The cold, dry air of fall and winter may come as a relief after a sticky summer, or it may make us mutter darkly as we crank up the heaters and huddle indoors. But either way, the dry air can bring with it dry skin, scratchy throats, congestion, and nosebleeds.

Relief from the dryness can come, whatever the season, from a humidifier to help put some moisture back into the air. It may also help to soothe the symptoms that result from colds and the flu.

But before you head out to get your hands on a humidifier, do you know which will you choose - a steam humidifier or a cool-mist humidifier? Consider these facts before you make your choice.

Steam humidifiers

  • Also known as "vaporizers," steam humidifiers use heat to boil the water you add to their tanks and emit a hissing stream of warm mist into the air.
  • The boiling kills off any mould or bacteria that may grow in the water.
  • Because it creates heat, a vaporizer can make a room feel muggy and humid, making them a more natural choice during colder weather.
  • But because it creates heat, a vaporizer also poses a burn risk and is probably not the best choice for use in a child's room, unless it is kept at a safe distance from where the child can reach.

Cool-mist humidifiers

  • Water is not heated at all in this type of humidifier. Instead, a motor agitates the water until it creates a cool mist. No heat, no burn risk. Also, since it emits cooler air, a cool-mist humidifier feels more pleasant and refreshing during warmer months.
  • However, since the water in a cool-mist humidifier is never heated, there is more risk of bacteria and mould growth. That's why it's important to follow the manufacturer's directions for maintaining and cleaning the product regularly. When you switch on a humidifier filled with bacteria-ridden water you send the bacteria and mould spores airborne, which can spell trouble for people dealing with asthma or other breathing difficulties.
  • The bacteria problem means you should never leave water in a cool-mist humidifier when it's not being used. Fend off bacteria by only refilling the water tank right before you intend to use the humidifier.
  • If possible, use distilled water. Tap water isn't necessarily bad, but distilled water will likely contain fewer tiny but potentially harmful particles that can be released into the air by a humidifier.

Amy Toffelmire