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Difference Between Humidifiers & Vaporizers

By Holly Case ; Updated August 14, 2017

Some medical conditions can be improved with something as simple as more moisture in the air. Vaporizers and humidifiers both add more moisture to the air. Although vaporizers and humidifiers are very similar, they do have some differences.

Reasons for Use

Vaporizers and humidifiers add moisture to the air, which can provide comfort during illness. The mist or steam created by vaporizers and humidifiers can make it easier to breathe, especially during winter when air is otherwise dry. This can help to suppress coughing caused by dryness in the throat.

Who Should Use Them

Pediatricians often recommend vaporizers and humidifiers for young children. Respiratory illnesses and colds causing congestion are especially common in infants and toddlers, and children in these age groups should not be given over-the-counter or prescription cold medications. Vaporizers and humidifiers are natural means of relief that may help young children breathe more easily, especially at night. These methods of relief can also be used by people who cannot use prescription decongestants, such as those with heart problems.


Vaporizers use water to make steam. The benefit of vaporizers is that the heat makes them fairly unlikely to grow bacteria. However, the risk of steam burns from the vaporizer is high, and young children in particular must be watched closely when a vaporizer is in the bedroom.


Humidifiers come in two varieties, cool mist and ultrasonic. Cool mist humidifiers make water vapor by rapidly turning water through a disk in the water tank. Ultrasonic humidifiers use ultrasonic vibrations in the water to create water vapor. Both methods avoid the risk of burns because the water is not heated; however, the cool water creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and mold, which are then dispersed into the air.

Care and Cleaning

Cool mist humidifiers must be cleaned frequently to minimize the risk of mold and bacteria growing in the water tank. The child care website iVillage recommends cleaning humidifiers daily with soap and water, rinsing well before the next use. You should also use distilled water in both humidifiers and vaporizers because the machines disperse the minerals in tap water into the air, which can potentially cause breathing problems. Always clean and dry both humidifiers and vaporizers before storage.

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