a red dehumidifier on a wood floor with mold on the walls behind it and a caution sign for hazardous material potential

Freon is a hazardous gas that limits oxygen supply to the lungs and cells in the body.

The gas is also not eco-friendly as it contributes to the depletion of the Ozone layer. However, it’s among the most effective refrigerants in cooling and condensing vapor.

Most old dehumidifiers used Freon as a refrigerant due to its efficiency in condensing vapor. However, the EPA banned Freon (R-22) production and use in dehumidifiers in January 2020. Thus, it’s expected that newer dehumidifiers manufactured after 2020 don’t use Freon.

In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss the risks of Freon and the working of dehumidifiers.

I’ll also discuss other liquids used in dehumidifiers that may be hazardous. Stay tuned!

If you’d like to know how to reduce humidity in your home without using a dehumidifier, we’ve compiled a list of suggestions here.

The Risks of Freon When Used in Dehumidifiers

Refrigerant gas lines used to charge large dehumidifiers. There is a green bottle and four lines with two gauges.
Some dehumidifiers use refrigerants to take water out of the air via condensation. Large, whole-house units sometimes need regassing, which must be done by a qualified professional.

Before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ban in 2020, compressor-based dehumidifiers used Freon to convert the collected vapor into liquid.

The Freon was then passed through a set of coils to release heat outside the dehumidifier.

While Freon is an effective refrigerant, it’s also a hazardous gas. It contains chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and is not eco-friendly. It also poses risks to human life.

It’s worth mentioning that Freon is only risky if it leaks from the dehumidifier’s condenser coils. Otherwise, it’s safe, and its presence in your dehumidifier shouldn’t worry you.

The main risks of Freon include:

  • Cardio-toxicity. According to the National Library of Medicine, Freon is heavier than air. Thus, it lodges in the lungs’ alveoli impairing oxygen uptake. The gas can also increase heart rate and blood pressure, possibly leading to cardiac arrest.
  • Organ damage. If inhaled for a long period, Freon can damage the liver, kidneys, and other organs.
  • Ozone layer depletion. The Ozone layer shields the earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, CFCs in Freon and other gases contribute to the depletion of this layer, exposing the earth to UV rays.
  • Cancer. The gas contributes to the depletion of the Ozone layer, exposing human skin to UV rays which cause skin cancer. According to the National Library of Medicine, exposure to UV rays leads to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC).
  • Nervous system damage. Freon damages the central nervous system and can cause paralysis with prolonged exposure.

In short, Freon is a hazardous gas that should be handled with caution.

Leaks from dehumidifiers are rare, but if you’re concerned about using a Freon dehumidifier, other types of units are available that don’t use Freon.

Other Hazardous Liquids in Dehumidifiers

A closeup of a condenser coil on a home dehumidifier.
The inner workings of a dehumidifier are a mystery to most people. Some components use hazardous liquids to do their job.

Other than Freon, some dehumidifiers use liquids such as ethylene glycol and propylene glycol to enhance efficiency.

These two substances are environmentally friendly and don’t damage the Ozone layer. However, they’re poisonous if ingested and can cause skin irritation.

While these liquids are not as dangerous as Freon, you should still take precautions not to touch or ingest them. In case of skin contact, wash the area with plenty of soap and water.

You should also ensure they’re out of reach for children and pets.

Types of Dehumidifiers

A collage of three different home dehumidifiers.
Dehumidifiers fall into two broad categories: refrigerant dehumidifiers and desiccant dehumidifiers.

There are two main types of dehumidifiers based on their dehumidification process:

  • Refrigerant dehumidifiers
  • Desiccant dehumidifiers

Refrigerant Dehumidifiers

Refrigerant dehumidifiers and fridges use a similar working principle based on the refrigeration cycle.

These dehumidifiers use refrigerants to cool and condense the water vapor. The Freon in older models is replaced with eco-friendly refrigerants such as R-410A in new models.

These dehumidifiers are effective at room temperature and not in cooler temperatures. When used in places with temperatures below 18°C (64.4°F), ice forms on the metal cooling plates, preventing the dehumidifier from working properly.

Highly modified refrigerant dehumidifiers can work under low temperatures using advanced features. However, they are more expensive.

Desiccant Dehumidifiers

These dehumidifiers use a desiccant (a hygroscopic substance) to absorb water vapor from the air. The most common desiccants used are silica gel and calcium chloride.

The advantage of these dehumidifiers is that they can work at low temperatures without the risk of ice formation. Thus, they are ideal for use in basements and garages.

Desiccant dehumidifiers are quieter and have a longer lifespan than refrigerant dehumidifiers. However, they are more expensive than their refrigerant counterparts.

The Workings of Dehumidifiers

A light gray dehumidifier standing on a gray floor with a gray wall behind it.
Dehumidifiers made since 2020 should not contain Freon, thanks to the ban brought in by the EPA. Freon was not environmentally friendly and toxic. Its use has been replaced by more eco-friendly and safer alternatives.

Dehumidifiers work to maintain relative indoor humidity. The indoor relative humidity should be between 30 and 60 percent.

Excessive humidity in your home can lead to the following:

  • Mold and mildew growth.
  • Peeling paint.
  • Bacterial and viral infections.
  • Increased dust mite activity.
  • Uncomfortable conditions.

So, how do dehumidifiers work to maintain relative indoor humidity? Knowing the parts of a dehumidifier will help you comprehend its working principles.

Parts of a Dehumidifier

The following are the main parts of a refrigerant dehumidifier:

  • Compressor. The compressor is a pump that pressurizes the refrigerant.
  • Condenser coils. The condenser coils release heat outside and are usually located at the back of the dehumidifier.
  • Expansion valve. The expansion valve’s job is to regulate the flow of refrigerant to the evaporator coils.
  • Evaporator coils. These are located inside the dehumidifier. They absorb heat from the air, thus cooling it and causing water vapor from the air to condense onto them.
  • Fan. The fan helps circulate the air over the evaporator coils.

Let’s proceed to the working principle of dehumidifiers.

The working principle of all dehumidifiers is based on the fact that water vapor condenses when in contact with a cold surface.

In a refrigerant dehumidifier, the compressor pressurizes the refrigerant and forces it into the condenser coils. The coils release the heat to the outside air, making the refrigerant cool and liquefy.

The expansion valve regulates how much of the liquid refrigerant flows into the evaporator coils for cooling and condensation purposes. The fan helps to circulate air over the evaporator coils.

The now condensed water drips off the evaporator coils into the storage tank, and the refrigerant moves on to the compressor, where the cycle starts again.

In a desiccant dehumidifier, the air passes over the cooling coils to be cooled before it reaches the desiccant. The desiccant is designed like a wheel that turns slowly through the incoming air.

The humid air is passed over the turning desiccant, which absorbs the water vapor. Subsequently, the dry air is then reheated and released into the room.

Finally, warm air is passed over the water-saturated desiccant to reactivate it by driving off the moisture. The condensed water drops into the dehumidifier tank for disposal.

Refrigerants Used in Modern Dehumidifiers

A row of three different-colored tanks of eco-friendly refrigerants

After the ban on Freon, dehumidifier manufacturers shifted to eco-friendly and non-toxic refrigerants. These refrigerants include:

R-410A Refrigerant

This refrigerant has become the industry standard for new dehumidifiers. It’s safe for the environment and doesn’t contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer.

The main reason dehumidifier manufacturers prefer this option is efficiency. The thermodynamic properties of this refrigerant allow it to transfer heat using the refrigeration cycle more efficiently than Freon did.

Capable of operating at higher pressures, the compressor can work at lower speeds, thus reducing energy consumption.

The higher pressure also increases the efficiency of this refrigerant in condensing water vapor. Therefore, it can be used in smaller dehumidifiers without compromising performance.

Finally, the refrigerant uses modern synthetic lubricants that are more soluble. These lubricants mix well with the refrigerant to keep the compressor well-lubricated.

R-407C Refrigerant

This refrigerant has an inherently high-temperature glide. The temperature glide is the difference between the temperatures at which the refrigerant changes from gas to liquid.

The high-temperature glide of this refrigerant means that it can be used in a wide range of dehumidifiers without compromising performance or efficiency.

The R-407C refrigerant is also eco-friendly and doesn’t contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer.

Final Thoughts

Freon was the primary refrigerant used in dehumidifiers. However, it was banned in 2020 due to its health and Ozone depletion effects.

The EPA directed all dehumidifier manufacturers to use eco-friendly and non-toxic refrigerants like R-410A.

Thus, your dehumidifier may have Freon if it was manufactured before 2020.

For more information about refrigerants, please read our article, “The 11 Best & Most Affordable Eco-Friendly Refrigerants“.

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