How Do Home Humidifiers Work?


Furnace Humidifier

  • A home furnace humidifier adds moisture to the air that's being forced through the vents during a heating cycle. The device is installed between the air return duct and the heat supply duct of the central heating system. The flow-through design draws water from a cold water supply line in the home and spreads it over an evaporator panel that collects the minerals from the water before distributing it into the airflow.
    A humidistat measures the moisture content in the air and shuts off the evaporator to prevent mugginess. The excess water is channeled into a drain through a collection pipe.


  • A warm mist humidifier is sometimes called an evaporator, which essentially describes how it functions, as water is boiled in an evaporator and sent into the air as steam. The boiling eliminates bacteria from the water before it mixes with the air. The warm mist can be helpful to throat and sinus conditions in addition to providing some extra heat during winter months.
    The drawbacks of using an evaporator is a risk of skin burns from units that do not mix cool air with the releasing steam, greater energy usage to boil water, and a lack of control over the amount of moisture added to the air, often creating muggy conditions.


  • A cool mist wick humidifier draws water into a wick that stands before a fan, and the fanning creates evaporation and delivers it to the air. A filter traps the bacteria and minerals from the water and prevents them from misting into the air. Cool mist systems are able to serve a larger area than evaporators, use less energy and regulate humidity naturally. On the downside, the fan in a cool mist system makes more noise than an evaporator, and the filter must be replaced occasionally.


  • The impeller type of cool mist delivery is created by a fan disk that spins inside the water, and the water movement sends mist into the air. The process is quieter than wick systems, but these units do not use any type of filtration, so all the minerals and bacteria from the water go into the air with the mist. However, distilled water can eliminate mineral content and significantly reduce bacteria. Nonetheless, the system's parts should be cleaned often.


  • An ultrasonic humidifier vibrates water by using ultrasonic frequencies that results in a fine mist. This is the quietest type of humidifier, but it also vaporizes minerals and bacteria found in the water. Frequent cleanings and the use of distilled water are recommended.

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  • Photo Credit Impeller type cool mist humidifier at the author's home
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