The quality of air where you live can have a big impact on the well-being of your baby. Air purifiers and humidifiers are two very different products for different purposes.
In some ways, they’re a complement to each other. I understand how it could be confusing which is right for your little one. Perhaps you’re trying to decide on a humidifier vs air purifier for your baby.
I’ve written this post to help explain what each does as well as compare the two. Your baby’s health and comfort is important and I’d love to help you make the best decision.
Humidity and the effects of dry air on your baby
Common colds and other sicknesses are actually more difficult when the humidity in your home is low. For the best recovery from colds and sinus problems, a comfortable humidity level is recommended. Babies and children are more susceptible to air quality than adults. Keep your baby comfortable and healthy especially in dry climates and during the winter when humidity is very low.
The humidity level in your home can greatly influence how you feel and has a big influence on respiratory problems. It’s a numerical percentage used to express the amount of moisture content in the air around you.
For reference, a typical home should have a recommended humidity level of about 30%-50%.
Dry air sources & symptoms
Much like the outdoors during wintertime, homes that heat cold air using indoor heating (especially a wood-burning fireplace) may see a significant drop in humidity and the effects of dryness on your baby will become clear.
A level of 10%-20% is typical. If you live in an area with a dry climate the same effects can be seen depending upon your environment.
Very dry air dries out mucous membranes in your child’s nose, eyes, and throat. Your little one can become very uncomfortable. Sleep becomes more difficult and a baby’s breathing can become difficult as well as babies are more sensitive to environmental air quality than adults.
What does a humidifier do for babies?
Dry air consequences for small children can include:
- Dry skin
- Drying and stuffy nose & sinuses
- Rashes can become worse
- Increased susceptibility to sickness
- Respiratory problems
- Sensitivity to the dry air: coughing and symptoms that resemble allergies
- Static electricity increasing and static cling
- Recovery from sickness takes longer
- A baby’s sleep may become difficult from coughing or nose & throat discomfort
Unlike an air purifier, humidity-related symptoms that resemble allergies aren’t due to increased irritants in the air.
They’re triggered by more particulates becoming active due to no longer being slowed due to moisture. Much like how a very dry room can show more dust, a room with lower moisture allows allergens to move more freely and enter a child’s lungs.
A humidifier works by turning water into vapor and releasing it into your home’s air. This raises the humidity back to a comfortable level.
In turn, your baby can breathe better and the symptoms of dry air listed above are reduced and even eliminated! Here’s an excellent post that explains more about humidifiers.
How to check the humidity in your baby’s room
A product like this displays the temperature and humidity in your baby’s room. They’re low-cost and a great way to monitor the real comfort levels for your baby’s air. During times when the heat is being used, you’re highly likely to see the humidity drop excessively!
A simple way to be able to check the humidity level for your little one is to use a hydrometer (humidity level) gauge. My recommendation is to use a simple & inexpensive temperature gauge with a humidity readout feature. Here's a great example of one I recommend.
These are inexpensive and work well. They’re fairly accurate and I use them both at home and work. Because of owning one I was able to detect that my colds and dry skin were being aggravated by the dry air.
With my heat running, I could see a dramatic decrease in my home’s moisture level – well below 25%!
After buying a humidifier for my room my quality of comfort greatly increased. With the humidity now between 40%-50% or so again I felt better and could sleep much more comfortably.
What humidity level is best for my baby?
For most people (and it depends on the person) the general range is between 30%-60%. Above 60% and your baby may start to become hot and perspire as high humidity keeps the body from being able to cool well.
Below 30% or so the body begins to feel cool and the symptoms of dry air become obvious.
A great rule of thumb is about 40-50% humidity in your baby’s room and your home. That’s an approximate number and you don’t have to worry about getting it exactly within that range.
I’m confident that once you’ve experienced the symptoms that low humidity causes you’ll notice the relief provided by a humidifier.
Humidifier types & how they work
There are several different types of humidifiers sold today but most can fit into one of 2 major categories.
Mist vs evaporative humidifiers
Left: An ultrasonic (mist) humidifier with electronic controls. Right: an evaporative humidifier set
Warm and cool mist humidifiers
Mist humidifiers work by changing water into tiny water droplets that are released into the air to add moisture. Cool mist humidifiers do so without using heat in the process.
They use electromechanical or other methods (like ultrasonic oscillation) to release non-heated water vapor into the air.
Warm mist humidifiers work like steamers: heat is used to produce warm water vapor into the air which raises the room’s humidity.
Both types have to be refilled with clean water when the supply runs out. Normally a tank is used to store water to offer several hours of use.
One benefit of warm mist humidifiers for your baby is that they’re often helpful when a child is sick. Especially with colds or other nose or sinus conditions.
By comparison, evaporative models work on the principle of how moisture is released over time from standing water (typically in a bowl of some kind) into the surrounding air until the moisture level reaches a balance.
Unlike electric-powered models, they produce zero noise but can’t supply moisture into the air rapidly like powered products. These must be refilled with fresh, clean water as well after drying up.
Today’s products are more advanced and offer much more dryness relief with far less sound produced than those of long ago. In decades past, humidifiers were usually electromechanical devices that used an electric motor.
The motor spun rapidly and “whipped” the water through a small vent hole to release a fine mist into the air.
Here’s a great post that goes into more detail about humidifiers and provides some examples you may find helpful.
Understanding air quality and the problems an air purifier solves
Enclosed spaces like your baby’s room and your home are highly prone to trapping many elements that can trigger allergies in a child. Or even worse – sickness.
There are many types of unwanted particles, microbes, and allergy-causing particulates in the air around you:
- Dust and dust mite particles
- Microbes and airborne bacterial matter
- Cigarette smoke byproducts and odors
- Mold spores
- Pet dander and hair
- Material from home construction or other foreign material
- Odor-causing chemical substances
Babies are more sensitive to airborne irritants and germs because for their size they breathe in more air than adults. Additionally, they have weaker immune systems and have not built up a tolerance and resistance to common germs and allergens.
The biggest and most aggravating problems come when your child is continuously exposed.
Until these problem-causing particulates are dealt with properly your little one will continue to suffer.
Air purifiers provide relief for many types of allergies, coughing, colds & general respiratory problems. After some time in use, you’ll be able to breathe clean, fresh, and pure air in your home and the baby’s room.
How do air purifiers work?
A good, well-performing air purifier like the GermGuardian AC4900CA has a HEPA filter (white) made of highly dense material for trapping microscopic particles in the air. A secondary dual-filter may be included: an activated carbon filter (black) and pre-filter section. Together they work to trap odors, chemical vapors, dust, and hair. These are often called a 3-in-1 air purifier filter.
Air purifiers work on a simple principle: they use fans to draw in dirty air, filter it, and permanently remove allergens, cigarette smoke particles & odors, pet dander, dust, and much more.
The fans then blow out fresh, healthy, and wonderfully clean air back into the room.
The problem with using a fan, opening a window, or using spray disinfectants or air fresheners is that they don’t address the source of the problem – the germs and unwanted materials in the air still remain and increase in amount as time goes by.
An air purifier is the only real solution to this problem.
Many of the problems we associate with allergies, sickness, and other conditions are actually too small to see – microscopic in size, in fact!
Some of the most common are incredibly small!
For example, some dust mite particles are around 5-10 microns in diameter. 1 micron is a unit of measurement representing 1/1,000,000 of a meter in size (also called a micrometer, or 1 uM). In the image above, PM10 and PM2.5 are labels used to indicate the size range of some particles: 10 uM and 2.5uM.
An air purifier works by using an industry-standard of filtering ability called a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter.
This is a United States Department of Energy standard meaning it must meet the ability to filter out 99.97% of all foreign matter, down to 0.3 microns in size of the air passing through it.
Foreign matter, microbes, and many other things that are harmful to your baby become trapped in the filter material and are completely removed from your child’s breathing air.
What is a HEPA filter?
Additionally, most use a 1st stage filter that includes an activated carbon filter. Some also include an extra pre-filter to remove larger matter like pet hair and dust. The purpose of the carbon filter is to remove odor-causing chemical substances and vapors.
When combined, this combination of filter types creates an excellent way to remove sickness and allergy-causing particles and odors.
Air humidifier filters are replaceable and must be swapped for a new one after a number of months depending upon the number of particles removed. 6-8 months are typical replacement times.
How to know which is right for your baby
So to break it down into the simplest terms here’s what you need to know:
When you need a humidifier for your baby:
- You live in a dry climate or frequently cold climate
- During wintertime when the heat is heavily used
- Your baby is suffering from dry skin, dry nose/eyes/throat
- You can feel a large amount of static electricity when touching objects after moving
Again, remember that a mist humidifier works fairly rapidly while an evaporative product does not, so you’ll want to buy a mist-type humidifier.
Here’s a good example of an affordable mist humidifier that's a great choice.
When you need an air purifier for your baby:
- You have moderate to high levels of dust or particles
- After moving into a new home or after a recent home construction
- You have visitors or people living in your home that are smokers
- Your baby shows frequent coughing, sneezing, signs of allergies, or other symptoms of allergies
- Your child becomes sick with a cold or other respiratory illness
- Your baby was born with or developed a respiratory illness or other illness affected by air quality
- For pet owners who keep dogs & cats indoors frequently
Can I use a humidifier and an air purifier together?
Yes, absolutely! They don’t affect the performance of each other and together they make a great team. A humidifier can improve the comfort of your air related to moisture while a purifier will clean and freshen the air. Also, it can relieve allergies and remove those odors you hate.
If you’ve got pets or smokers nearby you know exactly what I’m referring to.
For some of the best air purifiers on a budget, check out this helpful buying guide. Have a look at my review of the best-selling GermGuardian AC4825 purifier. I own it and highly recommend it.
If you’re wondering how much a humidifier costs and what they’re like, here's an excellent one that I use personally and can be found at Amazon.
Want to learn more about humidifiers? You can read more about humidifiers and what they do here.