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 Warm-Mist Humidifier
Air-O-Swiss S450 Steam Humidifier
Like a standard warm-mist humidifier, the S450 boils water to create steam. Unlike most, however, its vapor cools slightly before it escapes, making it safer. A set of controls offer a manual and an auto setting, as well as a decalcification mode, which helps keep the unit clean. An included mineral absorption pad reduces scale buildup and helps make weekly cleanings much easier. There's a fragrance container, too: A few drops of peppermint oil cast a pleasant aroma across the 860-square-foot coverage area. [$260; airoswiss.net]