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Do you need a humidifier? Doctors weigh in on why you might — plus 15 to shop

Say goodbye to cracked, chapped skin!
TODAY Illustration / Amazon / West Elm / Get Canopy
/ Source: TODAY

With winter comes freezing temperatures, biting winds, snowstorms galore and, the worst of all, dry skin. When the humidity drops from the air, it's palpable. And dry skin isn’t just limited to outdoor experiences. With every door and window sealed shut to protect you from the cold, the air indoors lacks moisture, too.

Luckily, humidifiers exist as a solution to that problem. Shop TODAY asked a few doctors about what humidifiers do, when to use them and tips for when you’ve brought one home.

What does a humidifier do?

A humidifier’s job is to add moisture to the air, explained Dr. Merritt Fajt, a physician who specializes in allergy and immunology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“Using one can help make your skin, lips, nose and throat not feel as dry,” added Dr. Emily Pennington, a pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Simply put: it’s a comfort thing. It can also help with irritated sinus passages, Fajt added.

When to use a humidifier

Fajt says people most commonly use a humidifier during the winter. “The air is just so dry inside and people are trying to have their skin not be so dry,” she explained. “Unfortunately, that’s also the time when…inside allergens are the highest because people are having their windows closed because it’s so cold outside.”

Dr. Jonathan Parsons, director of the Asthma Center at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, has one warning: If you have a breathing disorder, be very careful. Over-humidifying the room or failing to clean the unit properly can lead to the growth of mold, mildew, bacteria and dust mites, which can exacerbate allergies, asthma or other pulmonary conditions, both he and Fajt advised.

If you're looking for something to specifically filter the air, look into getting an air purifier.

Tips for using a humidifier

Pennington recommended cleaning a portable humidifier every 72 hours — this requires emptying out the water daily, scrubbing the tank to rid any built-up film and rinsing the base. Fajt echoed similar sentiments, saying it’s important to clean your humidifier and change the filter on a regular basis because, like Pennington noted, not cleaning it properly can lead to potentially harmful side effects. “They think that they’re trying to do a good thing, but they’re actually blowing mold into [the] home,” Fajt said.

You’re also best served using distilled water. Otherwise, naturally occurring minerals can build up in the tank and compromise air quality, Fajt and Pennington noted.

Another word of caution: When it comes to the vapor, less is more. Ideally, you should try keeping humidity between 30 percent and 50 percent, advised Pennington. Some models have built-in humidity monitors. If they don't, Parsons suggests buying a room hygrometer.

If you're looking for the best humidifier for the bedroom, or for anywhere else in the house, here are 15 that will get the job done.

Best humidifiers available now, according to shoppers

HoMedics Total Comfort Cool Mist Ultrasonic Humidifier

Reviewers love this humidifier for small-medium size rooms and one Target shopper wrote, "This one ticks all the boxes for me...I've gotten so many junky humidifiers and find this latest model from HoMedics is a great improvement." It has features like an essential oil tray, a built-in night light and even a demineralization cartridge.

Honeywell Mistmate Cool Mist Humidifier

Shoppers love this filterless option that has a glowing average from almost 1,300 reviewers. They rave about its simplicity, ease of use and quiet sound.

AquaOasis Cool Mist Humidifier

This humidifier has a 360-degree rotating nozzle to help evenly mist your space. With features like an extra large tank, automatic shut-off and multiple mist settings, the air will receive the moisture it's missing in no time.

Movtip Portable Mini Humidifier

A mini humidifier like this one is perfect for keeping on a nightstand or desk while you work. While the doctors recommended using distilled water in most humidifiers, this specific model advises against that, so be sure to read the manual for other specific tips on how to use and care for it.

Everlasting Comfort Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier

This filterless humidifier holds up 1.6 gallons of water and can run for up to 50 hours. It also has an essential oil tray that can circulate your favorite fragrances.

Pure Enrichment MistAir Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier

With over 49,000 five-star ratings on Amazon, this ultrasonic cool mist humidifier is a widely popular option. Ultrasonic cool mist humidifiers run quietly, so they’re best for bedrooms, according to Pennington.

Canopy Humidifier

Dermatologists — along with hundreds of shoppers — can't get enough of this smart humidifier from Canopy. Made to hydrate a room up to 500 square feet, Its proprietary technology is designed to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria with embedded UV lights, delivering filtered, hydrated air to combat skin dryness and dullness. Its parts are also dishwasher-safe, making regular cleaning a breeze.

HoMedics TotalComfort Deluxe Large Room Ultrasonic Humidifier

Sleek and modern, this top-fill humidifier from HoMedics has three mist settings, a 360-degree mist nozzle and a programmable humidistat for optimal comfort. The 1.47-gallon water tank makes this option especially great in larger rooms up to 426 square feet.

Crane Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier

A cool-mist humidifier is best for little kids, as there’s no risk of burns like some steam or evaporative models, said Pennington. This one’s great because it’s easy to use and clean, has a control dial, automatically shuts off and its teardrop shape looks cute, too.

Boneco Air-O-Swiss Steam Humidifier

Steam models tend to disperse fewer minerals into the air, said Pennington, though they still need to be cleaned. The best part: This one will remind you to clean it, so you’ll never forget. And, it has a handy built-in humidity monitor, too.

Vornado Evap40

This larger in-room model holds a whopping four gallons of water, and it can humidify rooms up to 1,000 square feet.

MiLin Humidifier

If you're searching for a humidifier that doesn't actually look like one, try this pick. It's small enough to fit on your desk or bedside table and it's super quiet so you'll barely notice it's there.

Objecto H3 Hybrid Humidifier

This humidifier could easily be mistaken for a piece of art, but it's just as functional as it is fashionable. It runs for 18 hours, producing both warm and cool mist, and it doubles as an essential oil diffuser.

Levoit Warm and Cool Mist Ultrasonic Humidifier

This one creates both warm mist (for fast humidifying) and cool mist (to humidify an air-conditioned room in the summer). The bells-and-whistles are great, too, including a built-in humidity sensor, remote control, and aromatherapy box.

Air Innovations Clean Mist Digital Humidifier

The built-in humidistat monitors and maintains the desired humidity level in a room, making this one a great hands-off option.

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