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When winter rolls through, it carries with it dry air. Add in home heating systems — or year-round air conditioning if you’re in a warmer climate — that can suck every last bit of humidity from your home and a good humidifier becomes something of a necessity.

Humidifiers come in many different forms: cool mist, diffuser, top fill… The list goes on. And there are a number of factors you need to consider before buying one. For instance, do you need a small humidifier to keep your skin refreshed? Or maybe you’re looking for a larger unit to keep a whole floor at the proper moisture levels. How about a humidifier to help with a congested little one? Good news: There’s a humidifier for almost every situation.

In order to find the best humidifier for your needs, we researched the top offerings on the market, diving into editorial and user reviews, comparing the latest models and pulling together a pool of the nine top options. Once we settled on those, we tested and retested them in real-world settings using a considerable range of criteria (detailed below) over several weeks. We steamed, we cool-misted, we filled tanks, we tested for humidity levels and we cleaned the heck out of these machines to determine the best humidifiers, ultimately settling on three standouts:

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

A close second, the Vicks V5100NS is a powerhouse with a larger tank than many of the other humidifiers we tested. The big tank was easy to get into the kitchen or bathroom to refill, which wasn’t the case with the other larger humidifiers we tested, and raised the humidity level up fast in a big, open space. This humidifier runs very quietly and holds enough water to keep going all day and night. The one knock: This does produce a heavy mist, so it can lead to stuffy rooms in smaller spaces. But that’s exactly what makes it ideal for larger areas.

For bedrooms (yours or the kids’), the Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier was a clear winner, as it makes virtually no noise (none of our top three were louder than a properly running refrigerator) and has a night light function that gives the cute teardrop-shaped machine a soft glow. The automatic shutoff means it’ll never be erroneously run throughout the day.

Best overall humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ($46.86, originally 49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
PHOTO: CNN

We put this humidifier through all the paces, trying it in different rooms of varying sizes, and it clearly stood out as the top performer. It was simple to get up and running out of the box, it was easy to clean without a lot of mess and it got the job done better and more efficiently than any other humidifier we tested.

The highlight might just be how boring it is. If a humidifier is grabbing your attention, then it’s just not doing its job. The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier came in first because it’s truly a set-it-and-forget-it machine. During our testing, the humidifier cranked out over 24 hours of optimal humidity in our tests, staying right at 35% (which is in line with the Envionmental Protection Agency’s recommended humidity levels — and we cross-checked with our external reader, of course). It took only an hour to get to those optimal levels, and humidity levels never spiked across 24 hours of use. We found avoiding a steamy room crucial to our vetting process, as some humidifiers can lead to sticky atmospheres.

This workhorse cranked humidity for over 24 hours without a hiccup (including refilling the tank) multiple days in a row, which was impressive for how compact it is, compared to larger (and less attractive) models. In fact, only one humidifier that we tested ran longer on one tank (the Magictec, which ultimately had a lower-quality experience all around). Since the EPA recommends that humidity in homes remain between 30% and 50%, and our testing took place during a particularly dry week in the Northeast, we looked at how long it took to hit 35% humidity and how long it stayed there. The built-in reader on this humidifier was consistent with our external gauge readings and flawlessly managed to maintain a healthy level in the room without any futzing.

From the get-go, the TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier was a breeze to use. It was packaged so that the unit was easy to remove and assemble, and it was filled and misting in short order. The bulk of this humidifier is the tank (which lights up — more on that later) so it takes up minimal space — yet another reason this ranked as our top choice.

It was also a standout when it came to cleaning, which is huge if you’ve ever dealt with a gross, moldy humidifier filter or tank. The reusable filter is permanent (read: You don’t have to buy replacements and change it all the time). It does need to be soaked in vinegar once a month, depending on how hard your water is, to keep it clean. If you have hard water, you probably know that it contains higher amounts of dissolved calcium and magnesium. While this isn’t harmful, it can leave buildup on household fixtures — like your humidifier. It’s easy to remove the filter from the cap where it’s attached in order to clean it. With a handle on the top and on the bottom, this was the easiest humidifier to refill, and it didn’t spill water on the floor (or us) in the process.

We also found in our testing that getting the proper-size humidifier for rooms and spaces was key — with some larger humidifiers overwhelming smaller rooms with moisture, and some smaller units not having the power to really make a room comfortable. This one worked well in a variety of room sizes (working effortlessly and efficiently in spaces from 400 to 500 square feet).

And the TaoTronics won’t be distracting while you sleep, as the light display has a night mode that dims, leaving just a tiny green light. Or, if you prefer a night light, the tank can be illuminated, creating a soft glow in the room that might be soothing for little ones. It’s also extremely quiet (it notched a perfect score in our testing for this aspect).

The only negative: The machine, while not aesthetically unpleasing, is available only in white, which may be an issue for some decor schemes. However, at under 50 bucks, if you’re looking for a plug-and-play humidifier you can mostly set and forget, unless it needs refilling and the occasional filter cleaning, the TaoTronics Cool Mist is the clear winner based on our testing.

Best humidifier for large spaces: Vicks V5100NS ($49.99, originally $59.99; amazon.com)

Vicks V5100NS
Vicks V5100NS
PHOTO: CNN

Coming in a few points behind the TaoTronics, with a solid, attractive build and larger tank size capacity, the Vicks V5100NS is the humidifier you want in larger spaces. This is a hardworking machine that blows a lot of moisture into the air, easily filling open spaces — we tested it in a space that was roughly 500 square feet — in just over an hour’s time (one hour and 10 minutes, to be exact). In that time, the Vicks V5100NS got the humidity rating up to 35%, according to the off-board humidity reader we used to gauge accuracy.

With a tank that holds 1.5 gallons of water — most of the others we tested held a gallon or far less — this humidifier required no assembly and, once full, was ready to crank out over 20 hours of 35% humidity in one go on a very dry day in a 200-year-old home (not exactly a lab, but probably very much like your life).

With adjustable misting functionality, you can make the Vicks spray in any direction you like, such as away from delicate furnishings and decor, or toward plants. And it’s very quiet — we noted it has the faintest, barely audible hum during our testing — while in use. It also held steady at 35% humidity and never made the space feel sticky or steamy.

What held this filter-free humidifier back from being our top pick was a slight difficulty in cleaning the tank, which is recommended on a weekly basis. You can only reach it at an awkward angle that makes it challenging to thoroughly scrub. Also, when turned to high humidity, the spray can be a lot! If you have hardwood floors or anything that could be easily damaged, you’ll want to put the Vicks V5100NS on an elevated surface to avoid condensation, which is fairly common and a tip for your use. Because of the heavy misting, trust us: This is made for larger rooms, as when we tested in smaller spaces, humidity levels started to spike.

With its larger tanks and powerhouse performance, this Vicks humidifier is the ideal pick for large, open spaces.

Best humidifier for bedrooms: Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier ($39.99; amazon.com)

Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier
Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier
PHOTO: CNN

With a sleek, dare we say “water forward” droplet-style design, the Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier is a stunner out of the box. It’s also easy to set up; just rinse out with water, fill, plug in and turn on. And, as we mentioned above (because we can’t mention this enough), it’s extremely quiet — emitting the barest whisper of a hum.

While this humidifier has a smaller tank than our other top picks, it easily runs overnight for the promised 16 hours, a shorter duration than some of the bigger models. But the upside of that smaller tank? It’s easy to fill in the bathroom sink (so no trip to the kitchen is necessary) without getting water everywhere.

The Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier lost points for taking over an hour to get even the smaller rooms we used for testing to the optimal moisture levels. It made those points back, though, because it kept the moisture level consistent. Again, we give points for not steaming up the room. Because this humidifier seemed to perform best in a small room or bedroom (about 400 square feet) versus larger spaces, we couldn’t give this the title of best overall, but it is a great addition to a desk or nightstand.

While this humidifier was easy to clean, many reviewers noted they used only distilled water — either filtered at home or that they bought bottled — to keep the humidifier even cleaner. After over a month of testing, we did not notice any buildup from tap water, but it could be an issue over a longer period of time.

What we love about this for bedrooms and kids’ rooms is the night light functionality that makes the whole machine and tank glow a gentle blue tone. While some of the other units have dimming lights, this one was the softest, giving off a subtle glow that reviewers note “make the product very soothing.” This felt like a special feature that went above and beyond an on/off light.

The Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier also had the best warranty of our top three, at five years. Couple that with its quietness and nighttime features, and this is the pick for any bedroom.

How we tested

The testing process for these humidifiers was comprehensive and lasted more than a month. We really wanted to get to the core of what would be most important to someone looking for a humidifier, with functionality, durability and, of course, value being paramount. We tested each machine at least twice over the course of a month, and in different spaces, for ease of setup and use, humidity levels (and the speed it took to get there) and ease of refilling and cleaning. We made notes about getting the humidifiers out of their boxes and set up, which humidifiers were difficult to clean and maintain, timed how long they took to raise humidity levels and how messy the whole process was. We took special note of which machines had distracting lights, and what the warranties looked like.

Overall function

  • Humidity level: We tracked this with an external humidity reader that told us the humidity levels each machine was able to get to, and how fast. We did each test in a partially enclosed kitchen and tried to control for external humidity as much as possible, but weather does what it wants sometimes!
  • Consistency: We also used the reader to see if humidity stayed at the same levels, with a focus on overhumidifying a room, because a steamy room and mold are not desired outcomes.
  • Ease of cleaning: Could we get in to clean the parts easily? Did it require a lot of disassembly? Was it heavy or awkward? Did water get everywhere? These are some of the things we considered for ease of cleaning.
  • Noise levels: Since many of us like a humidifier in the bedroom, silence — or at least a low hum — is pretty much nonnegotiable.
  • Setup: We looked at whether directions were inscrutable or if the whole process was painless, because humidifiers should be easy to use and set up.
  • Longevity: Ever feel like getting up in the middle of the night and refilling a humidifier? Didn’t think so. For this, we looked at how long the various machines’ tanks lasted.

Build

  • Overall quality: For every machine we unboxed, we looked at how the parts fit together, if it felt and looked flimsy and if it easily fit back together after the tank was filled.
  • Tank size: What we learned in this process is that a big tank isn’t always best, as some large tanks were difficult to fill and sometimes smaller tanks lasted longer.
  • Lights and design elements: Much like noise levels, many find bright lights or other design elements like LED displays detrimental to a good night’s sleep. So we looked at whether those were included and if so, whether they could be adjusted or shut off completely.

Warranty

  • What kind of warranty: We graded warranties by length, so you know you’ll be getting a product you can trust.

How we rated

Using the procedures described above, we gave each humidifier a score in each subcategory, then combined those numbers for a maximum score in each category, then totaled those numbers for a final overall score. We broke down the scores as follows:

  • Overall function had a maximum of 60 points: speed to a humidity point (10 points), consistent humidity (10 points), humidity reader accuracy (10 points), ease of cleaning (10 points), noise levels (10 points), ease of setup (5 points) and how long the tank lasts (5 points).
  • Build had a maximum of 35 points: overall build (15 points), tank size (10 points) and lights/distracting design (10 points).
  • Warranty had a maximum of five points: zero to two years (0 points), three to five years (2 points) and five or more years (5 points).
  • Other factors: In addition to our points rubric, we considered other factors like price and the device’s capabilities compared to other models.

Other humidifiers we tested

Honeywell Top Fill Cool Moisture Humidifier (starting at $85.73, originally starting at $99.99; amazon.com)

Honeywell Top Fill Cool Moisture Humidifier
Honeywell Top Fill Cool Moisture Humidifier

Out of two Honeywell humidifiers we tested, this one was the higher scorer and a strong contender for runner-up status. This machine was kind of a beast in the best possible way, and would be a good choice for creating moisture in a larger space. It stayed consistent overnight and kept several rooms comfortable during our tests.

In a slight downside, this machine felt bigger than it actually needed to be, with two unwieldy top-fill tanks, but it was extremely sturdy. Initially we dragged the tanks to the sink to fill, but then (a revelation!) we realized it was much easier to fill them up by bringing a pitcher of water to them. No more awkward struggling with a wet tank. With a three-year limited warranty, it’s a good investment. We also liked that it’s available in both black and white, because options are a good thing.

Crane Adorables Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $24.99, originally starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

Crane Adorables Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier
Crane Adorables Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier

Not only the cutest of the products we tested — we tried out the fox, but the chicken, frog, Hello Kitty and other character versions are adorable as well — this machine is also an easy-to-use humidifier. We loved the looks for kids (and kids at heart), along with the lack of sound and bright lights to keep little ones awake.

The simple dial allows for easy adjustment of humidity, and the humidifier runs efficiently and is easy to set up. Since it doesn’t need a filter, the machine should be cleaned with a water-and-vinegar mix fairly frequently depending on use. We really liked the ease of this charming humidifier, but it does take well over an hour to reach the desired humidity rate of 35% in a bedroom. It never made the room overly steamy, however, which we awarded points for.

Urpower Essential Oil Diffuser Humidifier ($33.99; amazon.com)

Urpower Essential Oil Diffuser Humidifier
Urpower Essential Oil Diffuser Humidifier

The smallest humidifier we tested, this machine has a tiny tank that gives off low humidity for eight hours. It really wasn’t able to provide a high humidity level in a room larger than a bathroom, or maintain a consistent humidity level, all of which cost it points.

We’d classify this as more of an essential oil diffuser than a humidifier, and what we liked about it was it was quiet, had a stylish, clean design and a soft light that changes colors. You can also add essential oils for a relaxing spa experience in your bedroom or bathroom. For the record, we loved this tiny machine for the aforementioned purpose, but it’s not ideal for someone looking to alleviate breathing issues and add major moisture to their home.

Levoit LV600HH Hybrid Ultrasonic Humidifier ($89.99; amazon.com)

Levoit LV600HH Hybrid Ultrasonic Humidifier
Levoit LV600HH Hybrid Ultrasonic Humidifier

This humidifier has great looks but wasn’t the best build right out of the box because of the confusing instructions, which we found overly wordy and complicated when compared to the instructions for the other units. However, the humidity went straight to 37% in the rooms we tested, and stayed there, per our external reader and the humidifier’s own reader. It ran super quietly, emitting very little noise for almost two days set to low.

This machine got low marks due to the difficulty of cleaning. It was hard to get the water out of the base, and much of it ended up on our clothes and the floor. It was also challenging to fill without making a mess, and we spent quite a bit of time on the floor with a towel cleaning up after this humidifier (at least it’s only water!). For the price, it did not seem well built.

Magictec Cool Mist Humidifier ($27.95; amazon.com)

Magictec Cool Mist Humidifier
Magictec Cool Mist Humidifier

What we liked about this machine is how fast it raised the levels of humidity in the rooms we tested it in, and how simple it was to adjust those levels with the simple front-facing dial. Set to low, it kept going for an incredible almost 40 hours!

The humidifier comes in black, has a simple, stylish look and is easy to use right out of the box. The build felt really flimsy compared to the other humidifiers we tested. The water tank sat very loosely on the base, and when people walked by it rattled a little. That said, it was super easy to clean and got the job done, and we like it for the price.

Honeywell HCM350W Germ Free Cool Mist ($38.48, originally $76.99; walmart.com)

Honeywell HCM350W Germ Free Cool Mist
Honeywell HCM350W Germ Free Cool Mist

While some of the machines we tested ramped up the room humidity quickly, this one really cranked up fast, getting to 35% humidity in under an hour. But it felt like it didn’t stop blowing steam and made the room feel super steamy. While it didn’t have any lights that were distracting, it was the least aesthetically appealing humidifier we tested. It ran for a solid 24 hours but was too strong, and it was difficult to adjust the levels of humidity.

The biggest points detractor, however, was the build on this humidifier, which was surprisingly shoddy. Whenever we picked up the machine the bottom would fall off and clatter on the floor. The bottom was supposed to be removable for easy cleaning but was actually super awkward to deal with.

Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: