizer is essentially the same thing as a humidifier. These models are also relatively quiet, just producing the occasional hissing or steaming sound in the background.

During the winter months, the idea of having a machine produce warm mist can seem appealing. As we pointed out earlier, the temperature of the mist as it leaves the machine will quickly adjust to room temperature, so the result is the same.

One of the benefits and advantages of a warm mist humidifier is that they often have mineral filters to trap tiny deposits in the water. If you’ve wondered: “Can you use tap water with a humidifier?” the answer is that you shouldn’t, but a steam vaporizer with a mineral filter can help in the event that you do.

What is the best type of water to use in a humidifier? You should use demineralized or distilled water to help prevent bacterial growth (as well as the risk of breathing in airborne minerals dispersed from the machine).

To avoid the burns, care must be taken to place these devices out of contact with children. Warm mist humidifiers also come in an ultrasonic option, with some machines having a “cool mist” feature that doesn’t heat the water prior to it leaving the machine, meaning that the mist will be a friendly 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Below, we’ll cover some of the perks and compromises of each type to answer the common question: “Is cool mist or warm mist better?”

Pros and cons

This list of bullets isn’t exhaustive, but it will give you a quick rundown of the benefits or drawbacks of some of these models:

  • Ultrasonic – Pros: Usually very quiet, can be found in cool mist and warm mist versions, uses the latest technology with minimal energy footprint. Cons: Can be more expensive to purchase than the others, accumulates mineral dust, bacterial contamination is possible
  • Evaporative – Pros: Safe and affordable, self-regulating, simple to clean and maintain. Cons: Loud, bacterial contamination is possible, accumulates mineral dust
  • Air Washer & Impeller – Pros: Little maintenance or cleaning required, can be used with inhalants for respiratory treatments, useful for asthma and allergies, waterborne impurities are often filtered out. Cons: Loud, bacterial contamination is possible, accumulates mineral dust
  • Steam Vaporizers – Pros: When used in normal mode (not cool mist) it obliterates bacteria with heat, fairly quiet, can be used with inhalants for respiratory treatments. Cons: Risk of burning, difficult to clean, uses a lot of energy

What is better for allergies – humidifier or air purifier?

Air purifiers help remove allergens from the air, while humidifiers help relieve the symptoms of allergies by moistening your skin and alleviating your mucous membranes. It’s impossible to say which is better for your individual situation. Read more about this in the freshairguide to the best air purifier and humidifier combo products on the market right now.

Choosing what’s right for you

In the end, it comes down to preference. All these humidifiers achieve the same outcome: Improving the humidity levels in your home to make life more comfortable.

There are only a few considerations that need to be made, including: Whether or not you have little ones or pets running around the house, how much free time you have available to clean and care for the unit, how quiet you need it to operate, and the level of energy consumption that is suitable for your monthly budget.

Choosing the right type and model for your home or office is easy with the simple tips we’ve shared above. Enjoy cleaner, more breathable air and less allergy symptoms thanks to your new humidifier.

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