Humidifiers are great for combating winter sniffles and coughs. But when it comes to choosing which one to buy, it’s not as simple as just picking up the first one you see on the shelf.
As with all things baby related, there are a million different opinions on the type of humidifier you should use, and there doesn’t appear to be one clear-cut answer as to whether hot or cool mist is the way to go – which makes it all the more confusing for first-time moms when staring at the different boxes in the aisles of Dischem.
First things first, why use a humidifier?
We’re all too familiar with dry air in winter, and the use of heaters to fight the cold only exacerbates the problem. The result: itchy sandpaper skin, chapped lips, a sore throat, blocked sinuses, respiratory ailments and runny noses.
Enter the humidifier. This nifty invention adds moisture back to the air by using either warm or cool mist technologies. This can help babies breathe by reducing mucus build-up and opening the respiratory passages.
Cool mist versus warm mist
It seems that warm-mist and cool-mist humidifiers are equally effective in humidifying the air. The mist is usually room temperature by the time it reaches your child’s lungs, no matter what temperature at which it was originally produced.
There are, however, other considerations when deciding between warm- and cool-mist humidifiers:
|Running cost||Because the water is not heated before it is dispersed, these humidifiers typically use less electricity.||These are more expensive to operate because of an internal heating element that boils water before releasing it (a bit like boiling a kettle all night).|
|Health||Bacteria and fungi can breed in the water tank. Once multiplied, the humidifier can disperse these into the air, along with tiny dust particles and other impurities in the water.
So if your child suffers from allergies or asthma, it’s a good idea to use distilled water in the humidifier rather than tap water to reduce the risk of dust or bacteria. And frequent cleaning will also prevent the build-up of bacteria.
|Warm-mist humidifiers generally disperse less, if any, of these organisms into the air. The minerals and dust in the water are not diffused along with the steam because the boiling process kills waterborne bacteria. But at the same time, warm moist air can encourage the growth of mould, so you need to clean the humidifier daily.
|Noise||Cool mist products can be noisy. If you’re worried about the sound, look for a humidifier that uses “ultrasonic” technology (these are virtually silent).||These are silent.|
|Coverage||These are a great option for adding moisture to large areas or even entire homes.||Warm mist products work best in smaller areas, such as bedrooms or nurseries.|
|Maintenance and cleaning||Requires frequent cleaning but the tank is much easier to clean.
|Requires daily cleaning. Bacteria thrive in the presence of warm water so warm mist humidifiers can be a breeding ground for germs if not cleaned daily. These are more difficult to clean, as mineral deposits are often left behind during the boiling process.|
|Air temperature||Cool mist can cause the air to feel slightly chillier than usual.||Can be more comfortable during cold winter months because the steam warms the air.|
|Year-round use||Cold mist humidifiers are great for year-round use, especially if your child suffers from chronic congestion (as opposed to only getting sick in winter).
|Best suited to the cold winter months. If this type of humidifier is left to run for too long, it may cause overly high humidity levels in your home. This can cause condensation, which triggers the growth of bacteria, dust mites and mould. So be sure to ventilate the room when using warm mist for prolonged periods of time (open windows a little bit).
|Safety||No risk of burns or dangerous spills, especially when it comes to curious toddlers.||If your child is mobile and/or sleeping in a bed (not a cot), then there’s a risk that they could get too close to the warm steam or spill the hot water.
- If your humidifier has a humidity setting, you don’t want the humidity to go above 50% (this will encourage the growth of mould spores, bacteria, and dust mites). A humidity of 35 to 45% is optimal.
- You may want to lay a towel down underneath the humidifier, because they can leak or cause a great deal of condensation, which will result in a puddle of water.
The most important factor is the daily cleaning
Remember, a clean humidifier remains a health benefit, but a dirty humidifier can pose a serious health risk.
If you’re going to be lazy when it comes to the daily maintenance, then a humidifier is not for you! I’ve had to throw out a humidifier because I left it standing with water in the tank for a few weeks.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s cleaning directions.
- Don’t leave the tank sitting with water for days at a time.
- Do not re-use water that has been standing.
- Empty the tank and wipe and dry all surfaces daily.
- Once a week, use a 10% vinegar cleaning solution to loosen mineral deposits.
- Change filters as instructed by the manufacturer (if relevant).
Once you’ve decided on a warm, cool or dual model, then it’s actually a really easy purchase decision.
Two main brands are Elektra and Vicks. The nice thing about both the Vicks and Elektra options is that there is a scent pad slot. This helps with congestion.
- Vicks Warm Steam Basic, from R500, Dischem
- Vicks Warm Steam Premium, from R900, Dischem
- Vicks Ultrasonic Large,from R899, Dischem
- Elektra Cool Steam, from R650, Dischem
- Vicks Ultrasonic Sweet Dreams, from R1,049, Dischem (This model has a feature that projects bedtime images on to the ceiling, acting as a pretty nightlight.)
Elektra Humidifier Dual Warm /Cool, from R999 Dischem
*Price ranges correct at time of publishing
Dani Silbermann is mom to Jake and a mommy blogger.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day.