Do you need a dehumidifier in the winter? Advice from HVAC experts

Using a dehumidifier this winter could help you to clear up must, mold, and condensation, but it might dry out your skin

Honeywell TP Portable Dehumidifier in a living room.
(Image credit: Honeywell)

You might not even have thought to run your dehumidifier during the winter. Perhaps your appliance is in a store cupboard somewhere, gathering dust as we speak, now that the warm, moist air of summer has passed. 

While most of us associate humidity with hot, wet weather, you could still get a lot of use out of your dehumidifier in the winter. A quick blast could remove excess moisture from the air, helping to eliminate condensation and keep your house smelling fresh. Just be careful not to overdo it. When humidity levels are too low, the dry air can suck all the moisture out of your skin and compromise the structural integrity of your home. 

With so much conflicting advice, it can be hard to tell whether or not you need a dehumidifier in the winter. That's where I come in. As a member of H&G's product testing team, I know my way around an appliance. Since I've seen the best dehumidifier in action, I can tell you how and when to use it wisely. I've consulted industry experts to determine the pros and cons of running your dehumidifier in the winter and help you explore alternative options.

Do you need a dehumidifier in the winter?

What is a dehumidifier and how does it work?

Before we begin, it helps to define our terms. A dehumidifier is a home appliance that works to remove excess moisture from the air. Inside a dehumidifier, you'll find fans, filters, condensers and cooling coils, as well as a water reservoir. Damp air is filtered into the machine, where it is cooled to remove moisture, then reheated and released through the fan back into the room. 

To get the most out of your machine, you need to find the best place to put it. When I asked air care expert Holly Male to identify the best place to put a dehumidifier, she said it's not that simple, since the prime location 'depends on several factors, including the layout of the room, the source of humidity and the type of dehumidifier'.  

Ask yourself why you want to use a dehumidifier in the first place: whether it's to clear the air in a particular room or to reduce humidity across the home. Holly suggests identifying the 'specific source of moisture' in a room, which might be the shower in a bathroom or the cooktop in a kitchen: 'placing the dehumidifier close to this source should increase its effectiveness. For general humidity control, place the dehumidifier in a central location to ensure even distribution throughout the room'. 

Although these are Holly's golden rules, you shouldn't follow them blindly, but adapt them to fit your space. For example, Holly recommends that you 'keep the dehumidifier away from direct heat sources, such as radiators or heating vents, as this can affect its efficiency'. You should also 'avoid placing the dehumidifier in a cramped corner or a closed-off area: it needs good airflow on all sides to work'.  

Headshot of Holly Male.
Holly Male

Holly represents Duux, a Dutch luxury brand that produces all sorts of air care products, from heaters and humidifiers to purifiers and fans. There's also the Duux blog, which tells you everything you need to know about humidity in the home.

What are the benefits of using a dehumidifier in the winter?

A Honeywell Dehumidifier in front of a linen closet in a laundry room.

(Image credit: Honeywell)

When it's cold in winter, you might be tempted to reach for the thermostat and turn up the heat in your home. This creates a temperature imbalance between the inside and the outside of your house. When the moist. warm inside air collides with a cold, dry surface, such as a window, it quickly cools and condenses into water. 

When you use a dehumidifier in winter, you get to turn up the heat without worrying about the water, which is a breeding ground for allergens such as mold and mildew. According to Kevin Goude, owner of First Choice HVAC, using a dehumidifier 'can alleviate allergy symptoms by creating an environment less hospitable to allergens and reducing the presence of harmful viruses' that thrive in humid conditions. 

In his work with residential HVAC systems, Kevin has seen how excessively high humidity can pose a threat to your property, as well as your health. He warns that 'too much moisture in the air can cause wooden and upholstered furniture to warp, and lead to peeling and bubbling of paints and wallpaper, which loses its adhesion in high humidity'. Using a dehumidifier helps to undo what damage is done already and prevent further degeneration.

Health and home aside, Kevin identifies economic benefits to running a dehumidifier through the winter. 'When humidity levels are high, you heating system has to work harder to maintain a comfortable temperature,' explains Kevin, and 'this leads to higher energy costs. A dehumidifier helps to maintain consistent humidity, easing the load on your HVAC system,' and saving you some money in the process. 

Headshot of Kevin Goude.
Kevin Goude

Kevin is the owner of First Choice, a HVAC company providing commercial and residential installations and repairs of air conditioners, humidifiers, and heaters. Kevin knows a thing or two about dehumidifiers and agreed to offer his insights for this article. 

If you've made it this far through the article, the chances are that you already own a dehumidifier. Just in case you don't, I've rounded up a few of my favorites. The best dehumidifier should stop mold and mildew in its tracks, keep your home smelling fresh, and could even help your clothes dry faster: bonus.

What are the drawbacks of using a dehumidifier in the winter?

A dehumidifier against a navy bedroom wall.

(Image credit: Argos)

Using a dehumidifier during the winter can alleviate allergies and protect your home from water damage. With that said, AireServ President Brad Roberson questions whether dehumidifiers are really necessary in winter. Brad acknowledges that 'dehumidifiers can help with things like reducing condensation on windows and keeping the home drier,' but points out that, unlike hot and heavy summer air, 'winter air already tends towards the dry side'.

Brad encourages buyers to take a step back from their dehumidifier and consider their regional climate: 'in colder, drier climates, the need for a dehumidifier might decrease during the winter months'. In fact, running a dehumidifier in these conditions might just dry out your skin and irritate your respiratory passages. 

While too much moisture might threaten the structural integrity of your home, so can a lack of moisture. Over the course of his career in home maintenance, Brad has seen how 'humidity levels that drop too low can also cause damage to the home. For example, hardwood floors can buckle or even crack'. 

Before you use a dehumidifier in the winter, you should consider the microclimate of your home and work out where condensation collects. There's no point running a dehumidifier in an enclosed space without windows, though it might make sense to place one in the corner of the bathroom or kitchen.

Headshot of Brad Roberson
Brad Roberson

Brad is President of AireServ, a Neighborly company that provides residential and commercial heating, ventilation, and air conditioning services. The AireServ blog offers insights into HVAC upgrades and easy ways to save on energy costs. 

What are the best alternatives to dehumidifiers?

De'Longhi Pinguino Air Conditioner in a living room with a gray couch.

(Image credit: De'Longhi)

If you choose to run a dehumidifier in the winter, you need to calibrate it carefully: remember, you're looking to stabilize the levels of humidity in your home, not suck out all of the air and moisture. It might take a little tinkering to find the right settings and location before you're ready to run. 

All this might sound like too much work to you. If you're keen to stay warm and dry in the winter, but you can't be bothered with the hassle of a dehumidifier, you might get more use out of a space heater. These portable appliances are designed to heat smaller spaces, such as bedrooms and offices. A space heater might not do much about condensation, but it should keep you cozy in the colder months. You could also consider a heated blanket to get through the long nights.

Perhaps you have a recurrent problem with condensation, where mold and mildew take over your home each winter. To use a dehumidifier in this scenario would be to treat the symptoms, not the cause, of the issue. In this case, it might be worth paying the professionals to inspect your property and up your insulation. 

Some of the best ways to reduce your home's humidity are totally free. You can increase airflow by opening doors and windows, which should allow warm, moist air to circulate and cool more quickly. With that said, you might like to invest in a little something for your own piece of mind. These are a few of my favorite heaters and conditioners at the fairest prices you'll find online. 

Dehumidifier in winter FAQs

What setting should I use for my dehumidifier in winter?

There's not one right answer, but a range: you should set your dehumidifier to reduce the amount of water vapor in the air to somewhere between 30-40%. This way, you can work to reduce condensation without removing all of the moisture from your home. 

When is best to use a dehumidifier?

It's best to use a dehumidifier only when humidity levels exceed 50% or drop below 30%. You should be able to read your room's humidity on your dehumidifier's digital display screen. If you don't have a displau, it might be worth investing in an Indoor Digital Thermometer and Hygromete, like this model at Walmart.

Our verdict

A TESLA dehumidifier in the corner of a living room.

(Image credit: TESLA)

Running a dehumidifier through the winter should help you to get rid of condensation inside your windows, while stopping the spread of mold and mildew that could aggravate your allergies and damage your property. It's important to find the right place for your dehumidifier, close to the source of humidity, and to position it in a way that doesn't disrupt your decor. You should also consider your regional climate, as well as your home's microclimate, before running a dehumidifier in winter. If the air outside is cold and dry, you might not need a dehumidifier in the first place.  

Emilia Hitching
eCommerce Editor

Before she joined Homes & Gardens, Emilia studied English at the University of Oxford, where she sharpened her critical writing skills. She also worked on the other side of the aisle writing press releases for regional newspapers and crafting copy for Sky. Emilia combines her business savvy with her creative flair as our eCommerce Editor, connecting you with the products you’ll love. When she’s not in the office, Emilia is happiest when entertaining friends al fresco or out in the country.