Dorm IQ #10 | Mold + Humidity = Air Purifiers For Dorm Rooms

February 25, 2024

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Why dehumidifiers and air purifiers are so important in dorm rooms.

Welcome to Topic 10 of Dorm IQ, a deep dive into moisture, mold and the importance of air purifiers for dorm rooms.

College freshmen face a number of challenges as they start their new journey. New ‘home’, new roommate, new food, new freedoms, an academic wake-up call (for most), trying to find your people and make new friends. It is a lot. One thing you may not consider is the unwelcome challenge of battling sniffles and illnesses. Remember what it was like when they were in kindergarten? It’s like that again.

But this time, it may not only be caused by the germs that are congregating in small dorm rooms, university buses and crowded dining halls. Students are probably not getting enough sleep, maybe not eating well and probably not taking those multi-vitamins you stashed in their first aid kit. And are they hydrating?!

Colds and congestion are extremely common in the fall. You’ll just hope that it doesn’t get so bad that they miss or fall behind in classes. It is already so much harder than high school without missing class!

But when those sniffles and coughs never seem to go away, you may look to air quality and potential mold exposure as a possible culprit.

How frequently is mold an issue in dorm rooms?

Mold is a fungus that grows in moist areas. In dorm rooms, there are a lot of damp places, unfortunately. The primary concern is the window heating & air unit or ceiling air vents. Mold also likes to grow in exhaust fans in bathrooms, in shower stalls, on shower curtains, under sinks and in corners where damp towels have been piling up. Carpets or rugs that weren’t cleaned properly after a spill and damp closets can also be targets.

The problem with mold and college dorms is that you probably won’t see it before you feel the effects, especially if it is inside the vents, behind drywall or in the ceiling of a tall unlit closet.

Old buildings, poor air circulation, A/C cranking up condensation levels in the air vents, humidity, several showers a day in tiny bathrooms, it all adds up to the potential for mold. It isn’t just older buildings either. For reference, this is a list of news articles about the presence of mold in 145 college residence halls over the past 5 years.

What are some signs that there could be mold in the dorm room?

Mold can disguise itself very well in the vents or the walls. As mentioned above, you may not be able to see it. For any physical symptoms, please consult a medical professional.

  • Strange odors that they can’t identify where it is coming from. It usually smells musty.
  • Unexplained damp surfaces or walls that you’re able to push in with ease.
  • Discoloration of walls or things: black, brown, green, powdery white, blue, or slimy textures are pretty common for mold.
  • Dark water stains on the ceiling, walls, or floors.
  • Headaches or migraines that feel different than their normal headaches*
  • Difficulty breathing, coughing, shortness of breath, or wheezing.*
  • A rash, hives, itching, runny nose, or sneezing.*

*Source: CDC, July 2023

What should Students do if they suspect Mold in the Dorm?

First and foremost, if your student isn’t feeling well and has symptoms, they should seek medical treatment. Testing may rule out common viruses and illnesses, but if the symptoms persist, additional action is warranted.

If at any time the student is concerned that mold is present, this should be reported to the University immediately. The student should contact their housing department or start out with their Resident Advisor (RA).

Have your student document each mold-related conversation and interaction and keep a copy of any incident reports filed online. This is a good learning opportunity, and your student should take the lead on reporting and follow-ups unless no response or progress is made.

Mold on dorm vents in Feb 2024.
Source: The Emory Wheel

How to fight germs and mold illness

The good news is that there are ways to mitigate the risks of mold, germs and illness with simple appliances in your dorm room.

An air purifier will clean the air of mold spores (certain models will) and germs, not to mention the smells that tend to form in small dorm rooms with dirty laundry, microwaved food and multiple teenagers in tight spaces.

We’ve read many personal accounts in our Dorm Shopping Group about freshmen who were frequently sick or couldn’t shake sickness in the fall semester. After doctor visits, meds and head scratching, someone would suggest they try an air purifier, and almost every time, there is a sudden improvement. Just do a simple Google search for ‘mold in dorms’, and you’ll find an astonishing number of pictures and reports.

A dehumidifier is another layer of protection in humid climates or for those dorms that just seem to be continually damp (many of them!). The dehumidifier will remove moisture from the dorm room and keep surfaces dry. This will also help your crunchy snacks and cereal stay crunchy!

The Best Air Purifiers For Dorm Rooms

Air purifiers continually clean the air of bacteria, dust, smoke, mold spores, and pollen into a filter before sending the cleaned air back into the room. That filter, by the way, needs to be cleaned or changed on a regular basis.

We’ve done a lot of research on air purifiers for dorm rooms and compiled the information below to compare popular, highly-rated air purifiers for dorm-sized rooms.

What To Look For In Air Purifiers For Dorm Rooms

  • Room size coverage. Most dorm rooms are in the 150-225sqft range (there are exceptions!). You’ll want to be sure the air purifier you choose will recirculate close to your room square footage every 12.5 minutes. Read the details carefully as some air purifier listings show the square footage per hour in their headline, and you have to read the details to find their single cycle square footage rate. There is no consistency in how they advertise, unfortunately. See the chart below for an apples to apples comparison.
  • A True HEPA filter or at least a HEPA filter.
  • Particle size removal. Mold spores and bacteria can be as small as 1-3 microns, so be sure it filters out at least that small.
  • Avoid UV/Ozone. Some UV Light models generate ozone which is not recommended.
  • Noise level. None are going to be silent, and some white noise in a dorm room is often a good thing, but noise level is something you should consider (and discuss with roommate).
  • Filter cost. Filter replacement timing will vary by model and by how much is floating around your dorm room and may need to be replaced ahead of a typical schedule given the environment. Just check the cost and availability of replacement filters before buying the air purifier. Make a note to check the filter around Thanksgiving break. Sooner for notoriously dusty or pollen-prone dorms.
  • Smart technology/app. You may not be able to attach this to your school WiFi system when living on campus, so buying a model just based on Smart technology is probably not worth the investment, for the dorm years anyway. If this is something you may want in off-campus housing, then it would make sense to invest in now.
  • Built-in nightlights. A nightlight can be very handy when you and your roommate are on different schedules. Just be sure it can be turned off for the times you want true darkness! Why would you need a nightlight? Because usually the only lighting in a dorm room is a bright overhead light!

Where To Put An Air Purifier In A Dorm Room

You should try to place the purifier closest to the source of pollutants. For many, this will be up high near the air vent. The top of a desk hutch or an over fridge shelving unit may be good options. In general, it should be more central in the room rather than in a corner.

Our Recommended Air Purifiers For Dorm Rooms

Matrix comparing air purifiers for dorm rooms.
A comparison of air purifiers for dorm rooms.

The 8 options shown in the eye-chart above are listed in order below. All are highly-rated air purifiers with replacement filters readily available. Please avoid cheap Chinese-named knock-offs as they get terrible reviews, and replacement filters may not be available. You get what you pay for in this space. I only recommend highly rated air purifiers from reputable companies.

The NineSky Dehumidifier and BLUEAIR 411a Max Air Purifier In Our Dorm Staging Area!

Do You Also Need Dehumidifiers For Dorm Rooms?

A dehumidifier lowers the humidity in a room by collecting moisture from the air. The water collection chamber will need to be emptied regularly.

One simple way to remove moisture from the air is from DampRid buckets or DampRid Hanging Bags. Depending on the humidity levels in your dorm, these may suffice, but you need to watch them and replace them when they are full.

Our Facebook group members share many stories about walls that seem wet, clothes in closets that don’t feel fully dry, and, of course, the need to devour potato chip bags in one day because they become soggy by day two.

The Best Dehumidifiers For Dorm Rooms

Unfortunately, there are not many highly-rated, affordable. effective dehumidifiers with decent sized water chambers. I challenge you to find a well-rated recognizable brand dehumidifier with a tank larger than 1 pint (16oz)! If you find one, please send me an email here! Well-rated = 4.5* or higher.

The NineSky Dehumidifier has an 85oz tank (5.3 pints) and auto shut off. My son uses this in his 90 year old dorm in Alabama, and he has to empty the tank every other day. If he doesn’t empty it, the auto shut off kicks in, and they start to notice the dampness in the room quickly. This has made him good at making a routine to empty the chamber. It slides out easily and can be poured down a drain – it is only water.

One mom told us this story about her daughter’s freshman year experience. “I call it a progressive journey. She chose a school in a very humid environment, so I suggested that I get her an air purifier and dehumidifier for her room. She adamantly declined, but she did “allow” me to get her DampRid Hanging Moisture Bags. I bought two boxes for a total of 6 hanging bags. She “allowed” me to hang one in the closet, one under the common suite sinks, one in the shower area, one in the water closet, and one under her bed. Her roommate’s mom used the 6th one for her daughter’s closet. Within two weeks, the bags were FULL, and I got a call asking to send more. I did the math. Instead of continually replacing the bags at about $4/each, I sent her the NineSky Dehumidifier that I had seen recommended on the Dorm Shopping Recommendations Facebook group.”

What About Humidifiers For A Dorm Room?

The complete opposite of a dehumidifier, humidifiers put moisture into the air. You need to fill a water chamber, and the device will consistently put that moisture into the air to increase the humidity in the room.

There are definitely situations where a humidifier would be helpful in a dorm room. If you live in a climate where the heat is going to run all winter long, that will have a tendency to dry out the air. If you live in a dry climate as in the Southwest, the combination of hot dry outside temperatures and air conditioning running could also create an uncomfortably dry dorm room.

Humidifiers are also helpful for those suffering from bad colds and congestion.

Fortunately, there are many affordable and highly rated options for humidifiers for dorm rooms. Here are a few good ones to consider.

  • Levoit 2.5L Humidifier – BPA Free, Top Fill, Auto Shut Off. For continual use, you may need to fill this smaller tank daily.
  • Levoit 6L Humidifier – The same model as above, but with a larger water tank.
  • Levoit 6L Smart Humidifier – As with smart air purifiers, you may not be able to connect a smart humidifier to the dorm WiFi network. The smart features such as voice control and scheduling are nice features to have in the future.

While some humidifiers come with the option to add essential oils, we do not recommend this when using in a dorm room without the permission of your roommate(s). Many students are sensitive to fragrances.

Air Quality Beyond The Dorm Year(s)

When your student moves out of a dorm, their next step will most likely be an off-campus apartment, townhouse or house. Let’s face it, those dwellings are not necessarily new construction or luxury residences – they are typically older units more affordable for students.

Air quality, germs and roommates who make interesting food on the regular will all be reasons to keep that air purifier going in your bedroom year after year.

And if you live in the south, a dehumidifer may just make the temperatures more bearable in your apartment without spiking the electrical bill from turning down the A/C.

Prepare Before Move-In Day

If you have time before move-in day, take these appliances out of their boxes. Open them up to see if any parts (like the air purifier filter) are in plastic wrap. This was a big issue in the fall of 2023 with students realizing their filters had been in plastic for months while the air purifier was running, but not catching any germs, dust or mold!

Have your student read through the instructions, take out the air purifier filter, then put it back in. Take out the dehumidifier chamber as if you are pouring out the collected water. Plug them in and look at the settings and options. The more educated they are, the more likely they will be to use them properly! When you’re done, put them back in the protective styrofoam or packaging in their boxes for transportation to school.

Conclusion

The importance of controlling mold from thriving in a dorm room cannot be overstated. Air purifiers and dehumidifiers not only enhance the overall comfort and well-being of your student, but also promote a healthier living environment by reducing moisture levels and filtering out pollutants. These essential appliances can create a healthier place for studying, relaxing, sleeping and enjoying the college experience. 

More Dorm information and recommendations

Dorm IQ is a comprehensive learning series covering all of the questions frequently asked in our Dorm Shopping Recommendations & Deal Alerts Facebook group. The Facebook group is also a great source for prior years’ move-in pictures for decor and organizational ideas.

All of the Dorm IQ Topics can be found here.

Our complete Dorm Shopping Guide is available here.

Have Questions?

Still have questions? Please comment below, or come ask us in the Dorm Shopping Recommendations & Deal Alerts Facebook group. So much great info in the group along with hundreds, maybe thousands, of move-in pictures from 2023 to give you ideas and inspiration.

=> Please share this article with your dorm bound friends and their parents. I would love for everyone to understand the topics in Dorm IQ before they start dorm shopping!

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Important Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, a lawyer or a financial advisor. Please use this content as informational only and as only one input as you consider what options are best for you and your family. This is not professional advice.

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