According to the American Association of Respiratory Care, modern humidifiers have their origins in the 1930s with enamel steam inhalers, although the practice of using evaporated water for health benefits extends far before this invention. For decades thereafter, and continuing to today, humidifiers have been relatively simple machines: they have a reservoir of water, a wick that creates a broad surface for liquid collection, and a fan that pulls air into the device and out the other side, loaded with H2O. Recently, however, a popular competitor has entered the market – the ultrasonic humidifier. It has taken up the mantle of humidifier leadership for a couple of reasons:
- Energy efficiency: depending on circumstances, an ultrasonic humidifier can use 93% less electricity than other models;
- Maintenance: ultrasonic humidifiers don’t use filters, basins, or cartridges, making them cheaper and easier to keep clean;
- Noise: compared to their evaporative cousins, which use a motor and fan to disperse mist, ultrasonic humidifiers deploy a quiet and peaceful vibration system so you never hear a thing;
- Safety: ultrasonic humidifiers don’t need to use hot water to create mist, preventing the possibility of burns or other related accidents.
To show further you why you need an ultrasonic humidifier, let’s take an in-depth look at this incredible household appliance.
What Are They Made Of?
In previous posts, we’ve covered what normally goes into a humidifier. But what makes an ultrasonic humidifier different?
First up is its water container, which as the name suggests, holds water. Both the ultrasonic and evaporative models of humidifier will have a water container, for each requires a reservoir of some kind to imbue their environment with mist. Remember, an evaporative humidifier uses an energy intensive approach of pulling air into the unit, running it over a water wick, and releasing it back into the world. Ultrasonic humidifiers pull water from their containers and shake it with ultrasonic frequencies so as to create a super fine mist. But in each case, water needs to be manually placed inside the humidifier’s containers… well, at least until robots can do it for us.
Next is the transducer, the key to making the whole ultrasonic humidifier run smoothly. Without pulling out engineering jargon, a transducer is a mechanical/electrical component that when powered will vibrate at ultrasonic speeds. It’s usually connected to a membrane or other surface that sits as a barrier between the water and the device’s electrics. As water finds itself in contact with an operating transducer and membrane, it breaks apart, becoming smaller and smaller until it is a mist that can be released into the air.
Third is the control panel, an essential ingredient in pretty much every home appliance out there, from crockpots to blenders. The control panel on your humidifier allows you to manipulate how the device works, when it operates, how much mist it disperses, and so on. Some include temperature settings (more common on evaporative humidifiers) and automatic shut off timers. It makes you the boss of your ultrasonic humidifier, rather than the other way around. But like every electronic, be sure to keep it protected from serious water spillage.
Finally, this particular class of humidifier needs what’s called an ultrasonic generator. Like other components on this list, the generator does exactly what its name suggests: provides power to the transducer to create vibrations. Without the generator, your ultrasonic humidifier would be nothing more than a fancy container for water. When you plug in your humidifier or add new batteries, what you’re doing is energizing the generator so the whole system can operate.
How Does an Ultrasonic Humidifier Work?
Although it’s been mentioned off hand a few times, let’s take a quick second to explore further how ultrasonic humidifiers actually work. The transducer of the device is immersed in water, i.e. the water container. As it’s powered via the generator, it begins to oscillate. Faster and faster, the oscillation increases. Water particles, for their part, try desperately to follow the waves being created on the oscillating surface. The result is the water breaking apart into smaller pieces. The smaller the water particles, the harder it becomes for them to follow the waves. Following this, two things happen. First, a vacuum or vortex is created, sucking the water particles down into a void and creating a strong compression. Second, an explosion of air bubbles occurs, called cavitation, which forces tiny droplets of water to break the surface tension of the larger whole and shoot upwards. Quickly, these droplets are taken up by the airstream and sent out into the world.
It’s important to remember that unlike evaporative humidifiers, which will often boil water before pushing it to the wick, ultrasonic humidifiers will use exactly the same liquid as was placed in its container. It means that any impurities, hard minerals, or other bacteria will also be spurted into the air when misting occurs. To prevent this, you can do a couple things. Make sure your appliance is cleaned regularly, especially the water container. On that, don’t leave water sitting in the container for a long period of time before use. As well, you can opt to fill your humidifier with distilled water, which eliminates any unhelpful and unhealthy additions to your misting.
Overall, however, ultrasonic humidifiers are the next generation of this particular home appliance. The advances in technology that they represent have allowed their miniaturization without efficiency impact, their rapid on/off functionality, and their portability. If you’re looking for a cool, moist environment, you need an ultrasonic humidifier!
Tell us in the comments below how you use your humidifier!