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Dehumidifier Buying Guide

By: Carl Laron on June 26, 2018

What the best dehumidifiers have

  • Large capacity. Experts say that in the majority of cases, the best humidifier will be the one with the largest capacity. That's true for even smaller spaces and more modest humidity problems as a large capacity humidifier will cycle fewer times and have larger condensate collection containers.
  • Ample collection container. In all cases, the larger the collection container, the less often it will need to be emptied. This is not as much of a concern if you plan to drain the dehumidifier continuously via a hose. The only advantage of a smaller container is that it can be less of a load to lug if it's a bit of a distance between the dehumidifier and the sink.
  • Multiple fan speeds. Portable dehumidifiers often have at least two fan speeds. The slower speeds are typically less noisy than the highest speed, but will wring out moisture more slowly.
  • Automatic shutoff. Automatic shutoff deactivates the dehumidifier when the collection canister becomes full, an essential feature to prevent flooding.
  • Automatic defrost. When used in cooler spaces, the coils in dehumidifiers can frost up, rendering the machine useless. Auto defrost helps to thaw the coils without human intervention.
  • Full-container indicator. Without an indicator light, it can be hard to be sure if the dehumidifier isn't running because the container is full or if it's because it's between cycles.
  • Automatic restart. In the event of a power outage, auto-restart will resume the machine's operation once power is restored. This is a valuable feature for those using a dehumidifier in a property where someone might not always be present, such as a vacation home, or when the dehumidifier is installed in a relatively inaccessible location, such as in a tight crawl space.
  • Cold temperature operation. Depending on where you intend to use the dehumidifier, you'll want to choose a model that operates effectively at the lowest temperatures it will be exposed to. Unfinished basements and crawl spaces, for instance, tend to have lower temperatures than finished basements or main living areas.
  • High efficiency. Dehumidifiers that are Energy Star qualified operate more efficiently than non-Energy Star models. If you're dealing with an area with high humidity and will be running the appliance often, Energy Star-qualified models will save you money on electricity. In addition, local utility companies sometimes offer rebate for purchasing an Energy Star product, including dehumidifiers. You can find a list of current rebates at the Energy Star web site.
  • Solid warranty. Be mindful of warranty options when purchasing a dehumidifier. In general, dehumidifiers last a few years, although malfunctions are possible. For portable dehumidifiers, standard warranties are for one year, though some components, such as the sealed compressor system, might be covered for longer.

Know before you go

How large is your space? Before you buy a dehumidifier, you'll need to know the size of the space you intend to use it in. This is particularly important for crawl spaces, where some units may not fit. Dehumidifiers vary significantly in the square footage they can effectively remove adequate moisture from, so choose a model with sufficient coverage, or consider buying two units.

Will you want to move the dehumidifier? Sometimes, consumers purchase a dehumidifier that they plan to rotate through different areas of the home. If this is the case, heavy models aren't the most practical option. Consider where you'll be using it, whether you'll need to relocate it up or down flights of stairs and whether the dehumidifier you're considering is designed to be permanently or semi-permanently configured in one place. Many, though not all, portable dehumidifiers have casters that can make moving them around on the same level a little easier.

How high a capacity dehumidifier do you need? The simple answer is to buy as big a dehumidifier as you can afford. Bigger capacity dehumidifiers can handle a wider range of humidity issues without constantly cycling on and off, which adds wear and tear to, and subtracts usable lifetime from, the appliance.

Can you kick the bucket? Whether the collection container is large or small, and regardless of how often or seldom you need to empty it, doing so isn't a fun job thanks to its weight when full and the occasional slosh or spill. Most portable dehumidifiers let you hook up a hose instead to continuously empty the moisture it captures into a floor drain. Some have a pump that will let you dump the water into a sink or out the basement window -- but some experts say that a better solution is to buy a top-rated dehumidifier and opt for a third-party pump instead. Whole-house and basement dehumidifiers have no bucket at all -- condensate is emptied via a hose, again with pumps generally available either from the maker or from third parties.

Has your dehumidifier been recalled?

It's not much of a secret that the vast majority of portable dehumidifiers are made by a single manufacturer, Midea. There's some good in that. For one, testing reveals that most Midea-made dehumidifiers do a pretty good job of wringing moisture out of the air. To be sure, there are some notable differences in the supporting electronics, overall build quality, venting scheme and other factors that could make one a better choice over another, but at the end of the day, most are good to great performers when it comes to getting a room dry.

Another plus is that, overall, the reliability of dehumidifiers in recent years is much improved over earlier models, when our research found that dehumidifiers were among the least-liked home appliances among consumers. Among other things, reports of units that quit working prematurely -- often just after the maker's warranty had expired -- were quite commonplace. While reliability complaints are certainly not unheard of today, the norm has become units that hold up well over time.

But there's some bad, too. Most notably, when something goes wrong, it goes really wrong for a lot of dehumidifier owners. In November, 2016, Midea recalled around 3.4 million dehumidifiers sold in the U.S. between 2003 and 2013. The recall covers a number of brands, big and small, including Frigidaire, GE, Danby, Honeywell, Kenmore, SPT, etc., etc, etc. No one has been injured, but the company had received reports of nearly 40 incidents of Midea-made dehumidifiers overheating and catching fire, causing nearly $5 million in property damage. The company is offering affected consumers either a replacement unit or a partial refund. More information can be found at this web site.

Note, however, that some of the recalled models remain on the market -- including some that rate very highly in users and/or reviewers eyes. Versions currently at retail should only include those in which the defect has been corrected. However, it wouldn't hurt to check the serial numbers at the recall web site to be sure you don't accidently receive on that's slipped through the cracks.

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