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We always know when its wintertime here at the ranch in Colorado—the furnace kicks in and everyone’s skin dries out quicker than you can say Palm Desert. Hence, humidifiers are a way of life here. But even if you live in a moist climate, running a humidifier in your baby’s room in the winter can keep throats, nasal passages and skin from drying out—and make everyone happier.

Here’s the 411 on buying a humidifier. First, there are two basic types of humidifiers:

1 EVAPORATIVE HUMIDIFIERS. Water is soaked into a wick and then a fan blows the moisture out. While these are affordable, they can be rather noisy (the fan) and you have to replace the filters regularly.

2 ULTRASONIC HUMIDIFIERS. Sound waves disperse the mois- ture, so there’s no fan—hence these humidifiers are quieter. The downside: sometime these humidifiers leave a coating of white dust on furniture.

There’s also one more choice to make when it comes to humidifiers: warm or cool mist. Like the name implies, warm mist humidifiers use a heating element to warm the water. While that might sound appealing if you live in a cold climate, we do NOT recommend these humidifiers for baby’s room. That’s because warm mist humidifiers can overheat the room—and that is a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Also: the warm mist coming out of the humidifier can cause a scalding injury if touched by a wayward toddler.

Some quick additional points:

• CONSIDER ROOM SIZE. Humidifiers are rated by gallon output and most will tell you the size room they cover—match this to the size room your baby is in. You don’t need a giant humidifier for most bedrooms.

• CLEAN IT REGULARLY. Humidifiers have detailed cleaning instructions—follow these! If not, you risk mold or mildew build-up in the unit or shortening the life of the humidifier.

• ADJUSTABLE HUMIDISTAT. A humidistat works like a thermostat, setting the humidity at a certain level and turning on or off the humidifier until it reaches that level. This is a nice feature, but not completely necessary.

• REMODELING? CONSIDER A WHOLE-HOUSE HUMIDIFIER. If you are planning to do any HVAC work on your home, consider installing a whole-house humidifier. These automatically kick in when your furnace runs (or can be controlled by a thermostat). Since they are permanently installed and plumbed to a water line, you never have to refill the humidifier. You do have to change the filter and clean out the drip pan, but that’s just once a year. FYI: Honeywell makes a whole house steam humidifier which is excellent.

• SKIP THE VAPORIZER. A vaporizer is a humidifier that lets you disperse medication in your child’s room. Generally, this is NOT recommended—that’s because pediatricians rarely prescribe medication that needs to be vaporized these days.

Click on the Recommendedn tab above to read reviews of our top picks.

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A EXCELLENT-our top pick!
B GOOD-above average quality, prices, and creativity.
C FAIR-could stand some improvement.
D POOR-yuck! Could stand some major improvement.