Humidifier vs Vaporizer


What’s the difference?

Humidifiers and vaporizers accomplish the same task . . . adding moisture to the air. Both vaporizers and humidifiers equally provide relief from cough and cold symptoms by helping to keep the airways moist.

The difference between the two products lies in the method of operation each machine uses to create the steam. 

Basic facts and information covering both are included below for your reference to help in determining which product is the best choice for your needs.

In your home the heating and cooling systems dry out indoor air, contributing to respiratory tract irritation and triggering coughing spells.  Therefore a good vaporizer or humidifier is a valuable product to have in your home to humidify the air helping to reduce irritation in the respiratory tract providing relief from coughing.


What is a humidifier?
A humidifier disperses a mist into the air without utilizing a heating element to boil water.  The three basic types of humidifiers are as follows:

  1. Evaporative Humidifiers use a wicking filter to absorb water in the reservoir tank and then a fan evaporates the water adding moisture to the air; however, the higher the humidity in the room, the slower the evaporation process, which is why this type of humidifier is self-regulating based on the amount of humidity in the air.  Watch the demonstration in the video below.
  2. Impeller Humidifiers are similar to evaporative humidifiers but instead of using  a wicking filter and fan, a patented rotating Impeller disk and a comb-like diffuser produces a cool fog and keeps the mist from spitting out of the humidifier spout.
  3. Ultrasonic Humidifiers use a metal diaphragm which vibrates at an ultrasonic frequency and also creates a cool fog.  The ultrasonic humidifier is usually silent and does not require a filter.

What is a cool mist humidifier?
A cool mist humidifier is simply a descriptive term used to describe a basic humidifier because it does not use a heating element to boil water and thus produces a cool mist rather than warm steam.

What is a warm mist humidifier?
A warm mist humidifier is the same thing as a vaporizer.  It does not use the evaporative or ultrasonic method used by standard humidifiers, but instead boils the water in the reservoir to make steam.

What are the positive factors of a humidifier?
One positive is that because a humidifier does not boil the water in the reservoir, there is no burn risk to children or pets, or anyone, if the unit is touched or bumped into.

Are there any negatives to using a humidifier?
One negative aspect is that as a result of the water not being boiled to create the mist, humidifiers are more susceptible to the risk of the accumulation of bacteria.  This can be taken care of fairly easily by following the manufacturers simple cleaning instructions.



What is a vaporizer?
A vaporizer is a product that uses a heating element to boil water in order to produce and dispense steam into the air.

Most vaporizers have a medicine cup for liquid inhalants such as Vicks.  Doctors have differing opinions on the use of inhalants with a vaporizer; but most doctors recommend simply using the benefits of the steam and not to use the medicine cup.

What is a cool mist vaporizer?
If you see a product called a Cool Mist Vaporizer, it is referring to the fact that the unit does not heat water to make steam.  Technically this product is a humidifier and not a vaporizer at all.

What is a warm mist vaporizer?
A warm mist vaporizer is simply a descriptive title for a vaporizer and indicates the moisture being produced is warm steam (because of the boiling method).

What are the positive factors of a vaporizer?
A positive in using a vaporizer is the fact that because the water is boiled in the process, you don’t need to worry about bacterial growth as you do when using humidifiers.

Are there any negatives to using a vaporizer?
A caution when using a vaporizer is that the water reservoir can cause burns if the unit is touched or knocked over, causing special concern if there are young children or pets in the home.



Cleaning Humidifier and Vaporizer Units

When using a vaporizer or humidifier everyday, the water reservoir should be emptied and dried out each day. Then refill the unit with fresh, clean water for the next day’s use.

It is important to keep these units clean because bacteria can accumulate and be dispersed into the air, possibly causing another infection.  Cleaning humidifier units every few days during use, not only helps prevent the build-up of bacteria, mold, and mildew; but also prevents mineral build-up in the unit as well.  Since humidifiers do not boil water to make the mist, bacteria can quickly accumulate.

Some vaporizers or humidifiers also offer a unit that includes a demineralization filter cartridge to help prevent the build-up of hard water deposits.

Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions for your vaporizer or humidifier.  Typically these instructions call for humidifiers to be cleaned every few days by cleaning the mechanism unit itself with white vinegar and the resevoir tank with a diluted bleach solution.

Before storing a vaporizer or humidifier after usage, it is important to clean and dry the unit thoroughly.



Steam Inhalation

Inhaling steam works as a natural expectorant. Warm moist air is good for you when you have a cough because it helps to loosen phlegm and clear nasal passages, providing relief from coughing. Steam is a particularly helpful method for croup and dry cough.

Common methods used to inhale steam are:

  • Run hot water in the shower, bath, or sink, and sit in the bathroom to inhale the steam.
  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer.
  • Lean over a pan, bowl, or sink filled with hot steaming water, placing a towel over your head while inhaling the steam. (Exercise caution to avoid the risk of a burn.)



Additional Cough Remedies

For more home cough remedies please visit our page titled: Home Remedies for Cough.


Humidifier vs Vaporizer Pros & Cons

Below is a summary of pros and cons related to humidifiers vs vaporizers.










Optional Features
Manufacturers offer a variety of optional features on vaporizers and humidifiers that provide consumers with additional control options, safety measures, and convenience.

  • Automatic shut-off when water level is low
  • Adjustable Moisture Flow – this setting helps avoid too much dampness in the room
  • Temperature controlled warm air
  • Built-in antibacterial features (i.e. ultraviolet light to kill bacteria)
  • De-mineralization cartridge to filter minerals out of the water
  • Digital display
  • Night light on unit to avoid tripping hazard
  • Remote control operation
  • Monitor humidity in the room and maintain a preset level



Consumer – Find ratings and buying guide info on humidifiers.

Consumer – Humidifier reviews reveal top 4 humidifiers.

Environmental Protection Agency – Facts about home humidifiers

4 Responses to “Humidifier vs Vaporizer”

  1. Stephanie says:

    How close do you need to be to a vaporizer or humidifier?

    • Lee says:

      Most manufacturer instructions say to place the unit at least 4 feet away, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be that close to it. The moist air produced by the humidifier or vaporizer will benefit you anywhere in the room.

  2. Cheryl says:

    I have a dry cough and the humidifier has been helping at home, but when I go to work the air is so dry I practically need to have a cough drop all day long. Any suggestions?

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