How to use a humidifier for babies

My baby has a cold - what do I do?

It's the middle of the night, and you hear it: the cry of your baby with accompanying cough and congestion. Since cough and cold medicines are no longer considered appropriate for babies, you'll need to consider other drug-free options for easing your little one's discomfort. A humidifier may just be the answer.

How to use a humidifier for babies

Why a humidifier?

A humidifier works with the body's natural mechanisms by emitting cool or lukewarm moisture into the air, which is naturally soothing to the airways, making it easier to breathe and manage congestion. This is especially beneficial to babies, as their airways are small and are easily irritated and are easily clogged with congestion. While a humidifier will not prevent an illness, it can certainly help ease your baby's symptoms while the illness runs its course.

Other benefits:

  • Helps to keep humidity levels at 30-50 percent as suggested by the Mayo Clinic
  • Offers relief from asthma
  • ​Soothing to dry skin and dry eyes
  • ​Relieves dry sinus cavities
  • ​Eases respiratory allergies
  • Soothes dry, chapped lips

Options amongst humidifiers

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  • Warm mist or cool mist?

While warm mist humidifiers (or "vaporizers") are considered useful for older populations, they are not recommended for use with young children according to the American Academy of Pediatrics due to the risk of scalding. Additionally, the warm steam can quickly create an uncomfortable, stuffy environment in a room, and the vaporizer unit is more prone to mold and bacteria growth. Cool mist humidifiers are considered to be a safe and effective alternative.

  • What size?

Choose a humidifier that will meet your needs. A wide variety of sizes are available, from mini especially suited for travel to whole house/apartment units suited to humidify every last bit of square footage in your home.

  • Other considerations?

A central humidifier connects to your heating and air system in your home or apartment and provides moisture to air throughout the entire home. This type of humidifier, whether the larger version of the smaller unit styles that uses a water tank or the type that connects to your water, is an investment in the air quality throughout the home and is beneficial for your baby and everyone else in the home. Check with your heating and air professional if you're interested in this type of installation.

Room humidifiers generally operate via ultrasonic vibrations, rotating disks, or fans that blow air through a wet wick, filter, or belt. Variations in colors and styles are available -- you may even be able to find a humidifier that matches your baby's nursery. Available colors include pink, yellow, green, and the standard blue, as well as pastel colors, and available styles include cows, pigs, monkeys, owls, frogs, and even Hello Kitty. Humidifiers range from large, bulky shapes to sleek, teardrop shapes with everything in between.

Some humidifiers come prepackaged with the option to add menthol, essential oils, and other types of aromatherapy. We advise that you check with your baby's pediatrician before using these types of aromatherapy, especially if your baby has a respiratory condition such as asthma.

How to use a humidifier

  • First, wash or rinse the humidifier according to the package's instructions.
  • Insert the filter as applicable.
  • ​Next, select the room or space in which you'd like to set up the humidifier.
  • ​Select an area within the room you've chosen. If you've chosen your baby's bedroom, be sure that you place the humidifier completely out of the baby's reach; e.g., several feet away from the crib while he or she is sleeping.
  • ​Place the unit on a sturdy surface at least 6 inches from the wall or as indicated by the package's instructions.
  • ​Remove the reservoir.
  • ​Fill the reservoir with cool water to the line indicated and replace in the unit.
  • ​Plug the unit into a wall outlet.
  • ​Allow several minutes to pass. You should be able to see the water vapor filling the room and should be able to feel the difference in the air.

Tips to remember when setting up:

  • Always follow the instructions included with your unit.
  • Many units have a removable reservoir, but some do not. Check your package's instructions for clarification.
  • ​Clean the unit regularly according to the package's instructions. This is important in preventing the buildup of mold and bacteria growth, which can be harmful to your baby.
  • If your baby is mobile and is able to climb out of the crib, consider installing a central humidifier which is built within the central heating and air system and humidifies the entire home. This will benefit the whole family and eliminates the risk of a mobile infant or toddler accidentally knocking over a smaller unit humidifier.


If your humidifier doesn't seem to be working properly, try the following:

  • Check to make sure your unit came with all required parts and that each part is properly fitted.
  • Visually inspect the unit for any damage; e.g., cracks, chips, and/or holes.
  • ​Ensure that you filled the reservoir with water to the area indicated.
  • ​Thoroughly clean the unit as indicated on the instructions to remove debris.
  • ​If your unit is still not working properly, check to see if your unit came with a manufacturer's warranty and/or contact number. Contact the manufacturer for further assistance.

Additionally, we recommend purchasing a hygrometer so you may check the humidity levels in your home. A hygrometer looks similar to that of a thermometer and is available for purchase in local hardware and department stores.

  • Some humidifiers come with an automatic output setting while others may be manually adjusted to fit your needs. Depending on the environment in which you live, the season, and the changes in weather on a given day, you may need less output or more output in order to reach the recommended level of 30-50% humidity in the home.
  • During the winter months, homes often reach as low as 10% humidity due to the cool, dry air outside and the hot, dry air being pushed into the home through the heating system. A low level of humidity such as this can cause nosebleeds, dry out skin, and can aggravate respiratory conditions.

Using a cool mist humidifier is an excellent way to safely and effectively treat the symptoms of your baby's cough and cold. Humidifiers are a great benefit for everyone in the home!