A humidifier is a device that blows cool to lukewarm mist
(vapor) into the air to increase humidity (moisture) in a room. A vaporizer is
a device that releases a cool to hot mist into the air to help increase
humidity or to help with breathing.
These devices tend to be used
when a person is sick or when air in the house is dry (low indoor humidity).
When a person's skin and mucous membranes are dry, the dryness can aggravate an
illness of the head, neck, or chest. Or it can lead to chapped lips, a dry
throat, or dry and itchy skin. Mist therapy with one of the devices can help
These devices differ in a few ways.
A steam vaporizer boils water and releases
steam into the air. The steam is germ-free, but the hot water can burn anyone
who overturns or gets too close to the device.
humidifiers use a filtered wick to absorb water. A fan blows air through the
moist wick, releasing a cool-to-lukewarm mist. Some models can sense when the
air in the room is dry and turn themselves on and off to control humidity.
Because the water in a humidifier isn't boiled, bacteria, mold, and minerals
(dust) can be in the mist. Using distilled water and carefully following the
safety instructions can help keep the mist clean and safe. Depending on the
model of the humidifier, a person may need to empty the water on a regular
basis. Some humidifier models are quieter than others.
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics