Before You Buy Humidifiers and Vaporizers

Compact home humidifier creates vapor.
Patti McConville/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Young children commonly get about six to eight colds and upper respiratory tract infections each year. Increasing the air moisture is a common way to help your child feel better when your child is congested and for other cold symptoms.

When to Use a Humidifier or Vaporizer

In addition to congestion, a humidifier might be helpful if your child has:

  • Frequent nosebleeds that are caused by dry air in your home

A cool mist humidifier can be especially helpful for kids that have croup.

What Type of Humidifier Should You Buy?

Types of portable humidifiers include those that are ultrasonic, producing a cool mist by ultrasonic sound vibrations, or impeller humidifiers, which use a high-speed rotating disk or fan to make the mist. Both are known to disperse materials, such as microorganisms and minerals, from their water tanks into indoor air.

Evaporative humidifiers, which use a fan to blow air through a wick or filter, do not. The real question is typically on whether to get a cool mist humidifier or a steam vaporizer, though.

In general, a cool mist vaporizer or humidifier is preferred over a steam or warm mist one because of the risk of your child getting accidentally burned or scalded.

Warnings About Humidifiers and Vaporizers

It is important to realize that humidifiers can disperse minerals into the air, and so it is usually best to use distilled water in your humidifier.

Tap water contains many minerals, and if used, can cause a white dust to coat surfaces in your house, and scale to develop inside your humidifier, which can be a breeding ground for microorganisms.

In addition to dispersing minerals, humidifiers can also disperse germs into the air. To minimize this from happening, be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions, and clean your humidifier regularly.

Humidifiers can also increase dust mites and mold in your house (they like humidity), and should be avoided if your child has an allergy to dust mites or mold.

What To Know About Humidifiers and Vaporizers

Other things to know about humidifiers and vaporizers for kids include that:

  • Like other symptomatic treatments, in most cases, a humidifier or vaporizer, especially when used for a stuffy nose and cold symptoms, won't help your child get better any faster.
  • There are hidden costs to owning and using a humidifier or vaporizer. Many humidifiers need replacement filters or wicks. Knowing the cost of these replacement items and how often they have to be replaced can help you find the 'true' cost of your humidifier.
  • Some humidifiers are loud and have sound outputs that are higher than recommended noise limits for a baby's nursery and, like infant sleep machines could be a risk factor for later hearing loss.

Does your pediatrician recommend that you use a humidifier or vaporizer when your child is sick?


Daftary, Ameet S. Inhalational Lung Injury Associated With Humidifier “White Dust”. Pediatrics Feb 2011, 127 (2) e509-e512

Hugh, Sarah C. MD Infant Sleep Machines and Hazardous Sound Pressure Levels PEDIATRICS Volume 133, Number 4, April 2014

Royer AK. Brief report: sound output of infant humidifiers. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015 Jun;152(6):1039-41.