Personal steam inhalers are regularly recommended by doctors to assist patients with a range of uncomfortable respiratory symptoms. They may offer relief for people who are suffering from conditions such as asthma, allergies, sinusitis, and the common cold.

The steam inhaler is typically filled with tap water and when activated, it gently heats the water in the chamber. This action produces a reliable stream of warm, hydrating vapor. The inhaler is placed below the nose and mouth, usually using a mask-style attachment, providing fast relief for sinus, chest, and nasal congestion. While personal steam inhalers are a great benefit to many people, there are important factors to consider with each one. So you can make the right decision for yourself, let’s take a look at the most important information about steam inhalers and the best models available on the market.

Breathing problems are not fun

Image used under Creative Commons from Nika Gedevanishvili

Best Personal Steam Inhalers

MyPurMist Handheld Steam Inhaler

PROS

  • handheld – inhale easily while you read a book or watch tv
  • cleans itself
  • relatively safe for children

CONS

  • pricey

MyPurMist is the only one in this pack that’s designed to be a handheld device. That makes it perfect to use while doing something else like reading a book or watching TV. It’s a great choice for kids because there’s no boiling water in the device. MyPurMist uses Capillary Force Vaporizer (CFV) technology to create vapor instead of boiling. MyPurMist comes with an adult-sized mask so if you want your child to use it too you need to buy a separate mask.

Another unique feature of the device is the cleanup process. Once the inhalation is over the device needs 10 minutes extra to clean itself. Please note that for the device to clean itself properly you should use distilled water for your inhalations. When it comes to getting distilled water, you should be able to buy it in the nearest pharmacy. Consider buying a water distiller if you will be using the device very often. This way you won’t have to go buy distilled water that often.

MyPurMist does not feature a container for any saline solution or aromatherapy you might want to use. That shouldn’t be an issue. You can pour a few drops of your favorite solution onto a paper towel and put it on the mask. That will get you the same effect.

From all described steam inhalers MyPurMist seems to be the best choice when it comes to quality. That quality comes with a pretty high price tag though. Besides price, another concern might be the fact that it’s powered by the cord. That means you can go with it only as far as the cord will go.

Let’s take a look at a few quotes about MyPurMist pulled from Amazon.

I’ve learned many people, including doctors themselves, deal with chronic allergies with daily nasal decongestants. I purchased this product about a week ago and have used it for the past four days: morning and night, may be once or twice during the day. I’ve used the full duration of the cycle (about 20 minutes). I haven’t needed to use any decongestant at all (either during the day or night). This is extremely unusual in my case.

As a singer with chronic sinus problems,I feel it works well for me. As a retired RN,I feel it is safe, if I keep masks clean/dry & always let it run to dry the interior.

I love this handheld inhaler. I had never used anything like this before, and I’m so glad that I decided to give it a try. It’s super easy to use. Normally at night I wake up on average of 2-3 times per night with blocked sinus passages. I’ve been using this for the past few weeks around bedtime and have been able to sleep through the night.

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Vicks Personal Steam Inhaler

Vicks Personal Steam Inhaler

PROS

  • inexpensive
  • does the job

CONS

  • plastic parts seem a bit cheap

Vicks Personal Steam Inhaler is one of the most popular and widely known steam inhalers on the market. While all steam inhalers have a breathing mask, Vicks’ has a fairly large one that’s designed to cradle the face comfortably. Some people don’t really like that so they prefer to keep their heads a few inches away. Also, the steam generated by the unit is really hot which is another reason to stay a few inches away. As in most inhalers, you can adjust the steam rate to your personal preferences. While the unit is pretty small, so traveling with it shouldn’t be an issue, you most likely won’t be able to hold it in one hand and read a book. When it comes to adding essential oils or other solutions to the inhaler, it doesn’t feature an additional container for that purpose. The easiest way to do it on your own would be to put a few drops of the solution on a paper towel and put it on the mouthpiece (the same way Vicks’ scent pads work). Please note that adding the solution directly to the water isn’t a good idea. The main concern about this device that few customers raised is that the parts are plastic and seem a bit on the cheap side.

Here are some quotes from people who purchased this inhaler via Amazon

Works very well. Easy to use and clean up is easy.

This little gadget was worth its weight in gold when I was very sick with bronchitis. I’m so glad I invested in it!

I love this! I’ve been having the worst sinus/allergy problems over the last month. I just go over a sinus infection and wasn’t in a hurry to get more antibiotics. I used this (along with the little Vicks tabs things) a few times a day, and my head congestion really cleared up. For me, it took more than just one “session” for it to really work, but it did work.

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Mabis Personal Steam Inhaler Vaporizer

PROS

  • extension tube (for tall people)
  • aromatherapy tank

CONS

  • parts seem on the cheap side

Mabis Personal Steam Inhaler is yet another popular steam inhaler available on the market. As other inhalers, it features an extension tube that you can retract or extend based on your preferences (extending would benefit tall people). If the steam that comes from the breathing mask is too hot extending the tube is another way to make the steam a bit colder. Steam intensity is adjustable as well. If aromatherapy is important for you then you should be happy to know that Mabis feature a separate aromatherapy tank where you can pour your favorite solution. The breathing mask is comfortable. As other inhalers, it’s portable and you can easily pack it and take with you on any trips you might need it on.

Here’s what buyers have to say about this device (quotes pulled from Amazon).

I’m a chronic sinus sufferer, mainly with allergies to thousands of things. I’ve started a new plan. Includes an allergy pill, a squirt of allergy spray and using this steam inhaler every morning. Takes less than ten minutes to get things draining and I’m good to go for the day. I’ve said goodbye to my allergy specialist and ENT doctors

I ordered this inhaler along with the Organic Breathe Essential Oils on Saturday evening and received them on Monday morning with prime. Within 2 sessions in 12 hours of using, my cough & head started to clear and I could get the uninterrupted sleep I desperately needed. Within 4 sessions in 36 hours my cough was about gone. Not sure if it was the inhaler or the oils, but I’m certainly sticking with this combo.

This is actually my 3rd time purchasing this unit. I tried others, most recently the Vick’s version, but keep coming back to this one. It pumps the steam out perfectly and for just the right amount of time. I am a singer but have been struggling with hoarseness due to an upper respiratory illness, but used this (along with Mucinex and other stuff) to get my voice back in time to do a 3-nighter! Highly recommend this unit!

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Veridian 11-525 Steam Inhaler

PROS

  • comes with two masks: full-face mask and beauty mask

CONS

  • you must pour water into 2 containers to turn the inhaler on

The first thing that’s unique about Veridian Steam Inhaler is that is shipped with two masks: a full face mask and a much smaller beauty mask. This way you can choose if you prefer to steam only your throat or both your nasal passages and throat at the same time. Plus, quite a few people don’t like full-face masks in general as they tend to get very hot, so having a smaller mask is a great option. Other than that, it’s quite similar to all other steam inhalers – easy to use, clean and does its job really well.

Let’s read what buyers said about this steam inhaler:

My singer/actress teenage daughter uses this steamer multiple times a week. It is compact and she loves the two different sized masks so that she can steam her throat alone or her nasal passages and throat together. The device is extremely easy to take apart and clean with warm soapy water or rinse with vinegar water, and easy to reassemble. She has used the same device for more than 6 months and it still works like new.

I would suggest this product to anyone who wants a relative ammount of steam for their face/throat. It is a fantastic product for alergies, and I use it for the beauty/face mask, and it has worked wonders for me. It clears up acne like any sauna would, and it is so convenient that it surpasses any other steam inhaler by FAR.

Find that this product is very helpful in relieving both sinus and allergic stuffiness. Produces a good amount of steam for just the right amount of time before shutting off automatically.

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Gurin Steam Inhaler

PROS

  • aromatherapy container
  • extendable neck

CONS

  • poorly written instructions

Gurin produces a fairly hot steam which might be a bit too hot for some people and definitely for children. The easiest way past that is hovering above the breathing mask instead of putting your face against it. Obviously, if a younger child should use this unit make sure you supervise them for at least a few times to make sure she or he won’t burn their face. Unit’s neck can be extended by 1 inch which is useful for taller people. However, if you’re a really tall person, you likely will put a couple of books under the unit (as bending down for at least a few minutes while inhaling steam won’t be either comfortable or good for your upper back). If needed, you can easily adjust the rate of steam coming from the unit. It also features a container use to one can add any saline solution or aromatherapy needed. Gurin features a safety mechanism which turns the unit off when the water runs dry. The downside of the unit mentioned by quite a few customers is poorly written instructions, but once you get the hang of it, using Gurin shouldn’t be an issue.

Here are a few quotes about Gurin Steam Inhaler pulled from Amazon

While not the highest quality in terms of materials or construction, this steam-inhaler works pretty well and is reasonably priced. I have used it numerous times and it has been helpful in relieving nasal congestion.

I bought this to help with my sinus allergies and asthma. It steams up fast and is easy to use and clean. Im very happy with my purchase.

Works very well. Steam is a little too strong when you put your face too close. I really like the feature where you can put some eucalyptus oil and inhale!

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What you need to know about steam inhalers and steam therapy

How do steam inhalations work?

Steam is just hot and moist air. Inhaling it into the lungs through the nose and throat moistens nasal passages which clears congested sinuses. Clear sinuses mean you can breathe easily through the nose. As an additional bonus, the steam introduces warmth to your body which results in blood vessels dilatation. That improves blood circulation and opens the pores.

Who benefits from using steam inhalers?

People who suffer from ailments such as post-nasal drip, many kinds of allergies that cause blockage of the nasal passages, or sinus infection are the ones who benefit from steam inhalations the most.

Many people who suffer from mentioned ailments often use antihistamines, nasal sprays or pills to help with their issues. Steam inhalations come as an effective natural alternative to those means – instead of using medication you simply breathe in the steam.

Steam inhalations are often recommended as a home remedy for nasal congestion caused by common cold or influenza.

What’s interesting is that people who suffer from some respiratory/vocal symptoms (like speakers or singers) often choose steam treatment as a way to treat their issues.

How to make steam without a steam inhaler?

You don’t need to buy a device just to be able to inhale steam. You can go with the usual home method. Pour boiling water into a bowl, get a towel and put it over your head and the bowl so you can inhale steam without most of it going out. If needed, you can add a few drops of essential oils to the bowl.

Why people buy steam inhalers?

You don’t buy a steam inhaler to make steam. As described above, you can produce steam quite easily without any fancy device. In most cases, you’re buying a steam inhaler for convenience. And that’s not a bad thing.

The more work and time something requires (boiling the water, finding a towel, etc.) the less likely we are to be doing it on a regular basis. Especially if it’s not entertaining. That’s human nature. People love convenience and a personal steam inhaler is a device that makes steam inhalations much more convenient. So if you need to inhale steam regularly and you aren’t consistent enough with the towel over head method, choosing a steam inhaler might be the way to go for you.

Benefits of using Steam Therapy

Respiratory benefits
There is a number of health benefits of steam inhalations. Steam helps with treating respiratory issues such as dry air passages or mucus buildup. After steam inhalations air passages are hydrated and mucus is loosened, so you can finally blow your nose. Steam also is a natural expectorant, which helps with coughing. That’s why steam inhalations are recommended for dealing with a common cold or the flu.

Better circulation
Inhaling steam raises your body temperature: blood vessels dilate and the circulation improves. That sometimes helps with headaches or migraines.

Pore cleansing
If you’re interested in your skin’s wellbeing, you should know that steam opens up pores and allows sebum to do its job, i.e. lubricate and waterproof the skin and get rid of any dirt or other particles.

Aromatherapy: steam therapy on steroids
If steam itself doesn’t provide relief, try adding essential oils. There are quite a few essential oils out there and many of them provide relief to certain health issues. While essential oils aren’t cheap, you only need a few drops at a time so they last for some time.

How to choose the best steam inhaler?

Convenience

Make sure you know your needs, so the device will be exactly what you’re looking for. As mentioned before, the more hassle required, the more likely you are to balk at inhaling steam regularly after only a couple of session.

Convenience means the inhaler is not only ready to use right away but the cleanup process is quick and simple. You don’t want a device that you’ll use and put on the counter with the intent of cleaning it up later and actually doing it 2 days later because it’s difficult and off-putting.

Please consider how you will use the device – do you prefer a battery-powered one or a cord will be a better option for you? What about its size? Maybe you would like to take care of your inhalations while catching up on your favorite TV series? If it’s the case, a smaller one that you can hold in one hand (like MyPurMist) is a great option.

Kids-friendly

If you have young kids who will use the device, make sure it’s safe for them to use it, ideally without your supervision. It’s more convenient for you to ask your child to do the inhalation than to go with him or her each time to make it happen. Please remember to show them how to use the device and supervise them for the first time, though.

Some inhalers boil the water in order to produce steam while others don’t and as you can imagine boiling water and young children often equals disaster. Or at least a lot of pain and screaming. The ability to change produced steam’s temperature is of great use for parents with kids too.

Portability

If you plan to take the steam inhaler with you when you travel portability of the device is something to consider. Obviously, the smaller and more convenient the better here.

If you’re considering taking the inhaler with you to the office think about this: will you really remember to take it to the office and back home each day? Most people would forget about it when rushing out in the morning. That results in a lack of consistency, and you don’t want that. For many, a better choice would be buying a second device and leaving it in the office so it’s always available and you don’t have to rely on your memory.

Budget

Aside from MyPurMist, you can buy every other steam inhaler described below for under $50. If you can afford it and plan to use it regularly, MyPurMist is definitely worth considering. People love it for the comfort and convenience it provides. If you’re going to do something often, you might as well make sure it’s convenient.

If you only need to do your inhalations from time to time or only when your sinus problems get really bad, going for one of the other devices seems to be a reasonable choice.

If you’re new to steam inhalations, investing in a high-quality product doesn’t make much sense and if that’s the case, choose one of the cheaper ones as well. Or start with the traditional method – a bowl of boiling water and a towel over your head. If that helps you, buy a steam inhaler that will make the whole thing much easier.

If you’re going to choose one of the under $50 steam inhalers, make sure you read their descriptions carefully. Consider reading some reviews to get even more information. All of them are quite similar in terms of construction and how they work but there are also some slight differences between them. After reading the descriptions you will be aware of those differences and be able to choose the best one for your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why all steam inhalers have many critical reviews?

If you visit Amazon you will soon learn that pretty much all inhalers have quite a few bad reviews. If you’d take the time to go through those (especially one-star reviews) you would learn that most people leave a bad review because the device didn’t solve their ailments. In most cases, that’s not an issue with the device but it simply says that the steam didn’t help them. That’s it. So before buying a steam inhaler try out the manual head-under-towel method to figure out if steam is the answer. If it is, choosing any of the inhalers described above should do the job. If it isn’t, buying a steam inhaler most likely won’t help you either.

What’s the best personal steam inhaler for singers?

A sore throat and overworked vocal cords are common among singers and people whose job depends on their voice. To care for the vocal cords, you must be well-hydrated. But let’s face it, not all people drink enough water on the daily. To avoid hoarseness and reduce damage to the vocal cords, use a steam inhaler. Steaming is one of the best ways to care for the vocal cords. In fact, veteran singers use steam inhalers to keep their singing voice healthy.

The inhaler helps lubricate the vocal cords while relaxing the soft tissues around it. As the steam reaches the throat, the vocal cords get hydrated instantly. Because the temperature of the steam is constant, there’s no fear of scalding yourself as you steam. Continuous steaming helps reduce inflammation as well as vocal cord damage. If you’re prone to a sore throat or hoarseness, invest in a quality personal steam inhaler.

Here are some tips on steaming for singers:

  • get as much steam as possible – make sure the seal between your mouth and the inhaler is tight to
  • don’t add essential oils, chamomile oil should be okay
  • sudden temperature shift is harmful to your vocal cords: if it’s cold outside, don’t steam right before going outside or immediately after you got back inside
  • take a 20-minute singing/speaking pause after steaming, light humming is fine

When it comes to which inhaler is the best for singers, there isn’t a clear answer. If you’re a serious performer and already do steam inhalations on a regular basis using the home method, MyPurMist seems to be the obvious choice. Otherwise, choosing one of the more affordable devices is likely the way to go.

Are steam inhalers safe for kids?

As usual, the answer is: it depends. Since no one likes to get burned, manufacturers try to make their devices as safe as possible. So, if used properly, steam inhalers should be generally safe to use for kids.

Defects happen, so to make sure your child doesn’t get burned, the first thing to do is to test out the device yourself. Some devices allow to control the temperature of the steam or its amount, so for the first time set those on a lower setting. If that’s not possible, the child can always keep their head a few inches from the mask. They won’t inhale as much steam, but they won’t get burned either. Next time around they might get a bit closer or you can switch the device to a higher setting easing your child into the process. As mentioned earlier, watch how your child does the inhalation for the first few times to make sure they can do it on their own.