Overly damp, humid air in your home is not only uncomfortable, it can be unhealthy too.
High levels of humidity can provide the perfect breeding ground for mould and dust mites, potentially causing horrible smells and unsightly patches, and increasing your chances of respiratory illness.
An abundance of moisture could also lead to flaking paintwork, visible patches of mould or even mushrooms growing from the ceiling. (Believe me, I’ve seen it!)
On the other hand, too little moisture in the air could leave you with dry skin and an irritated throat. So, it’s important to get the humidity levels in your home just right.
Fortunately, dehumidifiers tend to be relatively small, cheap and effective.
What does a dehumidifier do?
A dehumidifier is an electrical appliance that removes moisture from the air. They are used to help control the level of humidity in a room or area, and can be used to prevent the growth of mould and mildew. They may be particularly useful for people with asthma or those who suffer from allergies as a result of animal dander, dust mites, pollen, and mould.
Dehumidifiers work by using a fan to draw in the humid air, which then passes over a cold coil, causing the water in the air to condense. The water drips into a tank and the dry air is then blown back into the room – warmer and dryer than it was when it was pulled in.
The National Asthma Council Australia advises your home’s humidity levels should be between 30 and 50 per cent. Many dehumidifiers come with a meter that measures the relative humidity, and you can set the humidity to the percentage you desire.
What type of dehumidifier should I get?
There are two main types of dehumidifiers: refrigerants and desiccants.
“These use the same technology as a fridge,” says CHOICE household products expert Chris Barnes. “They draw in air, cool it to condense the water it contains, then warm it and blow it back out.
“It’s easier for them to cool the air if it’s already warm, so they work best in moderate or warmer climates. However, the released warmer air might be undesirable in hot climates.”
Refrigerant models tested better in the CHOICE dehumidifier product reviews. They tended to be more energy efficient than desiccant models, had larger tanks and better water removal. But they were also larger, heavier and noisier.
“These models use a slowly rotating disc or belt of material that absorbs moisture from the air,” says Mr Barnes. “The damp section then moves through a drying process, which evaporates the water and collects it in a tank.”
The air temperature doesn’t seem to affect how efficiently desiccant models run so they may be better in cooler climates where a refrigerant model may struggle. In warmer climates though, refrigerant models tend to win out.
The desiccants tested by CHOICE typically had a higher running cost and smaller tanks but tended to be lighter, more compact and more portable.
Signs you may need a dehumidifier
Some warning signs that you might want to invest in a dehumidifier include:
- suffering from allergies outside of the main allergy seasons
- allergies flaring up after moving into a new home
- a persistent smell of damp or mould
- frequent condensation on the windows in certain areas of your home
- water leakage after heavy rainfall
- an allergy to dust mites
- an increase in unwanted pests such as spiders, cockroaches, moths or silverfish
- clothes that smell damp even after washing and drying
- having persistent symptoms of respiratory illness, such as coughing and runny nose.
You may also want to consider a dehumidifier if you live in an apartment building, since mould and mildew spores can travel through ventilation systems, and can build up in the walls between apartments. Even if you keep your living area clean, these allergens from other areas of the building can be harmful to your health.
What if I already have an air conditioner?
A dehumidifier can heat the air up to a certain extent, which is often not desired in warmer climates. In this case, an air conditioner may be a better option as they dry the air as well as cool it. Some air conditioners have dehumidify modes, so check yours before spending the money on an extra appliance.
How much do they cost?
Dehumidifiers can range from $120 up to about $800 depending on tank capacity, extra features and efficiency. The more expensive models tend to have a larger tank capacity, more features and higher-energy efficiency. But they are often bigger, heavier and noisier.
You’ll also need to consider the effect running a dehumidifier will have on your electricity bill. Running costs can range from two cents to 21c an hour, which can soon add up. When choosing your model, aim for a balance between running costs and effectiveness.
Are they worth it?
If your home is experiencing dampness, condensation, or mould it’s worth seriously considering a dehumidifier.
Although a dehumidifier won’t pump water out of your house during a flood or a leak, it can help massively with the clean-up.
If your home furnishings have been soaked by floodwater, then running a dehumidifier in the room will certainly help to dry them out faster. But be warned – any carpet or furniture that’s been badly water damaged will probably be beyond the powers of the dehumidifier to help.
“They can make a big difference to a persistently damp home and may save you from costly repairs or health problems in the long run,” concludes Mr Barnes.
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