After 40 hours of research and weeks of real-world testing in century-old stone basements, we think the Frigidaire FFAD7033R1 is the best dehumidifier for most people. It’s effective at drying air, it maintains an optimal level of humidity, and it’s easier to operate than any other model we tested.
The Frigidaire FFAD7033R1 efficiently lowered the relative humidity in our test basements from 65 to 70 percent humidity to 45 or 50 percent, a level that inhibits mold yet remains comfortable to breathe. It held those levels consistently even during a week of nearly nonstop rain (like all our picks). It has the best interface of any model we tested, with large buttons and legible text easily visible in dim light. Detaching, emptying, and reattaching the reservoir was easier than on any other model we tested. It’s relatively quiet, it has a useful handle and wheels, and it even looks pretty nice, if you have to use it in a living space. Frigidaire is easier to deal with on warranty issues than most smaller brands, and this model is usually in stock online or at major retailers.
The GE ADEL70LR removes moisture from the air just as well as the Frigidaire, and among the models we tested, its continuous drain hose operation was the simplest to set up. But it was a tiny bit noisier in our tests, the interface was a bit more confusing, and its controls were harder to read in a dim basement. Like our top pick, this model is usually easy to find, and the manufacturer is responsive to customer problems.
Our top pick and runner-up drain passively using gravity, and that’s the easiest way to operate a dehumidifier—far easier than continually emptying a bucket. If your situation doesn’t allow your machine to drain passively, you need to push the condensed water up to a sink drain or out to a gutter or ditch. That requires a unit with a built-in pump like GE’s APEL70LT. This is the same model as our runner-up, with a pump added on—you’ll get the same good humidity removal, as well as the same so-so interface and noise levels.
This guide aside, I’ve been writing for The Sweethome since 2012, researching and testing home goods like cutting boards, steam mops, toilet brushes, and paper towels.
Dehumidifiers are not a cure for a humid living space or damp basement; they are a convenient, affordable way to lessen the symptoms until you can take on the big, often expensive fix of the underlying issues.
Constant moisture is a problem in homes for many reasons: It encourages mold growth, damages wood parts, promotes insect infestation, and potentially causes difficulties for residents with allergies or moisture sensitivities. You can do many things to lessen moisture getting into your home, as detailed at Green Building Advisor. You can adjust your gutters, change the grade around your house, install a new concrete slab and vapor barrier in your basement to seal out moisture, and take many steps beyond that.
Dehumidifiers are most useful to anyone who cannot make permanent improvements to a problematically damp space in a house (generally a basement) that’s exposed to the elements outside of the envelope of the HVAC system. In your indoor living spaces, the home’s heat and air conditioning should keep the humidity down, but less extreme weather in fall and spring can be challenging. At those times, you can use a dehumidifier in a central closet (with a louvered, shuttered door) to lower a home’s overall humidity, but doing so could substantially raise your energy bills.
A dehumidifier’s capability has a limit: This kind of machine isn’t useful if you experience regular basement flooding or need to dry out saturated walls and floors after a weather event. That job requires large blower-type fans, and potentially a commercial-grade portable dehumidifier.
We focused on one type of home dehumidifier for this guide: condensing. We avoided desiccant-based models, which draw air through a drum of the same stuff you find in packets in new shoes. Desiccant dehumidifiers work slower than condenser models, remove less moisture (typically 21 pints per day, versus 70 pints with condensers), and generally suit environments featuring (or seeking, as some laboratories do) temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 45 percent relative humidity, a combination that’s rare in any home. We also ignored thermoelectric dehumidifiers, which run an electrical charge through plates of certain metals, causing one end to heat up, the other to cool down, and humidity to condense on the cool side. A typical thermoelectric model removes only 25 ounces from the air per day under ideal conditions—not nearly enough to dehumidify a room.
We looked for dehumidifiers with a 50-pint or 70-pint capacity but leaned toward 70-pint models.1 “Capacity,” for a dehumidifier, describes how much moisture it can pull out of the air each day under optimal conditions (most dehumidifiers cannot store more than 2 gallons, or 16 US pints, in their reservoirs). A 50-pint model is built to handle a 1,000-square-foot area, and a 70-pint version is designed to handle 1,400 square feet, but we generally recommend the larger model for most spaces. A 70-pint model will work faster because of its larger condenser, it won’t be noticeably louder than a 50-pint one,2 and it will operate fewer hours per day to keep the humidity down, saving you money and likely lasting longer. Extra capacity is also useful in the event of a period of heavy rain or elevated humidity.
Browse condenser dehumidifiers, and you’ll find they look remarkably similar, have model names that are hard to memorize or differentiate, and seem to offer no indication of how well they do the core job of removing moisture from the air. We tip our hat to Consumer Reports and its testing facility for rating dehumidifiers on water removal, humidistat accuracy, and energy efficiency (subscription required). Still, the first thing we noticed about CR’s ratings is that nearly every dehumidifier received a rating of Excellent in water removal, and that most of the other ratings were not that far apart. These results made more sense after we checked our models against an extensive recall list from original manufacturer Midea; nearly all of the dehumidifiers we considered were made, or at least built in part, by that company.
We ensured that any dehumidifier we would recommend offered a “continuous drain” option. This is simply a connection for a garden hose, which bypasses the reservoir and carries collected water out to an existing drain. It’s a completely passive, gravity-based system, and thus virtually fail-safe. If your basement or living space doesn’t have a floor-level drain, you can put the dehumidifier on a shelf and drain it into a work sink, or perhaps into a modified laundry-machine drainage pipe. Otherwise, you can either empty the reservoir whenever it fills or buy a dehumidifier with a built-in pump. But we strongly recommend passively draining your dehumidifier continuously if that is at all possible. A pump can fail. And if you have the kind of humidity that leads you to buy a dehumidifier, under manual operation you’ll likely have to empty the bucket once or twice a day; if you forget to, or simply can’t be home 24/7, your unit will shut down once the reservoir gets full, and your humidity will climb right back up.
The thing that set the Frigidaire apart was its interface, which was the easiest to understand and use among all the dehumidifiers we tried. It was the quietest machine we tested, too, with the most manageable reservoir, and it was easy to move around with its handle and wheels—welcome graces no other model in the test group offered. It’s also easier to find in stock, with more reliable customer support, than models from some of the lesser-known brands.
Compared with the other models in our test group, the Frigidaire FFAD7033R1 made setting up the unit and knowing what it is doing the simplest by far. It has a power button, a fan-speed button to toggle through three speeds, two buttons to raise or lower the humidity level or set a timer, and a button to tell the unit that, yes, you have cleaned the air filter. If the bucket is full or inserted improperly, a clear LED strip on the front of the unit blinks. That’s it, and that’s all most people need. Other dehumidifiers have smaller buttons arrayed in a tight cluster, lights that indicate things you don’t need to know about (“auto defrost”), and options that don’t make sense until you read the manual.3 With the Frigidaire, we were always certain what was going on, and we were never concerned that we were putting the machine on the wrong setting unknowingly.
The dehumidifiers we tested generated between 51 and 60 decibels on all their fan settings, with and without their condenser coils active, a level of noise just below the typical “human conversation” in loudness. That might seem okay on paper, but we found that different dehumidifiers, running in the same spot in our basement, were more noticeable while we were trying to read, watch TV, or quietly make dinner on our test home’s first floor. The Frigidaire ran within the quietest range, 51.2 to 52.1 decibels, when we measured it from 6 feet away on its lowest fan setting, and it operated at about 55 and 58 decibels, respectively, on the medium and high fan settings. More important, the Frigidaire did not rattle, hum, whine, or create other sounds that made that “conversation”-level noise more noticeable, like the cyclical whine of our Honeywell unit, or the rattle we could never quite fix on our Keystone.
Draining your unit automatically through a hose is far, far easier than manually emptying a reservoir, because a house can create 6 to 16 pints of moisture per day, and a damp basement, up to 100 pints (PDF). Some people may not have the option of a drain, however, especially in apartments or if the unit is in a central closet. The bucket on the Frigidaire was the easiest to pull out, pick up (by its handle), empty into a sink, and then replace. Other dehumidifiers required more little shifts and pushes to reinsert the bucket smoothly into the unit. The circular water-level indicator on the Frigidaire can also be easier to read than the small vertical notches on other models, assuming you have some light (more on that in Flaws but not dealbreakers).
The Frigidaire alerts you and turns on a red light when it’s time to clean out the metal-mesh air filter. As with most other dehumidifiers, for the Frigidaire, air-filter cleaning is simple (just run some water over it in a sink) and less of a dire need than with most appliances. The Frigidaire’s filter could be easier to remove and reinstall, but it’s only 10 seconds of extra effort.
If you have to move the dehumidifier around to find its optimum spot, the handle on the Frigidaire is thick and sturdy, and the appliance rolls smoothly on its wheels. It has a handy cord-wrapping feature, too, minimizing mess if you have to store it for part of the year. The Frigidaire also looks more modern and inviting to use than any other dehumidifier we’ve seen; it’s the EVE to a lot of WALL-Es. If you keep your dehumidifier running in a dark basement that you don’t show people, this is a very minor point, but if you need to empty the bucket every day, or if it’s visible in a bathroom, the design might matter a bit more to you.
The older version of this dehumidifier (with the same internals) is Consumer Reports’s top-rated 70-pint dehumidifier, with a Recommended stamp and an overall rating of 83. Consumer Reports testers gave the Frigidaire a rating of Excellent in water removal and energy efficiency, a Very Good in noise, and a Good in humidistat (humidity reading) accuracy, but only a Fair in cool-room performance, a metric that measured water removal and energy usage when the temperature was at 50 degrees Fahrenheit. For most people, the time of winter when any room is at 50 degrees is a fairly dry one. Note, too, that in this regard no large-capacity dehumidifier received any better than a Good (one step above Fair) in the Consumer Reports ratings.
At about $250 as of this writing, the FFAD7033R1 is $10 to $40 more than most other 70-pint-capacity dehumidifiers. Given that it offers a better noise profile, a simple and visitor-friendly interface, and a brand that’s easy to find and reach for warranty or troubleshooting needs, we think it’s worth the relatively small price bump. If you have an enclosed space less than 650 square feet to keep dry, you can buy the 50-pint model and save $40 to $50. Or you could buy an older 50- or 70-pint version, the FAD704DWD, with the same internals, and save $40 to $50 at some stores (while supplies last), but then you must run its serial number to ensure that it isn’t on the recall list.
The continuous hose drain on our Frigidaire test unit was a bit sensitive: Unless we aimed it downhill all the way to the floor drain (as in, not laying it flat on the floor at any point), the unit would default back to filling its reservoir and then shut off when the container got full—in our test basements, this happened in less than a day. We simply might have had bad luck or a particular quirk in our test Frigidaire, but we had no problems hose-draining the other units. Still, the problem was easy to address; once we got the hose set right, the Frigidaire ran continuously and flawlessly. To be completely safe, you could elevate the appliance on a chair or a few bricks to ensure the hose is always sloping downward.
The air filter on the Frigidaire is easy to clean, but you have to snap it back into place on a back panel of the unit. We preferred models where the filter popped up and slid out of the top. Cleaning the filter is at most a fortnightly (and easy) task for a dehumidifier, but the Frigidaire’s design could be better in this respect.
Screwing a garden-style hose directly into the Frigidaire’s drain plug took some tight finger-twisting. This is a one-time annoyance, but notable. (Some garden hoses require the use of an extension piece—included—which makes the job easier.)
The biggest knock on the GE model we tested is its interface, which in our experience had a seemingly weaker LED number display that was harder to read at an angle. In addition, the labels on buttons and lights are blue letters on a shiny gray background, which can be difficult to read in low light such as in a basement. One point in the GE model’s favor, however, is its continuous hose drainage, which in our tests set up easily and did not fail, even with a coiled hose running into a sink.
You can find many, many dehumidifier models out there, but in our early research only a few stood out for having good reviews, notable or just decent ratings from Consumer Reports, and availability at more than one or two retail chains. These things matter, especially given that, by and large, most of the dehumidifiers in the US are made by one company, Midea. You can verify this by skimming the list of brands affected by a November 2016 recall of Midea-made dehumidifiers.
Our final test group consisted of four dehumidifiers—our two picks above, and the following two competitors:
The Honeywell DH50W was louder than the other dehumidifiers we tested, ranging from 55 to 57 decibels on low (versus 51 to 52 decibels for our pick) and from 58 to 59 decibels on high, the loudest we recorded. The high, cycling whine of the unit was especially annoying. My wife didn’t notice any dehumidifier noises during three months of testing, except when I turned on this model: “What is going on in the basement?” Your mileage may vary, but if it does not, you’re stuck with a dehumidifier that makes its presence known.
We wanted to test the Whynter RPD-501 series, because both the 50-pint and 70-pint versions offer a pump and are still affordable with that rare option. The company’s website was frequently down during our time testing, however, with a “there is not enough space on the disk” error. An email to Whynter went unanswered, and the listed phone number did not reach any human or voicemail during the stated business hours. Amazon reviews for the RPD-501 are not bad, but not reassuring. This model has a washable filter, but no alert when it needs washing. All of these eyebrow-raisers kept the Whynter out of our test group.
What level should you set your dehumidifier to aim for? There is no one answer to this question. Generally, the “ceiling” is 65 percent humidity in a basement, during summer, to prevent structural damage. Mold is discouraged below 60 percent humidity, and dust mites (which feed on discarded human skin cells, tend to gather in furniture, and can cause allergic reactions in some people) are inhibited below 50 percent. In short, for most spaces and units, 50 or 55 percent humidity is a reasonable target—and even in our saturated basements, our pick and runner-up held the air at that level just on their lowest settings. On medium, they dropped the humidity to 45 percent, about the limit of what condensing dehumidifiers can achieve, and about as dry as most people find comfortable to breathe. You can read more on the exact effects of moisture, and the benefits of dehumidifying, in a pamphlet by North Dakota State University’s agricultural extension (PDF).
Dehumidifiers need their air filters cleaned regularly. Our pick will sound an alert and activate a red light when it’s time to clean the air filter, namely after 250 hours of operation, or roughly every two weeks. Our runner-up GE model also lasts 250 hours between cleanings. Cleaning the filter means simply running it under some tap water and brushing your hands across the screens to remove anything that stops airflow.
If you empty your dehumidifier’s reservoir bucket manually instead of using a drain hose, you should fill it every few weeks with some water and a small squirt of some mild detergent (dish soap), swish it around, and rinse it out. The manuals we read are vague about the exact timing of reservoir cleaning. If people inhabit the space where the dehumidifier works, you should do this when you clean the air filter, every two weeks; otherwise, monthly seems fine. Either way, it’s another hassle that should induce you to set up continuous draining, if that’s at all possible.
(Photos by Kevin Purdy.)
Originally published: December 6, 2016