Humidifiers and Vaporizers

Humidifiers and vaporizers are equally effective in increasing air humidity. Nicky Corkum, BScPhm, Drug Information Pharmacist, Drug Information and Research Centre, Toronto

Why is the humidity in my home important?

In the winter the air is colder and dryer than in the summer. Decreased humidity can cause dry and itchy skin, ear aches, sore throats, stuffy noses, or may worsen allergies. Adding more moisture to the air with a vaporizer or humidifier can limit these problems. If you have a cold, a sore throat or a cough, having a humidifier or vaporizer in the room may make you feel more comfortable. Humidifiers and vaporizers, however, cannot cure a cold or the flu. Excessive humidity may also cause health problems. Too much water in the air can promote the growth of fungi, bacteria and molds in the home. It is a good idea to buy a humidity monitor (hygrometer) along with a humidifier or vaporizer to make sure the humidity is not higher than 30-50%.

What is the difference between humidifiers and vaporizers?

Humidifiers and vaporizers are equally effective in increasing humidity. Humidifiers produce a cool mist and vaporizers produce steam by boiling water. Choosing between the two devices is often based on cleaning requirements and operating procedures. Volatile oils such as camphor, menthol, methyl salicylate and peppermint can be dispersed with vaporizers. Although not proven, these scented oils are thought to decrease cough and stuffy nose. These oils cannot be used with humidifiers. Although cleaning is important with both devices, it may be more important for humidifiers. If a humidifier is not cleaned regularly, bacteria and mold can grow inside the device and may be released in the mist. This may worsen allergies and cause coughing, difficulty breathing, headache, problems sleeping and eye irritation. Since vaporizers heat the water, there is a risk of burns. They should be used cautiously if there are children in the household.

Tips for using humidifiers and vaporizers:

  1. Use a device that is approved by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA)
  2. Place the humidifier in a central area of the house, not in a bedroom
  3. Place the unit on the floor, not on furniture (as it may damage furniture)
  4. Direct the steam/mist to an open area of the room, preferably at least 1 meter away from people
  5. It is best to use deionized, demineralized or distilled water in a humidifier and tap water in a vaporizer
  6. Change the water in the humidifier tank daily and do not allow scales to form
  7. Follow the manufacturer’s cleaning/disinfecting recommendations.