How to Choose a Humidifier for the Nursery

Mother lifting baby up for a kiss

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Offering a bevy of baby-friendly benefits, a good nursery humidifier can go a long way toward keeping your little one happy and healthy. But with so many types and models to choose from, knowing what to buy can be a challenge.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start shopping is that humidifiers fall into two main categories: Warm vs. cool mist. Since both work well, deciding which type to buy is largely a matter of preference.

Warm vs. Cool Mist Humidifiers

Warm-mist humidifiers (also known as vaporizers) use a heating element to boil water and produce steam. Due to their simplicity, warm-mist models tend to be quieter, less expensive and less likely to break than cool-mist humidifiers. They also tend to make a room feel warmer, allowing parents to turn down the thermostat and avoid the dryness associated with artificial heating.

The biggest drawback of a warm-mist model is the potential for burns. You can’t have steam without hot water. Should the unit spill or fall, your little one could be seriously injured. Children can also burn their hands and faces by putting them directly over the steam nozzle. If you opt for a warm-mist vaporizer, it is extremely important that you place the unit out of reach and ensure your child cannot use the cord to pull the unit down on them.

Specifically designed to address this important safety issue, cool-mist humidifiers use only cold water, eliminating the risks associated with warm-mist models. But cold-mist models pose their own risks. If not regularly cleaned and maintained, these units can become a breeding ground for nasty little nursery invaders, like mold and other microorganisms. Once spewed into the air, these pathogens are easily inhaled, potentially harming your child.

Despite the risk of burns, some pediatricians prefer old-fashioned, warm-mist vaporizers to the new cool-mist models, because boiling water kills bacteria.

Still, a well-maintained, cold-mist humidifier poses little risk to your baby. Just be sure to clean and air-dry the unit regularly, change the water daily, and replace any filters or cartridges as needed.

Ultrasonic vs. Evaporative Humidifiers

If you decide to take go the cool-mist route, you will need to decide whether to opt for a traditional evaporative humidifier or a newer ultrasonic model.

Ultrasonic humidifiers use high-frequency sound vibrations to break water particles into a cool, hydrating mist. Quiet and efficient, ultrasonic units take up little space and use less electricity than traditional models. However, they can be expensive and are more prone to breaking than traditional, evaporative models.

Since ultrasonic humidifiers lack filters, they sometimes produce fine white dust typically found on the machine itself and the surrounding furniture. This residue is nothing more than a natural by-product caused by the minerals present in the water. While it won’t hurt your little one, it can be a nuisance, especially if you have hard water.

Evaporative humidifiers produce cool, moist air through a process of fan-aided evaporation. These traditional models work by sucking air through a water-saturated filter, increasing the humidity in the air while retaining minerals and other impurities from the water.

Thanks to a high-quality filter, evaporative models do not produce the white dust associated with ultrasonic models. That said, evaporative humidifiers generally require more space and energy than their ultrasonic counterparts, and the high-powered fans that move the air through the machine can be noisy.

Hidden Costs

With no heating element to power, a cool-mist humidifier can save you a few pennies on your electricity bill. But the other demands of a cool-mist machine can be pretty costly.

Evaporative humidifiers need regular filter replacements. Ultrasonic models require the use of store-bought, distilled water to prevent residual mineral deposits from building up. Some of these models feature demineralization cartridges, which do a good job of preventing chalky build-up but must also be replaced regularly.

It all adds up. According to Consumer Reports, the cost of replacing necessary filters and cartridges can be as much as $50 a year—a considerable expense for a machine that typically costs between $50 and $150.

Making the Best Choice for Your Family

Still not sure what kind of unit is best? Don’t panic. While there are benefits and drawbacks to each type, all humidifiers are perfectly safe and effective when used properly. Making the right choice is about deciding what works best for your family. Working on a tight budget? There’s nothing wrong with a low-cost, easy-to-maintain vaporizer! Hate dusting? Opt for a traditional evaporative model. Regardless of what kind you choose, you can count on it to keep your baby's space more comfortable.

1 Source
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.
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Humidifiers and health.

By Kitty Lascurain
Kitty Lascurain is a journalist with over a decade of experience writing about parenting, travel, and interior design.