Air Purifiers Vs. Humidifiers for Baby: What’s the Difference and Which Do I Need?


If you’re new to parenting, or if you’re new to air purifiers and all the other machines out there that help with air quality, then odds are you’ve at least heard of an air purifier or a humidifier.

What’s equally as likely is that you’re wondering which machine is better, what the difference between them are, and probably what they do too.

Let me just answer those questions right off the bat, first off, what’s the difference?

Air purifiers work to clean the air in your home and the baby’s nursery, humidifiers add moisture to the air in the room they are in. Neither machine replaces the capabilities of the other–they actually work pretty well together–but you might not need both machines. It all depends on what the air in your home is like.

And, while I talk about how you might need both machines, I can’t help but mention that there are some air purifiers out there that can do both the job of an air purifier and a humidifier.

One such air purifier is something called a water-based air purifier (also called air revitalizer). These particular air purifiers just use water to clean the air, which is pretty cool and might seem a lot cleaner and safer to people who might be hesitant to rely on a filter made in some factory somewhere. More on all of that later.

If you’d like to learn more about water-based air purifiers for babies, check out this article: Should I Get a Water-Based Air Purifier for My Baby?

Other such units have both your usual air purifier and a humidifier built into one machine. These air purifiers will doa better job for you and your family, but it can be cheaper and more effective to still buy two separate machines.

But, with all of that said, let me get back to the matter at hand: what’s the difference?

Differences Between Dehumidifiers and Air Purifiers (And What That Means for Babies)

What’s the Benefit?Air PurifierHumidifier
Help With Sleep?YesYes
Help With Dry Skin?NoYes
Help With Congestion?YesYes
Help With Allergens?YesNo
Help With DustYesNo
Clean the Air?YesNo
Add Humidity?NoYes

As you can tell from the above list, there are a few things that both air purifiers and humidifiers help with, but there are several things that one can do that the other can’t.

Once again, I have to point out that these machines are not the same, which I’m sure you know and have put together. Each machine has its place, and, because they’re so different, there’s a good chance that you might benefit from having both machines.

Air purifiers are great at cleaning the air. they can pull all sorts of things out of it that you don’t want to breathe and that your baby shouldn’t be breathing. The best air purifiers for you and your baby should have activated carbon filters in addition to HEPA filters in order to give you the cleanest possible air. Doing so will allow your air purifier to get rid of particles that can be harmful or dangerous and also clean the air of dangerous gasses like VOCs and radon too!

Humidifiers, unlike air purifiers, can work to reduce “physical discomforts” brought on by air that’s too dry, including itchy throat and eyes, dry nose, dry skin, and more, according to the EPA. As I’m sure you know, that’s pretty stinking obvious, of course, wetter air makes everything a bit wetter and gets rid of at least some problems brought on by dryness.

Long story short, air purifiers and humidifiers can both help babies and the positive impacts that they bring might mean that you should get both.

Why Do Air Purifiers Matter for Babies?

I’m sure there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that clean air is important to a healthy life. If you do doubt that, then just know that the EPA agrees with me by saying that bad stuff in the air can adversely impact one’s health.

Which leads me to some pretty bad news, the air inside of our homes can be all sorts of dirty, according to the CDC. How much dirtier? Try 2 to 5 times dirtier. But that’s not the half of it, in some cases, the EPA found indoor air to be 100 times dirtier than outdoor air on several occasions, which is pretty stinking dirty.

Something interesting that people might not be as aware of, however, is that infants, toddlers, (and even children,) are at increased risk of being adversely affected by dirty air. Why? Well, a lot of it boils down to the fact that their lungs have not yet fully developed. (Interestingly enough, air pollution has even been found to hurt children while they are still in the womb too, according to the American Lung Association.)

Some people wonder if air purifiers are safe for babies, which I address in this article. As you have probably put together, air purifiers are very safe for your child, and they can make the air they are breathing even safer for them to breathe.

The fact that an air purifier can take air that’s 100 times dirtier than the air outside and potentially make it just as clean, if not cleaner, than the air outside is astounding, and that’s something that an air purifier can do for you and your family.

Which Machine Will Improve the Air Quality for My Baby, Air Purifier or Humidifier?

Air purifiers and humidifiers are both great options for people who want to get the best quality air that they can get for their children, but they are anything but the same. Both address very different air quality problems.

So, which one is better?

photo of baby laying on bed

Well, it’s hard to decisively say which is better for sure, but I’d say that more people could probably benefit from having an air purifier for their baby. Why? Well, all the particles and pollutants in the air can make life hard for anyone–and babies are especially prone to suffering from them.

However, people who really need humidifiers because the air in their home is so dry will be able to notice more of an improvement in their baby’s health and sleep patterns, which makes the humidifier a better option for them.

And people who live in cities or in areas that have wildfires will see a greater positive impact by using an air purifier with an activated carbon filter in their baby’s room because those air purifiers can get rid of bad smells, smoke, and all the pollution that makes the air harder for them to breathe.

But then there are the people in the middle who have a healthy humidity level in their home and don’t have too much pollution or particles in their home. They don’t need either machine, right?

Wrong. (Probably.)

Regardless of how clean you think your home’s air is, odds are it’s still dirtier than the air outside. You’ve probably just gotten used to the bad smells, dust, and other pollutants in your home’s air over the years. In essence, you’ve gone “nose-blind” to it and can’t detect it.

Your baby, on the other hand, hasn’t gotten used to it yet. Because of this, they might have a stuffy nose, a hard time sleeping through the night, a wheezy breath, or possibly something that you can’t easily notice.

And that’s all just what an air purifier can help to address, air humidifiers are a totally different story.

If you think that your home’s humidity is good enough for your baby, then there’s a pretty good chance that it is. If not, then it might be just outside of the 30 to 50 percent humidity that the EPA recommends. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies need air that’s between 40 and 60 percent humidity, which is wetter than what you might be used to.

No, it won’t be the end of the world if you’re a bit lower than that, but there are reasons why newborns need wetter air. (A word of caution, don’t let your home’s air get too wet though, problems can arise then!)

But, besides the fact that babies need wetter air than we might, there’s one other reason why you might still need a humidifier.

In fact, it’s the reason why a lot of people across the US have humidifiers.

Humidifiers can help when you have a cold.

High humidity can help to break up head colds and get rid of bad congestion. Because babies almost exclusively breathe through their noses (unless their nasal passages are blocked, according to Healthline), the impact of congestion is much worse felt for them. A good humidifier can alleviate their symptoms.

If you’d like to read up some more on baby congestion, check out this article: New Parent Air Purifier: Air Purifiers for Baby Congestion. In it, I talk about air purifiers and humidifiers and how they can help your child’s congestion.

What’s the Difference in How Air Purifiers and Humidifiers Work?

Air purifiers mostly rely on something called “mechanical filtration” where a solid filter has air pulled through it. Those solid particulates are captured as they pass through which makes it so the air that has passed through is cleaner.

The best mechanical filter that you can get that’s pretty easy to find is called a HEPA filter. HEPA filters can capture things as small as viruses and even smoke particles and are 99.97% effective at capturing things as small as .3 microns. However, there are some HEPA filters out there that can get even smaller things than that!

Meanwhile, air humidifiers add things to the air rather than take them out. In most cases, the only thing that a humidifier adds to the air is water vapor. That being said, some people use humidifiers as essential oil diffusers as well, which is something they are very good at.

There are two main types of humidifiers that you’ll see out there: ultrasonic and evaporative. There are, of course, other ones out there besides these, but those are the main ones that you’ll see.

When you’re getting an air humidifier for your baby, cool mist, or ultrasonic, are the way to go. These are safer, since your child won’t run the risk of being burned by the hot steam that come out of evaporative humidifiers that boil the water.

Ultrasonic (cool mist) humidifiers don’t boil the water with heat, they just use vibration to create their mist!

Results of How Air Purifiers and Humidifiers Work

Because these machines are so different they do very different things. Air purifiers can’t make the air more humid (they actually dry the air out slightly). And humidifiers can’t get rid of dust, dander, spores, smoke, or anything else like that.

And that’s why there’s a good chance that you need both machines. The fact they both do such different things and that there are so many things that could be wrong with your air means that both machines can do a lot to help you and your baby.

And, while I’m talking about air purifiers, allow me to talk a little bit more about activated carbon filters.

Activated carbon filters are made of specially made charcoal or carbon and they are used to filter the actual air that passes through your air purifier. Because of this, they can capture gasses and not just solid particles like a HEPA filter.

The net result of how carbon filters work is that they are great at removing odors (like diaper smells), smoke, and gasses that have ill health effects like VOCs. And, since a lot of cleaning products that you have to use to take care of and clean up after your child release VOCs, an activated carbon filter is a must.

With all of that said, allow me to lay it all out on a little table to make things prettier. (Yes, I’m showing you another table!)

Air PurifiersHumidifiers
What They DoCapture pollutants, germs, and allergens from the air.
Activated Carbon air purifiers also remove odors and gasses.
Increase moisture content in the area around them via a warm or cool mist.
Pros• Less risk of allergy flare-ups when indoors
• Better sleep (for you and the baby)
• Less odors
• Less congestion
• Helps alleviate dry skin issues
• Can lessen the risk of allergy flare-ups
Cons• Filters can be costly
• The wrong air purifier can create ozone, which is especially bad for babies.
• Can allow for mold and bacterial growth to take hold if used improperly
Best For:• Urban areas
• Areas with pollution
• Areas with wildfires, heavy dust, and/or heavy pollen
• Dry/arid climates (like high deserts, deserts, and tundras)
• Winter use when humidity drops
• Cold season
Essential Oil Diffusion (Aromatherapy)Yes, but not all air purifiers allow for thisYes, but not all humidifiers allow for this

Now, this is obviously a very simple representation of everything that air purifiers and humidifiers can do, but this table should give you a good idea of what they are both capable of and what they’re good at.

Do I Need a Humidifier or a Dehumidifier for My Baby?

If you’ve made it this far, then I’m sure you know (or at least have a good idea of) which machine you need. Or, if you’re like me, then you’ve opted to get both.

And, again, let me say that you might not use your humidifier all year. I don’t, and I know plenty of people who don’t.

However, air purifiers are great and you can/should use them all year. There aren’t really any downsides to letting them run all the time.

With all of that said, here’s a list of the three best humidifiers and air purifiers for your baby.

The 3 Best Air Purifiers and Humidifiers for Babies

Just a heads up, the first option is just an air purifier, the second is just a humidifier, and the third is a very interesting hybrid unit called a water-based air purifier. More on that further on!

1. Levoit Air Purifier

This is by far my favorite air purifier out there, especially at its price bracket. This air purifier is priced very competitively when compared to other air purifiers as good as it and is made for rooms as large as it can take care of.

I’ve been using this air purifier in my own room for several years now and absolutely love it.

And, admittedly, I’m a complete penny-pincher, which is something that this air purifier caters to. How does it do that? Well, first off, it isn’t too much money. Second off, its replacement filters aren’t too much money either. But those aren’t the big reasons I love it for. The best part (as I see it) is that you can clean and then reuse the filters–that means you don’t have to buy new filters.

To clean them, just vacuum them out on the side with the pre-filter. I’ve got an article on that, so you can check that out when the time comes for you to clean or replace your filter (the light on it goes red when it’s ready).

In addition to really working well for my cheapskate habits, this air purifier has two great HEPA fitlers that capture 99.97% of particles .3 microns and larger. And, thanks to this air purifier’s activated carbon filter, it’s great at capturing odors too.

And, to top all of that off, this air purifier also has an essential oil “sponge” on top that you can add essential oils to and have diffused all around your room. Most air purifiers don’t offer that, which is something I like with this one. I don’t use that capability often, but I like it when I do.

In addition to all of that, this air purifier has a bedtime setting that turns off its light (after a few seconds) and makes it run quieter, which can be nice if your baby needs complete silence. Personally, I run it on high 24/7 and like the bit of white noise it makes when it’s on high for when I sleep.

This air purifier is made for bedrooms and other rooms that are 161 square feet and smaller.

Order it on Amazon here.

2. Honeywell Humidifier

Here’s my all-time favorite humidifier, and it’s great for use basically everywhere. Admittedly I might be a bit jaded since it was my first cool mist humidifier, but it really is an amazing unit and it helps clear up my own congestion as an adult.

As with the Levoit air purifier on this list, this humidifier is a good price and is very affordable. It’s cheaper than a lot of the competition and it works great.

In addition to that, this humidifier also doubles as an oil diffuser, like the Levoit air purifier, which is pretty cool! Something of note, however, you’re supposed to add the oils to the pullout below the dial and not to the actual water. (Also, this also comes in black, but the picture with it in white looked better on my site.)

The dial on this humidifier allows you to set how much mist comes out of it, which allows you to more carefully monitor and manage the humidity in your baby’s room and in your home at large. This si something I especially like about this unit, since a lot of machines don’t have that option.

And, as I mentioned earlier, cool mist humidifiers should be the only humidifier you choose for use around your baby. This unit fits the bill, so that’s another reason why it’s great for any nursery.

If you like this humidifier, then you can pick it up on Amazon here.

3. Jaclean Air Revitalizer (Air Purifier and Humidifier in One)

As promised, here’s a water-based air purifier. I’ve had one of these for a few years now, and I still think that they’re incredibly neat.

Before I share all the pros about this unit, I want to address the cons first:

  1. It is not as good at cleaning the air or as good at humidifying the air as the above two options. It mostly just makes the air feel “fresher” and it only adds a bit of humidity and only captures bigger things and dust out of the air.
  2. It needs its water changed and needs to be cleaned a lot more often than an actual air purifier.
  3. It has a light that changes color that you can’t turn off.

With all of that said, I want to point out that I really do like this thing. I know it doesn’t sound that way, but I do. I’ve bought several of these, and use them for all sorts of things.

Water based air purifiers (also called air revitalizers) clean the air while also adding just a bit of humidity to the air in the process. They’re made to make the air feel a bit fresher, and they do an amazing job at it–there are very few things like it!

In addition to that, water-based air purifiers like this can double as oil diffusers and they’re REALLY good at that. This is my favorite thing to diffuse oils in. It’s better at diffusing oils than the Levoit air purifier, but not quite as good as the Honeywell humidifier. Something that this does have going for it, though, is that it seems to diffuse the oil over a longer period of time. (This air revitalizer comes with three scents, all of which are pretty good!)

This is a great unit for a bedroom, nursery, or playroom, but the light may make it difficult to sleep with for your baby.

Personally, I recommend buying both the Levoit and Honeywell if you want the best possible results, but this really is a cool machine and was worth mentioning on the top three list! It’s also a chunk less than the other two, which may be a selling point for some.

If you’d like to pick this unit up, you can find it on Amazon here.

Conclusion

In conclusion, air purifiers and humidifiers are two very different machines and using both in your baby’s nursery can be very helpful depending on your circumstances.

Of course, you don’t have to get and use both. Some people can get along fine with one or the other. Some people opt for water-based air purifiers. Some people buy really expensive machines they’ll never fully utilize as well–there’s no need to spend a hundred dollars for just one machine, which is something some bloggers recommend.

I hope I was able to shed some light on this for all of you, and I hope this article helped a lot. Thanks for spending your time on my site and, if you still have any questions, feel free to check out some of my related articles below.

What is a Water Based Air Purifier? | The Pros & Cons of Water Air Revitalizers

How Well do Water-Based Air Purifiers Work?

Should I Get a Water-Based Air Purifier for My Baby?

Air Purifiers Vs. Humidifiers for Baby: What’s the Difference?

New Parent Air Purifier: Are Air Purifiers Safe for Babies?

New Parent Air Purifier: Air Purifiers for Baby Congestion

Jonathon Silva

Jonathan Silva is our longtime Air Purifier Essentials author. He has been writing on air purification technologies for his entire professional career.

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