Cool Mist vs Warm Mist Humidifiers: What's the Difference?

A humidifier is a humidifier, right?

Not quite! While they both turn water from a liquid into a vapor and release it back into the air, there are different ways they can operate while humidifying your home. 

As you browse online and in the store, you'll soon find that there are two main models to choose from: cool mist humidifiers and warm mist humidifiers.

The one you select will directly influence the way the air in your home feels, so it's not a decision to take lightly. Not sure which one is the best fit for your family? Read on.

Today, we're taking a deep dive into the battle of cool mist vs warm mist humidifiers so you can make the right choice for your home and your indoor air quality.

Why Buy a Humidifier?

Do you suffer from allergies, nose bleeds, or dry skin? Or, are you in the throes of a cold and looking for some relief? All of these are reasons to invest in a humidifier for your home. 

These devices fight against the issues that dry air can cause by increasing the moisture levels around you and improving your health.

While most people thrive in relative humidity levels that fall between 30% and 60%, your home can easily slip below this threshold, especially during the cold winter months. A humidifier can remedy this issue in minutes, allowing you to improve your sleep, breathing, nasal congestion, and overall quality of life.

The only issue? There is far from a one-size-fits-all type of humidifier. As you browse, you'll notice that there are a few different options. The biggest decision you'll need to make is whether a warm mist humidifier or a cool-mist humidifier is the best for for your needs.

While both will work to elevate the humidity levels in your home, they each take a unique approach to doing so. We'll explore the differences between the two later on, but let's begin by discussing the benefits of buying a humidifier in the first place.

Benefits of a Humidifier

If the air is dry in your home, you'll feel it before you even notice it. Your skin, especially around your hands, will become dry and cracked and your scalp might flake.

You'll also notice that it's more difficult to breathe and your nose feels stuffy. This is because, in the absence of moist air, your nasal passages swell up and become irritated. While these side effects are irksome on their own, they become even more so if you already suffer from asthma or seasonal allergies. 

As you run your humidifier, it adds water vapor into the air around you, immediately increasing the relative humidity. This can help soothe the dryness on your skin, open up your nasal passages, and make it easier to breathe. 

In addition to limiting the amount of dust and other allergens in your air, some researchers also believe that a humidifier can help you ward off illnesses, including influenza, in the first place. Specifically, the virus showed the lowest level of survival in homes where the relative humidity remained between 40% and 60%. 

girl in a medical mask sits in front of a computer monitor

Knowing these benefits, it's safe to say that a humidifier is a smart household investment. This is especially true as we all seek to stay well amid the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Next, let's take a look at the key differences between cool mist and warm mist models. 

What is a Warm Mist Humidifier?

A warm mist humidifier emits water vapor into the surrounding air in the form of warm steam. The steam released is visible, making it similar to the steam you'd see when boiling water on the stove.

How does it work?

There's an internal heating element within the humidifier that boils the water you pour into the vessel. These humidifiers don't require the use of a fan, as the steam creates enough pressure to force itself out and into the air.

Today, you can even find warm mist humidifiers that come equipped with special filters that trap minerals found in your tap water. Once they capture them, they prevent these particulates from being emitted with the warm steam. Later, they allow those minerals to condense back into a solid form as dust.

When to Use One

There's a reason that one of the most effective DIY remedies for colds and sinus congestion is an at-home steam facial.

When you're stopped up and can't breathe deeply and clearly through your nose, a warm mist can help loosen stubborn, stuck-on mucus. It can also soothe the inflammation that's causing your nasal passages to swell in the first place. 

Special Features

Many warm mist humidifiers include special compartments or medicine cups for you to add soothing inhalants, such as a chest ointment or essential oil, to the warm steam.

This can be incredibly soothing if you suffer from allergies or sinus congestion

Benefits and Advantages

The warm air produced by these humidifiers is very soothing. It can be an effective way to gently and holistically treat sore and swollen noses, chest congestion, chapped lips and more. In addition, the warm mist can also help reduce the number of irritants, allergens, and viruses floating in the air. 

Another benefit of these models is that without a fan, they operate quieter than their cool mist counterparts. In addition, the heat from the steam can even warm your room slightly! All of these features combined make them a go-to machine when you're dealing with wintertime dryness and irritation. 

Caveats to Know

First and foremost, you should never use a warm mist humidifier in a baby, toddler, or child's room. You should also keep them away from your pet's playful paws.

The boiling water within them and the steam they let out could both create a burn hazard. Not only this but the surfaces on which the warm mist lands could also be scalding hot. 

While that's the biggest consideration to note, it's also important to use a warm mist humidifier in the right space. For the steam to take on its therapeutic effects, it's best to run this type of humidifier in a smaller room, such as a bedroom, rather than a large room or for the whole house.

Keep in mind that while you can find small-scale, portable versions, warm mist humidifiers do tend to use more electricity than cool mist models. This is because they're constantly boiling water to operate.

What is a Cool Mist Humidifier?

As their name implies, cool mist humidifiers also emit water vapor into your environment, but not in the form of steam. Rather, the water released from these devices is room temperature or slightly cool.

These are just as effective as releasing humidity into the air as warm mist models. They can help keep your nasal passages healthy, soothe cracked skin and relieve built-up sinus pressure. 

Note that if your congestion is especially heavy, you might prefer a warm mist humidifier. This is simply because you can disperse inhalants with it, helping to relax your airways and loosen that phlegm deep within your chest.

When to Use One

If you live in a hot, arid climate, these are the ultimate investment for your home. They can cool it down and keep you comfortable in minutes. 

These are also ideal if you have small children or rambunctious pets at home who need relief from their stuffy noses but can't be around a warm mist model. As they're cheaper to buy and operate than warm mist humidifiers, these also make great choices for the budget-conscious shopper.

Special Features

To encourage parents to use cool mist over warm mist humidifiers, many manufacturers have created kid-friendly models. Today, you can even find some that project themes and light show onto the ceiling!

Because you don't have to worry about warm water cooling too quickly or losing its effectiveness, you're free to use a cool-mist humidifier in any size room in your home. Moreover, because the water does not have to become warm before being used, you can also save money on your utility bill if you go this route. 

Caveats to Know

When using a cool-mist humidifier, don't be surprised if the air around you feels a little colder than usual.

Just as a warm mist humidifier adds a little warmth to the environment, these give a slight cooling sensation, especially if you're sitting near one! 

Another caveat is that cool mist humidifiers can harbor mold and bacteria if you don't clean them out on a regular basis. At least once a week, you'll need to follow basic humidifier cleaning instructions to make sure yours stays as clean as possible.

Ultrasonic vs. Evaporative Cool Mist Humidifiers

Ready to make the shopping and research experience even more confusing? There are two different kinds of cool mist humidifiers: ultrasonic humidifiers and evaporative humidifiers. While both types emit a cool mist, their inner mechanisms vary.

Let's review the distinguishing characteristics to know.

Ultrasonic Humidifiers

When you pour water into an ultrasonic humidifier, the machine breaks those water molecules apart. It does so by using a plate of vibrating metal or ceramic that vibrates at a high ultrasonic frequency.

The result? The water molecules are shaken vigorously until they turn into a fine mist. Unlike the steam emitted from a warm mist humidifier, the mist released from an ultrasonic humidifier isn't as visible. 

Our filterless Cool Mist Ultrasonic Humidifier 6L is a prime example of this design. Most productive in rooms up to 500 square feet, it's proven to reduce airborne viruses and harmful bacteria. It's also effective against seasonal allergies, asthma, and the common cold.

When to Use One

There is one thing that ultrasonic humidifiers have in common with their warm mist peers: Neither uses a fan! If you're a light sleeper who doesn't want to listen to a device run all night, an ultrasonic humidifier is an excellent choice. 

It's also an ideal way to combat any colds, stuffy noses, chest congestion and dryness you're experiencing due to low relative humidity levels in the air.

Special Features

Our Cool Mist Ultrasonic Humidifier doesn't require any cumbersome and icky filter changes. It's also designed to last up to six nights of sleep between refills! The rotational, 360-degree mist nozzle ensures that all of the air in your room is evenly improved.

If the mist is too strong for your liking, or you'd like it to be stronger, you can turn up the integrated Intensity Dial to control the speed of the stream. 

Caveats to Know

While our model is designed to run as cleanly and effectively as possible, not all cool mist ultrasonic humidifiers are created equal. Some models can emit fine, white dust in the air that can settle onto your indoor surfaces.

This occurs because tap water contains natural mineral deposits that get released back into your air. If you want to reduce the amount of dust that your ultrasonic humidifier creates, you can make the switch to using distilled water and see if that helps.

Evaporative Humidifiers

Compared to ultrasonic humidifiers, evaporative models work in a much simpler way.

The three main components of this design include:

  • A water tank or reservoir
  • A wick
  • A fan

Once you pour cool water into the reservoir, the wick naturally pulls it upward. When you turn on the machine, the internal fan starts to blow air across the wick. As it does so, it accumulates moisture.

Then, the machine releases that moisturized air back into the room. 

Cool Mist vs Warm Mist Humidifiers: Which Wins?

In your quest to stay well and keep your family healthy, buying a humidifier is an important step.

If you're still torn between cool mist vs warm mist humidifiers, take heart. Both do an excellent job of adding moisture into your air, although they do so by different means. Ultimately, the right one for your home is one that meets your goals, expectations, and lifestyle.

If you have small children at home, we recommend either an ultrasonic or evaporative cool mist machine to ensure their safety. Otherwise, the model you choose is up to you!

children run into the house from the street

Looking for more ways to make your home as comfortable as possible? Check out our full collections of memory foam pillows, humidifiers, diffusers, and more. Along the way, contact us with any questions and let's connect!

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