Vaporizer vs Humidifier: What Makes Them Different?

Humidity levels below 30% can cause a number of issues in regards to your overall health

These include increased levels of static electricity in your home, dry skin, nosebleeds, and the perpetuation of dry air, making breathing issues worse during cold and flu season. 

There are several different types of vaporizers and humidifiers on the market today, most of which use either cool-mist or steam to mitigate potential risks. 

Both of these products add moisture to the air in your home, helping to ease symptoms of colds and cough congestion. 

Additionally, both can be purchased at a relatively low price that can save you money on pumping your heater through the home. 

The primary difference between humidifiers and vaporizers is the way in which they introduce moisture into the air. 

Generally, humidifiers do this by creating mist from cold water. Vaporizers, on the other hand, heat water to create a steaming process. 

In this article, we’re going to investigate some of the differences between these two moisturizing systems and help to inform you about which machine might be best for you. 

Check out these five top differences between the two machines to consider, so that you can be confident you are making the best purchase possible. 

mom and daughter play on the floor

How Do Vaporizers and Humidifiers Add Moisture to the Air?

Steam vaporizers and cool-mist humidifiers both effectively add moisture to the air in your home. The process in which they do so, however, differs slightly: 

  • Steam vaporizers (also commonly known as warm-mist humidifiers) use electricity to power a heating element. This means that the water is boiling to create steam. The steam then cools down before its departure from the machine. After it enters the air, it reaches your body. With steam vaporizers, you can add inhalants and other soothing vapors—though you should not do this for babies and young children. 
  • There are two primary types of cool-mist humidifiers. The first uses ultrasonic vibrations to disperse cool mist into the air. The second utilizes a submerged disk in the machine that turns rapidly. As this moves, it separates water particles into tiny, breathable particles that are ideal for inhalation. 

As a good rule of thumb, if you have children or pets, it is best to stick with a cool-mist humidifier. This is because steam vaporizers can serve as a burn hazard, should they be spilled. 

On the other hand, the vapor produced by steam vaporizers can be more hygienic. This is due to the fact that the water is boiled before it comes out of the machine, leaving any potentially counterproductive bacteria killed off by the heating process. 

How Does the Cleaning Process Differ?

Cleaning out your cool-mist humidifier should be done daily when in constant use. You’ll want to stay ahead of mineral and bacterial buildup, which can lead to negative health implications. 

Best cleaning practices similarly apply to steam vaporizers, although mineral and bacterial buildup tend to be less of an issue due to the boiling process. 

Treated water should also be used when cleaning your system, as this type of water contains fewer contaminants. You should consider using distilled or purified water as opposed to tap water (especially if you live in a city where water quality is subpar), in order to reduce risk of harmful bacteria being spewed into the air. 

Healthline recommends the following cleaning schedule for cool-mist humidifiers:

  • Daily Cleaning: Empty the tank and dry all surfaces of your cool-mist humidifier. Refill with fresh, distilled water. 
  • Every 3 to 4 days: Empty the tank. Scrub all surfaces of the humidifier with mild dish soap and clean water to remove mineral buildup and other debris. Refill with fresh, distilled water. 
  • Storing Away: Use your manufacturer’s guide or owner’s manual to ensure best practice. Remove filters and discard permanently. When all parts of the humidifier are totally dry, store in a cool, dry place. 

For steam vaporizers, similar practices are recommended, though the timeline differs a little: 

  • Daily Cleaning: Empty the tank and dry all surfaces of your cool-mist humidifier. Refill with fresh, distilled water. 
  • Weekly Cleaning: Empty tank completely and fill with 3-4 inches of white vinegar (or a white vinegar and water solution, per manufacturer's recommendations) and let drain into the base for 15-20 minutes. Clean off any excess residue or buildup with a soft brush and mild detergent. 
  • Storing away: Use your manufacturer’s guide or owner’s manual to ensure best practice. Remove filters and discard permanently. When all parts of the humidifier are totally dry, store in a cool, dry place. 

It is important to note that all humidifiers and vaporizers are slightly different. Be sure to consult your owners manual to ensure that you are meeting all specific guidelines and requirements for your particular unit. 

Is One Safer Than the Other?

In general, cool-mist humidifiers tend to have a few more safety concerns about the mist they emit than steam vaporizers. This is due to concerns over mineral deposits, mold, and other contaminants that can be potentially emitted into your home’s air without the added protection of boiling the water. 

Inhaling these contaminants over time could irritate your body’s airways and exacerbate your breathing issues. However, with proper cleaning practice and the use of purified water, these risks can be almost totally eliminated. 

Steam vaporizers are less prone to emitting harmful contaminants and minerals into the air of the room you are seeking to moisturize. This is a result of a purely steam-based release. 

But steam vaporizers have their own set of safety concerns: namely the risk of a spill. With small children or pets, an overturned steam vaporizer could lead to burning risks. As a precaution, it is recommended that steam vaporizers are placed at least four feet from commonly utilized areas of your home. 

By placing your steam vaporizer in a safe location, the risk of a spill (and in turn, a burn) can be significantly reduced. 

The takeaway from this section is: if you have small children or rambunctious pets, cool-mist humidifiers are the recommended choice, even though they take a little bit more labor to clean. 

girl sitting on the floor with a dog

Are Humidifiers or Vaporizers Better for my Allergies?

The added moisture can help to ease irritated airways in your body. But, humidity can also increase the risk of indoor-born allergies. 

Dust mites are the number one indoor allergen. They thrive on moisture from any source—so if you have a known allergy to these mites, it is important that you stay alert to this risk. 

Humidity levels in your home should never reach above 50%. Between 30%-50% is an ideal level of humidity in your home. 

Humidity levels over 50%, or an unclean humidifier filter, can lead to mold development—another highly common allergen. 

You might want to consider purchasing a hygrometer for your home to measure humidity levels so that you can be sure you are warding off common allergens. 

Keep in mind that steam vaporizers don’t contain as many contaminants. This makes them a better choice for those prone to experiencing negative symptoms caused by indoor allergens. 

Consult with your allergist or immunologist for specific recommendations, and to ensure that you aren’t making your allergy dilemma worse with the use of your humidifier. 

Can One Target Congestion Better Than the Other?

Most studies indicate that both cool-mist humidifiers and steamers vaporizers help equally in combating congestion caused by colds and the flu. 

This is because the humidity, as it reaches your nasal passages and lungs, helps to soothe irritated regions of the cardiovascular system.

You can achieve the same levels of humidity with both steam vaporizers and cold-mist humidifiers, even though the processes are different. When the water reaches your lower airway, it does so at the same temperature, regardless of how it was originally generated. 


Both steam vaporizers and cool-mist humidifiers add moisture to the air in your home. This can help to ease your respiratory symptoms without the assistance of additional medication, as well as save you money on your heating bill. 

Whether you choose a vaporizer or a humidifier, the machine that you choose ultimately comes down to your own personal health needs, family considerations, and budget. 

If you have small children or pets, experts agree that you should buy a cool-mist humidifier in order to avoid the risks that come with spills, like burns. 

Regardless of your decision, monitor the humidity levels in the environment in which you have placed your moisturizing machine. 

Also, be sure to follow the cleaning specifications outlined in this article and by your manufacturer. With proper cleanliness and best practice, you can keep it in use while running safely for as long as you need. 

If you are seeking relief from skin and nasal dryness, chest congestion, and coughing through a natural solution that is relatively inexpensive, both cool-mist vaporizers and steam vaporizers are a good bet through the dry months this upcoming winter.


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