Cold snaps bring irritated skin, chapped lips and persistent sniffles for many of us – but that dry winter air doesn’t have to wreak havoc on your body every year. Using a humidifier to raise the humidity level in your home can alleviate many common respiratory and dermatological problems – so as winter approaches again, we took a look at the best humidifiers on the Australian market in 2020.
If you’re suffering from cold winter air or an overzealous air conditioning unit, see below for our top picks, or scroll down for the full reviews and a buyer’s guide. Pay particular attention to the Humidifiers and Your Health section, because the last thing you want to do is end up with a device that makes symptoms worse!
The Best Humidifiers in Australia 2020
- Philips HU4803
- Breville The Smart Mist
- Dyson AM10
- TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
- INNObeta 3.0 L Air Humidifier
Read on for the full reviews, plus our guide on what to look for when buying.
How we picked
We’ve been humidifier users for several years now, so we injected a lot of personal experience in selecting, operating and cleaning various machines, alongside third-party data, to produce our selection of the best humidifiers you can buy in Australia.
Sources we consulted include Canstar Blue, ProductReview.com.au, Amazon reviews both positive and negative, and some blogs which conducted extensive research on humidifiers (which we’ve linked to, where used).
We also compiled a list of features to look for and rejected any which didn’t make the cut in terms of functionality.
What to look for
Arguably the most important thing you need to know about a humidifier is exactly how it humidifies. Modern humidifiers tend to be either evaporative or ultrasonic. A small number may also use warm mist to increase humidity, but these aren’t normally recommended since they run hot (making them a hazard for kids) and aren’t energy efficient.
To be honest, there’s no real advantage one has over the other when you’re trying to pick the best humidifier for your dry air, but look for the following terms nonetheless:
These machines use the natural evaporation properties of liquid at room temperature to humidify the air. Of course, waiting around for a bowl of water to evaporate would take forever, so they add some tricks such as using a filter or wick with a larger surface area, and passing more air over that element via a fan.
Evaporative humidifiers have fewer moving parts, so they are generally more reliable than their ultrasonic counterparts, but they may require more cleaning and some models require wick replacement at regular intervals.
Ultrasonic humidifiers use a rapidly-vibrating plate to ‘bounce’ water into the air, helping it to evaporate quickly as it falls to the ground. A few will add a fan, but most run extremely quiet, and they’re extremely efficient.
Things to look out for include water marks (since the water tends to rise and fall in a specific area, especially without the aid of a fan) and a tendency to perform almost too well, leaving the air uncomfortably humid. Buying a model with a built-in humidistat so that the machine shuts off automatically can help to alleviate this issue.
Generally, the bigger the better. You’ll want the thing to hold enough water to make it through the night, but if it can do a day on top of that, even better. Realistically, this means a tank size of one litre or above.
We assigned extra points for machines which treated or filtered water before it was sprayed around a room – forgive us, but we don’t want a machine that is capable of dispersing a warm mist full of microbes widely. Read more about this in our safety section below.
Ease of cleaning
Similar to the above. To use humidifiers safely, they must be kept clean, so we took a close look at how easy to clean each machine was every day, as well as how easy it was to give these machines a thorough scrub out. If it wasn’t easy, we’ll either mention it or won’t bother including the machine.
We rejected any machine that couldn’t stop humidifying at a certain point. Humans are highly subjective, and it’s near impossible to tell when your home has reached 60% humidity and you should stop adding moisture to the air for hygiene reasons (see the section below). We believe an evaporative humidifier tends to be less prone to this than an ultrasonic one, but both can overcompensate. We also rejected any machine that couldn’t shut itself off when the tank was empty, since running an ultrasonic machine dry can damage the parts.
Ease of control
Timers, remote controls and clear displays are all useful features found in many humidifier models, and we assigned points for each one.
Best Humidifiers in Australia in 2020
Top Pick: Philips Air Humidifier HU4803
Our reviews found that the Philips HU4803 evaporative humidifier is the best humidifier you’ll find on the Australian market in 2020, factoring in price, performance and availability.
Despite an uninspiring design and a hefty 3kg weight (that’s before you put any water in!), this machine can effectively humidify smaller rooms (up to 25 square meters/258 square feet), pushing out moisture at a rate of 220ml per hour. That may be slower than some ultrasonic options, but we believe the Philips is a good pick for bedrooms or nurseries nonetheless.
It’s far easier to fill than unwieldy machines like the Dyson AM10 – pop off the lid and just hold the thing under a tap (or carry over a container of water to pour in).
Philips claims that the ‘Nanocloud’ evaporative technology results in 99% less bacteria spread than ultrasonic humidifiers. We weren’t in a position to test this, but it’s certainly true that evaporative humidifiers generate smaller water droplets than ultrasonic ones, which are less able to hold contaminants.
Most reviewers stated that the mechanism was extremely quiet, with a level as low as 26db when operating in silent mode – easily low enough to place in your bedroom.
While the HU4803 is our top pick, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Philips is clearly proud of its 360-degree vent design on the top, but the digital display, which is bright, also sits on the top. That means that if you’re troubled by light at night, you’ll need to get creative with some cardboard that can cover up the display without affecting the vents.
Our other concern is the small size of the tank, which is a paltry 2 litres. If you’re using this machine every night, or for large parts of the day, you’ll probably have to refill it once or twice, which is a pain. The machine shuts off when it runs dry, so there’s no danger of it being damaged by running out of water, but we can’t help wishing that Philips had made a slightly larger tank. If you need to humidify a large space such as a living room, we’d suggest you skip this model and go for our runner up, which is more expensive but more capable of handling bigger rooms.
In addition, be prepared to replace the wick filters regularly. For most, this will not be an issue since wicks can be easily ordered online via Amazon (priced at $25.99 for a pack of two), but if you’re buying for an older person without access to the internet (or you live in a place where deliveries aren’t easy), this is a factor to consider.
Runner Up: Breville The Smart Mist
It’s extremely difficult to dislike Breville’s latest humidifier, which packs a ton of smart features into an extremely attractive package. The newest humidifier on the market as of 2020, the Smart Mist has proven so popular that many stores are out of stock – for good reason.
This is an ultrasonic humidifier and by all accounts is extremely effective, raising humidity levels quickly, and shutting off at a preset relative humidity thanks to the in-built humidistat. We saw some users complain that the humidistat wasn’t as sensitive as they would have liked (and it’s unlikely to be as accurate as the humidistat on the AM10, which has been widely praised), but we’re prepared to cut Breville some slack here, since most reviews are positive and humidity conditions can vary widely depending on the room.
Breville’s The Smart Mist humidifier design is the most beautiful of the bunch – a grey or white clean-lined box, with controls on the front and the misting unit on the top. The controls dim automatically after 15 seconds, so you shouldn’t be dazzled during the night, and they’re more smartly positioned than those on the Philips HU4803. You can also use the included remote control, which is a nice touch.
As this is an ultrasonic model, there are no extra parts required, but you’ll need to ensure that it’s kept clean. We also liked that the Smart Mist uses ultraviolet light (as the Dyson AM10 does) to sterilise the water flowing into the unit, which will help keep it free of nasty bugs that can cause ‘humidifier lung’ (see health, below).
When switched on, the Breville runs quiet, and it includes a separate tray for adding essential oils to the vapour. We also liked the addition of a heating element, which slightly warms the humid air as it is expelled from the machine, and is switched on by default if the unit is in ‘Baby Mode’. This cool and warm mist setting makes it a better choice for those likely to run the model in summer as well as winter.
We should also pay tribute to how well-designed the tank on this model is – it feels like Breville really thought about refilling as a friction point for users, and designed the model around that. As such, it’s ridiculously easy to lift out and refill, but also has a good capacity – a solid 5 litres, which puts the Philips’ 2 litre tank to shame. As a result, the Breville The Smart Mist humidifier is far better suited to large rooms, and can handle spaces up to 40 square meters/430 square feet.
Priced at $229, we have no hesitation in recommending this machine as an upgrade pick worth trying.
Dyson’s build-quality makes this ultrasonic model a strong contender in the quality humidifier stakes, but it’s hard to overlook the cost of the unit, and it’s no longer widely available in Australia.
In our experience, the Dyson was an extremely effective humidifier, thanks to Dyson’s patented Air Multiplier technology, which used the familiar bladeless fan design to circulate humidified air widely in the room. The AM10 could also run ‘dry’ as a powerful fan, making it handy to put in a room year-round (it doesn’t hurt that it looks great too).
We also liked the ultraviolet filtration system, which meant that the Dyson AM10 needed less cleaning than many ultrasonic models, plus the quiet operation and certification from several respected consumer health authorities.
That said, the AM10 wasn’t perfect – it used an unwieldy design for the tank which was frustrating to refill night after night, and properly cleaning the bladeless fan wasn’t as simple as it sounds either, thanks to the multitude of small crevices. Since being easy to clean is so important, the Dyson AM10 lost serious brownie points here (although the ultraviolet filtration system partially compensated).
It’s still possible to find a few of these models knocking around in Australia, so if you’re desperate to get your hands on one, you probably still can. And perhaps you should – overall, we’d say that the AM10 was a much better machine than many reviewers gave it credit for.
If you have cash to burn, want something high quality and extremely stylish, it would be our top pick. For those who are on a lower budget or don’t care so much about having a humidifier that makes a design statement, our top Philips pick is more widely available and better value for money.
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics makes a range of ultrasonic humidifiers and the TT-AH001 is a good option if you need a large water tank and above-average dispersal. It’s quiet enough to use in the bedroom, with many users reporting that the large tank means that they only need to refill every second night. Coverage runs to 50 square meters (or 538 square feet).
A built-in humidity monitoring system and low-water shutoff make this a strong pick if you’re not taken by either of our headline options.
Note that you might need to hone your mental arithmetic, since it displays humidity readings in absolute humidity rather than relative humidity. Some users also suggested using filtered water to prolong the life of the machine, especially if you live in a hard-water area.
Beurer LB88 Air Humidifier
Beurer’s top-end model has some things going for it – it can cover a larger room of up to 48m/2 using ‘dual-technology’, which essentially means it uses both ultrasonic and evaporative cool mist humidifier methods.
Impressively, the LB88 can output 550ml/hour of moisture (more than both of our top picks).
Unfortunately, the product suffers from some design issues – the water tank is unwieldy when full and needs to be turned upside down to refill (like the Dyson AM10), but doesn’t include a handy carrying handle like the Dyson or our runner up pick from Breville.
For some users, the bright blue lights on the front will be an issue (especially if used in a bedroom at night), and we prefer picks that can meet an exact humidification level, rather than the general 1/2/3 setting offered by this machine.
INNObeta 3.0 L Air Humidifier
Whisper-quiet and fairly compact (25 x 23 x 18 cm), the ultrasonic INNObeta is an OK budget option. Unfortunately, it’s slightly fiddly to add or change the water, and the overall quality of the machine has been called into question.
Medescan Rainbow Mist
We’ve seen other Australian review sites pick the Medescan Rainbow Mist, but it’s a tough sell in our opinion. Not only does this ultrasonic unit lack any kind of in-built humidity control, it’s hard to clean.
All Honeywell Models
Sadly, the Honeywell models which are picked as best buys by Wirecutter aren’t available in Australia. So unfortunately getting top picks such as the evaporative Honeywell HCM-350 Germ Free Cool Mist Humidifier or the Honeywell HEV685W on these shores is all but impossible (or at least, more hassle than it’s worth). You could import them, but if something goes wrong or you require replacement parts, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of hassle. For this reason, until Honeywell sells its humidifiers down under, we’d steer clear.
Other small humidifiers and diffusers
You’ll find a wide range of humidifiers available online priced between $10-$50 but our strong recommendation is to steer clear of them, unless you’re looking for an aroma diffuser (which won’t do much about humidity levels). If you genuinely need a humidifier, you’ll be using it every night and should opt for one which has been thoroughly tested and you know will last. Plus, humidifiers (especially if you opt for a cool mist humidifier) need to be designed carefully, since cleaning is extremely important for health reasons. As always, check reviews before you buy, and be wary of brands you don’t recognise, especially if imported.
Sadly, many of these options are little more than scent diffusers, and aren’t able to make a measurable difference to humidity levels in the air, even after hours of operation.
A good tip is to look at the tank size – air can absorb a lot of water, so to be able to effectively humidify a room, a humidifier needs to be able to hold litres of water.
Humidifiers and your health
There is extensive evidence to show that more humid air can alleviate some symptoms regularly experienced by those with sensitive sinus systems, but humidifiers aren’t a panacea. There are some health problems they won’t be able to help with, and there are also risks associated with running a humidifier that isn’t frequently cleaned. Even the best humidifiers on our list above will need to be cleaned properly and regularly.
What can humidifiers help with?
Dry air plays a part in the drying of mucus inside our respiratory systems, which makes it harder to clear from nasal passages and may contribute to a stuffy nose and that general feeling of being ‘bunged up’.
Humidity also appears to have an impact on several secondary causes of respiratory irritation such as airborne-transmitted bacteria and viruses and allergenic mite and fungi populations, according to one widely-cited study.
Low humidity can also cause dry skin, since the water content of our top layer of skin (the epidermis) tends to mirror the level of humidity that surrounds it. This leads to cracked lips and patches of dry, flaky, sore or irritated skin known as ‘winter itch’ or ‘winter xerosis’.
For many, these symptoms tend to worsen in cold weather, for two reasons – outdoor air is cooler and retains less humidity, and interior heating systems tend to dry out the air. So the everyday humidity level we experience is far lower. It’s a double whammy which leads many to try a humidifier in the cooler winter months to boost humidity levels in spaces where we spend a lot of time (for instance, the home, car or office).
What can’t humidifiers help with?
Humidifiers are widely used as a treatment for the symptoms of the common cold, especially in children. However, there’s no evidence that using one can decrease symptoms – it’s likely to have originated from the old idea that steam inhalation can ease nasal congestion (the evidence for which is patchy at best anyway). Plus, humidifiers can’t raise the humidity to anything like the levels of a steam bath.
What’s the ideal humidity for your health?
The US EPA and most medical professionals agree that the ideal interior humidity is between 30% and 60% – any higher than that can lead to other issues such as condensation leading to mold growth (see below). If you’re suffering from the symptoms above, the majority of adverse health effects associated with dry air would be minimised by maintaining levels at between 40% to 60% relative humidity.
Can humidifiers be dangerous?
Yes. If humidifiers are not used and maintained properly, they can potentially become even more dangerous than the issues they are being used to treat.
The most obvious problem is that as humidifiers are designed to spray water particles around the room, they are extremely effective at dispersing dirty aerosols if they are left uncleaned.
Although manufacturers have made efforts to improve designs, many humidifiers can still become breeding grounds for bacteria and fungi which can trigger allergies. In more serious cases, they can cause fevers or lung inflammation. For this reason, the US EPA recommends cleaning and disinfecting a portable humidifier every three days. You could also pick a model that uses an antibacterial or antimicrobial treatment to minimise the chances of something nasty entering its (and your) system.
All of our picks are evaporative or steam humidifiers – cold mist humidifiers are to be avoided because they’re particularly high-risk for disseminating contaminated aerosols.
An overused humidifier can also result in condensation. This isn’t dangerous in its own right, but it may suggest that humidity is too high, and potentially at a level where fungus can begin to form on walls, ceilings and floors. Most species of fungi cannot grow unless relative humidity exceeds 60%, which is why there’s an upper limit. If your humidifier doesn’t include a humidistat, use an indoor hygrometer to measure humidity yourself, and switch off the machine when appropriate.
The Bottom Line
Either one of our top two picks (the Philips HU4803 or the Breville The Smart Mist) will suit the majority of homes and workplaces needing more humidity.
Best Humidifier for Bedrooms: Philips Air Humidifier HU4803
Best Humidifier for Living Rooms or Large Spaces: Breville The Smart Mist