Closeup of humidifier with family in background When your child has a cough and congestion, offering them relief can be difficult — especially if they're too young to take an over-the-counter cough medicine. One safe suggestion you’re likely to hear from your pediatrician: more moisture. Adding moisture to the air in your home can help ease congestion, calm a sore throat and alleviate a cough.

But with so many humidifier and vaporizer options lining drugstore shelves, which should you choose?

Difference between humidifiers and vaporizers

Humidifiers use cool water to create a fine mist or spray that is released into the air. Vaporizers first boil water and then release the steam. While both are effective in adding humidity to the air, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the use of a cool mist humidifier. Vaporizers can cause burns if your child gets too close to the steam or accidentally knocks over a device filled with hot water.

Choosing the right humidifier

With that decision made, here are some other tips for choosing the right humidifier for your family and using it properly during cold and flu season:

  • Choose one that’s the right size for your child’s room. A humidifier that’s too large for the room can create condensation, which could cause bacteria and mold to form. Humidifiers are rated for coverage area in square footage. Measure the room the humidifier will be used in to determine what size device you need.
  • Make sure not to place the humidifier directly next to your child or their bed/crib. Keeping some distance (around 3 feet) between the humidifier and your child will ensure their safety.
  • Look for a model with an automatic shut-off feature. Should the water reservoir run dry, you’ll want the device to turn off automatically.
  • Use filtered or distilled water in your humidifier. Tap water contains many minerals that can provide a breeding ground for microorganisms inside your humidifier.
  • Keep your unit very clean! Clean your humidifier every two to three days of operation and before storing it for the season. For most devices, you should soak the tank and all parts that are exposed to water in a 10 percent bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water). You should also empty the water tank and dry interior surfaces every time you turn off the machine, and add fresh water every day.

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