Humidifiers VS Vaporizers For Babies: Which Is Better?

Your doctor recommended you get into the habit of placing humidifiers in different rooms around the house – most important of which is where your baby sleeps – but when you do your pre-shopping research, you find out there’s another appliance called vaporizer that does exactly the same job.

And now you’re left clueless about what to do next – yay! This parenting thing is exactly as fun as everyone told you it would be, isn’t it?!

One of the most common questions parents to newborns ask – especially if this is their first ever child – is: “which of the two should I add to their nursery? A humidifier or a vaporizer?”.

If you’re caught in a pickle and need some help figuring out which way is the right way to go, you’re just where you need to be! This article will lay out the differences between humidifiers and vaporizers, what each can do for your baby, and when each of the two options is a more suitable choice to place in their nursery.

There’s times when a humidifier is the winner, hands down – while a vaporizer makes more sense to add to your little one’s nursery in other circumstances. Which is which? Read on to find out!

Humidifiers VS Vaporizers For Babies: What Are The Differences Between The Two?

Before deciding whether you’re going to add a humidifier or a vaporizer to your newborn’s nursery, you should first learn about the differences and similarities between the two.

The last thing you’ll want to do is register for both! You’ll end up spending too much money – unnecessarily – and will have more on your hands to deal with than your baby really needs.

(P.S: You might be interested in checking out the following article from CHOP).

1) Method Of Operation

First things first, vaporizers and humidifiers aim to achieve the same end result for your baby when placed in their nursery – to help with their congestion problems, and sometimes their dry skin problems – but do so through different means.

Both vaporizers and humidifiers aim to help relieve your baby’s congestion by adding moisture to the air in their room, thus making the room more humid and less dry.

Your doctor may have told you to try to keep humidity levels around the house no less than 40%, since anything less than that and it starts to become too dry, risking problems such as dry skin, static electricity and nosebleeds. Both humidifiers and vaporizers can achieve that – albeit through different means.

(You also don’t want humidity levels around the house to exceed 50% either, since that forms a safe haven for dust mites – one of the most common causes of allergies in babies. Keep a hygrometer readily available for you to use whenever you want to test humidity levels around the house to make sure you’re in control of the situation at all times).

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “ Higher levels of humidity above 50% can create a mold problem in the home which could lead to respiratory problems.”

Humidifiers do this by dispersing cool mist into the air, while vaporizers do this by heating water and dispersing hot steam instead.

With a vaporizer, it’s basically the same thing as trying to relieve congestion by filling the bathroom with hot steam and sitting in there for a few minutes.

2) Type Of Water Used

You can safely use tap water with a vaporizer, because the boiling process would kill most of the harmful bacteria present in the water at the time, but you can’t safely use tap water with a humidifier since no boiling is involved in its operating process.

When it comes to using a humidifier around the house, purified or distilled water are your only two choices.

The last thing you’ll want to happen is for your baby to inhale minerals in tap water that get released into the air, as this could have detrimental effects on their health and well-being.

3) Risk Of Burns

With a vaporizer in your little one’s nursery, you should be aware of the high burning risks associated.

Because of how they were designed to work, vaporizers can get hot – really hot – and often become very dangerous for a child to be around and come in contact with.

If you’ve ever burned yourself by touching an incredibly hot vaporizer before (been there, done that myself) – you know from first hand experience (pun intended) how agonizing that is.

Now take that trauma and multiply it by a 100 – is that something you want to risk subjecting your little one to? I know it’s a NO from me!

Unless you somehow manage to invent a way to baby-proof your vaporizer and make sure there’s absolutely no way your little one comes in contact with it whatsoever, you’re always going to worry about the risk of burning.

It’s also not just about your baby coming in contact with the vaporizer itself and touching it, there are other safety considerations you have to keep in mind.

Babies are very curious by nature, always wanting to discover new stuff around them, and it’s not unusual for them to try to put their face in the hot steam for experimentation purposes.

Or, they could be playing around the house as usual when all of a sudden one of them runs into (or trips over) the vaporizer and spills the hot, boiling water on themselves.

You know how none of that’s not going to end well … One minute you’re trying to deal with an annoying case of baby congestion, and the next minute you’re dealing with a dangerous case of skin burn.

With a cool mist humidifier, the most you’ll have to deal with if your child knocks it over and spills water around is a mess that requires all of 5 minutes of your time.

4) More Costly

There might not be much of a price difference between vaporizers and humidifiers when you compare the purchase price of two units within the same caliber, but vaporizers are known to be more costly to operate than humidifiers in the long haul.

In order to serve their purpose in your baby’s nursery, vaporizers require more energy expenditure since they need to warm up first.

With humidifiers, on the other hand, there’s no need for heating up first – which means less energy expenditure.

5) Cleanliness

One potential benefit vaporizers tend to have over humidifiers is related to cleanliness and hygiene.

Because of the way humidifiers work, it’s relatively easy for mold and harmful bacteria to grow in the water when left sitting for a long period of time in the tank.

If not taken care of on a routine basis, this can result in dangerous health problems for your child, since they’ll be breathing harmful air.

This becomes especially dangerous when you have a child that suffers from asthma or other respiratory problems, as breathing air contaminated with mold or other harmful bacteria can make their situation much worse off than it already is.

But, that’s nothing you should worry about too much, as most humidifier manufacturers of today (the good ones, at least) will have very clear instructions you should follow regarding how to clean the humidifier on a daily basis to prevent harmful bacteria buildup and the formation of mold.

It’s one more chore you’re going to have to put up with on an almost daily basis, but in return for all the other benefits you get with a cool mist humidifier, it’s more than worth it.

Because they make use of boiled water, and not cool water like humidifiers do, there’s a significantly less chance of mold and mildew accumulating when using vaporizers.

Regardless of which of the two you end up getting for your household and baby’s nursery, both humidifiers and vaporizers must be cleaned at least once a week for these purposes.

The following is a brief article from the AAP regarding Legionnaires disease, which can develop from an improperly cleaned humidifier.

6) Warm Room

Another benefit to vaporizers (that humidifiers don’t have) is that they come in handy during the harsh, cold wintertime.

When placed in a room to operate, vaporizers make the room warmer because of the water boiling process and steam required to make them work.

So, in harsh and cold winter months, vaporizers help your little one feel nice and cozy.

This way, you can rely less on central heating to keep your little one’s room all warm and cozy, which means less energy resources used and less chances of dry air caused by central heating as well.

7) Medicine

One of the only times a vaporizer will prove to be a better investment than a humidifier is if you’re getting something to work with medicinal remedies.

If you’re looking for something that emits medicinal remedies along the vapor for your little one to breathe in, a vaporizer is going to obviously be the better choice, since humidifiers can’t do that.

8) Noise

Generally speaking, humidifiers are noisier machines than vaporizers.

So if you have a very sensitive little munchkin that gives you a terrible time getting a good bout of sleep at once without seemingly waking up every 5 minutes at the least bit of noise, vaporizers have a slight advantage over humidifiers here.

Clearing Up A Common Misconception

Contrary to popular belief, just because vaporizers boil water and release hot steam into the air doesn’t mean they do a more effective job at dealing with colds and flu congestion than cool mist humidifiers.

The only things that matters here – and you should really care about – is the level of humidity these two units can produce in a room and around the house, and the levels of moisture they add to the air you and your baby breathe.

Even though you might be breathing in hot steam from a vaporizer because of the boiling that goes on beforehand, the temperature of the water has been proven to be the same as that produced by cool mist humidifiers by the time it reaches your lower airway (or that of your baby).

A Quick Note About Cool Mist Humidifiers VS Warm Mist Humidifiers

It’s true that humidifiers don’t have a heating element to them like vaporizers do, but you can still opt to get warm mist humidifiers instead of cool mist humidifiers – for any reason you might need to do so.

Most parents end up choosing cool mist humidifiers, though, simply because they want to keep the humidifier’s job separate from heating up their baby’s room.

Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “ In clinical practice, I recommend cool mist humidifiers to parents of infants and toddlers for the relief of nasal congestion.

The “cool” humidifier version seems to be better than the “hot” vaporizer version in that it reduces intranasal swelling while moisturizing the nasal turbinates.

The vaporizer tends to increase intranasal swelling which only makes the congestion worse in infants, probably because their nasal passages are so small.

Particularly during the winter months when the outside air is dry and indoor heat is used, humidifiers are helpful.

The following article also discusses that the warm mist of vaporizers ends up cooling by the time it reaches the lungs. Essentially, it’s stating that there is not much benefit to using vaporizers:

Wrapping It Up

In conclusion, we have to say that 9 times out of 10, a humidifier is going to be the better addition to your baby’s nursery than a vaporizer.

If you’re looking for something that’ll help your little angel sleep better during nap-time or through the night while breathing easily and not having to deal with a stuffy nose, a top notch humidifier is – hands down – the better choice.

Yes, it’s true that both vaporizers and humidifiers are air moisteners that do the same job – and each has their pluses and minuses – but the safety risks associated with vaporizers are why experts almost always recommend humidifiers instead.

So, preparing for the freezing wintertime and getting ready to deal with all the baby cold and congestion that comes along with it? You know where to take it from here! =) After all, there’s a reason the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents put cool mist humidifiers to use for these purposes.

One last word of caution, though: whichever option you decide to go with, and even if it’s something as baby-safe as a humidifier and not a vaporizer, still try your best to keep it out of your little one’s reach. All it takes is one little tip over onto the floor and it’s gone, broken to pieces.

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Medically Reviewed By: Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Medically Reviewed By: Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Leah Alexander, M.D. FAAP began practicing pediatrics at Elizabeth Pediatric Group of New Jersey in 2000. She has been an independently contracted pediatrician with Medical Doctors Associates at Pediatricare Associates of New Jersey since 2005. After graduating from Kalamazoo College and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, she completed her pediatric residency at Overlook and Morristown Memorial Hospitals. She is board certified in General Pediatrics.

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