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Cheap Humidifiers Buying Guide

We found several good cheap humidifiers in the $30 to $60 range that are portable and suitable for areas as small as 250 square feet and as large as 1,200 square feet, depending on the model. Larger units cost more, of course, and add moisture to the air in several rooms or in larger open spaces, but they usually aren't portable because of their size.

Whole house humidifiers that connect to your central (forced air) heating system are way more expensive and must be professionally installed.

Warm Mist Humidifier, Humidifier Filters
Cool Mist Humidifiers, Portable Humidifiers
Humidifier Reviews
Best Humidifiers, Quiet Humidifiers

Among small cheap humidifiers, there are several types to choose from. Warm mist humidifiers, a.k.a. steam/vaporizer humidifiers, heat water to a boil and release the steam into the air. This technology is great for cold rooms and helps fight congestion but is not recommended for use around children because the units get hot enough to cause burns. Cool mist humidifiers are either ultrasonic, impeller, or evaporative. HowStuffWorks.com explains that ultrasonic humidifiers use vibrating technology to produce moisture, impeller models use a rotating disk and diffuser to produce a fine mist, and evaporative models use a wick and fan system to draw water from the reservoir and blow it into the air. All these technologies come packaged in cheap humidifiers. The brand names to note at this end of the market include Crane, Vicks, Honeywell, Holmes, Hunter, and Sunbeam.

There are several things to consider when looking for a humidifier, including size, adjustability, automatic shut-off, and warranty. The area covered (measured in square feet) and tank capacity are two good indicators of size; lower-cost humidifiers are designed for small- to mid-sized rooms, and their tanks typically need filling at least once a day. A built-in, adjustable humidistat is another plus because it keeps a room at the ideal relative humidity of 30 to 50 percent depending on the setting (or level) you choose. Cheap humidifiers with an automatic shut-off turn themselves off when the tank runs out of water, which is a safety and energy-saving feature. Finally, a warranty protects your investment if a cheap humidifier doesn't work properly or fails prematurely.

Based on our research, we found that consumers tend to judge humidifiers by the amount of maintenance required, the noise level, and the moisture output. Maintenance refers to the ease of refilling the water reservoir and keeping the unit clean. Humidifiers have a reputation for being loud, and consumers, not surprisingly, prefer models that run quietly. And finally, consumers expect low-cost humidifiers to do their job and inject enough moisture into a room to get rid of the nagging markers of dry air. In general, reviews of the cheap humidifiers on our list of top picks indicate that most users are satisfied with their purchases.

We found good cheap humidifiers of various types that are worthy of consideration. The Crane EE-5301 Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $38) is an ultrasonic, cool mist humidifier that garners strong consumer reviews for ease of maintenance, lots of moisture, and quiet operation. The Honeywell HCM-630 QuietCare (starting at $43) is an impeller, cool mist humidifier that's one of the few in the Cheapism niche to feature an adjustable humidistat. The Vicks Warm Mist V745A (starting at $30), the only warm mist, steam humidifier on our list, boasts the capacity to moisturize up to 1,200 square feet, an automatic shut-off, and a cup that holds inhalant for the relief of stuffy noses and chests. One humidifier we'd pass on is the Holmes HM630-U Cool Mist Tower Humidifier (starting at $60), a cool mist model that earns poor user reviews and whose marketing materials are short on critical information, like how much space it covers and whether it has an automatic shut-off.

Warm Mist Humidifier, Humidifier Filters

Warm Mist Humidifiers.

The first decision you'll need to make is whether to buy a warm mist humidifier or a cool mist humidifier.

Warm mist humidifiers are just that: humidifiers that put out warm steam or mist after bringing water to a boil. Alternatively known as steam humidifiers or vaporizer humidifiers, they're among the cheapest; the Vicks Warm Mist V745A, for example, has a starting price of $30. The virtue of this technology is that the boiling process kills off any lurking bacteria or mold. On the other hand, warm mist humidifiers use more energy than cool mist humidifiers, can make the air seem muggy if too much moisture is dispersed, and can be dangerous around young children because the heating element gets very hot.

Humidifier Filters.

Some cheap humidifiers require filters. Among those we researched, the Honeywell HCM-630 QuietCare, Holmes HM630-U, and Vornado HU1-0021-28 have humidifier filters that should be changed every four to eight weeks, depending on the model; replacement filters cost about $10. The Crane EE-5301, Vicks V745A, and Holmes HM495-UC, on the other hand, do not use humidifier filters -- a design feature that makes for easier maintenance and is often lauded by consumers in their reviews of cheap humidifiers.

Humidity Settings.

Experts say the ideal relative humidity in a home is between 30 and 50 percent -- below 30 percent is too dry and above 50 percent may leave you with a dust mite problem. A humidifier with an adjustable, built-in humidistat that regulates humidity levels and can be set at the level you prefer is one way to ensure that your home stays in the zone. An adjustable humidistat is not standard in low-cost humidifiers, however, and among those we researched only the Honeywell HCM-630 QuietCare, the Vornado HU1-0021-28 Whole-Room Evaporative Humidifier, and Holmes HM630-U Cool Mist Tower Humidifier boast this feature.

But all is not lost for frugal shoppers: in lieu of a built-in, adjustable humidistat, you can buy a humidity reader, like the Honeywell TM005X Wireless Indoor/Outdoor Thermo-Hygrometer (starting at $24). This handy accessory displays the temperature and relative humidity so you can adjust your humidifier accordingly. Moreover, good cheap humidifiers at least let you control the speed/output of the mist with a dial or settings of low, high, and sometimes, medium. Our top picks -- the Crane EE-5301 , Vicks Warm Mist V745A, and Honeywell HCM-630 QuietCare -- include adjustable mist settings.

Automatic Shut-off.

Humidifiers with an automatic shut-off turn themselves off when the tank runs dry. This is a particularly valuable feature for energy-saving and safety reasons. The Crane EE-5301 Cool Mist, Vicks Warm Mist V745A, and Honeywell HCM-630 QuietCare all include automatic shut-off; the Holmes HM630-U Cool Mist Tower Humidifier features an automatic on/off timer that can be set in one-hour increments up to 16 hours.

Cool Mist Humidifiers, Portable Humidifiers

Cool Mist Humidifiers.

Cool mist humidifiers disperse cool moist air using one of three technologies: impeller, ultrasonic, or wick/evaporative. Impeller humidifiers, like several low-cost models sold under the Sunbeam and Vicks brand names, produce a cool fog created by a spinning disk that flings water onto a diffuser, which in turn breaks the water into small drops of mist. Ultrasonic humidifiers, like the Crane EE-5301 Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $38) and Holmes Ultrasonic Humidifier HM495-UC (starting at $50) use ultrasonic sound waves to create a fine, cool, fog-like mist; this type of humidifier is nearly silent. Wick/evaporative humidifiers, like the Honeywell HCM-630 QuietCare (starting at $43), Vornado HU1-0021-28 Whole-Room Evaporative Humidifier (starting at $60), and Holmes HM630-U Cool Mist Tower Humidifier (starting at $60), use a wick or filter to draw water from the tank and a fan to evaporate the water, which is absorbed into the air.

Cool mist humidifiers have their pros and cons. On the plus side, these humidifiers are cheaper to run than warm mist humidifiers and the impeller and ultrasonic designs are extremely quiet; the fan on wick/evaporative humidifiers irritates some consumers but is considered soothing white noise by others. On the downside, the tank needs regular cleaning and refills because stagnant water is a breeding ground for bacteria that may wind up as mist in the air. In addition, impeller and ultrasonic humidifiers release minerals from the water into the air, so if your water is "hard" (i.e., it contains lots of minerals), consider using distilled water instead.

Portable Humidifiers vs. Home Humidifiers.

In the humidifier world, size is indicated by the square footage the model can blanket with mist. Experts at Prevention.com note that small, portable humidifiers typically cover just one room (size varies by model) compared to high-priced central home humidifiers that are built into a home heating system and cover the entire house. Another indicator of size is the capacity of the water tank, or reservoir.

The best home humidifiers we found are the Vicks Warm Mist V745A, whose one-gallon tank handles areas of 1,000 to 1,200 square feet, and the cool mist impeller Honeywell HCM-630 QuietCare, which humidifies up to 1,050 square feet with a 1.5-gallon tank. The ultrasonic cool-mist Crane EE-5301 has a 0.9-gallon tank meant for up to 250 square feet, while the Holmes HM630-U Cool Mist Tower Humidifier simply claims to work in medium-sized rooms. How long these cheap humidifiers can run before needing a refill varies from the advertised maximum of 11 hours with the Crane EE-5301 up to 36 hours with the Holmes HM630-U. Note, however, that the duration between fill-ups depends on the temperature in the room, the desired level of humidity, the square footage, and the size of the tank; consumers often report needing to add water before the maximum run times have been reached.

Humidifier Warranties.

It's always a good idea to purchase a product that comes with a warranty, and the cheapest humidifiers are no different. The Vornado HU1-0021-28 offers a whopping five-year warranty, and the Vicks Warm Mist V745A, Honeywell HCM-630 QuietCare, and Holmes HM630-U Cool Mist all feature three-year limited warranties. The Crane EE-5301 Cool Mist has a one-year warranty, as does the Holmes Ultrasonic Humidifier.

Humidifier Reviews

The humidifier reviews we read indicate that consumers judge these small household appliances on several criteria. Maintenance is critical, and here, humidifier reviews suggest that consumers value models that are easy to refill and clean. Noise is also a big issue, and most humidifiers have a bad reputation for being loud. Moisture output is obviously important, and users posting humidifier reviews insist on nothing less than adequate amounts of moisture released into the air. The models we added to our list earn favorable reviews from consumers, but as usual, there are a few naysayers in every bunch.

Humidifier Maintenance.

Lackluster reviews will dog a humidifier that proves difficult to clean and refill. One good way to prevent any maintenance-related surprises is to read the cleaning instructions before you buy (often available on the manufacturer's website).

For the most part, our top picks get a thumbs-up from users for ease of cleaning. Humidifier reviews posted at Home Depot say the Crane EE-5301 Cool Mist is a breeze to clean; one user reports that a weekly wash with a water/white vinegar mixture keeps the unit free of mold and mildew. Most reviewers commenting on Toys R Us agree, with one suggesting Q-tips to clean the corners of the base although another grouses about difficulty getting the unit to dry completely before summer storage and finding a ring of mold the next season. The Vicks Warm Mist V745A is easy to take apart for weekly cleaning -- a chore that takes less than five minutes, say humidifier reviews posted on the Target website -- and one user cautions that failure to do this may cause the unit to stop working. Consumers seem unperturbed by the cleaning needs of the Honeywell HCM-630 QuietCare, as we found only a few comments about this topic in humidifier reviews; consumers do note, however, that the antimicrobial filter should be replaced at least once a month. (By the way, the absence of filters that need replacing on the Crane EE-5301 and Vicks V745A is a convenience that consumers really value, according to the reviews we read.)

Refilling the water reservoir is more or less a burden that depends as much on frequency and tank design as on the attitude of the individual consumer posting a humidifiers review. Some consumers seem irked that the tank runs dry before the maximum number of hours advertised while others simply report the tank needs to be refilled daily or after a night of use in a child's bedroom. But remember, the frequency with which a humidifier needs a refill is affected by several factors, including the size of the tank, the size of the room, the air temperature, and the desired level of humidity, so don't be disappointed if the tank empties faster than you expect.

As for the actual task of refilling the tank, consumers have firm opinions about the models on our list. The tank of the Crane EE-5301 fits into at least some bathroom sinks, according to humidifier reviews, although a few users report minor leaking around the top when removing the tank from its base. Users commenting on Viewpoints about the Vicks V745A appreciate the easy on and off of the tank. By contrast, some write on Amazon that refilling the Honeywell HCM-630 QuietCare can be cumbersome given the awkward shape of the tank. Then there's the Holmes HM630-U, a model whose tank design many users are quick to critique. Humidifier reviews on Amazon, complain about the curved top on the reservoir, which means you can't set it down while filling, and about the absence of side handles to hold while filling. The end result, according to reviewers, is tanks that slip out of your hands and crack, rendering them useless.

Best Humidifiers, Quiet Humidifiers

Quiet Humidifiers.

Humidifiers generally go where people congregate or sleep, so noise level is an issue for at least some consumers. We read humidifier reviews indicating that some of the best humidifiers pass the sleeping baby test, others generate welcome white noise, and still others are irritatingly loud. In the first category we'd place the Crane EE-5301, an ultrasonic model that's so quiet even one dissatisfied user commenting on Toys R Us says the absence of noise is the only good feature; other reviewers say their children sleep peacefully when the humidifier is running and a few mention the gentle dripping and gargling of water. Users of the Vicks Warm Mist V745A report this model is reasonably quiet, with some asserting the white noise is calming; a couple of others, meanwhile, claim to be bothered by the sound. Although many consumers say the the Honeywell HCM-630 QuietCare lives up to its name, we noticed a few negative comments on Amazon, including one that says it sounds like a box fan when set on high. The Holmes HM630-U fares poorly in this arena. Humidifiers reviews on Amazon, for example, complain loudly about the noise, describing the sound variously as high-pitched squeaking, fingernails-on-blackboard grating; many also express annoyance with misting cycles that continuously click on and off.

Moisture Output.

Apart from a few dissident voices, consumers seem satisfied with the ability of these cheap humidifiers to add moisture to the air. In reviews on Home Depot, the Crane EE-5301 is lauded as one of the best humidifiers for sending plumes of cool mist into the air that work wonders on sinuses and congestion and enable plants to thrive. The Vicks V745A scores with consumers posting on Viewpoints who say this model sends out comforting mist in a matter of minutes -- enough to warm cool air, clear up dry skin, and stop nose bleeds; one user cautions against closing the door in the room where the humidifier is running to avoid condensation settling on the walls. Dry, itchy eyes are soothed with mist from the Honeywell HCM-630 QuietCare, according to humidifier reviews, and even mid-sized rooms get nicely humid, although we did note some grumbling about inaccurate humidistats.

Humidifier Durability.

Longevity and reliability are must-have attributes in the best humidifiers, even in low-cost models, but the paucity of user comments about this topic lead us to conclude that the cheap humidifiers on our list are fairly durable. Of course, we found scattered reports about units that ceased functioning after a few days or a season in storage, but for the most part, complaints about durability are rare. One exception among the models we researched is the Holmes HM630-U, which is panned by users on a variety of websites for tanks that crack (after dropping while trying to refill) or leak, auto settings that don't know when to stop cycling, and fans that seize up.



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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Humidifiers
  2. Discount Humidifiers Features Comparison Table
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