Vaporizer vs Humidifier: What’s the Difference?

Vaporizer vs. Humidifier

When you’re shopping for a good humidifier, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the number of systems available. Ultrasonic machines, vaporizers, and diffusers are just a few of the options available, and you have to consider cool or warm mist systems as well. In our vaporizer vs. humidifier comparison, we are going to two of the most popular options around.

Humidifiers

Any system classified as a humidifier has one sole purpose – putting moisture into the air. There are several different types of humidifiers, however. There are small, personal systems you can slide into a purse or glove box to take on the go. You can also find large systems built to handle entire households ranging from 1,000 to 6,000 square feet or more.

Vaporizers

A vaporizer is a type of humidifier, although it performs in a different fashion, and is generally designed with aromatherapy in mind. It releases a fine mist into the air, just like a regular humidifier, but heats the water internally. As water is boiled and vaporized in the machine, a warm mist is released into the air of your home.

Noise Levels

Both humidifiers and vaporizers are designed to work during the day or night, including times when you are away from home. With that in mind, we found that most consumers operate their systems while they are home, which means noise levels are important.

Humidifiers aren’t what most folks would consider loud, but some models are quieter than others. Any system with a fan will produce more noise, although ultrasonic systems extremely quiet. You can find ultrasonic vaporizers and ultrasonic humidifiers as well, so it comes down to the model, more than the style.

Capacity

Cool mist humidifiers outnumber warm mist systems. It should come as no surprise that they are available in higher capacities, including models ranging from 1 to 6 gallons or more. That’s ideal when you need to humidify large rooms or multiple areas in your home, and there are a variety of whole house humidifiers as well.

While there are a few exceptions, vaporizers are generally smaller, so you’re unlikely to find anything in the console class. You also won’t find anything over 2 gallons, although humidifier output and efficiency is tied to runtime more than the water tank. There are plenty of whole house steam humidifies on the market, but vaporizers are designed for small to medium rooms.

Maintenance and Cleaning

A humidifier or vaporizer can help with dry skin and sinus issues, but they can both cause issues with your indoor air quality as well when not properly maintained. That’s where maintenance and cleaning come into play, and some systems are definitely easier to clean than others.

How easy a system is to clean largely depends on the design. Vaporizers and humidifiers can have tanks and parts made from antimicrobial material, and there are even a few systems with dishwasher-safe parts. In our experience, larger systems are typically easier to clean as well, which would normally give the advantage to cool mist humidifiers.

While vaporizers and humidifiers can be extremely easy to clean, vaporizers heat the water, which kills bacteria. There’s less chance for stagnant water or an unclean tank with a vaporizer, which gives it an edge if you’re concerned about the potential for bacteria or viruses with a humidifier. 

Safety

While several of the areas in our guide are too close to call, if you are concerned about safety, there is only once type of system for your home. Cool mist humidifiers of any style are as safe as any other electrical appliance. As long as they are well-made, the biggest issues you’ll need to worry about are leaks or tip-overs, as most humidifiers have an auto-shutoff function.

Vaporizers, on the other hand, heat up the water in order to produce a steamy mist. A high-quality system will be safe electrically, but the water in the tank can be a problem. Boiling water isn’t something you typically want around pets or children, so a humidifier is safer than a vaporizer from that standpoint. If heat, children, or pets are a concern, stick to a cool mist system.

Inhalants

One of the big advantages to buying a vaporizer is the fact you can use inhalants with these systems. Vicks and other companies make steam vaporizers that are ideal for cold and flu season, and warm mist systems, in general, are an excellent choice for cold weather.

Well, you can also use essential oils with a variety of cool mist humidifiers. There are dozens of systems with built-in vapor trays, but you can’t add essential oil to just any humidifier. Those oils can degrade the plastic tank or damage the humidifier itself unless the machine is designed to work with aromatherapy oils.

Features

The ability to use inhalants is certainly considered a feature, and one well worth paying for if you need an aromatherapy system for your home. That’s the only real advantage a vaporizer holds over most humidifiers. You can find an automatic shutoff feature, digital displays, humidistats, and timers on both types of machines.

With that in mind, you will find a wider variety of features on humidifiers due to the wealth of options available. Variable speed systems are common, and there are countless humidifiers with nightlights or rotating mist nozzles as well. Again, you can find many of these features on vaporizers as well, but your overall options are somewhat limited.

Pricing

When caught between two types of systems, pricing is usually a quick way to narrow the field. In our vaporizer vs. humidifier shootout, we found that price doesn’t make much of a difference because of the variety of systems available.

You can find cheap vaporizers and budget-friendly humidifiers from well-known and unfamiliar brands. There are also systems priced in the midrange to premium class, so pricing largely depends on the size and features included. Vaporizers have a slight advantage in pricing because they are smaller, however.

The Verdict

Choosing between a vaporizer vs. humidifier is a little more complicated than picking a warm or cool mist system. Considering you can find evaporative humidifiers with oil trays, the gap between these two types of systems is narrower than many homeowners realize. Either type of system can do an excellent job of adding humidity to your home, which means it’s best to focus on safety, size, and features.

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