Last Updated: Apr 6, 2023 @ 4:20 pm.

What's the best vaporizer? And what is a vaporizer anyway? How does it differ from humidifiers? We'll answer those questions and recommend the best bets for vaporizers.

FYI: We've been reviewing and rating products for the home and families since 1994. We don't take money or freebies from the brands we review. Our work is 100% reader-supported!

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Best Steam Vaporizer

Tried and True
It isn't fancy to look at, but this steam vaporizer gets the job done—easy to clean and set up. Large capacity tank can last through the night. Auto shut-off and medicine cup are helpful features.

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Best Steam Vaporizer: Vicks Warm Steam Vaporizer with Nightlight

Let’s talk the best vaporizers. And just what is a vaporizer—and what about combination humidifier and vaporizers?

All humidifiers turn water into water vapor. Most humidifiers are cold mist—they either use a fan to blow water over a filter (evaporative humidifiers) or ultrasonic waves to create tiny water droplets (ultrasonic humidifiers).

But there is another way to create water vapor—vaporizers and warm mist humidifiers heat the water to a boiling temperature, turning it into water vapor. 

The big difference between warm mist units and vaporizers: vaporizers typically have a place to add medicine (liquids or scented pads). Warm mist humidifiers don’t.

It is rare today to have a doctor recommend a medicine be vaporized in a vaporizer for a sick child. If a child has asthma, they typically use a nebulizer—these create vapor, but without the heat.

And we should point out a key safety tip: it is dangerous to overheat a nursery or child’s room. There’s no need to turn it into a swampy version of the Bahamas in August.

That said, some folks still like vaporizers to diffuse essential oils (for adults) or over-the-counter menthol-scented pads. As always, you should consult with a doctor before using any over-the-counter medicine in a vaporizer if your child has congestion.

One last note: some cool mist humidifiers also call themselves “vaporizers.” In this context, they typically mean humidifiers that can take water mixed with essential oils and diffuse that into the air.

Vicks is probably the most famous brand when it comes to steam vaporizers and vaporized over-the-counter medicated pads (VapoPads) or liquid (VapoSteam).

And after trying out various vaporizers and surveying our parent readers, we ended up picking Vick’s Warm Steam Vaporizer as the best steam vaporizer. Yes, it is a tried and true . . . nothing fancy to look at, but gets the job done! Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Easy to clean.

• Affordable.

• Easy to set up.

• Large 1.5 gallon tank lasts for 18-24 hours, says the maker—but your mileage may vary. In real world tests, we think this steam vaporizer can last for 8-10 hours, but it depends on how the dry the air is to start with.

• Medicine cup.

• Green night light on top.

• Also works with Vick’s own VapoPads as well as liquids.

What Needs Work

• Not recommended for use with essential oils.

• Soft water can cause problems. Vicks recommends you add 1-2 pinches of salt to tap water, if you have soft water. If you don’t add salt, the unit may not produce as much steam as expected.

• Caution: warm mist humidifiers can cause burn injuries, so never put in an area accessible by children. Also: never overheat a baby or child’s room. Use a thermometer and humidity gauge to make sure the temperature doesn’t rise above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. And the humidity should stay at 50% or lower.

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Best Waterless Vaporizer

Includes 5 scent pads
Loved this simple, but effective vaporizer that works like a plug-in air freshener. Put in a scent pad, plug it in and voila! It just works. No cleaning, no hassle. Caveat: night light a bit bright.

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Best Waterless Vaporizer:  Vicks Waterless Vaporizer

And now for something different: a vaporizer that works without water.

Most water-based vaporizers are convenient, but many suffer a major drawback: they need to be cleaned frequently. That’s because minerals in tap water collect in the unit . . . and if not cleaned, they can lead to bacteria, mold and other nasty stuff.

Sure, you can use distilled water in a vaporizer . . . but that costs extra money.

What if you could just have a vaporizer work like one of those plug-in air fresheners? That’s the concept behind Vicks’ Waterless Vaporizer. You plug it in and it heats a scent pad to provide vapor. No water needed. Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Compact.

• Works for up to 24 hours.

• Includes a night light.

• Affordable.

• 3 levels of vapor.

What Needs Work

• Refill scent pads can get expensive.

• Not for use with essential oils.

• Night light is too bright, in our opinion.

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Best Cool Mist Vaporizer

Works all night
An excellent quality vaporizer, this model worked well in our tests. Special chamber for essential oils is nice touch. Simple controls are easy to use.

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Best Cool Mist Vaporizer: LEVOIT Humidifiers for Bedroom

For the best traditional cool mist vaporizer, we recommend this model by Levoit—good quality, nice capacity tank and quiet. To vaporize essential oils there is a special chamber at the base of the unit. Impressive design. Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Quiet! On our decibel meter test, this humidifier registered just 39 decibels. That’s very quiet, slightly higher than the background noise in the room at 35 decibels.

• Good capacity tank = 25 hour run time on low setting, says the maker. 

• Aromatherapy tray.

• Auto-shut-off.

• Display lights turn off after 30 seconds.

• Humidistat adjusts mist level.

• Simple controls.

What Needs Work

• Can be challenging to clean especially when used with essential oils, in our opinion. Unfortunately, this is an issue for many cool mist vaporizers . . . they require quite a bit of cleaning effort!

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. We do extensive research, evaluating products with an eye toward quality, ease of use and affordability.

Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Our work is 100% reader-supported!

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