Vaporizers vs. Humidifiers: What’s the Difference?

published Nov 2, 2023
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Ultrasonic cool mist humidifier for home on a small table in living room
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As the leaves fall and everything becomes flavored with hints of pumpkin, autumn also ushers in cooler temperatures. But while you’re curling up with a blanket and turning up the thermostat to keep your home warm, there’s another thing happening inside your home: the moisture content in your air changes as you turn up the heat, meaning you might need to invest in a vaporizer or humidifier. 

Quick Overview

What’s the Difference Between a Humidifier and a Vaporizer?

  • Humidifiers use ultrasonic vibrations to release ultra-fine mist of room temperature water.
  • Vaporizers boil water to release warm steam.

Although you may enjoy seeing the outdoor thermometer drop, dealing with the dryness in the air can make the season uncomfortable, especially with winter on the horizon. Home heating systems can cause pesky physical manifestations, such as itchy skin and dry nostrils. However, hydrating the air using a vaporizer or humidifier can make the air in your home more tolerable. But what is the difference between these two devices, and when should you use them? Apartment Therapy experts weigh in on their thoughts.

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What is the difference between a vaporizer and a humidifier?

According to HVAC expert Josh Mitchell, both devices aim to increase the moisture level of the air in your home, yet the primary difference is how each one achieves this goal.

“A humidifier disperses cool moisture into the air, usually through ultrasonic vibrations or a wick filter,” says Mitchell.

In contrast, vaporizers boil water to release steam into your home. Although this may sound dangerous, vaporizers cool the hot water slightly before discharging it into the atmosphere as a warm mist.

What are the pros and cons of using a humidifier?

One positive about using a humidifier is that you’re not dealing with scalding water. However, humidifiers can also release dangerous pathogens throughout your house if you don’t clean them regularly.

Because they use room-temperature water, mold and bacteria can breed and be spewed into the air from a dirty humidifier. The solution: Clean your humidifier regularly and use distilled water to keep your device safe and functioning well. 

What are the pros and cons of using a vaporizer?

Vaporizers are slightly more hygienic, and Mitchell cites that they reduce the spread of mold and germs due to increased temperatures generated during the boiling process.

According to interior design expert Keely Smith, vaporizers are generally less expensive, so they are a better choice if budget is a concern.

However, as with any electronics, you have different selections based on brand, features, and water capacity, so prices can vary according to your selected features.

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When should I use a humidifier?

If you’re an avid plant parent, expert Natalia Lumpova feels as though a humidifier is the perfect addition to make tropical species happy.

She suggests placing the device close to humidity-loving plants so that your home and plants can benefit from room-temperature, moisture-filled air instead of potentially dangerously overheated air.

“You certainly won’t want the leaves to get scalded by the hot steam from a vaporizer,” Lumpova says. 

How vaporizers heat water can also make them unsafe for children and pets. 

“Humidifiers are the preferred choice for baby rooms because they pose no risk of scalding from steam, unlike vaporizers,” says Smith.

She also stresses that if you’re using a humidifier around a baby, be diligent about cleaning while monitoring the room’s humidity levels.

Mitchell generally recommends that you use a humidifier for areas with high square footage because of their ability to handle larger spaces.

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When should I use a vaporizer?

Leading a busy life often means you may not have time for daily tasks, let alone remember to clean a humidifier or run to the store and buy distilled water. A vaporizer is a practical choice if you need a low-maintenance humidity option.

“If you’re looking for a more medicinal approach or appreciate the idea of nearly germ-free steam, then a vaporizer could be more appropriate,” says Mitchell.

The warm mist produced by vaporizers is also soothing for people with respiratory issues or colds.

How do I choose a vaporizer or humidifier?

Smith stresses that you should use caution when hydrating your air, no matter which device you choose, as over-hydration can also be an issue.

“Too much moisture can increase allergens like dust mites,” she says. So, if you suffer from allergies, be careful, as too much humidity can be a breeding ground for unwanted airborne irritants.

When purchasing either device, Mitchell encourages you to look at product reviews before making a final decision. Consider the following points:

  • How easy the device is to clean
  • How easy the device is to use
  • How much moisture a device provides with one fill

Make sure to also measure your room and select a product designed for how much space you expect it to hydrate. 

Lastly, consider your needs, whether that’s adding moisture to a room, finding cold symptom relief, or prioritizing less frequent cleanings. Understand the features and maintenance requirements of each device before selecting a product to bring into your home.