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Portable dehumidifiers: Everything you need to know to buy the right one for your home

On the hunt for a portable dehumidifier? Start here.

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Here's everything you need to know about portable dehumidifiers.

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A portable dehumidifier is an important appliance to help remove moisture and humidity from your home. In the summer heat, humidity in your home (and outside) can feel uncomfortable. That dampness can also cause long-term damage, often without your knowledge.

Moisture in your home can promote mold and mildew, cause unpleasant odors in your home, irritate allergies and breed dust mites. All of these factors can lead to health problems for you and your family.

A portable dehumidifier helps to combat these issues by removing moisture from your home. Here's everything you need to know about choosing a portable dehumidifier for your home.

How portable dehumidifiers work

Portable dehumidifiers work by using a fan to force air over coolant-filled coils, which removes moisture. The air is circulated back into the room while the moisture is collected into a bucket or basin. The longer you run your portable dehumidifier, the drier the air in your home becomes.

As the bucket fills with water, it must be emptied as the dehumidifier continues to remove moisture from the air. Depending on the unit you have, you may have to manually empty the buckets, while others have a drain feature, which allows them to automatically empty into a floor-level drain.

To help your portable dehumidifier work to the best of its ability, make sure to place it where there's unrestricted airflow. Don't place the vents directly against the wall. You can place these appliances in commonly damp spaces such as basements, laundry rooms, attics, bathrooms and kitchens.

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What to look for in a portable dehumidifier

Price

One of the biggest things to consider when buying a portable dehumidifier (or anything else for your home) is the price. You want to buy a quality appliance without breaking the bank. Portable dehumidifiers can cost anywhere from less than $100 to more than $1,000, but many fall in the range of $200 to $300.

Portability

When choosing the right dehumidifier, consider just how portable you want it to be. Some dehumidifiers are quite small, making them easy to move throughout your home. Others are significantly larger, making them more difficult to move. Keep in mind that for those more difficult to move, it's wise to find one with wheels and a long power cord.

Capacity and coverage area

The right dehumidifier for your space depends primarily on two factors: the level of humidity and the square footage of the space. Here's a chart to help you break down what capacity you may need for certain sized rooms. The capacities listed are for pints per 24 hours.

What size portable dehumidifier do you need?


500 square feet 1,000 square feet 1,500 square feet 2,000 square feet 2,500 square feet 3,000 square feet
Moderately damp 22 pints 22 pints 22 pints 22 pints 22 pints 30 pints
Very damp 22 pints 22 pints 30 pints 30 pints 40/50 pints 40/50 pints
Wet 22 pints 30 pints 40/50 pints 40/50 pints 40/50 pints 60 pints
Extremely wet 22 pints 30 pints 40/50 pints 40/50 pints 60 pints 60 pints

Once you know what capacity you'll need, you can specifically shop for portable dehumidifiers that fit that range.

Water capacity

Many portable dehumidifiers are self-draining, meaning you don't have to worry about manually draining the water bucket. But if you do choose one that isn't self-draining, be sure to consider the appliance's water capacity. The smaller the water bucket, the more often you'll be emptying it.

Energy performance

Energy performance refers to the amount of water a dehumidifier extracts per hour compared to the amount of energy it uses. As with other appliances, some portable dehumidifiers are more energy-efficient than others. The federal government's Energy Star program helps consumers to identify the most energy-efficient products, including dehumidifiers.

Combination dehumidifier and air conditioner

If you're looking for a way to reduce humidity in the summer, a combination of a dehumidifier and air conditioner might be the right tool for you. These appliances cool your home while also removing moisture from the air. Buying one appliance to do both jobs saves money on the purchase price and your energy bill -- and saves you space in your home. Keep in mind that a combination machine isn't appropriate for all situations. For wet spaces, an air conditioner-dehumidifier combo may not remove enough moisture.

Special features for portable dehumidifiers

Here are a few features to look out for when shopping for portable dehumidifiers:

  • Automatic humidistat: A humidistat measures the humidity in your home, so the dehumidifier runs only when it reaches a certain humidity level.
  • Internal pump: An internal pump automatically pumps water so the dehumidifier can run continuously. 
  • Direct drain: With a direct drain, you won't have to worry about emptying the collection bucket yourself. Instead, water continuously drains out on its own.
  • Automatic restart: If your dehumidifier loses power for some reason, it will automatically revert to the settings from before it turned off.
  • Programmable timer: A timer allows you to program your dehumidifier to run during certain times of the day.
  • Auto defrost: This feature prevents your dehumidifier from freezing inside, which can happen in temperatures below 65 degrees.

Maintaining your portable dehumidifier

Proper maintenance is critical to keeping any home appliance running as smoothly as possible, and your dehumidifier is no different. 

First, be sure to read the instruction manual for your new portable dehumidifier to find out what kind of ongoing maintenance is required. Typically maintenance tasks will include cleaning or replacing air filters, cleaning your dehumidifier, cleaning the water reservoir and properly draining the unit before storing it for a season. 

The bottom line

Humidity in your home isn't just uncomfortable, it can also do serious damage to your home and create health issues for your family. Luckily, a portable dehumidifier is a simple fix. It can help keep your home comfortable, keep your air moisture below recommended levels and prevent the growth of mold, mildew, pests and allergens.