Discovered on last week that it's time to get a new humidifier. We have a Vicks Cool Mist, which is an evaporative model. It really wasn't that great after the first month or so. It's expensive to operate as it needs a wicking filter every month or so depending on your water($9-12 unless there's a sale). While the cleaning cartridge (demineralizer) is optional, it seems based on my experience without it that you really do need it, but the good news about the cleaning cartridge is that the Protec PC1 cartridge is reusable for up to 30 days as long as it is allowed to dry out so that one can potentially be a really good value as long as you don't forget and throw it away. In addition to evaporative humidifiers not being as efficient or effective at raising the humidity, the Vicks 1 Gallon Cool Mist is hard to clean because the reservoir has an off-centered, bottleneck opening which makes it impossible to scrub the film and buildup that isn't immediately adjacent. A smell developed a few weeks ago, and I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. I totally took it apart and found that the inside of the motor housing was filthy from sucking in air and perhaps growing mold but I couldn't tell for sure without opening it. Of course, the housing isn't removable. I was able to clean it with a can of compressed air and a day in the sun, all is well. The smell is gone and everything is back to normal, but I never want to deal with that again.
The humidifier was a gift, and I always planned to replace with a better one because I wanted one that made less waste (little to no filter/cartridge replacements) and was easier to do a thorough cleaning on, and I prefer one that can do both cool and warm mist because there are times when warm mist is more effective but for every day use cool mist is usually preferred.
Anyway, I thought I'd share my humidifier research since it's the time of year when a lot of people need them. These are the top 5 I've found for function, noise level, low maintenance, and sterility with sterility and low maintenance being my most desired traits. All of them are easy to find at the usual places (drug stores, Amazon, Walmart, Target, Diapers.com, etc.) except the Coway, my top choice. The price listed is the cheapest I found online for each humidifier.
1) Coway MHS-E5010 (aka Coway HC WJ ONYX) - $125 at www.newbidet.com
From what I've found, this is the proverbial Cadillac of humidifiers. This dual mist warm/cold ultrasonic humidifer has a 5-stage purification process that ensures the cleanest air and water is being released from the machine and produces the finest mist of all the humidifiers I looked at. The tank and tray implement nano silver technology to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and microbes. The air intake is also lined with nano silver to purify the air as it enters the humidifer. You can fill the tank from openings in the top and bottom of the tank so you don't have to turn it upside down, and it makes it easier to clean since you have access from both sides. If this isn't enough, it also has various settings including sleep mode, child mode, health mode, and sanitization mode so you have a setting for every need that should arise. It is a fairly compact model, with a 1.3 gallon tank. The description says this lasts 12 hours, which is probably an understatement because other one-gallon tanks usually last 18-24 hours. This is probably the water usage on the warm setting. Either way, it's more than enough to get through a night's sleep, and it's best to replace the water in every humidifier daily for sanitation purposes. In short, this humidifier does more than most that cost even twice as much. When my budget allows, this is the one I'll be getting. For more detailed information, click the Amazon or NewBidet.com links.
2) Germ Guardian H1500 Ultrasonic Humidifier - $100
If you don't want one with all the bells and whistles but still want some nice features, need one to fit a smaller budget, or are more comfortable with analog rather than digital controls, the Germ Guardian is for you. You still get the dual warm and cool mist, a tank that lasts ups 20 hours, a low water indicator, and nano silver cleaning, in a filterless and silent machine. Germ Guardian has a great reputation and a 3 year warranty to back up their products and makes a number of products for improving the sanitation in your home including toothbrush sterilizers, air purifiers, and uv light sterilizers. For more money, they make digital models and humidifiers with more features like variable mist control, adjustable spray, and humidity auto-adjustment. Or for as low as $48, they also have a table top model that humidifies your personal space and can be used beside your bed and on your office desk for short-distance humidification that doesn't alter a whole room's humidity.
3) Sunpentown SPT SU-4010 Dual Mist Humidifier with Ion Exchange Filter - $75
This very slim model is equipped with warm and cool mist, adjustable split nozzle for bi-directional mist control, overheat protection, and it's own cleaning brush. The water tank lasts about 10 hours on high in the warm setting, which uses 90 watts, and 12 hours on the highest cool setting, which is 43 watts. While this is not a filterless model, the filter it uses (SPT ION F-4010) only needs replacing every six months or so. And the filter does double duty to demineralize the water in addition to removing particulates. The one downside is that because it's so thin, it can tip over easily if pets or children can reach it. Make sure to keep it out of reach of curious little hands and paws.
4) Vicks UV 99.999% Germ Free Humidifier - $68
This warm mist model features dual water tanks that function independently of each other, so one side empties before the other which allows you to refill it without having to shut off the machine. The smaller tanks are easier to handle during refills and cleaning. No filter is required on this one, but a demineralizer like the Protec cleaning cartridge or Honeywell mineral absorption pad are recommended. A special UV chamber kills 99.999% of all bacteria, mold, and spores so the water vapors released are about as sterile as it gets. This machine also has adjustable humidity and mist output settings that you can customize to suit your needs. Since this is a warm mist model, however, users must take care to not let the unit run dry or it will boil itself out. Some reviewers have complained that the UV chamber leaks very bright light. Because of the temperature necessary to create the steam mist, the UV chamber seems superfluous. A UV cool mist model like this Honeywell would make more sense, but I haven't seen one with good reviews and all the models I saw require filters. People in general seem to like this Vicks model though.
5) Crane Cool Mist Humidifier - $30-45
For an inexpensive, no fuss humidifier with consistently good ratings, the road stops here. Cranes are dependable, easy to use, and easy to maintain. No filters are required, but you may want to use a dimineralizer especially if your water is hard. These models are cool mist only and come in other colors besides the typical blue and white fair. For the little ones, they make the line of Adorable 1 Gallon Humidifiers in cute animal shapes, and they even make Sponge Bob and Thomas the Train humidifiers. If you want the extra antibacterial protection with less expensive humidifiers, you can use Protec Cleaning Cartridges which are actually reusable for 30 days as long as they are allowed to dry out between uses. A 2-pack is perfect for this because you can take the wet one out during your weekly or biweekly tank maintenance and put the dry one in when you refill the tank. There are also chemical additives that are supposedly safe for use in cool mist humidifiers like Holmes Bacteriostat but I would stay away from them as they have pretty serious warnings about contact with skin and accidental ingestion.
The Longevity (aka How to Get the Most out of your Humidifier)
With all humidifiers, you'll get the best performance with regular maintenance. It is recommended to change to empty the reservoirs, rinse, and refill with fresh water every day. If you use tap water, you may need or want to use cleaning cartridges to prevent mineral buildups. You should soak the tank and basin or tray weekly with a white vinegar solution (Crane recommends 1/2 gallon water and 2 tablespoons vinegar) for 20-30 minutes to disinfect and remove deposits. Some recommend a bleach solution, but I prefer to use less harsh treatments. When not in use (end of season storage, vacations, etc.), the humidifier should be cleaned with the vinegar (or bleach) solution and allowed to air dry completely. If you use a humidifier with a filter or cartridge, follow the manufacturer's directions to prevent odors, mold, mildew, and bacterial growth. Most filter and cartridge media should be replaced monthly unless otherwise specified. Regardless of what the life expectancy is for your humidifier filter, always change it when it becomes discolored or full.