Dehumidifier vs. Air Conditioning unit – What is the Big Difference?

If you are concerned about high humidity and stuffiness in your home, your best bet is to buy a dehumidifier or air conditioner.

Both appliances keep a room fresh and comfortable. However, as a new buyer, you can find it confusing to decide which one is best for your needs.

Fortunately, we are here to help. In this post, we dive deep into the world of dehumidifiers and air conditioners. We answer all the important questions, including which appliance is best for your situation, which is cheaper to run, and whether you can substitute one for the other.

By the end of this article, you will be well-equipped to make an informed purchasing decision. 

Let’s begin!

What is a Dehumidifier?

As the name suggests, a dehumidifier is a device that reduces the moisture content in indoor air.

It sucks in moist air, removes the excess moisture, and releases the dried air back into the room. The collected moisture drains off either continuously through a pipe or into a drain pan emptied periodically. 

How Does a Dehumidifier Work?

Instead of giving you a blanket explanation, we’ll describe how humidifiers work by type. 

Condensate dehumidifiers

A condensate dehumidifier removes excess moisture by cooling the air. It uses technology similar to a refrigerator or air conditioner.

An inbuilt electric fan sucks in warm, moist air from the room and passes it over cold pipes through which a coolant circulates. When the warm air cools, its moisture turns to liquid water and drips off the pipes. 

Now moisture-free, the air passes through a compressor unit, which increases its pressure to warm it back to room temperature. The warm, dry air finally blows out of the unit, leaving the captured moisture to collect into a tray or bucket at the bottom of the machine.

Related post: How to Choose a Window Dehumidifier to Remove Condensation

Desiccant dehumidifiers

While a condensate dehumidifier deals with moist air by cooling it, a desiccant dehumidifier simply “mops” the water out of the air.

]An electric fan draws in the moist air and passes it over a rotating wheel made of water-absorbing (desiccant) material, such as silica gel. The wheel removes the moisture, and the dry air is blown back into the room.

Desiccant dehumidifiers often have a heated air duct, which blows hot air past the moisture-absorbing wheel to dry it. This duct directs the moist, hot air to a condenser, condenses the moisture, and drains it into a collection container.

Benefits of a Dehumidifier

Excess humidity can cause adverse health and environmental effects. Because common allergy triggers like mold, mildew, and dust mites thrive in damp locations, you can suffer recurringly from a stuffy nose, watery eyes, sneezing and breathing difficulties, and skin rashes. These allergens are also significant contributors to childhood asthma.

Besides undermining your health, humidity can damage surfaces like carpets, mats, and woodwork. Moreover, because moist air holds more heat than dry air, humidity can significantly raise your indoor air temperature. 

By reducing humidity levels, dehumidifiers make your house less hospitable to allergens. They also protect your surfaces, clothes, and furniture from mold attacks and reduce the odors caused by dampness. 

Most interestingly, because dry air retains less heat than moist air, a dehumidifier can minimize your need for an air conditioner to cool your home.

What is an Air Conditioner?

An air conditioner (AC) is a system that cools indoor air by removing heat from the room and moving it outside. Air conditioners are commonly called split systems because they consist of an indoor part (the evaporator unit) and an outdoor part (the compressor-condenser unit).

These two systems team up to cool the air inside your home, giving you some much-needed comfort during the hot summer months. Here are the pros and cons of air conditioners

How does an Air Conditioner work?

An air conditioner’s indoor unit comprises a fan and an evaporator coil. On the other hand, the outdoor unit consists of a compressor-condenser combo, which circulates a liquid refrigerant through its condenser coil. 

When the AC is switched on, the indoor unit’s fan sucks in air and passes it over the evaporator coil. Meanwhile, the outdoor unit’s compressor forces the refrigerant into the indoor evaporator coil. 

Because the refrigerant is much cooler than the air, it readily absorbs heat from it, turning from liquid to vapor. Now cooled- the air surrounding the evaporator coil is blown back into the house. The warm, gaseous refrigerant is then led to the outdoor unit for cooling. It turns back into a cold liquid, ready to begin its trip all over again.

Modern air conditioning systems are programmable to enable you to set the air temperature you want. Once set, the cooling process repeats until the thermostat senses that the desired temperature has been achieved. 

Types of Air Conditioners

different types of air-conditioners

All air conditioners work similarly. However, they still come in different types. The most common types are central air conditioners, ductless mini-splits, window air conditioners, and portable air conditioners. 

Central air conditioner

A central air conditioner is deployed to cool large homes and buildings. It uses a large centralized outdoor unit placed on the roof and indoor units that connect to the outdoor unit through HVAC ducts.

These indoor units are positioned in individual rooms in the house. Their fans can be controlled independently to regulate cooling. 

Ductless mini-spit

A ductless mini-split AC is a simpler, less-demanding option for homes without ductwork. It comes with separate outdoor and indoor units, which are connected by a refrigerant pipe.

The indoor unit powers the outdoor unit, eliminating the need for separate power outlets.

Window air conditioner

Window air conditioners are popular for single rooms. The indoor and outdoor units are miniaturized and combined into one unit, fitted on a window sill inside the room; the unit sucks in warm air and blows out cool air.

Outside, it releases hot air to the outdoors.

Portable air conditioner

A portable air conditioner is similar to a window AC in functionality. However, it comes with handles and caster wheels for easy movement between rooms. It also has a window to channel warm exhaust air outside. 

Benefits of an Air Conditioner

Indoor air conditioning does not just make your home more comfortable. It can also improve your health and keep your home safe. 

An air conditioner promotes air circulation in a closed room, preventing allergens like mold and mildew. It can also keep unwanted insects and parasites at bay.

Additionally, because you can keep your home cool without opening doors and windows, having an air conditioner keeps your home quieter and reduces the chances of a break-in.

A hot and uncomfortable home can make it difficult to work, exercise, and even sleep. With an air conditioner, you can make your house a more conducive living environment day and night. 

Finally, an air conditioner’s cooling process also removes moisture from the air through a similar process to condensate dehumidifiers. Consequently, running an air conditioner when warm and humid can minimize your need for a dehumidifier.  

Dehumidifier vs. Air Conditioning Unit: Similar or Different?

As you have learned, dehumidifiers and air conditioners serve different but related purposes. Therefore, these units have several significant similarities and differences. Let us look at some of them below.

How is a Dehumidifier similar to an Air Conditioner?

Both dehumidifiers and air conditioners work by sucking in the air and blowing it back into the room. Therefore, they can improve indoor air circulation, prevent stuffiness and reduce allergens.

Furthermore, these devices come with filters to trap particulates as air moves through them. The air they release is cleaner and safer to breathe. 

Depending on the model you choose, dehumidifiers and air conditioners can offer some portability. Manufacturers often fit smaller units with wheels and handles for easy relocation. 

Finally, both systems extract moisture from the air. Therefore, they need to store or expel water. Most dehumidifiers and air conditioners have a drainage system or collection tank to deal with the collected moisture. Some dehumidifiers even have pumps to drain water out of their tanks continuously. 

How is a Dehumidifier different from an Air Conditioner?

The main difference between dehumidifiers and air conditioners is they work differently. In a dehumidifier, moist air travels over cooling coils to condense the water vapor and extract it.

Then, the dried air moves immediately overheating coils to warm it back up to its initial temperature. Air comes out of the dehumidifier with reduced moisture but at room temperature. 

On the flip side, an air conditioner merely passes air above the cooling coils and releases it back into the room. The cooling effect is not reversed with heating coils. As a result, air conditioners are more effective at controlling temperature than dehumidifiers.

When is it Best to Use a Dehumidifier?

Although air conditioners have dehumidifying capabilities, dedicated dehumidifiers are more effective at removing moisture from indoor air. A dehumidifier can condense more moisture than an air conditioner because it has a heating component to reheat the air before releasing it back into the room. 

So, if your primary concern is lowering indoor humidity, a dehumidifier is your best bet. Dehumidifiers are especially effective at dealing with moisture in areas prone to dampness, such as poorly ventilated bathrooms, basements, and garages.

When is it Best to Use an Air Conditioner?

By lowering humidity, a dehumidifier can reduce the temperature in indoor air. However, because dehumidifiers reheat the air before releasing it back into the room, they are not effective temperature controllers. 

If you are more concerned with high indoor temperature than high humidity, you are better off with an air conditioner than a dehumidifier. An AC is thoroughly effective at cooling the air.

However, because it does not remove as much moisture as a dehumidifier, it is only a great dehumidifying option for moderately humid areas. 

Can You Use Both a Dehumidifier and an Air Conditioner?

It is not uncommon for homes in warm, high humidity areas to use dehumidifiers and air conditioners concurrently. A dehumidifier removes humidity but can warm a room slightly because of the heat its internal electrical components generate. With an air conditioner, you can keep your air reliably cool, even when a dehumidifier is running. 

However, running both of these devices at the same time creates the risk of over-dehumidifying your home. Overly dry air can cause health issues like asthma, bronchitis, sore throat, eye irritation, and dry skin. 

Additionally, these units run on electricity, and keeping both on can drive up your energy bill. You can cut down power consumption significantly by running your air conditioner more sparingly when you have a dehumidifier in the room.

What are the Best Dehumidifiers and Air Conditioners?

Now that you are almost at the end of this article, it is time to go through the best dehumidifier vs. air conditioning Units on the market. These two devices are among the most popular appliances in today’s homes. Therefore, their individual markets are flooded with choices, catering to a myriad of wants, needs, and budgets. 

If you are on the market for a dehumidifier or air conditioner, you need to have certain factors at your fingertips. For dehumidifiers, the most important points to consider are the space you plan to dehumidify, your indoor temperature and humidity level, and the mode of eliminating collected water.

Like the hOmeLabs Energy Star, excellent dehumidifiers also offer special features like auto-restart, a programmable timer, an integrated humidistat, and a washable air filter. 

As you have learned, these two types of devices have similarities and differences. Nevertheless, choosing one or the other does not have to be confusing. Use the information we have provided to make the best purchasing decision for your home.

On the other hand, if you need an air conditioner, keep your home’s size and room temperature in mind. Top-line air conditioners like the Senville SENL-09CD Mini Split are also energy-efficient and easy to install. Moreover, they come with additional features like remote control and wireless connectivity, air filters, adjustable fan speed, and evaporative cooling systems.

Wrapping Up

Dehumidifiers and air conditioners are the most common indoor comfort appliances for a good reason. They make a home cooler and less damp, promoting good health while protecting appliances and furniture from heat and water damage. 

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Jesse Pinkman is a passionate HVAC professional writer who grew up repairing any home appliance on which he could lay his hands. He is responsible for ensuring that every article we publish is SPOT ON. When he's not in the office, he enjoys hiking, watching football, and spending time with his family.