Humidifiers infuse moisture back into the air

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

At about this time of the year, you halfheartedly crank up the heat in your home.

You welcome the warmth but cringe at the prospect of feeling your body reaching the dehydration level of a potato chip.

A humidifier can turn that scenario around by infusing moisture back into the air and bringing relief to chapped lips, flaky skin and even flulike symptoms.

"The wonder of humidifiers is that thereís something out there for everyone," says Lynne Hammell, at Kaz, maker of Honeywell humidifiers. She and Stephanie LaGrotta Martinez, associate merchant at The Home Depot, dished out advice on making humidifier shopping a breeze.

Think square-foot coverage. The rule of thumb is that the size of your appliance should match the size of the room. A voluminous humidifier in your childís room, for instance, might cause more harm than good. "When it comes to humidity, the sweet spot is between 40 and 60 percent," Hammell explains. "If itís higher, youíll notice it: condensation on the windows, the wallpaper peeling a bit for those who have it."

Convenience factor. While portable humidifiers with water filters solve the problem of over-humidification, most people donít want to deal with the hassle of replacing that filter. Enter the ultrasonic models, which expel fine water mist using high-frequency sound vibrations. No extra steps required.

With a gallon-tank capacity, Martinez says, these units are ideal for a single room, such as a bedroom. For good ultrasonic options, Martinez points clients to brands like Air Innovations, Hunter, Crane and Vornado.

Go big or go home. A well-humidified house might feel like a combo between a breath of fresh air and a hug. As Martinez puts it, "it makes for a comfortable home setting."

When you decide to extend that sense of coziness throughout your entire home, invest in a whole-house appliance. The $138.99 Aircare Digital Whole-House Pedestal-Style Evaporative Humidifier has a coverage up to 2,400 square feet and a convenient side pour-in door.

Other whole-house appliances mount directly to your furnace, working with the heating system to replenish moisture. Behind their whopping price tag ó up to $700 for some brands ó there are several boons. For one, they can prevent the wood floor you paid a fortune for from drying and cracking. Plus, the nice warming effect allows you to lower the temperature on the thermostat, which will result in energy savings.

Cool mist versus warm mist. Both warm-mist and cool-mist humidifiers will get the job done, says Hammell. The first type boils the water to emit a cooled steam, while the second one uses a fan to blow moisture. "Itís just a matter of personal preferences."

When it comes to kids, though, most experts favor the cool mist. The Mayo Clinic warns that warm-mist devices pose the threat of steam burns for little ones.

On the flip side, cool-mist humidifiers can disperse white dust calcium deposits from hard water. The United States Department of Labor says "the main hazard of exposure to mineral dust is pneumoconiosis, a general term for disease of the lungs caused by dusts," but there are simple ways to counteract this issue. Regularly clean the tank and use distilled or purified water, which is lower in mineral content than tap water.

Anti-microbial features. Want to up your germ-fighting game? Opt for a humidifier with anti-microbial features like the Honeywell Germ Free Cool Mist Humidifier that Hammell owns. Earlier this year, Consumer Reports ranked this model second out of 34 tested for their efficiency at inhibiting bacterial growth in the tank and for not emitting bacteria into the air.

Adjustable fan speeds or a humidistat are other features worth purchasing, Martinez adds. Also pretty handy: the automatic shut-off feature. "This will help prolong the life of the motor." Keeping the humidity in check might help shield you from the germs in your house or office. "It actually helps reduce the survival of the flu virus on surfaces and in the air," says Hammell.

Andreea Ciulac is a freelance writer.