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What is the Difference Between a Humidifier and Vaporizer?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 21, 2024
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When someone has a cold or congestion, they may have to look at humidifier and vaporizer machines to figure out which one is best. Boosting humidity in the air can help relieve some congestion and keep the nasal passages from drying out. Additional humidity (or moisture in the air) may also be effective for kids suffering from attacks of croup. The two devices each have advantages, and each suffer from disadvantages, too. Although both add humidity to the air, most vaporizers boil water and deliver heated steam into a room, while humidifiers use other methods.

Both types of machines disperse moisture into the air by the way they act on water. When people speak of vaporizers they are typically referring to steam vaporizers that have a water tank that heats up until the water is boiling. The boiling action converts water to gaseous form, or steam, which is then gently released through the air.

To make matters more confusing, there are cool mist vaporizers, which do not heat the water to produce steam. These devices really belonging more to the class of humidifiers than vaporizers.

Humidifiers use a variety of methods to add more humidity to the air, but most do not heat water. This can be an advantage if there is some concern about using the device in a room with a young child or someone else who might not be careful around it. Steam vaporizers can get extremely hot, and there is risk of burns if someone comes into contact with the steam or with the hot reservoir. Healthcare professionals often suggest that humidifiers are a better choice because the cool, moist air may provide more relief, especially to those with severe bronchial congestion.

On the other hand, methods that create humidity without boiling water run the risk of developing significant bacteria from sitting water. Moreover, both the humidifier and vaporizer may increase likelihood of development of mold in the house, and higher humidity homes are perfect breeding grounds for dust mites. It’s important to turn off either machine if the windows start to glaze over with moisture.

Though opinions differ on which is superior, most agree that the key to keeping these machines running well and hopefully free of bacteria is to clean them frequently. People shouldn't use leftover water in the reservoir from the night before, instead, replacing it with new water each time it's used. Users should also follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for either machine to make sure that they are using it properly and keeping it clean.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon269406 — On May 17, 2012

I would like to have something like this in a portable type unit. A vaporizer that is easy to carry around would be ideal for me as I travel with my son often.

By anon157367 — On Mar 02, 2011

My son has been having some pretty profuse bloody noses. when I called the doctor today they said use a cool mist vaporizer and keep his nose inside coated with vaseline or neosporin. Hope this helps a little!

By anon137884 — On Dec 29, 2010

I totally agree. I tried to get answers but I'm now more confused.

By anon129157 — On Nov 22, 2010

I am so confused by the above. My son is getting bloody noses and which do I get, humidifier or cool mist vaporizer?

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a BeautyAnswered contributor, Tricia...
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