Choosing the Right Humidifier or Vaporizer for Children

Compact home humidifier creates vapor.

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It's common for young children to get about six to eight colds and upper respiratory tract infections each year. A good humidifier or vaporizer can reduce congestion and other cold symptoms, which may help them get better sleep. There are a few things to consider when looking for the best device for your needs.

When to Use a Humidifier or Vaporizer

Beyond cold symptoms, a humidifier or vaporizer can be helpful for a number of other common childhood illnesses. While these devices won't cure your child, they can help your little one feel better.

Reasons to Use a Humidifier

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

  • Colds and upper respiratory tract infections
  • Croup (a cool-mist humidifier can be especially helpful)
  • Dry skin and eczema
  • Frequent nosebleeds that are caused by dry air in your home
  • Sinus infections


In general, humidifiers and vaporizers are not recommended for children with asthma. Talk to your physician beforehand to get her recommendations. If they are used for children with asthma, it's important to keep the humidity level between 30 percent and 50 percent.

It is important to realize that humidifiers can disperse minerals into the air. That is why it is usually recommended to use distilled water in your humidifier.

Tap water contains many minerals and can cause white dust to coat surfaces in your house. It can also produce a scale build-up inside the humidifier. This can be a breeding ground for microorganisms and aerosolize metals like calcium and magnesium into the air.

In addition to dispersing minerals, humidifiers can also release germs into the air. To minimize this, be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions and clean your humidifier regularly. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends cleaning the unit every three days when in use. It's best to clean your device with plain soap and water and avoid disinfectants. Researchers have linked disinfectants in humidifiers with the potential for lung injury.

Humidifiers can also increase dust mites and mold in your house. Both of these organisms like humidity, especially when it exceeds 50 percent. It's best to avoid adding humidity to your home if any member of your family has an allergy to either of these.


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 from their water tanks into indoor air. Evaporative humidifiers, which use a fan to blow air through a wick or filter, do not.

One study found that steam and evaporative humidifiers offer the lowest level of risk. On the other hand, ultrasonic and impeller humidifiers have the potential to release the highest amount of pathogens and these particles are small enough to be inhaled into the lungs.

When buying a device, keep in mind that there are also hidden costs to owning and using a humidifier or vaporizer. Many humidifiers need replacement filters or wicks to keep functioning at a healthy level. 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.

Additionally, some humidifiers are loud and have sound outputs that are higher than the recommended noise limits for a baby's nursery. Like infant sleep machines, researchers believe these could be a risk factor for later hearing loss.

Best Ones for Kids

The real question is typically on whether to get a cool-mist humidifier or a steam vaporizer. In general, a cool-mist vaporizer or a humidifier is preferred over steam or warm mist one because of the risk of your child getting accidentally burned or scalded. You will simply need to be more diligent about cleaning the cool mist machine.

  • Honeywell QuietCare Cool Mist Humidifier: This is a high-output humidifier that can run for 24 hours without a refill and is capable of humidifying up to 2300 square feet or an entire average-sized home. This product might be a good choice if you have more than one child suffering from a cold.
  • Vicks Ultrasonic Humidifier: With a 20-hour tank and a whisper quiet variable control function to fine-tune the mist output, this humidifier allows you to direct the mist to where your child is sleeping. This nearly silent device may be a good choice if you are worried about your child sleeping through the night.
  • Vicks V3100 Mist Humidifier: This is a cool mist evaporative humidifier that works for 18 hours before needing a refill. Other features include a wick that removes impurities and prevents white dust. It also has a low-noise level so your child will be able to sleep.

A Word From Verywell

Adding a humidifier to your home can be a great way to relieve some of your child's cold and illness symptoms. It may be a good idea to ask your doctor for recommendations, especially if your child has persistent medical conditions. Other than that, keep the machine clean and your little one should get a good night's sleep.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.