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Humidifier vs. Air Purifier—What’s the Difference?

Looking to improve your indoor air quality during cold and flu season? Humidifiers and air purifiers may both have a role to play in minimizing exposure to viruses and bacteria and increasing comfort levels. There are some important differences, though. Here's what you need to know.

What's the difference?

A humidifier adds moisture to the indoor air, for example by boiling water into steam or evaporating water with a wick and a fan. In dry climates, or during the dry winter months, increasing the humidity of the indoor air can have several health benefits:1

  • It can relieve dry skin, cracked lips and a dry throat.
  • It can prevent bloody noses caused by dry air.
  • It can relieve sinus congestion and sinus headaches.
  • Humid air may make breathing easier if you do get sick.
  • Many types of viruses may be less likely to spread in humid air.2

An air purifier has an entirely different function: It cleans the air3 by removing or inactivating pollutants, such as viruses, bacteria, pollen, dust, smoke, pet dander, odors and toxins. Air purifiers work by drawing room air through a series of filters, trapping pollutants inside the device, and releasing the cleaner air.

The health benefits of using an air purifier depend on what kind of indoor pollutants you might have—but they're a great idea for pet owners, allergy sufferers, anyone sensitive to mold, and people who are concerned about viruses and bacteria in the air. (SoClean's Air Purifier4 is up to 3,000 times more effective than HEPA standards, eliminating up to 99.99999 percent of airborne viruses and bacteria* before you breathe them in.)

Tips for getting the best results

Maintenance is important for both kinds of devices:

  • Humidifiers: A dirty humidifier can allow mold or bacteria to be released into the air, so the units must be regularly cleaned and maintained. A humidifier should be turned off and thoroughly cleaned about once a week,5 experts say, with distilled white vinegar or chlorine bleach. Wicks should be rotated and replaced according to manufacturer guidelines, and any filters replaced every 30 to 60 days.
  • Air purifiers: To keep an air purifier at peak effectiveness, follow the manufacturer guidelines about replacing filters. Some of the filters can also be vacuumed to remove dust and extend their lives.

A portable humidifier can be placed wherever you think you need it most—perhaps in the living room to increase everyone's daily comfort or in the bedroom of someone suffering from sinus issues.

The same goes for an air purifier: You might want to place it where you spend the most time, near the kitchen where it can clean the air of cooking odors, or in the bedroom of someone who is sick. With a portable unit like SoClean's, you can also easily move it around with you throughout the day. And depending on the size of your house and your needs, you may want more than one!

Can you use them both at once?

It's wintertime, the house is mostly closed up, the heat is running constantly, and it's cold and flu season? Yes, there are lots of reasons you might want to use both a humidifier and an air purifier in your home right now.

And there's no reason you can't have both running at once; just don't place them too closely together. The moisture in the area, within a few feet of the humidifier, could interfere with the effectiveness of an air purifier filter and encourage the growth of mold and bacteria.

Finally, note that while you can't over-purify your indoor air, you can over-humidify it! Keep your humidity level in a range of 35 to 45 percent6 to get health benefits without encouraging condensation that can damage windows, or the growth of mold and mildew.

* Viruses and bacteria are based on Staphylococcus aureus and ꚛX174 bacteriophage data. To see all data for allergens, viruses, bacteria, mold and dust, visit our test results page here.


  1. "Humidifiers and Health," by Kristeen Moore, Healthline, updated April 2020. 
  2. "Humidity plays a role in seasonal spread of viruses. Will the same go for Covid-19?" by Alexandra Ossola, Quartz, April 2020. 
  3. "Residential Air Cleaners: A Technical Summary" Environmental Protection Agency, July 2018. 
  4. SoClean Air Purifier
  5. "How to Clean a Humidifier, According to Cleaning and Home Care Experts," by Caroline Picard, Good Housekeeping, May 2020. 
  6. "How to Maintain Proper Humidity Levels in Your Home," by Mariette Mifflin, The Spruce, October 2019. 

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