How Long to Run a Dehumidifier After a Water Leak

April 15, 2019

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A dehumidifier is a device essential to removing excess moisture from the air and is especially useful after a water leak. 

The duration of time you will have to run your dehumidifier after a water leak will vary based on a variety of factors; severity of the leak, the damaged materials, and the type of dehumidifier you use. 

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Stop the Leak

If you have experienced a leak in your home, it is essential to stop the flow by turning off the water. Flooding may be a result of equipment/appliance failure, an act of nature or a leaking pipe. A plumbing leak can flood your house with multiple gallons per minute so you should shut off the main water valve. There are likely to be a few more gallons of water in the pipes. In order to drain the remaining water, turn on the faucet at the lowest point in the house and the water will drain there, instead of through the leaking pipe. 

The approach to remedying the leak will depend on whether the leak is contained (in a basement or crawl space) or if the leak has occurred in a home setting (toilet or sink leak). The location of the leak and the amount of water that has accumulated will determine the cleanup process. While cleaning and drying in the home setting may be more complicated, either way the first step in the water restoration process is to remove the water. Resist the urge to step into the water to save any belongings. The water might be contaminated or electrified. You or an electrician should turn off power if that is deemed necessary. Put on tall, rubber boots when stepping into the water and wear plastic gloves when handling affected items. You may have cuts on your hand that could become infected if they come in contact with contaminated water. 

Now that you have ensured that it is safe to enter the affected space and that you are able to use electronic appliances, your cleanup can begin. It is important to remove as much water as possible from the damaged area; mop, blot and wipe down all surface areas. Clear the items from the space including area rugs and small pieces of furniture.  Open the doors, windows and cabinets to begin airing the space out. 

A dehumidifier is a necessary piece of equipment in successfully completing the process. This simple yet effective machine pulls water from the air using a combination of condensing coils and fans that blow across these coils. The dehumidifiers’ cooled metal fins keep a temperature lower than the surrounding space’s dew point. This is the temperature when condensation forms. The fins take the moisture from the air as a vapor and condense it as water, which will collect in a basin. Additionally, having less vapor concentration will lead to the evaporation of moisture so as the fans move the air the machine speeds up the evaporation process. 

After removing all standing water, place your dehumidifier in the middle of the affected area. Depending on the severity of the damage and to expedite the drying, you may want to enlist the help of multiple dehumidifiers. High powered fans can also assist the dehumidifiers. During the drying process, it is important to use a moisture meter to determine when the surfaces are actually dry. Do not just rely on touch as this is inaccurate and can lead to additional issues like mold. 


Preventing Mold and Preserving Health

Allowing mold to grow can cause serious health issues so it’s important to not allow the issue to develop at all. Mold can develop within 24-48 hours of water exposure so acting quickly is in your best interest. As long as moisture is high, there is a chance for mold to grow in wood, dry wall, insulation, carpeting and most other materials in a home. Other issues that can occur as a result of a water leak or flood include:

  • Fire - water may come in contact with electricity in the home leading to a fire
  • Rot - wood and other natural materials will soften and rot
  • Stains - minerals may seep into natural materials and cause staining 
  • Disease - you may get seriously sick if the water is contaminated 
  • Odors - mold, mildew and bacteria may cause a repugnant scent in the affected area and throughout the home

It is vitally important to stop bacterial damage and save your space and items, so you must act quickly. Open your windows if humidity is lower outside; open them home during the day and close at night. 

As mentioned before, remove all items from the area and clean surfaces with disinfectants. You can let some items dry in the sun or you may allow the dehumidifier to tackle their drying as well. There are many options for disinfectants including commercial mold removers, washing soda or laundry bleach and water. Use all necessary precautions when using these cleaners. The kind of sanitization needed as part of your water remediation service will depend on what kind of water has caused the damage. There are typically three types of water damage: white water, grey water, and black water. White water does not pose any immediate health threat as it comes from a clean source like sink or tub. It is easy to sanitize if treated quickly. Grey water is contaminated water but not necessarily hazardous. It is likely from a dishwasher or washing machine overflow. The replacement of soft items will depend on the level of damage by the grey water. Black water is from an extremely unsafe source and both the water and its residuals can be dangerous to those who come in contact with it. Professional grade cleaning will be necessary to remove toxins. The source is typically sewage backup or runoff water and therefore carpets and rugs cannot be saved. A professional water damage restoration contractor will advise on whether upholstered furniture can be salvaged or not. You may need to dispose of soaked absorbent materials like papers, drywall or ceiling tiles. Not every item will be able to be restored to its pre-damage condition. Carpets that cannot be removed will have to be cleaned with a wet/dry vacuum. Continue the use of fans to circulate the air and speed up the evaporation process. All of these steps will allow your dehumidifier to work efficiently. As the air is treated, it will wick moisture from the walls and floors.

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Securing the Space

As your dehumidifier works, you may close the windows. Dehumidifiers work best in confined areas so that they are not trying to dehumidify the outside area. If the leak is contained and the area has a door, place the dehumidifier inside and close the door. To maintain efficiency, be sure to empty the water tank regularly. A dehumidifier in a closed room can lower the relative humidity to 20%.

Another great resource you may have at your disposal is the use of your home HVAC system. Warm air holds more moisture than cool air so turn on the heat until it reaches about 80 degrees. Then switch back to air the air conditioning. If you do not have central air conditioning, you may also use window units. A cycle of air conditioning and heat use will suck the moisture from the air, saturate the air with moisture, then suck the moisture again. Continue this process until the affected area is dry. 

The amount of time you need to run your dehumidifier will depend on the severity of the leak and the size of the area that has been affected by water. Closing doors and windows when the dehumidifier is running will aid greatly in cutting down time. It can be taxing on the machine if it has to combat natural moisture in the outside air as well. The dehumidifiers’ job is simple_ remove moisture from the air. The device will draw in moisture from the air and return the air to a room devoid of moisture. Moisture hiding in sheetrock and other parts of the room will be drawn out. However, if the house is not dried out quickly enough and mold begins to appear, steps must be taken  to physically remove the hazardous growth. Put on a N95 respirator mask, plastic gloves,, and get scrubbing with a strong detergent and bleach. The mask with filter will ensure at least 95% of spores and other small particles are not being inhaled. 


Household vs. Commercial

Dehumidifiers may be a normal part of a home but when a leak occurs it may be worthy of an upgrade to a commercial dehumidifier. The necessity of acquiring a commercial grade appliance will depend on the size of the area affected. If your cleanup is going to extend outside of the 24-48 hour window when mold begins to grow, you may need to expedite the moisture removal with a more powerful dehumidifier. A commercial dehumidifier will be your best option. These are available to rent and have a larger capacity than a household appliance; sometimes removing up to 300 pints of water per day. They can run for days at a time before they have an automatic shut-off, with the exception of emptying a full basin. Household dehumidifiers are not equipped for structural drying so you may be emptying the basin frequently. Traditional household dehumidifiers hold 4-9 gallons, which is not enough for a large leak. Commercial dehumidifiers are more powerful and will quickly handle the issue, around 500-1000 gallons of water per day. This may cost approximately $50 per day to rent but rental companies may offer a weekly discount. It is less expensive to rent a commercial dehumidifier than to purchase one. You'll also get access to the high-end dehumidifiers. These are expertly maintained and you’ll get the advice of a company representative along with the rental. Additionally, you will save space - storing a commercial-grade dehumidifier is not something that is reasonable for most people’s homes. 

The issue could take a days or up to more than a week to be remedied. You can also pair the dehumidifier with powerful fans which will help water in the walls evaporate faster. You should plan to keep the unit running constantly and emptying the basin regularly. You may also want to connect a drain host to the machine so you don’t lose anytime when clearing the basin. There is no exact time you will need to run the dehumidifier because of the variables (amount of damage, size of area, type of humidifier) but it’s helpful to know that you can also reach out to a professional for assistance with removing all moisture and repairing any damage. If a commercial dehumidifier is not a possibility, ensure your household dehumidifier is running consistently by lowering the relative humidity setting.

More Technology, More Success

We have stressed the importance of commercial grade dehumidifiers and high powered fans, but there are other important pieces of technology that should be utilized when ensuring a perfect cleanup will be completed. A moisture reader is extremely important as it detects moisture in materials. It can locate issues before they start or pre-existing damage. It can also find places where a water leak is leaving damage behind. Moisture content will be displayed in percentage, either analog or digital depending on the meter brand and type. Moisture meters are typically calibrated to work, with a range of 5-40%. Non-wood materials have a scale of 0 (completely dry) to 100 (fully saturated). Moisture meters used to inspect structural materials come in three types: pin-type, pinless, and all in one. Each is unique to the users’ needs. The pin-type must touch or penetrate the affected surface to test moisture content. This is helpful in determining the exact location of the water damage which may be behind walls, in floors and other hidden areas. The pins on the meter will read at various levels of penetration, which can provide you with useful information about the damage. A pinless device uses electrical impedance, the amount of opposition that a circuit presents to current or voltage change, to read the moisture content. The pinless meter works quickly and over large areas of space. The all-in-one meter is likely the most useful because it utilizes both methods to determine the level of moisture in a particular material.  

While some moisture readers will require contact, use of an infrared thermal camera does not. It will display water damage on the screen, much of which may appear undamaged to the naked eye. It covered large areas very quickly. This newer technology is being quickly adapted by industry professionals because it provides a thorough, more accurate reading. With thermal images water damage can be detected, even under deep surfaces, so that conditions do not worsen. An infrared camera will get those fixing the issue to the problem area faster and with less intrusion. Most issues will stem from insufficient drying techniques so this is a certain way to make sure the leak is wholly taken care of. 

In addition to all of these tools, preventive measures are really the best way to stop any issues from happening. While acts of nature are not within our control, there are many issues you can stop before they even start:

  • Shut off main water valve when leaving for extended periods
  • Use stain steel hoses for washing machines, faucets, toilets, etc
  • Use frost-proof outdoor faucets
  • Clean gutters and install a downspout extension
  • Install a sump pump and water alarm
  • Annual inspections by plumbers 
  • Install water backup valves, water leak detectors and automatic water shut-off valves
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