Use a vegetable steamer or a crock pot as a stand-in for a humidifier

Is everybody in your universe sick, as they are in mine? Some virulent bug has flattened my kids’ school, and we’re just digging out now *sniff cough*.

Maggie’s hack may net everyone a more restful night’s sleep while the viruses rage:

I still haven’t figured out the difference between warm mist and cool mist or why one is better or worse for you [Anyone? In the comments? — Ed]. Recently, my humidifier stopped working. I realized that my vegetable steamer does the same job of putting water in the air. So, I put that in my son’s room, put in all the components like I was steaming veggies, and put in the max water and max time that it could run (75 min). I also realized that I could do the same with a Crock pot — it could run overnight and I could crack the lid open a bit. With a crock pot or veggie steamer, there are no inaccessible parts that you can’t clean and allow mold to build up.

Obvious safety note: keep it 100% out of reach of mobile kiddos, and set the timer to remind you to check on it periodically. Not sure I’d want to leave a kitchen appliance running overnight in the kid’s room, although I imagine (with a slow cooker especially) there’s minimal risk. Am I missing anything?

More: Best of Parent Hacks: Cold and flu season tips


  1. Melanie says

    From what I’ve heard, it’s a matter of personal preference (steaming up your bedroom may be nice in the winter but not so great if you’re sick in July). However, while the air in a warm mist vaporizer is usually boiled/evaporated (and thus relatively sterile), the air in a cool mist vaporizer is sucked up in a spongey material and essentially blown through the air by a fan behind the sponge. As you can imagine, if this setup is not cleaned regularly and meticulously, you run the risk of blowing bacteria and god knows what through the air…

  2. says

    Our crock pot exterior gets hot. I wouldn’t want it where it plugged anywhere other than a cleared kitchen counter.

    If you forget a warm heat humidifier, they tend to have safety measures to turn off the heating element. A crockpot would lack such sensors.

  3. says

    The warm mist humidifier boils the water, which sterilizes it a bit but uses a lot more electricity and warms up your place more.

    Some cool mist versions have a “wick” that a fan blows air through or over which increases humidity as water evaporates from the wick. The fans in these can be pretty noisy.

    The one I have has an ultrasonic system or something just just projects the vapor directly – no fan, no wick, no noise. It’s also very energy efficient.

    However as an earlier commenter pointed out, the sterilization issue can be a concern with the cool versions; we use filtered water and clean it out now and then.

    How you can keep things sterile and clean will depend on the model you eventually choose.

  4. says

    Mommydocs says that cool vs. warm mist is a matter of personal preference. But cool mist should be used for little ones for safety reasons.

    We use the Kaz personal cool mist. It’s a vaporizer, so there is no filter/sponge/wick to get moldy.

  5. Patricia says

    A friend of mine had a warm humidifier going in her 2 year old’s room only to hear a scream as the child scalded herself severely in the steam. The risk primarily is burning and being able to pull on the cord and bring scalding hot water down on a child, as children are very curious.

  6. says

    We bought our vegetable steamer in winter. The air in our room was quite dry. So, I thought: why not cook cauliflower right in the room (not to “waste time” and “catch both hares” at once) for the water to go into the air. And you know what? I have never done it afterwards as the smell in the room after my experiment was very unpleasant – I should immediately invent something to eliminate it(but that is another story :) )

  7. Drew says

    I swear I remember reading an article about the cool mist humidifiers that said that some models could essentially dissipate the tiny amounts of heavy metal from the water into the air and that could be bad for the lungs. I can’t find the article now, but I do see recommendations about using distilled water in the cool mist humidifiers. Something to keep in mind.

  8. Kari says

    I saw this idea somewhere and tried it. My one caution is that I got a ring inside my crockpot that was murder to get out, even using vinegar and letting it soak. Not sure if it was from just “cooking” the water or, more likely, if it was because I thought it would be brilliant to pour a little of the Vick’s Vapobath (or whatever iete is called) in.

  9. Kate E. says

    We use a Crock Pot as a humidifier in our daughter’s bedroom whenever she has a stuffy nose. It works better if you also have a fan going (which we usually do for some white noise in her room.) Otherwise it seems to just humidify the air directly around the Crock Pot, which isn’t so helpful if it is sitting across the room.
    This has saved us from having to buy an expensive humidifier and we just make sure to put the Crock Pot up as soon as she wakes up in the morning.

  10. ML says

    I’ve owned both warm mist and cool mist humidifiers and the warm mist seems to be the most effective at getting the air to be more humid. (I thought my son would cough all winter like he did last winter with a cool mist humidifier, but I switched and he’s barely been sick this season–but I have to say, we’ve had a multi-pronged approach to staying well this year.)

    I find the humid cool air pools around the floor, which is somewhat useless unless you sleep there. Unfortunately, the warm mist makes a room very warm, which is no small matter if you live in a place where you can’t control the heat. We try to keep the humidifier out of reach and DS constantly supervised, but if safety is your concern, perhaps a cool mist would be a better choice.

  11. Rebecca says

    I own both. The warm are is really good at humidifying a larger area, the cool humidifier I bought when my Children had the croup on the advise from our pediatrician. The inflamation caused by the croup does better when your children breathe in cool moist air as apposed to warm moist air. When I did not have a cool air humidifier, my pediatrician told me to go outside (in winter, in the rain) or to stand with her in front of the open freezer door, just so we could get the same benefit.
    I use the warm air humidifier for common cold stuff.

  12. Chip says

    If your kids have a tendency to get croup, you want a cool mist humidifier. Other than that it is personal preference. We use cool mist, which is less of a safety hazard than an appliance that has a heating element.

    On the subject of safety, I would not use either a steamer or a crock pot unless it was an emergency. Too dangerous. Humidifiers are not that expensive, and if you have infants and toddler, just consider that to be one of the essential items you need to have in your home and buy one. Don’t be cheap at the expense of safety.

  13. Holly says

    After going thru 2 warm mist humidifyers this year (both get clogged with minerals and leave mineral deposits as white dust all over my house) I used a ceramic lined slow cooker last night, which worked great. Trick is to put hot hot water in to begin with, turning it up to high on the slow cooker, and keeping it away from little hands. Doesn’t boil, just emits enough moisture to keep the air with some humidity in it to stop coughing etc. I will get a humidifyer soon… but hey, with this cooker, there certainly is no rush!

  14. says

    I’ve often found myself in states of health that this would be useful, and I always kicked myself for not buying that penguin-shaped humidifier at the store… haha. Luckily I do have a crock pot and a vegetable steamer so I will give it a shot. I would just be worried about the timer on the steamer being too short.. or if something happens to the equipment when all the water evaporates.

  15. says

    What a creative idea! It’s true that many cookware can make steam which can increase humidity. But it was too dangerous to be placed it in your child’s bedroom. Especially in the summerม รt could turn bedroom to a sauna.