Humidifiers give a wide variety of comfort and health benefits, but there are reasons you might prefer an evaporative humidifier vs. an ultrasonic vs. a warm mist humidifier. This review explains what an evaporative humidifier is, why you might want it and gives 7 examples of the best affordable evaporative humidifiers on the market.
Benefits of Evaporative Humidifiers over Ultrasonic
Ultrasonic and evaporative units are both cool mist humidifiers. The difference between ultrasonic and evaporative humidifiers is ultrasonics’ use of sound-wave-like vibrations to aerosolize moisture. Unfortunately, ultrasonics can dispel excess dissolved minerals (white dust) and microbes.
In contrast, evaporative humidifiers work by using a fan to evaporate water from a saturated wick: The wick filters minerals, mold, and microbes out. Unfortunately, as a result, evaporative humidifiers often need to have their wick/filters replaced regularly. Since moisture-saturated air accepts less evaporation, a difference between ultrasonic and evaporative humidifiers is that evaporative units cannot over-humidify.
Over-humidification can promote mold growth and damage wooden surfaces. Therefore, allergy sufferers, collectors, and instrumentalists—anyone who wants steady, healthy humidity levels but fears over-humidification—will love evaporative humidifiers.
Evaporative Humidifiers Compared
Choosing a Quality Evaporative Humidifier
Coverage area estimates assume 8 ft. ceilings and tight construction. If your intended space spans several rooms or the whole house, place the humidifier as centrally as possible. Maintain air circulation to optimize humidification in a larger space.
Water Tank Capacity & Runtime:
The greater the tank volume (gallons), the greater the coverage area and number of hours of operation per filling. However, a humidifier’s runtime ultimately depends on the environment and demands. Most evaporative units with adjustable humidistat have a selection range of 25%-65% relative humidity (RH). (RH is the percentage of moisture saturation compared to the max saturation at a given temperature).
Warm Mist or Cool Mist or Both:
All evaporative humidifiers are cool mist. Warm mist units work in a somewhat similar way—they also evaporate water, but with heat—unlike ultrasonic units. However, unlike these mist units, evaporative units do not expel a visible stream of steam.
Ease of Use, Setup & Maintenance:
All humidifiers require basic descaling and disinfection for safe, optimal functioning. However, evaporative units generally offer replaceable germ-free wick-filters to reduce bacteria and mold growth. These filters’ functional lifetime is enhanced by regular inversion or switching wicks: soaking and thoroughly drying a wick before reuse.
Because many evaporative units are a bit loud on their medium/high fan speeds, it is ideal to get a unit with excessive coverage/capacity for your space. Many humidifiers make a bubbling/gurgling sound as tank water drops into the mechanism. Some users reduce this by filling the base before filling the tank.
Safety & Energy Efficiency:
Household humidifiers should be placed on a waterproof or water-absorbent surface to prevent damage from leaks or post-refill dripping. Evaporative units do not consume much electricity; plus, steady humidification reduces the perceived need for heating, allowing most people to turn their HEPA system down a bit.
Strictly defined, a humidistat is a mechanism that regulates humidification based on a hygrometer (RH-sensing), but the term can refer to the hygrometer itself or any humidity adjustment mechanism.
Timer Feature and remote:
Most inexpensive evaporative humidifiers do not have scheduling features or remote control.
Some evaporative humidifiers have automatic shutoff, that may help during leakage or malfunction.
Do not use aromatherapy oils or pads in a unit that is not indicated for this—most are not.
Most evaporative units will run at the selected fan speed until they reach the desired humidity. Some units also have a dry mode—to run on low fan until the wick is dry.
Mist Output Controls:
Many evaporative units do not have a precise humidistat, but allow the user to select different speeds and humidity levels.
Many evaporative humidifier brands recommend their bacteriostatic or water-softening solutions. However, some users successfully replace these with good maintenance.
1 year is a minimum, usually on an under-$100 humidifier—but some more expensive units have 5- or 10-year warranties. Use of different-brand wicks or cleaning solutions can void the warranty.
Many will appreciate that most of these are made in the USA, and the majority are ETL-certified. Unfortunately, these highly affordable units generally lack modern user controls (e.g., Wi-Fi compatibility).
7 Best Evaporative Humidifiers Reviewed
1. AIRCARE MA1201
Our Top Pick
|Room Coverage||3600 sq. ft.|
|Water Tank Capacity||3.6 gallons|
|Humidistat||Yes – built-in|
|Dimensions||20.5 (H) x 21.5 (W) x 14.5 (D) inches|
The MA1201 is the best console evaporative humidifier at a reasonable price. This is a perfect standalone unit to humidify the whole house—or a substantial multi-room area. The Spruce confirms its extensive coverage, while pointing out that it looks bulky and old-fashioned. Others might argue that its simplicity makes it discreet despite its size.
While the MA1201 is relatively large at 13.5 lbs.—it is easy to move around on a floor because of its 4 bottom casters. Filling it might be a more substantial chore because of its capacity; however, it can put out a whopping 12 gallons of moisture in 24 hours on high, or keep going as long as 36 hours on low.
You can adjust the moisture output and fan speed by push-button. There is a humidity sensor on the power cord connected to a humidistat with a digital display on the unit, and there are 4 fan speeds—auto, low, medium, and high. This unit is relatively loud, but it does vary from 45 dBA on low to 71.5 dBA on high.
The MA1201 has refill and check-filter indicators, control lock, auto-shutoff, and dry mode. The coverage/capacity and user controls make this the best evaporative humidifier overall. Only use Essick/AIRCARE-brand products with this unit, especially MAF1 wicks and Essick Air Bacteriostatic Treatment.
A comparable, but more expensive, pedestal-style unit is the AIRCARE Horizon whole-house evaporative humidifier.
A Sylvane reviewer reports: “…I now run our temperature set-point at some 3-4 degrees lower and still feel very comfortable…neither of us have any dry skin problems. The electrical energy savings is rather considerable, to put it mildly…this unit maintains the same RH level through the entire living space.”
- High tank capacity and output
- High coverage
- Long runtime
- Casters on bottom
- Simple, no-nonsense exterior
- Relatively loud
- Some units crack and leak
2. Aprilaire 600
Best Whole House Evaporative Humidifier
|Room Coverage||4000 sq. ft.|
|Water Tank Capacity||No tank, 17 gallons/day|
|Runtime||Indefinite, as needed|
|Humidistat||Yes – built-in|
|Dimensions||15.75 (H) x 15.38 (W) x 10.25 (D) inches|
Aprilaire introduced its first humidifier for forced-air systems in 1954: It now offers a selection of HVAC/furnace humidifiers, including the 600, the best whole-house evaporative humidifier. It humidifies an average 2000-sq. ft. house, or even a well-sealed 4000-sq. ft. house. It is connected to the HVAC system and water line; therefore, it does not take up living space, require refilling, or make noise. It is the best evaporative humidifier for an entire home.
The 600 is designed and made in the USA and offers the usual evaporative humidifier benefits. It tends not to over-humidify (usually keeps 35-45% RH) and does not produce white dust. As with standalone evaporative wicks, the 600’s water panel needs to be replaced seasonally (at around $10/panel).
The 600 has automatic adjustment: It receives both outdoor temperature and indoor RH; this information, combined with user humidity preference (on a dial, from 0 to 7), tells the unit how much moisture to add. Also, on the digital control panel, there are on/off, call dealer for service, and change water panel indicator lights—as well as a test/reset button and a blower activation button. (Blower activation determines whether the unit runs with the HVAC blower only or whether the blower should turn on whenever the unit is triggered to run.)
While a very knowledgeable DIYer might be able to install this unit, it is exceedingly difficult if this is your first duct humidifier. The electronics can get tricky, and a non-licensed installer voids your warranty. Getting a professional is probably the smartest choice.
- Mix of automatic and adjustable features
- No noise
- No refilling
- Almost no maintenance
- 5-year limited warranty
- Installation requires HVAC professional
- Requires floor drain
3. Vornado Evap40
Best Evaporative Wick Humidifier
|Room Coverage||1000 sq. ft.|
|Water Tank Capacity||4 gallons|
|Runtime||At least 24 hours|
|Dimensions||13.5 (H) x 19.5 (W) x 10.5 (D) inches|
The best evaporative wick humidifier for small-medium spaces is the Evap40. Vornado fan technology circulates air better, making this a great choice for multi-room use. This is not a huge unit; however, it puts out 4 gallons of moisture per day.
The Evap40 takes a pair of antimicrobial wicks and can also take MD1-0002 1.5’’ wicks. However, it requires slightly more frequent wick changes than others. Most users find that changing the wicks frequently is still cheaper and more efficient than buying/creating distilled water or adding water treatments to extend the wick’s life.
This unit is relatively heavy at 9 lbs.—and more when filled with water—so it is important to keep it on a large, sturdy surface. In fact, most put it on the floor. The two 2-gallon tanks have a simple, handle-shaped design that makes them easy to maneuver and less prone to mildew buildup.
While this Vornado evaporative humidifier does not have a precise humidistat display, it does have some humidity sensing/control, from min to max on a humidistat dial. There is also a choice of 3 fan speeds. (Low fan speed is pleasant to most; high a bit annoying to most.)
This Vornado evaporative whole-room humidifier is not a sleek, modern unit, but it gets the job done. It is really the best evaporative humidifier for a large room.
A Home Depot reviewer reports: “…the two large tanks last for 2-3 days without having to be refilled…Especially great for keeping at my senior mother’s home, so I don’t have to refill it every day and the water lasts between visits…It is great for larger areas and maintains the right amount of humidity in super dry climates like Colorado…”
- 5-year limited warranty
- Simply designed tanks
- Excellent fan action
- High tank capacity
- No refill indicator
- Relatively frequent wick changes
4. Honeywell HCM350W
Best Cool Mist Evaporative Humidifier
|Room Coverage||400 sq. ft.|
|Water Tank Capacity||1.1 gallon|
|Dimensions||11.4 (H) x 17.9 (W) x 9.4 (D) inches|
The HCM350W (W is for white—also comes in black) is the best cool mist evaporative humidifier for single room use. It is quiet compared to competitors, at only 50 dBA on high (from 4 ft. away). Its 3-year warranty is a great value, considering it is sold under $100. Plus, the compatible 99.9% antimicrobial, mineral-filtering wicking filters are only $10.
This Honeywell evaporative humidifier also has an internal UV bulb guaranteed to kill 99.99% viruses, bacteria, and fungi. This bulb is expected to last about 3000 hours, but customer service can help you get a replacement if needed.
Some users worry that the grille leaves space for small fingers to get to the fan blades; this, along with the potentially hazardous UV bulb, make this humidifier safer for adult households.
The tank has an unusually wide opening, so there are no unreachable crevices, and it is easier to fill without splattering.
The HCM350 does not have a humidistat, but you can purchase a separate humidity monitor from the company.
Wirecutter suggests it is the best evaporative humidifier for a bedroom; plus, this is among the best evaporative humidifiers on Reddit. Popular Mechanics indicates this is the best humidifier to get moisture into household air, but they admit that its user controls are outdated.
- Large tank opening
- Relatively quiet
- Antimicrobial UV bulb and treatment
- Dishwasher-safe tank and tray
- 3-year warranty
- No humidistat
- Can get moldy in places
5. Venta LW25
Best Evaporative Humidifier & Air Purifier
|Room Coverage||400 sq. ft.|
|Water Tank Capacity||2 gallons|
|Runtime||Not specified—at least 24 hours|
|Dimensions||11.8 (H) x 13 (D) x 11.8 (W) inches|
The LW25 Airwasher is the best evaporative humidifier and air purifier combo for a room or small area. It is quieter than most competitors (24-44 dBA) and has a discreet design—just a box shape, in either white or black, with a grille.
Venta’s unique design is a 1982 German invention. Venta Airwashers have a series of permanent rotating wheel-like wicks that pick up water and filter air pollutants. The filtration is HEPA-like, picking up particles 0.3 microns or larger, including bacteria; it produces no ions or ozone.
You do not have to purchase wicks, but most users benefit from regular use of the recommended Venta Airwasher Water Treatment Additive (water softener) and the Venta Airwasher Cleaner (de-scaler). The LW25 gives the user the push-button choice of 3 speeds; plus a water level indicator and automatic shutoff. While it is the most expensive unit on this list, it also has the most extended warranty (10 years) and is known to be a relatively energy-efficient humidifier/air purifier. For more coverage and modern user controls (Wi-Fi), consider the more-expensive Venta Kuube L-T Washer Humidifier.
Venta’s unique design has celebrity promotion, the most famous being actor Edward Norton, but also a series of famous pianists, violinists, and vocalists.
A Home Depot reviewer said, “…My house is pretty old, so it has a vent system that seems to encourage dust…I noticed an immediate improvement with the air quality, and this has resulted in better sleeping, better energy, and a better attitude.”
- 2-in-1 humidifier and air purifier
- Quiet operation
- Responsive customer service
- No filters to replace
- 10-year warranty
- Relatively expensive
- Unique maintenance needs
6. Vicks Starry Night
Best Evaporative Humidifier For A Baby
|Room Coverage||Not specified|
|Water Tank Capacity||1 gallon|
|Dimensions||13.2 x 11.3 x 11.4 inches|
The Starry Night (V3700) is the best evaporative humidifier for baby. That said, it is really among the best evaporative humidifiers for a small room, too. It comes in a choice of blue or pink, and it is only 6.6 lbs. and 13 inches in the greatest dimension, so it fits nicely on a small surface. The upward light projection of stars and a crescent moon switches between 7 colors to soothe an anxious child. One dial controls the projection; the other selects the Max and Sleep Modes of the humidifier.
Another reason this is the best evaporative humidifier for nursery is its Vick’s VapoPad warming slot, allowing you to use Menthol, Soothing Sleepy Time Comfort, or other Vick’s pads to enhance healing and relaxation. Furthermore, the WF2 Protec wicking filter takes out minerals and 99% of bacteria and mold cells for clean moisture output.
Unfortunately, these filters need to be replaced monthly, even with good maintenance. A tank refill lasts at least 24 hours, with some users going 2-3 days with night use only.
The company site offers a brief video on how to clean the unit. You are guaranteed a 1-year limited warranty on this under-$50 unit, but some find it lasts for years. This is one of the best evaporative humidifiers to consider for a baby or toddler.
- Projects star lights on ceiling
- Relatively quiet
- Antibacterial wick/filter
- Frequent filter changes
- Some units break/leak quickly
7. Essick AIRCARE 831000 Space-Saver
Best Evaporative Humidifier With Built-In Humidistat
|Room Coverage||2700 sq. ft.|
|Water Tank Capacity||6 gallons|
|Dimensions||17.5 (D) x 12.5 (W) x 22.5 (H) inches|
The 831000 Space-Saver is the best evaporative humidifier with built-in humidistat. For its high coverage and capacity, it is a compact model with a simple, discreet design. It can humidify an entire medium-sized home or multi-room space.
Since some users find it a bit loud—45-61 dB—it is best to use it for less space than the coverage maximum, so that you can keep it on low, which most users find almost silent. The 831000 has an antimicrobial wick, the 1043 Super Wick, which most users need to change seasonally. It has a check-filter indicator and a dry-out mode to enhance wick performance. The company recommends Essick Air/AIRCARE evaporative humidifier bacteriostat with this unit.
The 83100 can produce 9 gallons of moisture in 24 hours, at top fan speed, if rapid humidification is the goal. It has automatic humidistat control but, unfortunately, does not display current humidity. The user can adjust the directive humidity at 5% intervals from 25% to 65%.
Most users find this humidifier easy to refill between the discreetly built-in casters and the top-fill reservoir, despite its large 14 lbs. and almost 2 ft. height. Plus, there is a refill indicator and auto-shutoff.
A Home Depot reviewer reports: “Using this to maintain adequate humidity for my guitars automatically. In a < 300 ft2 room, set to 40% RH with a steady temp of 70°F, I top off the reservoir once or twice a week.”
- Great value for cost
- High coverage and capacity
- Discreet, simple design
- Relatively loud
- Some find the build flimsy
Whole House Vs. Single Room Evaporative Humidifiers
Whole-house evaporative humidifiers work by the same mechanism, but are larger and often described as console-style. Place large console humidifiers on large sturdy surfaces or on the floor, where there is good air circulation throughout the intended area. Alternatively, if you do not need to move the humidifier often and appearance is a priority—consider pedestal units with a strong base and attractive build.
Air circulation is less critical for single-room/tabletop evaporative units since vapor will naturally disperse throughout a closed space—such as a bedroom or basement. Tabletop humidifiers are easier to place and easier to fill, even if the water source is a walk away; furthermore, small humidifiers are naturally more discreet.
Maintaining Ideal Humidity Levels in the Home
The self-regulating nature of evaporative units promotes moderate humidity levels, which are best for dry skin, allergies, colds, and sinus trouble. These humidifiers are safer for homes with pets and children since they have no heating element. Pets benefit from humidity just as we do—they breathe easier and have less skin shedding (dander). Furthermore, there are many studies to suggest that higher humidity deactivates flu viruses.
Also, humidity reduces the need for comfort heating, allowing you to lower your electric bill without consequence. Humidity reduces the static that can damage delicate electronics. Lastly, some find that humidity not only preserves wooden furniture but also reduces floor-board creaking.
Evaporative humidifiers with built-in humidistats can sometimes get poor readings due to the nearness of the sensor. Some people use tape to reposition the sensor or adjust the humidity controls based on readings from a separately purchased hygrometer.
Where to Put Evaporative Humidifiers for Maximum Efficiency
Place freestanding/standalone humidifiers in a central location with good circulation, because they will not run if they do not sense a need for more humidity. Do not place them against walls, since excessive moisture can be damaging.
Some users might be annoyed by the fan noise. Some suggest that the front grille can give enough space for child fingers to poke through. Therefore, be careful when using these in a nursery, bedroom, or office/workspace.
Installing Whole House Evaporative Humidifiers
HVAC-mounted humidifiers work by the same mechanism as freestanding units, but they output moisture through household ducts. While these units are convenient, they almost always require professional installation and maintenance: They connect to your household water line, and the electrics can get tricky.
We recommend contacting a local HVAC professional for assistance if you are inexperienced with this.
People Also Ask (FAQ)
Are there drawbacks to using evaporative humidifiers?
The biggest drawback of an evaporative humidifier is the replaceable wicks. Still, many find that frequent replacements are actually more cost-effective and energy-efficient than buying/creating distilled water to extend the wick lifetime.
Do evaporative humidifiers cool the air?
No, but consider an evaporative humidifier vs. evaporative cooler: Water takes a lot of heat to evaporate; therefore, moisturized air blowing over you will feel cool, but evaporative humidifiers are not designed to cool significantly. Evaporative coolers, in contrast, are designed to cool and humidify hot, dry air.
Do evaporative humidifiers have filters?
Essentially yes, because the wick inevitably filters out things that will not evaporate.
How long do evaporative humidifiers last?
A properly made and maintained unit should make it through a year, regardless of price. Some affordable units can go as long as a decade, however.
How do I take care, clean and maintain my evaporative humidifier?
As with other humidifiers, evaporative room humidifiers need descaling, disinfection, and wiping off—regardless of antimicrobial elements or build quality.
How long on average does it take before reaching optimal room humidity?
There is usually a lag period as furniture, fabrics, etc. absorb the moisture before the humidifier really starts upping the room humidity. Most users find it takes a day or two before you see the humidifier’s progress.
Where is a good place to buy these units?
Amazon offers a great selection, including models that are out-of-stock with the original producer; Amazon, Sylvane, and sometimes Home Depot offer good prices on evaporative humidifiers. AIRCARE/Essick, Honeywell, Vicks, and Vornado are among the best evaporative humidifier brands rated by Consumer Reports.
The AIRCARE MA1201 (#1 of those reviewed above) is the best bet for most people in the market for an evaporative humidifier—with its high capacity, casters for easy mobility, and simple exterior. However, you can easily find a top-rated evaporative humidifier for any space.
Last Updated on July 16, 2021
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