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Dehumidifier vs Air Conditioner: Fine-Tune Your Indoor Air Quality

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An outdoor AC unit mounted on the side of a log cabin

If you live in a hot, humid climate, you know that summer isn’t all fun and games. The hot air sometimes gets horribly stuffy and you feel sticky all over.

Luckily, in this day and age, we have quick and easy solutions for indoor summer comfort: both dehumidifiers and ACs can help freshen up your summers.

But, in the dehumidifier vs air conditioner debate, it can be hard to choose the right device for your home. Read on to find out the differences between these devices and everything you need to know to reach an informed decision.

Air conditioner unit installed on a white wall

Table of Contents

How To Survive Sticky Summers: Dehumidifiers vs Air Conditioners

Whether you live on the coast or inland, near a lake or river, humid summer weather can be taxing. The air just seems heavy and stuffy, even outside.

It’s the little annoyances that make living and working during summer so hard. Like the icky sensation of getting sweaty as soon as you step out of the shower. In high humidity, it’s harder for your sweat to evaporate – leaving you feeling warm, drenched, and sticky all over.

A house plant covered in condensed water from air humidity

Humid climate dwellers know the deal: a comfortable breeze and a bit of dehumidifying are the keys to surviving clammy weather.

That’s where your summer cooling options come in. You can:

  • Get by with just the breeze coming from a ceiling fan. It doesn’t actually change the temperature or humidity, but it helps cool you down as far as you’re directly exposed to it.
  • Make hot weather less icky by dehumidifying. A dehumidifier won’t make you cooler, but it will make you less sweaty. Breathing less humid air is more comfortable, and your hair will be less frizzy.
  • Cool your room with an AC. An air conditioner sucks in the hot air from your room, cools it down, and blows it back. The cooled air will help lower the temperature in your room. In the process, an AC also removes some of the moist air from your room – the water vapor condenses and ends up in a small drip-puddle under your outdoor AC unit.

What do air conditioners do?

Air conditioners do just what their name suggests – they condition the air around you for maximum comfort.

An air conditioner is designed to work as a heat pump with liquid refrigerant. Its primary purpose is to either cool or warm air in your room.

Air conditioners are composed of two connected units – a sleek inner unit that circulates and conditions the air in your room, and a chunky outdoor unit that employs the laws of physics to keep your indoor air quality high. Both units work at the same time. When one is hot, the other one is cold – making it possible to use ACs for both heating and cooling

In general, ACs are cost-effective ways to keep the air in your home on a comfortable level, both temperature and humidity-wise. With an AC, you don’t need a dehumidifier unless your area or home has a pronounced issue with humidity.

What’s the catch? Well, air conditioning is a much bigger investment, compared to dehumidifiers. Inverter air conditioners cost quite a bit to buy and then some to install. In addition, they can’t be moved once they’re installed – and you can carry your dehumidifier to the room you need it in. But if you choose a good spot, an air conditioner has the power to keep the entire house nice and comfy. 

Person controling the AC unit with a remote controller

Do air conditioners dehumidify air?

Most people use ACs to cool down in the summer. As the air cools down, some portion of humidity naturally condenses. Don’t worry – ACs are equipped with a way to transport and get rid of excess humidity, though that can cause some dripping from the outdoor unit. Using this system, an AC automatically dehumidifies the air, removing excess moisture. However, you normally aren’t able to control and reach desired humidity levels with an air conditioner

So, air conditioning will help you get through the summer without getting all sticky and sweaty. ACs both cool the air and remove moisture, plus they work as space heaters in the winter.

What do dehumidifiers do?

Dehumidifiers are often found in humid climate homes – and they make stuffy summers bearable.

Increased moisture in the air makes homes feel stuffy and smell musty, and causes people to sweat excessively. A dehumidifier solves those problems for you by, in a way, squeezing water out of your air and containing it.

Removing excess humidity doesn’t only help you feel comfier – it also helps your home. High air humidity, besides being an indicator of poor indoor air quality, is the number one cause of mold on walls and furniture. Dehumidifying your space is a great way to prevent mold growth.

As a matter of fact, dehumidifiers and ACs share quite a bit when it comes to engineering. But unlike an air conditioner, in a dehumidifier, the whole cooling and heating process happens in one unit.

When you put your dehumidifier to work, air that gets sucked in gets cooled first. The sudden change of temperature causes some moisture from the air to condense. The water drips down to a designated jar. The now de-moisturized air proceeds to the other part of the machine that warms it back up. That’s how the air that exits the dehumidifier remains approximately the same temperature but now has less moisture.

If you’re looking for a way to get rid of some particles nastier than water from the air, an air purifier might help you out!

A dehumidifier on the floor, near a tile wall

Does a dehumidifier cool the air?

It doesn’t change the air temperature, but a dehumidifier definitely makes you feel less hot and sticky. And there’s a science-backed reason for that:

When humidity is high, the air is saturated with moisture, so sweat lingers on your skin. When humidity is low, sweat evaporates faster, helping your body regulate temperature naturally.

The temperature might still be in the 90s, but even so, you’ll perceive air as cooler and more comfortable with a dehumidifier.  

Can I use a dehumidifier instead of an air conditioner?

A dehumidifier will help you feel less hot in the summer. It does that by helping your sweat do its job more efficiently – not by actually reducing the air temperature as an AC unit does. A dehumidifier makes the air more comfortable in another way – removing excess moisture.

A woman controliing an air purifier unit via a smartphone app

An air conditioner and a dehumidifier simply don’t do the same thing. If you only have the budget to get one, choose a dehumidifier if you:

  • live in an area with moderate temperatures that don’t go crazy high in the summer
  • tend to sweat more than the actual temperature warrants
  • home feels stuffy or suffers from musty smells
  • want to prevent mold growth in your home.

Can I use an air conditioner instead of a dehumidifier?

Air conditioners are one of the best gifts of technology for anybody who lives in a hot climate. Arid or humid, sometimes summer weather just gets too hot – and that’s where AC units jump in with cold air!

An AC will rapidly cool down your room and send a cold breeze your way. Along the way, it will also remove some of the moisture from the room – but not nearly as much or as effectively as a dehumidifier. In the winter, an air conditioner can help bring supplement heat to your HVAC system.

AC units are versatile and useful machines, but they’re not always a suitable replacement for a dehumidifier. If you must choose between the two, get an air conditioner if:

  • Your area gets very high temperatures in the summer
  • Your home needs cooling or supplemental heating
  • The air humidity in your home never or rarely goes over 50%.
The AC outter unit installed on the side of a building

Stay Cool

Both dehumidifiers and air conditioners can help make your summers more bearable. Dehumidifiers remove moisture to help your body deal with heat easier, and with an AC, the temperature of the air around you will go down a few degrees.

In a nutshell, the dehumidifier vs air conditioner debate boils down to whether your home has an issue with humidity or not.

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