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Compressor v. Desiccant Dehumidifiers - Which Kind is Right for Me?

From mold prevention to controlling dust mites and other allergens, there are plenty of reasons to invest in a dehumidifier to control moisture levels in your laundry room, bedroom, or living room. But did you know there is more than one kind of dehumidifier? You might not be familiar with the terms “compressor dehumidifier” or “desiccant dehumidifier,” but each offers its own array of positive and negative features. It might seem daunting to try to choose between the two, but if you read on, you’ll soon understand the pros and cons of each kind and have a better idea of which home dehumidifier is right for you. 

clothes to dry on a hanger

What is a compressor dehumidifier? 

When you think of a dehumidifier, you probably picture a compressor dehumidifier, which has been the most popular kind of dehumidifier for many years. Compression dehumidifiers work by using condensation to extract water from the atmosphere. First, the dehumidifier draws in warm, humid air, which then passes over the cold surface of a refrigerated coil. When warm air passes over the coil, moisture is removed from the air via condensation. This extracted water is then collected in a reservoir which will eventually be emptied.  

What is a desiccant dehumidifier? 

Unlike compressor dehumidifiers, desiccant dehumidifiers don’t use refrigerants, compressors, or coils to condense moisture out of the air. Instead, a desiccant dehumidifier operates through a process called adsorption, in which liquid molecules adhere to a surface. Humid air is drawn into the dehumidifier and passed over a desiccant wheel containing silica gel, which adsorbs excess humidity. The wheel is recharged using an inbuilt electric heater. The dehumidifier then outputs the dry, warm air. In desiccant dehumidifiers, no water is collected, so there’s no need to empty a water tank. 

How do I know which type of dehumidifier is right for me? 

Both compressor and desiccant dehumidifiers have their individual strengths. Which choice is right for you depends on your specific circumstances and on how you intend to use your home dehumidifier. 

Environment 

cup with shoes and red carpet on the floor

The climate in which you live and the temperature of the space you’d like to humidify play a big role in which type of dehumidifier might be right for you. Generally speaking, compressor dehumidifiers are the better choice for warmer climates/spaces. This is because they have to be colder than the surrounding air to condense water, meaning they have to work extra hard to dehumidify rooms that are especially chilly. If temperatures fall below 59°F, the dehumidifier’s temperatures can reach a freezing point, which can lead to ice forming on the coils. As a result, in very cold temperatures a compressor dehumidifier can spend nearly 67% of its energy defrosting coils instead of dehumidifying the air. Icy coils can also damage or even break the units. 

While compressor dehumidifiers require a temperature gradient between the room and the condensation surface of their coils, the adsorption principle of desiccant dehumidifiers allows them to operate effectively at low temperatures. This means you don’t have to be concerned if the space you’re in falls below the 59°F threshold. Desiccant dehumidifiers also might be better for cold areas because they output more heat compared to compressor dehumidifiers. Compressor dehumidifiers, in comparison, blow air that is more or less room temperature back into the space. This feature is great for areas where room temperature needs to be maintained, like wine cellars or rooms that are already warm. However, if you’re looking for a little extra heating, a desiccant dehumidifier is going to be more helpful. 

Space 

If you have a large area to dehumidify, most of the time you’re going to be better off with a compressor dehumidifier. Compressor dehumidifiers come in many different high capacities capable of dehumidifying many pints per 24 hours, like the Honeywell TP70AWKN, which can dehumidify 70 pints per day. 

 

If the room you’re looking to dehumidify is relatively small, you can usually use a desiccant dehumidifier instead. The capacity of desiccant wheels is fairly minimal, so the high-humidity area can’t be very large, nor can it have an especially dense humidity level. 

As far as the amount of space in which you actually place a unit, a desiccant dehumidifier might be a better option if you don’t have a lot of room. Some desiccant dehumidifiers can fit cozily into room corners without taking up much floor space. Compressor dehumidifiers tend to be bulkier and heavier, so they aren’t as easily portable as their lighter, more compact counterparts. However, bear in mind that a smaller unit isn’t going to be as powerful. 

Sound level 

Compared to desiccant dehumidifiers, compressor dehumidifiers are relatively noisy, typically operating at a minimum of 40 dBA, or the equivalent of the sound level in a quiet library. Because desiccant dehumidifiers don’t run on compressors, they are usually quieter, though the fan noise can be equivalent to that of a compressor dehumidifier when run at a high speed. 

Maintenance 

Garage Tools

Unlike compressor dehumidifiers, desiccant dehumidifiers don’t use any refrigerants and are therefore easier to maintain. Desiccant dehumidifiers simply need to be recharged once in a while, after which you can replace them and continue using them to rid your room of humid air. 

Compressor units can be a little more complicated to maintain. They use a refrigerant gas to undertake the dehumidification process, so if there’s a decrease in performance, a professional might need to check if the device is out of gas. These units contain a number of other parts, like the internal coils, that might need to be examined to ensure proper functionality. 

Energy consumption 

Compressor dehumidifiers consume less energy per hour than desiccant dehumidifiers and are therefore generally cheaper to operate, especially in warm environments. Even though they’re the larger of the two, compressor dehumidifiers are energy efficient, and they usually will leave you with a lower electricity bill. Look for an ENERGY STAR-certified model like the Honeywell TP50WKN to ensure low energy usage and help you save on household energy costs. 

Price 

US Dollars

On the whole, desiccant dehumidifiers usually run a higher price tag than compressor dehumidifiers, though there are cheaper models on the market. However, maintenance costs associated with compressor dehumidifiers might make desiccant models seem more wallet-friendly. 

It’s never a bad idea to invest in a dehumidifier if you have problems with excess moisture that could lead to mold and mildew growth, dust mites, or uncomfortable side effects like dry skin and respiratory issues. If you live in a warmer climate, want to dehumidify a large area, or are looking for an energy-efficient option, a compressor dehumidifier might be the choice for you. If you don’t have much space, value quiet operation, or want a low-maintenance unit, consider getting a desiccant dehumidifier instead. Whichever room dehumidifier you choose, you’re sure to reap the benefits of drier, refreshed air. 

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