Humidifiers are used to add moisture to the air, usually with the intent of combating dry climates or relieving cold and flu symptoms. A vaporizer is a type of warm mist humidifier that uses boiling water to create hot steam. Both appliances can ease discomfort when used properly, but daily cleaning is important to decrease the risk of bacterial growth. Because they use boiling water, vaporizers may not be appropriate around small children.

Comparison chart

Humidifier versus Vaporizer comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartHumidifierVaporizer
Purpose To increase the moisture content in the surrounding area. To inhale extracts of plants or other sources for coldand health benefits.
Usage During winter or when the air is cold and dry in either a single room or the entire house. Appliance used to extract herbs and plant essences for inhalation. It creates moisture by boiling water.
Process Make water vapor using a rapidly turning disk submerged in water A heating element creates steam
Heated No Yes – risk of burn
Release of vapor A humidifier emits cold vapors. A vaporizer emits hot vapors.
Cleaning Daily Daily
Chance of spreading bacteria Yes. Water does not boil and so there are increased chances for spread of bacteria or molds. No. Less risk of spreading molds or bacteria.
Application Suitable to moisten dry skin and nasal passages that dry up due to common cold. Humidifier works best in children’s room. Not suitable when children are around since it could be accident prone.
Cost More expensive Cheaper
Water type Distilled preferable Tap is OK
Effectiveness The same The same
Noise Noisier Less noisy
Add medication No Yes
Accessories No external objects can be added. Inhalants can be added in order to facilitate breathing.

Mode of Operation

Humidifiers are appliances that release cool vapors to humidify the air in a room. These vapors are created by a rapidly turning disk that is submerged in water. Humidifiers are especially useful in dry climates where breathing may become difficult or uncomfortable due to the environment.

Vaporizers, which are a kind of humidifier, also add humidity to the air, but they do so by creating steam. Inside a vaporizer, water is boiled until the device emits hot vapors into a room. Inhalants can be added to vaporizers, but this cannot be done to regular humidifiers.

Neither humidifiers nor vaporizers purify the air.


There are several types of humidifier. A central humidifier can be hooked up to a house’s heating equipment to receive water directly and humidify an entire house, while a tabletop or room humidifier is smaller and must be filled manually. There are also evaporative humidifiers, which capture all minerals and pollutants; ultrasonic humidifiers, which create vapors using sound waves and are usually very quiet; and cool mist humidifiers, which use a spinning disk and are both cheaper and more common than other types of humidifiers.

Vicks Personal Sinus Steam Inhaler/Vaporizer ($35 on Amazon)
Vicks Personal Sinus Steam Inhaler/Vaporizer ($35 on Amazon)
Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier ($35 on Amazon)
Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier ($35 on Amazon)
Crane Ultrasonic Drop Shape Cool Mist Humidifier ($42 on Amazon)
Crane Ultrasonic Drop Shape Cool Mist Humidifier ($42 on Amazon)

Vaporizers are really a type of warm mist humidifier, but there are various versions of these as well. Varieties of vaporizer include portable vaporizers (which can be handheld) and electric vaporizers that plug into a wall. Vaporizers are also classified by the way they heat liquid: either by way of thermal conduction, convection, or thermal radiation.

In the following video, a pediatrician discusses whether it is helpful to use a humidifier or a vaporizer for a child's health. The video further discusses some of the more common humidifier brands:


Humidifiers and vaporizers combat excessive dryness, prevent the build-up of static electricity, relieve discomfort associated with dry nose and skin, and help to prevent infants and young children from developing breathing problems due to dry air. They can also help relieve some of the symptoms caused by allergies or the common cold, such as congestion or coughing. Those with asthma or bronchitis may also find relief with these devices.

Deciding between the cool mist of a humidifier and the warm steam of a vaporizer mostly comes down to personal preference, but there are some important factors to consider. Regular humidifiers will humidify a room and keep it cool, while vaporizers will humidify and can warm a room, potentially leading to a "swampy" feeling. Humidifiers are also safer to use around active toddlers and small children who might otherwise burn themselves on a vaporizer.

A major advantage that vaporizers have over humidifiers is the fact that the boiled water of a vaporizer is purified, meaning the steam it emits is clean to breathe. In contrast, humidifiers must be carefully and regularly cleaned to ensure the mist they emit is clean. Vaporizers are also appropriate for inhalants, such as drops of eucalyptus oil, which some claim further ease breathing problems.

Both appliances can be effective if used properly, but keeping an eye on the relative humidity of a home is advisable. Maintaining 40 to 60% relative humidity is best, as this is damp enough to provide comfort, but not so humid that bacteria or mold will become a concern.


Humidifiers can be a breeding ground for mold and bacteria, especially when relative humidity is over 60%. For this reason, humidifiers should be cleaned every day. They can also disperse the minerals in tap water, and so should only be used with distilled water. A vaporizer does not carry such risk because it boils water before emitting vapor. Mold and germs are destroyed when the water boils. Steam also does not contain minerals.

Vaporizers are dangerous when children are around since boiling water could spill when knocked over and cause physical damage. Hot steam could also prove hazardous.

Both vaporizers and humidifiers should be cleaned every day.


In general, humidifiers are more expensive than vaporizers, but this can vary. Humidifiers may also need replacement filters or wicks.


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