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Smart Choices

Winter climate control

Consumer Reports / January 23, 2011

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Humidifiers are a hot winter item due to dry indoor air. During the cold months, sales for humidifiers typically triple due to consumer demand. Consumer Reports recently found top-rated humidifiers for as little as $30, but shoppers need to be cautious because a few models tested fell short of claims. Here’s what shoppers need to know:

Tabletops cover smaller spaces. The right size is critical because too much humidity can promote dust mites, mold, and other allergens. The Safety 1st Ultrasonic 360, a CR Best Buy, $30, is designed for 330-square-foot areas. The pricier Air-O-Swiss A0S7135, $170, and Vicks V4500, $65, can cover more space and have a humidistat that automatically shuts them off when they reach a set level. (For other models, you can buy a hygrometer for about $20 that can show you levels.)

Decide on mist. Among recommended models, the Air-O-Swiss A0S7135, $170, and Sunpentown SU-4010, $90, can produce cool or warm mist. The Vicks V745A, $45, uses a heating element to create steam and kill bacteria and other microbes as the water is heated. But steam models can pose scalding risks; CR recommends keeping them away from children.

Don’t buy solely by type. Ultrasonic humidifiers are quiet because they trade the usual fan for a vibrating nebulizer. Evaporative models blow air over a wet wick, and impeller models produce mist using a rotating disc. But performance varied widely for all types.

Keep it clean. The Sharper Image HD10, $55, features “Clean Mist Technology’’ that’s supposed to “prevent microbial growth on the surface of the water tank.’’ But CR’s tests revealed plenty of bacteria inside. That’s why regular maintenance is critical for all humidifiers; that typically includes changing the water daily and disinfecting the tank weekly.

Consumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.

C onsumer Reports writes columns, reviews, and ratings on cars, appliances, electronics, and other consumer goods. Previous stories can be found at consumerreports.org.