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Top-Performing Humidifiers

Changes in the humidifier market include longer stretches of run time before you have to refill the product. However, this applies only when you leave it on the lowest setting, which negates the point of having a humidifier.

iStockphoto/Vicks

Humidifier sales are on the rise in the United States. Cold weather has stoked interest in portable and whole-house models.

Verify Markets, which is a market-research company, reports that humidifier sales jumped by about 12 percent between 2013 and 2014 and now represent a $300 million market. The research company qualifies that jump, however, by adding that many of the sales were a direct result of the harsh winter of 2013–2014, so it projects sales to continue to climb by a more modest 5 percent in winter 2014–2015.

“It is quite dependent on the weather,” according to Priyanka Ranjan of Verify Markets.

Increasing sales haven’t brought sweeping changes to the product. It’s true that Wi-Fi capability now is available in portable humidifiers, and features that once were typical of high-priced models, such as ultrasonic technology and automatic shut-off capability, now are found at all price levels. However, consumers shouldn’t expect much further advancement, analysts tell us, because manufacturers are reluctant to bring high-priced technology to low-cost products. What’s more important, some improvements, such as longer run times between refills, aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be.

MARKET SHIFTS. One of the major changes that took place in the market in the past 2 years is the availability of ultrasonic humidifiers at all prices. In 2012, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency reported that the average price of an ultrasonic portable humidifier was $121. According to our research, it now is possible to find ultrasonic models that cost as little as $19.99.

Ultrasonic technology uses a small metal diaphragm, which vibrates at a high frequency within the humidifier, to break water down into vapor. A fan then moves the vapor out of the humidifier, which eliminates the need for heat to create vapor.

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The concern is that ultrasonic humidifiers can send the minerals that are in tap water into the air space that surrounds the humidifier when the water breaks down, according to Kenneth Hellevang, who is an indoor-air-quality expert and a professor of agriculture at North Dakota State University. Often, the dissipated minerals land on furniture and carpeting. This can promote the growth of microorganisms on these surfaces, Hellevang says, which can lead to bacterial growth in carpets if they aren’t cleaned. It also can exacerbate respiratory problems, such as asthma, in consumers who have such issues.

The problem can be avoided by using distilled water in any ultrasonic humidifier. ConvergEx Group, which is a financial-services company, estimated in a 2013 report that, at an average of $1.22 per gallon, such bottled water costs you 300 times the price of tap water. Premium ultrasonic humidifier models that cost at least $100 often include a cartridge that demineralizes water, so you still can use tap water and avoid dissipated minerals, but this demineralization cartridge also appears to be available in certain midrange ultrasonic humidifiers. HoMedics has a $50 model that includes a demineralization cartridge; Black & Decker has a $50 model that can hold such a cartridge, although it sells the cartridge separately for $15. Manufacturers that provide the cartridge estimate that it should be replaced, on average, every 2 months.