Humidifiers are a hot winter item due to dry indoor air. During the cold months, sales for humidifiers typically triple due to consumer demand. Consumer Reports recently found top-rated humidifiers for as little as $30, but shoppers need to be cautious because a few models tested fell short of claims.
Here's what shoppers need to know:
*Tabletops cover smaller spaces. The right size is critical because too much humidity can promote dust mites, mold and other allergens. The Safety 1st Ultrasonic 360, a CR Best Buy, $30, is designed for 330-square-foot areas. The pricier Air-O-Swiss A0S7135, $170, and Vicks V4500, $65, can cover more space and have a humidistat that automatically shuts them off when they reach a set level. (For other models, you can buy a hygrometer for about $20 that can show you levels.)
*High output means more noise. Console models such as the Essick MA1201, $110, and Kenmore 15412, $140, handle large, open spaces of more than 2,000 square feet. Both have a humidistat and larger tanks that require less refilling, but are about as noisy as a room air conditioner.
*Decide on mist. Among recommended models, the Air-O-Swiss A0S7135, $170, and Sunpentown SU-4010, $90, can produce cool or warm mist. The Vicks V745A, $45, uses a heating element to create steam and kill bacteria and other microbes as the water is heated. But steam models can pose scalding risks; keep them away from children.
*Don't buy solely by type. Ultrasonic humidifiers are quiet because they trade the usual fan for a vibrating nebulizer. Evaporative models blow air over a wet wick, and impeller models produce mist using a rotating disc. But performance varied widely for all types.
*Keep it clean. The Sharper Image HD10, $55, features "Clean Mist Technology" that's supposed to "prevent microbial growth on the surface of the water tank." But CR's tests revealed plenty of bacteria inside. That's why regular maintenance is critical for all humidifiers; that typically includes changing the water daily and disinfecting the tank weekly.
Pots and pans
Some culinary stars serve up better cookware than others. Emeril Legasse's Emerilware, $200, made by All-Clad, offers impressive cooking performance, and like most nonstick sets CR tested, it's much easier to clean than uncoated pans.
The Culinary Institute of America has turned out a number of famous chefs, and its Certified Master Chefs designed its Master Collection cookware, $550. But cooking performance was the worst of the 13 uncoated cookware sets CR tested, and the handles were uncomfortable.
Nonstick cookware accounts for about 70 percent of sales and dominated CR's Select Ratings, standouts from 37 tested models. The Scanpan Classic, $500, cooked food very evenly, better than top-rated Earth Pan With Sand Flow, $190; Swiss Diamond Reinforced, $500; Anolon Advanced, $240; Starfrit Alternative Eco Pan, $160; and GreenPan With Thermolon, $160.
Manufacturers claim the Earth Pan With Sand Flow, Swiss Diamond Reinforced, Scanpan Classic, Starfrit Alternative Eco Pan and GreenPan With Thermolon don't use traditional nonstick coatings made with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a potentially harmful chemical. But CR's past tests of conventional nonstick cookware showed very little PFOA in the air above the pans even after they were repeatedly heated and washed. So it's not clear that the "green" pans offer a particular advantage in that respect.
You can avoid the coatings altogether by choosing uncoated stainless-steel cookware. The Bonjour Stainless Steel, $540, Calphalon Contemporary, $400, and Anolon Ultra Clad, $400, had Very Good scores for evenness of cooking.
The Bonjour and the Anolon nonstick will work with induction cooktops or ranges as well as gas and electric models. The Bonjour and Calphalon are oven-safe up to 500 degrees.
By the editors of Consumer Reports at www.consumerreports.org.