What to Know About Safe Humidifier and Vaporizer Use for Babies

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 08, 2022
5 min read

Your home has to be heated in cold weather, which reduces the humidity of the already dry winter air. This dry air, unfortunately, can irritate your baby's delicate throat and air passages. 

Humidifiers and vaporizers are useful devices to keep your baby comfortable. That being said, it's crucial to select the correct liquid for humidifiers and learn how to avoid the risks of a vaporizer for your baby. 

When using a humidifier for your baby, you must maintain it well to prevent harm. Safe humidifier and vaporizer use for your babies requires the right device and meticulous care. 

Safety requires keeping babies free from infections, not sending particulate matter into the air, and preventing burns and scalds resulting from hot vapor. You should also get your pediatrician's advice about whether your baby needs an air moisturizing device in the first place. 

Specific safety measures will depend on the type of machine you choose — a vaporizer or a cool-mist humidifier.

These were the earliest devices used to humidify indoor air. Vaporizers create steam by boiling water. This heat kills all germs, so the vapor they release is safe to inhale. 

Vaporizers also do not spread hazardous particulate matter. The steam they generate doesn't contain the particles that were previously in the water.

Since they kill germs and don't aerosolize particles, you can use tap water in vaporizers. This saves a considerable amount of money otherwise needed to obtain distilled water.

Still, you must be very careful with humidifiers — hot steam can scald your baby. An older baby might even topple the machine, boiling water and all. Secure, unreachable placement is vital. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics, meanwhile, recommends using cool-mist humidifiers because hot-water vaporizers can cause burns. 

There are three types of cool-mist humidifiers. 

Impeller humidifiers use a spinning disc to draw up water and force it through a screen. The water is thus split into a micro-sized aerosol. 

Evaporative humidifiers have a wick or filter that draws water from a reservoir. A fan then blows air over the filter and pushes the moisture into the air. 

Ultrasonic humidifiers create a fine mist by rapidly vibrating the water contained in a liquid reservoir.

Cool-mist humidifiers don't pose the danger of burns and scalds. However, they also don't heat the water, and living germs may be blown into your baby's bedroom air.

There's a vast variety of these devices available. It's essential you choose wisely, though, to keep your baby safe. 

Here are some things to take note of when evaluating humidifiers:

  • Humidifiers are rated for area coverage in square feet. Choose the appropriate one for your baby's room. Too large a humidifier will produce condensation on surfaces, leading to mold and bacteria growth.
  • Choose a device that turns itself off when the liquid reservoir is empty.
  • Avoid ultrasonic humidifiers. They're quiet and provide cool mist, but they work by producing high-frequency vibrations. Everything in the water — bacteria, molds, minerals, chemicals — is added to your baby's air at the right size to be breathed into the lungs. Tap water in particular may contain particulate minerals that can cause lung disease if inhaled. Bacteria and mold are released into the air your baby is breathing, too. Since ultrasonic humidifiers don't heat the water, these will be live, infectious germs.
  • Look for machines that have filters or wicks that prevent minerals and other particles from being pushed into the air.

Use filtered or distilled water for your baby's cold-mist humidifier. Tap water may contain minerals and matter that allow organisms to flourish inside your humidifier.

Don't purify water yourself. Disinfectants and other chemicals in the water also reach your baby's lungs. For the same reason, don't add any essential oils or aromatic liquids. Use plain, safe water. 

Adding moisture to the air isn't always necessary. Your doctor will tell you if local conditions make it necessary to have a humidifier in your baby's room. Additionally, if your baby has a cough and congestion, additional moisture in the air can ease congestion and provide relief for a sore throat or cough.

Measure the humidity in your home every day. To do so, you will need a device called a hygrometer, available at hardware stores. In summers, keep indoor humidity at 50%. In winters, 30% is enough. 

On days when your indoor air already has the recommended level of humidity, you needn't turn on the humidifier.

A cold-mist humidifier is a simple machine but must be handled with care.

  • Use distilled water. This water has no minerals, bacteria, or molds. Don't add oils or vapor rubs
  • Keep your baby's bedroom door open. If you see white dust on surfaces, the humidifier is releasing particulate matter. Stop using it immediately.
  • If your humidifier has a humidistat control, set it for 30% or 50% humidity. You can use a hygrometer if such a control mechanism is not available. Overly high humidity allows bacteria to grow.
  • Monitor humidity carefully. If you see condensation on window panes, pictures, or walls, lower the humidistat setting or turn the humidifier off for a while. Similarly, if carpets, drapes, or tablecloths are damp, turn the device off.

For safe use, follow these precautions:

Clean and dry the humidifier every day. This will prevent the growth of bacteria or fungi (molds). Opening it up, scrubbing it with a brush, and then allowing it to dry completely will destroy most germs. 

Soak the tank and all water-exposed parts in a 10% bleach solution from time to time. 

The humidifier should be placed on a flat, stable surface at least 2 feet above the floor. Keep it about 2 meters (6 feet) from any beds.

Don't use hot water vaporizers. They carry the risk of burns.

Never leave water in the reservoir. Bacteria grow in standing water. Restarting the machine will send these bacteria or spores into the air. 

Clean and dry the humidifier when you turn it off. Refill when you are going to use it again.

Using a humidifier relieves everyone from dry lips, noses, and throats. These devices have their own dangers, though, and must be used with meticulous care. Proper cleaning and safe disinfection are essential to prevent them from releasing bacteria and spores into the air your baby is breathing. Particles are also a risk for lung disease, so using safe water is vital.