Cooler temperatures bring cozy sweaters, crispy leaves, pumpkin spice-flavored everything—and, for many of us, dry skin and chapped lips. If lotion and lip balm aren’t enough, an evaporative humidifier might be the solution. By blowing moisture into the room, a humidifier can also offer relief from chronic congestion, frequent nosebleeds and sore throats, allergies, and dry eyes.
After several hours researching the product category, discussing it with experts in the medical and air quality spaces, and spending weeks testing four of the most popular evaporative humidifiers on the market, we narrowed our favorites down to two products: the Canopy for bedrooms and the Honeywell HCM 350 for larger rooms. Both products earned high marks for user-friendliness and effectiveness while the Canopy got extra credit for looks and safety.
Here’s the TL;DR on how the best evaporative humidifiers stack up:
- Canopy (Best for Smaller Rooms and Bedrooms)
- Honeywell Cool Moisture Humidifier HCM 350 Series (Best for Larger Rooms)
- Honeywell Cool Moisture Humidifier HEV320 Quiet Comfort
Evaporative Humidifiers We Love
Best for Smaller Rooms and Bedrooms
- 2.5 liter tank
- Max run time: 36 hours
- Aesthetically pleasing, compact design
- User friendly
- Features technology that reduces risk of mold contamination
- More expensive than similar products
I fell a little in love with the Canopy even before I finished unboxing it. For a humidifier, it’s surprisingly easy on the eyes. It comes with up to three essential oil vials that made my office smell like an upscale spa, a puck—a small, flat disc on which to drop some of the included fragrance oil—and was beyond user-friendly. It also comes with a cylindrical filter that turns brown when it’s time to change it and order some new ones. It has just one intensity setting, which keeps things simple. Even better, according to my hygrometer, it got my office within 40 to 50 percent humidity as long as the door remained shut. (I’m assuming the level stayed within acceptable limits due to air leaking through the doorway, windows, and ducts.) As with all the humidifiers I tested, I didn’t notice any differences in my skin or general health. Still, just knowing the room was at a good humidity level felt reassuring, especially given the fact that I live in a high desert climate.
Even if the Canopy hadn’t been aesthetically appealing, with its compact size, clean lines, and pastel venting, its smart design would have made it stand out from the competition. According to its product website, it features a technology called Smart Persistent Airflow (SPA)™, which automatically runs until the unit is completely dry inside. This should prevent mold growth inside the tank. I also loved that it features an indicator light to let you know when to change the filter.
The Canopy is also ridiculously easy to set up, operate, take apart, and clean. Like most of the products I tested, the key parts that you need to clean—the tray, tank, and cap—are dishwasher-safe. Although I could have figured it out without instructions, its elegant quick start guide explains everything in a few concise bullet points.
Yes, the Canopy is a little pricier than its competition (okay, a lot pricier), but it’s also quieter, more user-friendly, and, dare I say—much cuter.
Best for Larger Rooms
Honeywell Cool Moisture Humidifier HCM 350 Series
- 1-gallon tank
- Max run time: 24 hrs
- Very user friendly, including setup, operation, and cleanup
- Gets the job done well (and quietly)
- Not the most beautiful
The Honeywell Cool Moisture 350 series won’t win any style points. Still, it effectively humidified my 210-square foot, high-ceilinged master bedroom without being too noisy. I also didn’t sustain any headaches while setting it up, operating it, taking it apart, or cleaning it.
The humidifier features a quick-start guide printed right on the box flap, which I appreciated, but it really wasn’t necessary. Setup was intuitive and user-friendly, taking less than five minutes from start to finish. Once the room got to about 40% humidity, it hovered between 40 and 45% as long as the doors to the hallway and bathroom stayed shut.
Three fan settings mean you have control over the humidity level and sound without having to deal with the overwhelm that can come with too many choices. The highest setting was a bit loud for me when I was trying to sleep, but the middle setting was fine and it kept the room at or slightly above 40% humidity.
As for care and maintenance, I appreciated that many of its parts are dishwasher safe. Also, the instruction manual was clear on exactly how to store it during the off season, which gave me some peace of mind in terms of protection from potential mold growth.
Are Evaporative Humidifiers Worth it?
Generally speaking, adding some humidity to a dry environment is great for your skin and your overall health. But it’s debatable whether an evaporative humidifier is the best way to do that.
“Using a humidifier each night can help to keep the air more moist and in turn, your skin will also have more moisture to absorb,” says Tracy Evans, MD, MPH, Board Certified Dermatologist and medical director of Pacific Skin and Cosmetic Dermatology. This is especially important for those who live in dry climates, particularly in the winter when the heat is turned on and the air becomes even drier, she adds.
For some, humidifiers can provide relief for serious skin problems. Some research Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology “The effect of environmental humidity and temperature on skin barrier function and dermatitis” View Source shows that low humidity and cooler weather can increase the prevalence and risk of flares in people with atopic dermatitis. Humidifiers can also be helpful for people who have hand dermatitis and people who use topical and oral retinoids, which can cause dryness and irritation Harvard Health Publishing “Do retinoids really reduce wrinkles?” View Source to the skin and lips. However, there are also data Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology “Ambient humidity and the skin: the impact of air humidity in healthy and diseased states” View Source suggesting that dryer environments might actually help people with skin conditions like eczema.
The jury is still out on whether humidifiers (of any type) can help with other chronic conditions, including congestion, coughing, dry eyes, and frequent nosebleeds. Some research Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal “Humidifiers and vaporizers” View Source suggests that a humidifier can help you breathe easier and reduce the need for medication when you’re stuffy.
One Canadian study American Journal of Epidemiology “Childhood Asthma and Indoor Environmental Risk Factors” View Source found that humidifier use was a risk factor for developing childhood asthma. And in South Korea, there was a well-established association between the inhalation of humidifier disinfectant and lung damage. (Those disinfectant products are no longer available.)
Whatever you do, keep your humidifier clean and consider filling it with distilled water. “It is important to find a humidifier that is easy to clean, as it should be cleaned once a week,” says Evans. Focus on keeping the tank and the base clean. When the filter or wick starts to become crusty or discolored, don’t bother trying to scrub it—it needs to be replaced. For other parts, you can clean it with a mixture of water and white vinegar or bleach. Some can also be put in the dishwasher. “Tap water (as opposed to distilled water) contains impurities which can build up on your humidifier. They can also harbor mold or fungus inside,” she explains.
It’s also important to keep the environment from getting too moist, as this can cause bacteria, fungus, and mold to grow on the surfaces of your home. For optimum health, the room humidity should be between 40 and 60%, says Michael Ham, an air quality specialist based in Westchester, NY.
The issue with evaporative coolers is that they aren’t the smartest home appliance. They’ll keep running until they run out of water or you shut them off, regardless of the humidity level in the air. This can potentially lead to excessive humidity and all the health problems that come with it, says Ham. Unless you purchase a hygrometer—a small, battery-operated device that gives real-time humidity readings—and are vigilant about checking it, you’ll be in the dark about the humidity level. And according to Ham, the risks of unwittingly reaching humidity levels above 60% just aren’t worth it. (Ness ordered me a hygrometer to use with every product I tested.)
What’s the Difference Between Evaporative and Ultrasonic Humidifiers?
When you’re shopping for a humidifier, first, you need to decide whether you want an evaporative humidifier or an ultrasonic humidifier.
Evaporative humidifiers release moisture into the air by using a fan that blows air through a moistened absorbent substance, such as a belt, wick, or filter. Some evaporative humidifiers heat the water into steam and are called “warm mist” or “steam” humidifiers, while others (including all the products we tested), never heat the water, and are known as “cool mist” humidifiers. Either way, the water is turned into vapor before it leaves the humidifier, which is why the mist they emit is invisible.
Ultrasonic humidifiers, on the other hand, release water droplets directly into the air. Those droplets become vapors only after they’ve left the humidifier. Ultrasonic humidifiers create a cool mist using ultrasonic sound vibrations. Like evaporative humidifiers, they contain a reservoir that you fill with water. They also contain an element that vibrates at a very high frequency (beyond what humans can hear). The vibrations send microscopic droplets of water into the air, where they quickly evaporate, which is how they increase humidity.
Each product type has their own pros and cons. While ultrasonic humidifiers are more effective at sending moisture into the air, this can also be a major drawback. Excess humidity seriously increases the risk of creating an environment where dampness and mold can proliferate. There has been at least one known case American Academy of Pediatrics “Inhalational Lung Injury Associated With Humidifier “White Dust”” View Source of an infant sustaining serious lung damage as a result of inhaling the mineral dust expelled by an ultrasonic humidifier.
Ultrasonic humidifiers are generally more compact and quieter than evaporative humidifiers. However, if the droplets don’t have time to evaporate before they land on a surface or if the air is already humid, evaporative humidifiers can end up creating a puddle of water on the floor.
Both product categories can increase your risk of inhaling harmful particulates, such as bacteria and mold, research Journal of Building Engineering “The impact of using portable humidifiers on airborne particles dispersion in indoor environment ” View Source has shown evaporative humidifiers to be far safer.
How We Got Here
Meet Your Guinea Pig
I personally tested all the products you’re reading about. I’m a health and fitness junkie and freelance health journalist who has written about everything from pull-ups to piriformis syndrome. In writing for outlets like The Washington Post, The Guardian, Time, Runner’s World, SELF, Outside, AARP, and WebMD, and interviews I’ve hosted on my podcast, Real Fit, I’ve spoken with hundreds of experts, including ultra-endurance athletes, sports medicine physicians, sports psychologists, and Olympians.
Before I became a freelance health and fitness writer, I was an occupational therapist. For more than a decade, I worked in a variety of healthcare settings (mostly hospitals), helping people with chronic and acute medical conditions (think strokes, joint replacements, and head injuries) function as fully as possible. This meant designing treatments that helped my patients grow stronger, more coordinated, and more self-aware. I also educated patients and their families on how to make their homes as safe as possible.
In addition to my healthcare experience, I’m an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and a certified intuitive eating counselor, and the host of Real Fit, a women’s health and fitness podcast. Although my first love is endurance sports—I’ve completed six marathons and two Ironmans—I’ve also dabbled in CrossFit and weightlifting. As a group fitness instructor, I teach indoor cycling.
And as a mom to a child who spent the first few years of her life with major allergy-related nasal congestion and eczema and having lived with eczema myself for many years, I’ve had my share of personal experience with humidifiers.
Our Testing Process
The testing process started way before I even laid eyes on any of the products. I started by researching the evaporative humidifier market to find out how they’re distinct from ultrasonic humidifiers, how they can help people, and which products are most popular. I spent about three hours combing the internet to see what I could find out.
Armed with answers to my questions, I drew up a list of potential products to test and ran it by The Nessie’s team. We then finessed my original list to include the four evaporative humidifiers that I’d ultimately put to the test, and The Nessie purchased them for me to try.
The testing process was straightforward. I used each humidifier every day for a week, refilling each one as needed, and cleaning each one at least once. I used the two smaller humidifiers (the Canopy and the Honeywell HEV320) in my 110 square foot office while I was working each weekday, from about 9 am until 5 pm, I used the two larger humidifiers (the Sharkzilla and the Honeywell HCM 350) in my bedroom, which is 210 square feet. I didn’t have many choices as far as where to set up my humidifiers given the floor plan of my house (which is pretty open) and where I spend most of my time (mostly working or sleeping, which sounds a lot sadder than it is.)
While using each humidifier, I considered how easy it was to set up, operate, and clean, how noisy it was, how many settings it had, and whether/to what extent it felt like it was improving my health or the air quality of my home. Most importantly, I used a hygrometer to check the humidity level periodically. Without the hygrometer I wouldn’t have had any idea how well any of the products worked: I noticed no benefits to my skin or to my health.
For more on how we found the best evaporative humidifiers, read the test notes.
The Evaporative Humidifier Buying Guide
Who Should Buy Evaporative Humidifiers?
Evaporative humidifiers are for anyone with dry skin, eczema, psoriasis, chapped lips, asthma, chronic congestion, frequent nosebleeds, frequent sore throats, allergies, and/or dry or irritate eyes who is looking for at-home, non-medical remedy for their symptoms.
While research shows humidifiers can help with at least some of these issues, there’s also the possibility that a humidifier could make things even worse, particularly if the environment becomes too humid (which can promote the growth of mold and fungi) or if the humidifier expels bacteria or other particulate matter. Anyone who buys a humidifier needs to commit to cleaning it regularly and should strongly consider filling it only with distilled or purified water.
Which Features Matter Most When Buying Evaporative Humidifiers?
How easy is it to fill, operate, take apart, clean, and put back together? Are the buttons clearly marked and easy to understand? Is it easy to turn on and off and to adjust the settings?
- Moisture regulation
How long will it run if left alone? Will it detect a certain level of moisture in the air and shut off at that point? Should users be concerned about the possibility of putting too much moisture into the air? (As far as I could tell, no products in this category regulate moisture. The only way to be sure your moisture levels are safe is to monitor with a hygrometer.)
How many settings does the product have? Can you adjust the fan speed, the run time, or both?
- Noise level
How noisy is it? Is the sound a pleasant white noise or does it interfere with your ability to work, focus, relax, or sleep?
Does it relieve your symptoms? Most importantly, can it get the room up to 40 percent humidity (and keep it no higher than 60 percent), according to your hygrometer’s reading?
Evaporative Humidifiers You Can Skip
Honeywell Cool Moisture Humidifier HEV320 Quiet Comfort
- .8 gallon tank
- Max run time: 18 hrs
- Intuitive setup, operation, and maintenance
- Didn’t raise moisture levels to a minimum level
- Strong odor
The Honeywell HEV320 wins points for user friendliness and price, but there’s just no way I can recommend a product that doesn’t get a room up to the minimum recommended humidity level. It also gave off a very unpleasant odor the first few times I used it. (Washing it helped, but still.)
Because I didn’t notice any health, general comfort, or skin improvements from using any of the humidifiers, the hygrometer humidity readings served as my only metric for effectiveness. Unfortunately, this product failed that test. I even tried it in two different rooms, just to give it a fair shake, but it never got the humidity level up to 40%—even overnight when the door was shut for hours at a time.
- 5-liter tank
- Max run time: 50 hours
- Cool design
- Filling and emptying it could be awkward
- Operation not intuitive
- Did not effectively bring humidity levels up to minimum recommended levels
- Lots of leakage
Initially, I liked the Sharkzilla’s unique design. Unlike the other products, which feature curves and smooth edges, the Sharkzilla was shaped like a cube with sharp edges. Although the design was fine to look at, it performed poorly from start to finish.
Also unlike the other products, all of which have a tank that you can take directly to the sink and fill under the faucet, the Sharkzilla’s body and tank are one unit. This means it fits under the faucet awkwardly at best. As it turned out, this was by design; when I carried the unit from the sink to my bedroom, water sloshed around and ended up spilling out the sides, which are vented to let the mist out. Once I read the instructions (which seemed to have been run through an online translator a few times and were hard to understand), it became clear that I should have poured water in from a glass or a pitcher, an extra step not required to fill any of the other products I tested.
The fun really started when I turned the Sharkzilla on. The buttons feature icons that, to me, were both hard to see and interpret. Even after reading the instruction manual multiple times and attempting to follow the instructional diagram, I was befuddled.
When I was trying to set it up for nighttime use with the lights dimmed, things got even worse. It was even harder to see the buttons without a bright overhead light and every time I pressed the wrong button, the machine made an annoying beep. It also featured a bright light which was annoying when we were trying to sleep. Although that light was dimmable, like the other buttons, adjusting it took some trial and error.
Once I got it to work, I discovered that… it didn’t actually work. Although I had it on what I thought was its highest setting (at least during the day; at night the highest setting was too loud), it never got the room, which was at about 30 percent humidity normally, up to 40 percent humidity.
Emptying it was pretty straightforward as long as I poured the water directly into the sink. When I attempted to water my plants with the residual water, it spilled out the vented sides and made a mess. I had no issues cleaning it, but it was no easier to clean than any of the other products I tested.
- Basic differences between evaporative and ultrasonic humidifiers: “Indoor Air Facts No. 8 Use and Care of Home Humidifiers,” EPA (February 1991).
- More on how evaporative and ultrasonic humidifiers work: “Should You Choose an Ultrasonic Humidifier for Your Home?,” Molekule.com (September 2018).
- Ultrasonic humidifiers can expel minerals present in the water into the air: “Effect of aerosol particles generated by ultrasonic humidifiers on the lung in mouse,” Particle and Fibre Technology (December 2013).
- Use pure, distilled, or deionized water in your ultrasonic humidifier: “The impact of using portable humidifiers on airborne particles dispersion in indoor environment,” Journal of Building Engineering (November 2021).
- Ultrasonic humidifier associated with infant lung injury “Inhalational Lung Injury Associated With Humidifier ‘White Dust,’” Pediatrics (February 2011).
- Research has shown evaporative humidifiers to be far safer than ultrasonic humidifiers: “The impact of using portable humidifiers on airborne particles dispersion in indoor environment,” Journal of Building Engineering (November 2021).
- You need to keep your evaporative humidifier clean: “Humidifier Use in the Home Environment and Its Effects on Respiratory HealthOne study,” Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (1998).
- Health benefits and risks of using humidifiers: Interview with Tracy Evans MD, MPH, Board Certified Dermatologist and Medical Director of Pacific Skin and Cosmetic Dermatology (September 22, 2022).
- Low humidity and cooler weather can increase the prevalence and risk of flares in people with atopic dermatitis: “The effect of environmental humidity and temperature on skin barrier function and dermatitis,” Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (October 2015).
- Air quality-related safety concerns associated with evaporative humidifiers: Interview with Michael Ham, air quality specialist and certified air quality specialist based in Westchester, NY, (October 19, 2022).
- A Canadian study found that humidifier use was a risk factor for developing childhood asthma: “Childhood Asthma and Indoor Environmental Risk Factors,” American Journal of Epidemiology (April 1993).
- Using a humidifier can help you breathe easier and reduce the need for medication when you’re stuffy: “Humidifiers and vaporizers,” Canadian Pharmaceutical Journal (November 2022).