All humidifiers serve the same basic purpose: to release more moisture into the air, preventing an array of winter afflictions, such as sore throats, cracked lips, and the perpetually stuffy nose. And since studies show that the influenza virus survives better in dry conditions, humidifiers are a crucial addition to the home. The question is: Which type will work for you?
Evaporative units use a fan to push out cold vapor. While they're a bit loud and don't release as much moisture as the others, they require the least amount of maintenance. Warm-mist models, which send out steam, are great for clearing sinuses but need to be cleaned more often and can burn unsuspecting children or pets. Finally, there are ultrasonic humidifiers that use a high-pitched frequency to create mist. They're quiet and efficient but require frequent filter replacement.
Here are the models of each type that performed best in our tests.
Best Ultrasonic Humidifier
Vornado Ultrasonic Humidifier
Rather than heating water, this humidifier uses an ultrasonic frequency to bust it up into microscopic particles. Then a fan kicks in to blow the resultant mist far enough to cover up to 900 square feet. An LCD screen displays speeds and levels, which are easy to toggle between. Replacing the mineral cartridge regularly helps fight scale, but you'll still need to clean the unit throughout the season. At 18 inches, it's the tallest in our group of top units and has a two-gallon tank that lasts roughly four days. It doesn't gurgle or hiss like others we tested. [$190; vornado.com]