Home Health: Warm Mist Vs Cool Mist Humidifiers

Learn the differences between warm mist and cool mist humidifiers, and how to decide which is best for your family.

When you have a cold, a nagging cough, or a respiratory infection, a humidifier can bring welcome relief.But choosing a humidifier may prove to be a tricky task: warm mist or cool mist? What's the difference, and how do you choose which one is right for you and your family?It helps to know the strengths and weaknesses of each kind, as well as how to clean and maintain humidifiers in general, so that you can make the healthiest choice.

A cool-mist humidifier breaks water into tiny droplets without heating it, and sprays it into the air as a cool mist.Because the water is unheated, the humidifier can become a breeding ground for fungi, harmful germs and molds unless the appliance is kept scrupulously clean.However, these humidifiers are safer for homes with small children because they do not get hot.Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions about how to clean the humidifier and how often to do so.

A warm-mist humidifier boils the water, thus killing off the germs, fungi and mold that can grow in the appliance.These humidifiers cool the steam before releasing the water droplets as a warm mist instead of real steam.Besides the advantage of having the water boiled to kill germs, warm mist humidifiers may be preferred in colder climates or in a small baby's room.However, they are not safe for homes with older babies, toddlers and small children - the mist they release is not steam, but they do boil the water, which puts curious kids at risk of burns if they knock the appliance over.

All humidifiers in regular use should be cleaned daily by wiping the inside with a lint-free cloth, and should be sanitized about every seven days by filling it with a solution of 1 teaspoon bleach to a gallon of water.Let soak 15-20 minutes, occasionally swishing the water around, then empty the unit and scrub any mineral deposits you see.Rinse with water until you no longer smell the bleach.The humidifier should also be sanitized in this way before storing it.

For both cool mist and warm mist humidifiers, make sure the filter is simple to replace and that replacement filters are easy to find.For this reason, buying a familiar name brand may be preferable.Another desirable feature is an automatic shutoff function that activates when the water level reaches a low level.

As the price goes up, both cool and warm mist humidifiers offer other advantages such as dishwasher-safe parts, a built-in humidistat (to monitor and govern the mist output), and extra-quiet operation.The most basic models (usually cool-mist) start around $15-20, and models with more features can cost as much as $150. Allergy sufferers and others who use humidifiers regularly (such as for relieving dry skin and chapped lips, or even for keeping valuable furniture from cracking!) may find the extra features worth the price, but any humidifier can help get you through the common winter cold.

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