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Humidifier vs. Diffuser vs. Vaporizer

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M aintaining proper humidity levels indoors is something of an impossible feat if you don’t have the proper tools for the job. In case you live in an arid area where the air tends to be dry all year long or if you simply seek to stay clear of congestion and colds this winter by maintaining proper humidity indoors, you need a moisture-enhancing system. But then the question inevitably arises – what should you acquire?

Different in their operation and functionalities yet all serving the same purpose of enhancing air moistness indoors, humidifiers, diffusers, and vaporizers are the three systems you need to consider for solving air dryness issues in your home. In the following we will take an in-depth look at what each system provides and how it works, even comparing your options to each other so that you can rest assured you will be making an informed decision at the end of the day.

Humidifier ABC’s

Definition: Moisture enhancing system that releases mist or steam into the air to relieve dry skin and help alleviate and prevent respiratory symptoms.

How does it work?

A: There are multiple types and each provides moistness increase through different means. Ultrasonic humidifiers use a piezoelectric transducer that vibrates at a high frequency to break apart water molecules, evaporative systems use a wick filter to soak the water and a fan to evaporate it into the air from there, impeller systems use finned disks to carry the water to a mesh screen where it is broken into droplets that get released into the air, and steam systems use heating elements to boil the water and release steam into the room to enhance humidity.

Safety Considerations

  • Upside: Cool mist humidifiers are safe to use even around children and pets as they do not use or create heat in their operating process.
  • Upside: Both cool and warm mist machines can impact the temperature of the surrounding environment, adding to thermal comfort indoors.
  • Upside: Regardless of the machine type we are referring to, a silent operation is almost always granted.
  • Upside: Quite energy efficient, all machine types consuming little power when they run.
  • Downside: Warm mist humidifiers are not suited for use around kids and pets as they use a heating element that can be hazardous if entered into contact with it.
  • Downside: Potential to harbor bacteria and release it into the air through mist/steam if it is not cleaned regularly.

Upkeep Considerations

Regular cleaning, preferably 1-2 times per week is mandatory with humidifiers as, especially if tap water is used, mineral deposits and bacteria growth can occur in the tank. Consider using distilled water to reduce the chances of limescale and mineral deposits in the machine’s tank. The water in the tank should be replaced regularly as well, otherwise, mold and mildew will develop.

How to clean the humidifier: Take it apart and fill the tank halfway with water to which you add two teaspoons of white vinegar. Give the tank a good shake and rinse it well to get rid of residual vinegar smell.

Costs – Upfront and Maintenance

  • Upfront costs: Prices can range from as little as $15 up to $500 or more, depending on what type of humidification system you look into, its capacity, and accompanying functions and features.
  • Maintenance costs: Low even with systems that feature parts which need occasional replacement, like wick filters.

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Diffuser ABC’s

Definition: Device that works similarly to a humidifier and that is used to disperse water mixed with essential oils into the air to create a more aromatic, relaxing atmosphere.

Q: How does it work?

A: It mixes the water in the reservoir with essential oil of your choice and diffuses it into the air to increase moisture and solve low RH levels indoors, all while granting a more pleasant ambiance in the room.

Safety Considerations

While their operation is not necessarily an unsafe one, diffusers can indeed pose a threat under specific circumstances. For example, some models can get hot when they work as they heat the water and oils inserted in them, so they must be kept out of the reach of infants so that they won’t hurt themselves. Another aspect to take into consideration is that pets are sensitive to high concentrations of essential oils, so it would be best to avoid using the diffuser in the same room with your beloved companion.

Upkeep Considerations

Regular cleaning is mandatory with diffusers as the essential oils you add in the water can build up and cause clogging. To follow through with proper cleaning, proceed as follows:

  • Fill the tank with clean water to which you add a few drops of dishwashing soap.
  • Leave the mixture inside the tank for 1-2 minutes before you gently scrub the interior with a sponge.
  • Throw the mixture out and refill the tank with water in which you add two teaspoons of white vinegar that you leave to sit for about 10 minutes.
  • Rinse the tank multiple times to get rid of the vinegar odor.

Costs – Upfront and Maintenance

  • Upfront costs: Generally within the $10 to $50 range, depending on size, design, and whether or not essential oils are included with the purchase.
  • Maintenance costs: No actual replacements are needed, so upkeep doesn’t cost a cent.

Vaporizer ABC’s

Definition: Moisture enhancement systems that work similarly to humidifiers, producing steam to normalize low RH levels.

How does it work?

A: Through the use of an electrically-powered heating element, these systems boil the water to produce steam that is released into the air or inhalable vapor.

Safety Considerations

  • Upside: Don’t emit harmful minerals or contaminants into the air as the boiling process handles their elimination from the water.
  • Downside: Don’t leave it in the reach of infants or pets as they might get burned. It’s recommended for the machine to be at a distance of 4’ from people and animals when it runs to prevent burns from the steam as well.
  • Downside: Make sure you place it somewhere where you won’t knock it over as the boiling hot water can burn your skin if it is spilled.

Upkeep Considerations

  • Tank cleaning instructions: Empty it first in case there is any water left inside. Fill it with water and add dishwashing soap, after which you can proceed to gently scrub the interior of the tank. At the end, rinse it thoroughly.
  • Heating element cleaning instructions: Soak it in white vinegar for about 10 minutes and rinse it when the time passes to get rid of the smell.

Costs – Upfront and Maintenance

  • Upfront costs: For a decent system, you are likely to spend an estimated $30-$50. Prices evidently vary depending on design and size, as well as brand recognition.
  • Maintenance costs: There are no parts to replace, so you won’t spend any money on upkeep.

Side-by-Side Comparison

Factor Humidifiers Diffusers Vaporizers
Allergy relief Yes Yes Yes
Congestion relief Yes Yes Yes
Dry skin relief Yes Yes Yes
Humidity increase efficiency High Medium High
Safety in use High Medium Medium
User-friendly design Yes Yes Yes
Required maintenance Weekly Weekly Weekly
Maintenance costs Low Low Low
Upfront costs Vary Low Vary

Conclusion

As you likely already deduced on your own, all three systems are quite effective when it comes to moisturizing the air indoors. Nonetheless, humidifiers and vaporizers are better at raising humidity levels as opposed to diffusers that are meant for a slightly different purpose, that of creating a more pleasant and relaxing ambiance in the room. On the other hand, with some humidifiers, you can add medicated inhalants in the water so that you can get back to a good state of health in case you catch a cold, for example. To wrap it all up, the decision depends on what your needs are, but what is a certainty is that increase of RH levels indoors will be provided no matter what you pick.

Tobey Hunter
Tobey Hunter
Tobey is the editor-in-chief at Optima Institute, his prior experience as a niche product reviewer in air quality improvement systems helping shape his path to conduct thorough research toward selecting and analyzing products so that customers are satisfied with the provided recommendations. During his carrier, Tobey also gathered technical input that makes him well versed in understanding advancements in modern systems, helping readers in turn to better understand how modern devices help improve life quality.