If your HVAC system pumps out hot or cold air for most of the year, you may be accustomed to indoor air feeling dry. But you probably feel the subsequent uncomfortable effects more strongly in the winter, since cold air holds less moisture. Like many people, I’ve come to accept the winter as a time of chapped lips, staticky hair, and dry skin and sinuses.
Fortunately, humidifiers can often not only relieve these minor annoyances, but also provide other legitimate health benefits by raising humidity levels inside to between 30 and 50 percent. According to physicians, dry sinuses make it more likely for you to catch an illness, because of the lack of mucus, which aids in trapping bacteria. And some studies have shown that higher humidity may reduce risk of catching the flu. Breathing in dry air is also more likely to trigger respiratory issues like asthma, bronchitis, and nosebleeds.
If you, like me and most people around the world right now, are staying home as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, you may be feeling the effects of dry indoor air more harshly. Chapped lips and frizzy hair are probably the least of your concerns, but you shouldn’t have to cope with uncomfortable air quality in addition to experiencing any anxiety, loneliness, or boredom from staying inside all day. If you have tested positive with the virus—or are preparing for the possibility of becoming sick—there’s no proof that a humidifier is going to prevent or cure it. While the CDC hasn’t specifically recommended humidifiers to treat COVID-19, they do recommend them to alleviate general coronavirus symptoms like coughing and sore throats.
Though to be clear, we’re not encouraging that you panic buy any humidifier out there. The first thing you should do is measure your home’s humidity levels. If your thermostat isn’t already equipped with a hygrometer, you can purchase a cheap thermometer/hygrometer for around $10. Should your humidity levels be below the recommended 30-50 percent and you feel uncomfortable due to the dry air, it’s probably worth investing in a humidifier.
And after testing the Honeywell HCM-350 Germ Free humidifier for over a month, I can recommend it as a simple, user-friendly, and powerful option. Its benefits are more apparent than ever while I’m stuck inside now.
Before testing, I measured the humidity levels around the house and found they hovered on average at about 25 percent, but went down to as low as 20 percent near the direct heat of a pellet stove on below-freezing days. After running the Honeywell in a 250-square-foot living room for about 18 hours on its medium fan setting, the humidity rose from 25 up to 40 percent. Not bad for one day’s work.
But its powerful moisture output is certainly not the only standout feature. As an evaporative humidifier, which blows a fan across a saturated wick filter to diffuse moisture quickly, the Honeywell produces invisible water vapor. And unlike ultrasonic humidifiers that disperse a visible mist, it’s impossible for it to oversaturate the air with more moisture than it can hold, which can lead to water puddling or mold growth.
This humidifier is super simple to operate, with three fan speed settings that you control manually with a dial. On low, it’s barely audible. And even on its highest setting, it emits a pleasant white noise. In our testing, the one-gallon reservoir held enough water for up to 12 hours on high, 18 hours on medium, and 24 hours on low.
Though its high setting can increase the humidity levels by several percentage points in just a couple of hours, I preferred keeping the humidifier on low throughout the day. This allowed me to develop a schedule of refilling the reservoir just once around the same time every day while maintaining humidity levels between 35-40 percent in the bedroom. I loved that the reservoir has a large, comfortable handle, making it easy to pull out and carry to the sink. The handle design also allows the reservoir to stand on its own—while empty or full—when refilling. In addition to its quiet operation, the humidifier doesn’t have any buttons that make beeping sounds or bright lights like some other models, which makes it especially nice to run in a quiet bedroom through the night.
The most annoying part of owning any humidifier is remembering to wash it regularly to prevent the growth of mold. Fortunately, Honeywell’s design makes this as painless as possible. Both the water reservoir and basin are dishwasher safe, and there was no plastic warping after a few cycles. If you don’t have a dishwasher, the reservoir’s wide opening is big enough to fit your hand inside to scrub. The “Germ Free” label on this model doesn’t mean that it won’t ever produce mold (just that its filter is designed to get rid of water-borne bacteria), but fortunately, I didn’t see any visible signs of mold growth after using the unit for over a week before washing.
There is one component that requires semi-frequent replacing: the filter. The included standard one only lasted a month of use before becoming grimy, though this means it’s working properly to remove particles from the water. I replaced it with an updated model from Honeywell with a blue pre-filter, though this version also requires replacement every 30-60 days. Priced at $10 per individual filter or about $25 for a three-pack, the humidifier could easily cost you $120 annually, if you use it all year, which is more than most ultrasonic models that don’t have a filter to replace.
The only features I felt were perhaps missing on this device were an auto-shut off, scheduling, and remote operation. Leaving the fans on after the reservoir runs out isn’t a huge issue, since it just results in the filter slowly drying out. But even without smartphone connectivity for remote operation, it would be nice to have a scheduling feature so that you know the unit will turn off if you’re out of the house and unable to refill it.
If you plan to frequently move the humidifier from room to room, it’s also worth noting that the basin will leak and spill if you pick it up when it’s filled with water, since the humidifier’s body only sits on top of the basin. Though the parts don’t secure together, it was lightweight and easy to carry and move when empty. Despite these minor drawbacks, the Honeywell HCM-350’s simple design and manual dial are likely what keep it reasonably priced at about $70.
While I fortunately have no signs of illness, I have noticed the humidifier has helped reduce sinus congestion from allergies I usually get around this time of year. It may not cure all winter woes, but I do feel minor improvements with less staticky hair and dry eyes after weeks of regular use. If a cold or flu were to strike, I have no doubt that the Honeywell HCM-350 can help soothe coughing and congestion thanks to its powerful output.
Think of the HCM-350 Germ Free humidifier not as an impulse buy during a time of panic that you forget about in the closet when it’s all over. Rather, consider it a long-term investment, a reliable device to improve air quality whenever you need an extra dose of moisture.
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