Should You Have a Humidifier in Your Baby's Room?

A humidifier can alleviate dry skin and congestion in babies. Here's what to know about safely using a humidifier in the nursery.

An image of a humidifier in a room.
Photo: Getty Images.

If you have a little one, you know that the onset of winter inevitably leads to dry skin, an uptick in viral illnesses, and stuffy nasal passages. A humidifier placed safely in your baby's room can be a real game changer when it comes to easing uncomfortable symptoms.

But are humidifiers safe for your baby? Are there any precautions to know, like how close a humidifier should be to the baby and what setting should you keep it on? It's wise to be on top of any potential issues, so keep reading for everything you need to know about using a humidifier in your baby's room.

How Do Humidifiers Help Babies?

Humidifiers convert water into steam, forcing it into the air through a spout. This process increases the moisture content of the air, and when that moist air is breathed in through the mouth or nose, it can help alleviate dryness in your airways.

The Benefits of Humidifiers for Babies

The benefits of humidifiers for babies include:

  • Alleviating dryness in the air
  • Keeping nasal passages moist, which reduces congestion 
  • Preventing dry skin
  • Creating soothing white noise 

"Humidifiers are helpful in infants' rooms when they have upper respiratory infections or when the air is very dry in the home—usually in the winter," says Jennifer Foersterling, M.D., a Washington University pediatrician at Premier Pediatrics in St. Louis. "The humidified air keeps the nasal passages moist and mucus less sticky," leading to easier breathing and often better sleep (always a cause for celebration!).

In addition, humidifiers can help ward off dry skin and keep eczema at bay. As an added bonus, some babies like the white noise that humidifiers give off.

Introducing a Humidifier to Your Baby’s Room

If you're considering putting a humidifier in your baby's room, the first step should be consulting the owner's manual. Each humidifier works a little differently, so it's best to know exactly how to operate yours.

Knowing the ins and outs of your device is also crucial for avoiding fire hazards. While there's less chance of fire with cool mist humidifiers over warm mist varieties, any time water and electrical cords are near one another, you want to use caution.

Secondly, consider talking to a pediatrician about using a humidifier. They can confirm it's a good choice or suggest alternatives to ease your baby's specific symptoms. But generally, a humidifier is a safe and effective way to help your infant sleep and breathe better, especially when those wintertime ickies start rearing their ugly heads.

Humidifier Safety Tips for Babies

There's a lot to learn if you're going to use a humidifier in your baby's room. Always carefully read and follow your model's instruction manual. In addition, here are some general humidifier safety tips to consider.

Prevent mold growth

Because they're constantly moist, humidifiers can harbor mold, which can grow inside the system and then be forced into the air in your baby's room when in use. "The conditions the humidifier can help manage are the same conditions that can be worsened if not properly maintained," explains Erum Ilyas, M.D., MBE, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

She recommends routine maintenance that includes taking apart the entire device, cleaning the basin, and maintaining filters. These steps will help avoid a buildup of mineral residue and mold.

In addition, Dr. Ilyas says that distilled water is better than tap water when it comes to filling your humidifier. "Tap water can have more minerals that can deposit or build up on the sides of a humidifier," says Dr. Ilyas. "These minerals can serve as breeding grounds for bacteria and mold to overgrow."

Eliminate scalding hazards

There are two types of humidifiers to choose from: cool mist and warm mist. Experts generally agree that cool mist options are superior to warm mist versions when it comes to using them for young children.

"Only cool mist humidifiers should be used, as warm mist vaporizers pose a scalding hazard if they accidentally get tipped over or touched," says Dr. Foersterling. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends using cool mist humidifiers for babies.

Prevent excessive dampness

Moisture in the air is good, but a damp and overly humid environment isn't what you're aiming for. High humidity can quickly lead to the growth of unwanted mold and mildew and can even damage wooden floors and furniture.

"While you do want the air to be humidified, it's important to check and make sure the room is not getting too wet," says Dr. Foersterling. Generally, it's OK to leave a humidifier on all night, so long as you monitor the room humidity and find it doesn't become excessively damp.

Think twice about unnecessary additives

It may be tempting to use essential oils in your child's humidifier in the hopes that it will further loosen those congested airways or provide some other added advantage. But in general, it's not necessary, says Dr. Foersterling. "It's unlikely to be of much additional benefit," she says.

How Close Should a Humidifier Be to Your Baby?

"The best place to put the vaporizer is far enough away that the mist does not land directly on the bed and infant, so at least 6 feet away," says Dr. Foersterling. It's also critically important to ensure the cord is tucked safely away so your little one can't grab it and pull the machine down. Placing the humidifier on a dresser across the room from your baby's crib and tucking the cord behind the furniture can help avoid both potential hazards.

Choosing the Best Humidifier for Your Baby

When looking for the best humidifier for your baby, experts at the Children's Hospital of Philidelphia recommend looking for a cool-mist model that meets the following criteria:

  • Is the appropriate size: Choose a humidifier that is the right size for your child's room. A humidifier that's too small won't adequately get the job done, but one that's too big can add too much moisture.
  • Has an automated shut-off: Look for a model with an automatic shut-off feature so the device automatically turns off when the tank is empty.
  • Easy-to-clean design: Given the importance of keeping your humidifier clean, opt for a humidifier that makes the job easy.

The bottom line is that if used correctly and according to safety guidelines and a pediatrician's advice, a humidifier can help you get through the winter without a stuffy-nosed baby. A bit of added moisture in the air may be all they need to drift off to sleep comfortably.

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