All the Different Types of Dehumidifiers and How to Tell the Difference

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Keeping your home environment comfortable is of the utmost importance, and we go to great lengths to assure we can truly relax at home. That includes making sure we have the right furniture, the electronics we want for entertainment, and the appliances that provide all the creature comforts we desire. But if you live in a humid place, even all of this may fail to make you completely comfortable in your space, and a dehumidifier could change that for you. Read more on our dehumidifier buyers guide.

What is a Dehumidifier?

Businesswoman holding a question mark

A dehumidifier is a mechanical device that works to remove excess moisture from your environment. Just like there can be issues with the air being too dry in a home based on the use of air conditioning and heat, other homes, especially those in very humid regions, may need assistance balancing the air inside by removing some of the excess moisture. If you have a musty or wet smell in your home, or if you find that mold and mildew grow easily in your kitchen and bathroom, you might benefit from the use of a dehumidifier.

Why Use a Dehumidifier?

woman and man

There are several reasons a dehumidifier may be necessary for your space. First, in an environment that is constantly too damp, you run higher risks of the buildup of harmful toxins. Mold and mildew thrive in dampness, and both of these produce spores that can be dangerous or at least harmful to breathe in. this is especially important for people with asthma, allergies, COPD, and other breathing issues.

In addition to producing mold and mildew, humid environments are uncomfortable for a living. Too much moisture makes space feel warmer than it is, and air conditioners work harder to cool your space. Reducing the amount of moisture in the air can really make a space more comfortable for living.

People with breathing issues, as well as heart conditions and joint problems like arthritis, also suffer in damp environments. Many such people look to move to drier climates, but sometimes, there are simpler solutions that involve nothing more than adding a dehumidifier to space where they live.

Pretty blonde woman having breath difficulties in the living room

The outdoor area isn’t as much of a problem in many of these cases as inside can be, and it’s a much cheaper, easier solution than trying to move across a country.

Different Types of Dehumidifiers

When it comes to the functionality of a dehumidifier, there are two basic types of machines, both of which are excellent in their technology. It simply depends on the application as to which is going to serve better for your purposes. The first thing you want to take into account is the climate in which you live – or work if you’re looking to dehumidify an office or work space.

If the ambient temperature of the space from which you need to remove moisture is warmer – above 65 degrees – you can easily utilize the most well-known type of dehumidifier, the refrigeration style unit.

However, if we’re talking about a cold environment where this type of temperature control can’t be guaranteed, these more traditional units can’t be used without significant deterioration and cause for alarm. Instead, a desiccant dehumidifier is a better option, as this doesn’t require any specific temperature regulation to function.

Modern living room - cooling concept

Refrigerator Style Dehumidifiers

With a refrigerator style dehumidifier,  moisture is removed by removing cooling the air. Air is brought into the unit through an intake and passed through a filter to remove particles of dust, dirt, and allergens that can be detrimental to health and bothersome to underlying illnesses. A fan pushes the air over a set of coils that cool the air, which makes the moisture in it condense and collect into a water collection tank. Then, the dry air, which has been cooled, is blown back into the ambient space by a fan.

Humidity icon

These refrigeration style units work extremely well in spaces that aren’t cold. They do require attention, in that you’ll have to empty the water collection tank on a regular basis, clean and replace the filter on a schedule, and make sure the grilles over the intake and exhaust are clean. You may have to check the humidistat – the control that sets the level of humidity you want in the space – from time to time to assure it hasn’t been bumped or moved.

Overall, however, with regular cleaning and maintenance, a refrigerator style dehumidifier is relatively easy to keep functioning, and they are pretty versatile, considering they come in a variety of sizes. In a proper environment, where you have it placed far enough from a wall, you likely won’t have any malfunctions, and the unit should last several years.

Desiccant Dehumidifiers

In environments that are already colder, using a refrigeration style dehumidifier won’t work. This will cause the coils that cool the air to freeze and not work properly. With a desiccant dehumidifier, the refrigeration portion of the process is removed. Instead of cooling the air to remove moisture, a chemical drying agent is used. This agent, or desiccant, is put on a heat exchange wheel and used to absorb moisture from the air before that air is then forced back out through vents into the environment.

Desiccant dehu midifiers aren’t as common in residential spaces since most homes are kept at temperatures that are conducive to the refrigeration style dehumidifier. However, there are always exceptions, and some people who live in colder environments don’t heat their homes to a degree that makes them work with the more common residential style of the dehumidifier.

Desiccant-Dehumidifier

Sizes of Dehumidifiers

tape measure isolated on white

Determining the size of dehumidifier you need is one of the most important parts of finding the right unit for you. For example, the kind you’d use in an RV or mobile home would be different than that of the model you’d use commercially. Many dehumidifiers are portable, meaning you can move them easily from one room to the other. These are usually meant for medium-sized rooms, such as smaller living rooms and larger bedrooms. Machines dedicated to spaces this size are the most common residential units, though some homes employ whole house dehumidifiers.

Portable Dehumidifiers

Most of the dehumidifiers you see in home improvement stores are portable dehumidifiers. These are often inexpensive to purchase and lightweight, making them easy to transport from one room to another or even to a new location. They are often framed in plastic so that they don’t have excess weight or material, and while they can last a long time with proper care, they aren’t as sturdy as a whole house or an industrial unit.

msj portable

Another type of portable dehumidifier is the kind that is used for restoration, such as when there’s been a water spill or flood that caused damage to a home or office space. They work to dry a space and reduce the amount of water damage, sometimes even heavy duty enough to completely restore the extreme damage of something like a hurricane or other disaster.

Whole House Dehumidifiers

A whole house dehumidifier is a centralized unit that works much like an air conditioner, clearing the entire home space of excess humidity. These fixed units are more expensive and require installation by a professional, with requirements that they are connected to the duct work that is already installed for central air and heating purposes.

AIRCARE MA1201 Whole-House Console-Style Evaporative Humidifier

Usually, this is handled where the furnace or hair handler cabinet is located. There are some of these whole house units, however, that stand alone.

Heat Pump Humidifiers

With whole house units, one of the most common types of dehumidifiers is a heat pump unit. These use a fan to pull the moist air into the unit and across a cold coil, just like the refrigeration style models. The condensed water drops into a water collection tank or bucket and is then drained through a hose.

The biggest difference here is that the air is then warmed again prior to being blown back through the exhaust and into the ambient space, much drier than when it was taken into the unit.

Dehumidifiers With Pumps

Often larger units will come with a pump. The added convenience is that you no longer have to train the tank and the dehumidifier can keep doing it’s job.

Read our reviews on dehumidifiers with pumps here.

tosot Dehumidifier 70 pint with pump

Chemical Absorbent or Desiccant Dehumidifiers

These work on the same principle as portable desiccant units, making use of a heat exchange wheel with a desiccant to absorb water molecules from the damp air before sending the altered, drier air back into space.

Chemical

Note that these are more common in industrial spaces because they use a great deal more energy than refrigeration style or heat pump dehumidifiers and can be costly to run.

Ventilating Dehumidifiers

When it comes to whole house dehumidifiers, there is another type that uses a sensor and an exhaust fan. These aren’t typically as effective as other types but can assist with things like keeping a basement or crawlspace dry so that you don’t end up with mold and mildew in a space that tends to be much damper than other areas of the home.

With these types of dehumidifiers, the sensor controller takes in the ambient humidity level, and when it gets too high based on a level you’ve specified, it will activate the unit to turn on the ventilator and dismiss some of the moisture from the environment.

whole house 2

The ventilator will draw in air from outside, so it’s better not to use these in a climate that tends to be extremely muggy, as this works against the entire purpose of the unit. If you intend to install one of these, you should make sure your gas furnace is vented correctly, since they can lead to depressurization in a room, which causes gas spillage in some instances.

Maximizing Efficiency

Because all dehumidifiers are going to draw extra energy, you’ll want to assure you’re using the unit as efficiently as possible.

efficiency level conceptual meter

Start by setting your humidistat at a reasonable level. There’s no need to have your home set as low as 30 percent. Make sure you keep it around 50 percent, as this is the ideal humidity level for comfort anyway. This will allow the unit to cycle on and off and save some energy.

Timer icon

Also, don’t run your dehumidifier around the clock. If you aren’t going to be in the space for several hours, turn the unit off and save some energy that would otherwise be wasted on running the unit to remove moisture from a space that no one is using.

Closed Single Red Door

Be sure all your doors and windows are closed. Just like an air conditioning unit, having windows open is a waste, since the cool air – or in this case, the dry air – is escaping, and the wetter air is allowed to enter the space. This keeps the unit running longer. Closing doors will help contain the area you want to dehumidify, especially if you’re using a smaller portable unit. You don’t want to task it with removing moisture from the air on the individual space you purchased it for.

WALL

Keep the dehumidifier away from walls and surfaces, since this will block the airflow in and out of the intake and exhaust. Without free airflow, you’re wasting a lot of energy with a unit that is eventually going to fail based on misuse.

air conditioner cleaning

You should also continue your regular cleaning and maintenance to assure the efficiency. Any blockage or clog can reduce how well the machine works, which then prohibits it from running without overtaxing the energy level.

Signs You Need a Dehumidifier

Are you wondering if you need a dehumidifier? Consider these signs you might:

Mold

macro shot of fuzzy mold

Mildew

Mildewed Walls

Fungus

black fungus

Condensation around windows

Moonlight through the window

Wet walls or ceiling

Damp moisture

Rotting or weak wood

Rotting or weak wood

Musty smell or feel

Man holding his nose against a bad smell

Blistering paint and wallpaper

Wall blistering

If you see several of these symptoms around your home, you likely have too high a level of humidity in your living space and may want to consider a dehumidifier to rectify the problem. Be sure to consider your situation and how much work you need your dehumidifier to do so you can determine the best type and size for your situation.
Not all circumstances are the same, and sometimes, a whole house unit is the way to go. In other areas, the temperatures may be cooler, and you might have to work with a desiccant dehumidifier rather than a refrigerator style unit. Or, if you’re just looking to help keep your basement drier, you can use a dehumidifying ventilator. Whatever your choice, be sure to carefully consider all your options before making a decision.

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