Air Purifiers vs Humidifiers: Which Will Help Most, And Why

Researched & Written by Craig

There’s something wrong with the air.

You can feel it. You can feel yourself getting frequently irritated. Is that sore throat due to allergies or dry air? Now that you think about it, hasn’t the air been feeling a bit uncomfortable for a while now? What’s going on?

Poor air quality in our homes will always cause irritation. Whether that’s dry air that’s affecting your eyes and throat, or allergens causing irritation reactions – it’s torture not being comfortable in our own home. That’s where air purifiers and humidifiers come in.

But which is better? The answer depends on the case (each is covered below). Air purifiers clean the air from allergens and irritants, while humidifiers solve dry air issues like sore throats and headaches. You can use both at the same time, but understanding your issues will tell which will be more helpful.

The Quick Answer

As one of our (super-smart and good-looking) readers, I know you’ve got plenty on your schedule. So here’s a brief summary of the answer to Air Purifiers vs Humidifiers.

These are different tools that solve different problems.

Air purifiers remove irritants from the air. Humidifiers soothe dry air by adding moisture to it.

The best way to know which will help most is based on the symptoms you’re seeing. I’ve summarized these in the table below.

Symtoms Helped By
Air PurifiersHumidifiers
AllergiesIrritated Throat
DustinessIrritated Sinuses
Asthma IssuesAsthma Issues
Bad OdorsHeadaches
Smoke IssuesTiredness

If you need cleaner air, get an air purifier. If you’re suffering from dry air, get a humidifer. Can you use both at the same time? Of course!

Want to know more? Read on for an in-depth review and comparison of both options.

Air Purifiers & Humidifiers: An Overview

Before we dive into the recommendations for each case, it’s important to understand what each of these appliances actually do.

What Does An Air Purifier Do?

While we spend 90% of our time indoors, the air in our homes can be home to plenty of irritants. Some common examples:

  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Smoke
  • Pet Dander
  • & Other Allergens (Pollen)

There’s no time in the year that these are worse than in winter. Our windows stay closed, we’re pulling winter jumpers out of old cupboards, and we’re starting up dusty heating systems. As a result, we can suffer from asthma symptoms, allergy discomfort, plain old bad odors, or even just dusty furniture!

Air Purifiers are made to solve this.

They ‘purify’ the air trapping and holding on to the irritants. This is either done using filters, or an electrostatic trap which charges the particle and causes them to stick to a filter – like a magnet. There’s nothing more to them than that.

For best results, make sure to find one with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particular Air) filter. These are the finest filters with super-thin fiberglass threads. They capture all sizes of particles down to 0.3 microns due to the zig-zag pattern of the threads eventually connecting and sticking the particle.

Tip: You want to look for ‘True HEPA’ in the name. Any other mention of HEPA doesn’t guarantee they meet the high standards to be certified (blocking 99.7% of particles down to 0.3 mirons; which is 0.003 millimeters!). Make sure it’s exactly ‘True HEPA’.

What does a Humidifier Do?

No big explanation needed here – humidifiers simply add moisture to the air. This increases the relative humidity of the air we’re breathing, which will stop irritations that dry air causes. Including:

  • Sore throats
  • Headaches
  • Dry Sinuses
  • Dry Skin / Cracked Lips
  • Even catalyzing respiratory issues

What Causes Dry Air In A House?

You may have heard that warm air can ‘hold’ more water than cold air. Let me explain fully:

Water in the air is made up of tiny molecules. These zip around, and get faster when the temperature is warmer, and slower then it’s colder. When it’s too cold, they will condense back into liquid water.

Naturally, warm air tends to have a lot more of these water molecules zipping around, because they’re moving too fast to become liquid. On the other hand, cold air has a lot less, since much of the water molecules turn back into a liquid.

When we take cool air inside our homes and heat it, this warm air feels ‘dry’ because it’s got no new water molecules in it. We take the small quantity of water from cool air, and heat it up. So while normal warm air has a ton of water, air that’s been heated doesn’t. This is why it gets super dry. And this is what a humidifier solves.

Air Purifiers vs Humidifiers – Different Situations

As I mentioned above, the appliance that’s going to help you the most will depend on your situation. To help, I’ve outlined the answer for each of the most common symptoms or scenarios below.

Air Purifiers vs Humidifiers for Sinus

While there can be many causes of sinus issues, humidifiers are a known solution when aggravated sinuses are brought on over winter.

Dry air can dry out our sinuses, which (delightfully) causes issues with mucus production. This can then cause dry throat, nose, and mouth too (sound familiar?). A humidifier will replenish the relative humidity in the air, which will help our lovely nose systems to function as they should. Air purifiers may somewhat help mitigate the irritation, but ultimately a humidifer will likely help your sinuses the most.

Air Purifiers vs Humidifiers for a Baby

Although I’m an engineer, I’m no doctor – and I don’t want to play one on the internet. If your child is having issues, it’s far better to ask a doctor and not rely on Google!

If you must find a quick solution, then consider the other symptoms on this list. If your baby’s getting very congested, it’s a common solution to up the humidity in the air. Traditionally the solution is to nurse them in the bathroom with a ton of steam from a hot bath filling the air. A humidifier will help in the same way.

Air Purifiers vs Humidifiers for Asthma

Asthma can be brought on by both allergies/irritants and dry air. An air purifier will help with the first two, and a humidifier will help with dry air. In particular, dry air in winter aggravates asthma as it causes the natural fluids in your airways to evaporate quicker.

Any asthmatics who’ve gone for a run in cold weather can tell you just how bad it can be.

If asthma symptoms have started to appear as the temperatures gotten cooler – it’s likely due to dry air. Pick up a humidifer, and it should help. If you think it may be aggravated by allergens (i.e. pets, hayfever, or dust/mold), an air purifier may help with these.

Air Purifiers vs Humidifiers for Eczema

Eczema is brought on by the dryness of your skin, which is hugely exacerbated by dry air. A humidifier is the best option to help keep the air in your space sufficiently ‘wet’, and make sure that your skin doesn’t lose it’s moisture.

Air Purifiers vs Humidifiers for Dust

A build-up of dust is common on the approach to winter. We’re digging into old cupboards, firing up unused heating systems, and keeping windows locked. Air purifiers are a great help at handling this and keeping your air clean. It’s one of the functions they specialize in.

Air Purifiers vs Humidifiers for a Cough

An irritating cough is typically brought on by dry air causing havoc with the regular function of your respiratory system. Your throat is likely to dry out as the moisture in it evaporates, with irritation quickly following. A humidifier can be a great help with this, as well as making sure you stay hydrates.

Air Purifiers vs Humidifiers for Allergies & Hayfever

Allergies can be horrible to deal with, especially inside your own home. Air purifiers are specifically designed to help handle the pollutants in the air that start allergic reactions. Pet dander, pollen, dust, and even mold will get removed by a quality, True HEPA air purifier.

Air Purifiers vs Humidifiers for Snoring

Similar to other respiratory issues, snoring can be exacerbated by dry air – which can dry out your throat, nose, and cause congestion. These can cause your passages to swell up, which aggravates any snoring you (and your partner) have to suffer through. A humidifier will help replenish the moisture in the air – keeping your respiratory system nice and lubricated for better airflow.

Tips for Improving Air Quality.

While technology can be a great help towards solving our problems, sometimes the best solutions are things we can do ourselves.

Here’s a few tips to improve the air quality in your home without spending money on an appliance. Make sure to use these to make the most of (or instead of) an air quality product.

  • When you can, keep windows open for good airflow. This isn’t easy to do when it’s cold out, but even 15 minutes in the morning or mid-afternoon can help flush out pollutants. While some allergies come from outdoors, indoor air has 2-5x more irritants in it!
  • Try to keep tidy. I’m not saying be a neatfreak, but regularly vacuuming and dusting will help so much in keeping your air dust free.
  • Use a sealed, HEPA-certified vacuum. Cheaper ones often cough up a lot of small particles back into the air from within their own containers.
  • Keep a handle on regular maintenance and filter changing on your HVAC systems.
  • Be smart with your exhaust fans. Before cooking up a storm in the kitchen (or doing the opposite in the bathroom), put the exhaust fan on for a few minutes before you start and keep it on for a while afterwards.
  • If you’re using an air purifier or humidifier, keep the clean! Replace or wash out old filters and clean your humidifier’s tank around once a month or so. Don’t prevent them making clean air before they even begin!
  • Lastly, be mindful about how you’re producing irritants day-to-day. Have furry pets? Consider keeping them out of at least one room to preserve one good clean space. Avoid making smoke either on purpose (cigarettes, candles, or even fires) or accidentally (burning toast or overgrilling the bacon!)

Conclusion

The quality of air we breathe is a huge part of how comfortable we feel. While it’s often not even considered, it’s a key comfort factor that doesn’t take much effort to make the most out of.

I hope this guide has helped you understand what air purifiers and humidifiers do, what issues they can help you solve, and a few other tips about being air-quality conscious.

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Thank you, and have a great day!

-Craig