Is warm or cool mist humidifier better for sinuses?

Having dry air around for prolonged periods can lead to a range of health problems. One of these problems is sinusitis. When you breathe in dry air for prolonged periods, the mucus in your sinuses and nose does not flow properly; this prevents your sinuses from draining, leading to congestion and, consequently, sinus pain and sinusitis.

How can a humidifier help? The name is self-explanatory, the primary purpose of a humidifier is to emit moist air into the surroundings, making the air less dry. By raising humidity levels to a more optimum level, such health problems are prevented in the first place. Not only that, but a humidifier will also help relieve the symptoms of existing conditions like cold or cough. This article will shed light on the use of humidifiers for treating sinusitis. While experts are confident that adding a humidifier in your room improves sinus health, there has been a long-standing query among users whether a warm-mist or a cool-mist humidifier is better for sinus conditions.

Because sinusitis is primarily caused by nasal congestion, both warm and cool-mist humidifiers provide more moisture or humidity inside the nose, eliminating the main cause of sinus conditions. This will help you understand that both warm and cool mist humidifiers will improve sinuses. However, specific circumstances like other health problems, your family, and the weather will help you decide which one suits you better. 

Let’s have a quick overview of both types of humidifiers:

Warm Mist Humidifier

By emitting hot steam vapor, a warm mist humidifier raises the humidity level inside a room. The steam from the humidifier can be seen just as when boiling water. The device uses an internal heating element that boils water present inside the humidifier; as steam pressure builds up inside the humidifier, the hot vapor is pushed out. Most models prevent the minerals in the water from being emitted in the steam by a filtration process. These devices work best when used inside small rooms.

Cool Mist Humidifier

There are two types of cool mist humidifiers available in the market.


By using a relatively simple design, an evaporative cool mist humidifier uses a fan to blow out cold water droplets from a wet wick or filter. Cool water is pumped from a reservoir into the wick, from which it is blown by the fan into the air. This humidifier functions mostly as a cooling fan.


Ultrasonic humidifiers use a more technical design to emit cool mist. A plate inside the humidifier vibrates at an ultrasonic frequency, shaking the water molecules until a cool invisible mist is produced. These humidifiers make much less noise, but they create fine, white dust, which settles on nearby surfaces. Because this dust is a result of minerals in the water, using distilled water significantly reduces it.


Weather conditions may be the most obvious factor that eases the choice for you. A cool-mist humidifier is only an option in the summers or dry and hot climatic zones. While evaporative cool-mist humidifiers use a fan, ultrasonic ones too will further lower the temperature of a room, making them unsuitable for already cold environments. In the same way, warm-mist humidifiers are only comfortable to have around when it is cold outside. In summers, a warm-mist humidifier will only make a room more uncomfortable to be in. 

Another factor that will help you decide is whether or not you have children or pets in the house. Warm-mist humidifiers emit steam, which is precisely at 100°C, can burn the skin or injure if a child or pet wanders too close to the humidifier’s emitter opening. It is advised to keep warm-mist humidifiers at safe and out of reach places to minimize the risk.

Benefits of Warm-mist Humidifier

The soothing warm steam will immediately make your room a comfortable place on cold days. Not only will it quickly relieve nasal congestion, chapped lips, and sinus pressure, steam vapor reduces the amounts of allergens and viruses suspended in the air. Studies have shown that warm-mist humidifiers significantly reduce the spread of the Influenza virus within a room. Such humidifiers may prove beneficial for using around COVID-19 patients too, as the virus mostly spreads through airborne respiratory droplets; warm-mist humidifiers may help eliminate them from the air.


We have already discussed the safety concerns with warm-mist humidifiers; another factor is the high power consumption by a warm-mist humidifier. As it continually needs the energy to boil water to keep the steam blowing, it may incur unwelcome additional electricity costs.

Benefits of Cool-mist Humidifier

In terms of relieving symptoms of sinusitis and other conditions caused by dry air, cool-mist humidifiers are just as effective as their warm-mist counterparts. They help relieve nasal congestion, enable proper drainage of the sinuses, treat chapped lips, and eliminate allergens. While ultrasonic humidifiers are quieter and cheaper than warm mist humidifiers, evaporative humidifiers are noisy. They don’t function as well as ultrasonic ones in treating sinusitis. Cool mist humidifiers are less expensive at the point of purchase; so, they may be a better choice if you’re on a tight budget. Moreover, cool mist humidifiers are a much safer option if there are pets or children in the home.  


The most prominent drawback in the case of cool mist humidifiers is that they need to be regularly cleaned. While boiling water in warm mist humidifiers kills all bacteria or microbes present in the water or the humidifier, they are more likely to build up in cool mist humidifiers and, thus, need to be regularly cleaned. The white mineral dust problem is always there with ultrasonic humidifiers and needs to be coped with.

The Verdict

When it comes to treating sinusitis, both warm and cool mist humidifiers are equally as effective. The choice then boils down to your personal preference. If you have sinus pain due to a cold, a warm mist humidifier will be a better option as it provides soothing warm steam and can also disperse inhalants in the air, which will help you recover quickly. However, if the weather is warm, a cool-mist humidifier will help you feel more comfortable while treating sinusitis equally well.

Other Questions


Which is better for sinuses, vaporizer or humidifier?

A system of connected hollow cavities within the skull are known as sinuses. They are lined by mucosa, a soft, pink tissue. They remain empty, but at certain times the build up of gunk and liquid could cause sinus pressure or other related discomforts. Vaporizers and humidifiers could combat this issue. Dryness in the air can affect the sinus cavities leading to a stuffy nose, breathing problems and even nose bleeds. As humidifiers increase the moisture concentration in the air, it could ease the above-mentioned problems. Vaporizers work slightly different than a humidifier by boiling water to release steam into the air. As opposed to humidifiers, vaporizers are designed for personalised use and not on an open space like a room.


Can temperature changes cause sinus problems?

Heated indoor air and dry climate will dry out the membranes present in your nose. When this happens, the mucus in there gets dry and clog up the sinuses leading to pressure and pain. For some people, sinus issues aggravate during cold weather conditions. Though changes related to weather on atmospheric pressure can be a cause for sinus pain, it must be noted that sinus infections are not a direct result of being exposed to cold weather. Ideally it is caused by a viral exposure or, less frequently, bacteria. However, the reason for more people suffering from sinus infections during colder months is because they are confined in close quarters where germs could spread easily.


Can humidifiers worsen congestion?

Humidifiers are well known to ease sinus related problems like nasal congestion. However, if they're not maintained properly, it could worsen the condition by aggravating your symptoms. Regular maintenance and cleaning are the key factors to experience best results. If the humidifier is not cleaned properly, formation of fungus and mould may take place and get released into the air. This could start flu-like symptoms and lung infections. For people suffering from allergies or asthma, this could bring about some adverse reactions like increased cough, congestion, and sometimes wheezing. Experts recommend regular replacement of filters, water change, and cleanup of the humidifier reservoir and tank every three days with a disinfectant.


If you require more information, please check these references

Pollution: The Nose and Sinuses , article, "", retrieved on, Mon 29-June-2020
The effects of heated humidifier in continuous positive airway , article, "", retrieved on, Mon 29-June-2020
Applied physiology of the nose and the accessory nasal sinuses , article, "", retrieved on, Mon 29-June-2020

After I had a bout of sinusitis, I spent every hour looking for something that would allow some kind of relief form the pain. This was when I found the humidifier. This came as a great surprise to me, as I assumed that these were just “toys”

After this blessed release from sinusitis, I decided to investigate these things further

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