How to Ventilate a Bathroom Without a Window (11 Easy Tips)


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Using an exhaust fan is the most efficient way to ventilate a bathroom that has no windows. In fact, the International Residential Code requires an exhaust fan if there is no natural ventilation, which is defined as 3 sq ft window 50% operable.

Ventilating a bathroom without a window can be a tricky task. Unwanted moisture can be a severe nuisance and even dangerous to your health. Luckily, there are some simple hacks you can use to help aerate your windowless bathroom without breaking the bank.

The main trick to ventilating your windowless bathroom is to use every aerating tool to its maximum ability. To find out more ventilation hacks, and how to make the most of your aerating products, keep reading.

Defining Ventilation

Before we begin our list of tips, I want to take a moment to clarify what ventilation actually means and why it is important in a bathroom (covered in the next section).

Many people think that ventilation means making the air in a room fresher, dryer, or even just be perceived to be fresher or dryer. However, this is not the true definition of ventilation. Understanding the true meaning of ventilation is important when it comes to building code compliance, health, and safety because only true ventilation methods will be effective.

Ventilation is a two-fold process. One aspect of ventilation is the removal of moist, warm, and or polluted air. The second aspect is the supply of dry, cool, and fresh air into the room.

There are three ways that ventilation can be achieved in any room:

  1. Exhaust old air, creating a negative air pressure system that draws fresh air into the room to replace the old air. This is the most common method of ventilating homes.
  2. Provide the room with a fresh air supply, creating a positive pressure system, which forces old air out of the room.
  3. A combination of the first two. Natural ventilation can be considered to be a combination of both exhausting old air and supply new air, but it is achieved passively as opposed to actively. Mechanical or active combination ventialtion is the most effective method, however, in the setting of a bathroom, it is considered to be unnecessary.

Why Is It Important to Ventilate a Bathroom?

It is important to ventilate a bathroom for several reasons, all of which are linked to excess hot and moist air building up. Bathrooms are a room in your house where moisture is likely to collect. This moisture predominantly comes from the steam of your shower or bath.

Odors

A bathroom that does not have ventilated air will lead to dank and musty smells. These odors come from moisture that builds up in the air.

Mold

Steam and heat from the shower or from the exterior climate can lead to mold growth. The chances of this occurring are exponentially increased by a lack of ventilation. It is also more likely to occur in small, cramped bathrooms where any natural air circulation is limited.

Mold might appear in visible spots, or it might occur inside your walls, so it may take a long time to notice, at which point your mold problem could be extensive.

Depending on the health status of those living in your home and the type of mold that is growing, bathroom mold can lead to some adverse health effects.

By using underfloor heating, the risk of mold growth in the bathroom is significantly reduced since the surfaces dry before there is any chance for the mold to begin to grow. If you are already dealing with mold head out to my previous article to learn how to remove mold with vinegar.

Structural Damage

Excess moisture in the air can cause damage to your walls, grout, and plaster. This is not only inconvenient; it is also potentially extremely costly, as you can see in my article on Are Bathroom Fans Necessary (find out how they could save you thousands).

Bathroom Experience

The extra humidity in your bathroom can also make your entire morning and evening routine a rather unpleasant experience.

These are only a few of the reasons why ventilation is important in a bathroom. If you would like to read more, I have put together a detailed list of Reasons Why Having No Ventilation in a Bathroom is Terrible.

Luckily, there are many ways to ventilate your bathroom, and some of them are extremely cost-effective. You don’t have to live forever with a musty bathroom. Here are a few solutions.

1. Purchase an Exhaust Fan

Extractor or exhaust fans are the most common method of ventilating a windowless bathroom. This is because they are relatively inexpensive to purchase, install, and run, and they are very effective if correctly matched to your bathroom.

If your windowless bathroom does not have an exhaust fan, or the fan currently installed is outdated and ineffective, you may be able to look into your building code and speak with your landlord. Alternatively, you may have to install one yourself.

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Most building codes require that an exhaust fan be present in windowless bathrooms.

It is important to keep in mind that you must size the fan according to your bathroom size. I have a quick guide here on how to do that.

Now, people worry about the noise created by a bathroom fan (we’ve all used a bathroom that sounds like an airport runway when the fan is on!). However, you don’t have to just “get used to it” if you happen to have a windowless bathroom. There are several good fans out there that have been specifically designed to be quiet.

Here I have a list of 8 super quiet bathroom fans. They are truly the quietest on the market today and I will keep this list updated.

What Do Exhaust Fans Do?

Exhaust fans are typically found in bathrooms or in the kitchen above the stove. They suck air containing fumes, including moisture and chemicals, out of the room.

Thus, if you don’t have a window in your bathroom, an exhaust fan is one of the simplest ways to ventilate the space and benefit from:

  • A reduction in bathroom and general indoor humidity levels; both those caused by the activities of a bathroom and those resulting from high environmental humidity.
  • Mold prevention

To reduce the likelihood of mold, the indoor relative humidity should be kept below 60 percent.

  • Detering pests, like cockroaches, from nesting in your home (they are drawn to warm, water-abundant environments).
  • Elimination of odors, including toilet odors and musty smells associated with moist environments.
  • Reduction of airborne contaminants, such as the vapors of harsh cleaning products used to keep a bathroom hygienic.
  • Prevention mirror fog, which is so annoying when you are trying to shave or put on make-up post-shower (and usually when you are in a rush!).
  • Reduced chance of rust on metal surfaces such as towel rails, door handles, showerheads, etc.

In my previous article about what are bathroom fans for, I discuss this in more detail.

How Do Exhaust Fans Work?

Exhaust fans work by exhausting moisture and fumes from the room. Those fumes are then pulled through a duct system and expelled outside. This creates a negative pressure in the room, which is rectified by the passive inflow of fresh(er) air down the pressure gradient and into the room.

There are some exhaust fans that have sensors, allowing them to automatically turn on if they sense any humidity or fumes in the room. Others are controlled by a timer switch. Both of these options are actually very convenient as well as a great way to save money. Most exhaust fans, however, are turned on manually using a switch.

How Effective Are Exhaust Fans?

How effective the exhaust fan is will depend on the room you are trying to ventilate and the power of the fan.

A bathroom without a shower will be easier to ventilate.

As mentioned previously, smaller rooms have less space for air to circulate, and the moisture will collect in denser amounts. Conversely, in a large room, there is room for the air to flow, and thus the moisture will be spread out through the room.

The amount of air an exhaust fan can move will depend on the size and speed of the fan.

Smaller fans can work just as well as larger fans; however, to generate the same amount of airflow, they would have to be rotating at a faster speed. Smaller fans tend to be noisier because of this.

When Should I Run My Exhaust Fan?

Whenever you run hot water in your bathroom, you are going to want to turn the exhaust fan on.

Water accumulates in the air, emerging from the steam in your shower, and it will linger if it is not filtered out. Run the exhaust fan during your shower to reduce moisture, and leave it running for twenty minutes after your shower. 

Be sure to keep the door open for those twenty minutes while the fanning is running, as unrestricted airflow will help to keep moisture out of your bathroom. This is where the convenience of a humidity sensor fan or a timer switch comes in.

Instead of having to remember to turn your fan off twenty minutes after you leave the bathroom, or plan well enough to have those twenty minutes at home in the morning, you can go on with your day, knowing that the fan will turn off by itself.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Exhaust Fan Isn’t Working

If your exhaust fan doesn’t seem to be working as well as it should, there could be a problem either with your fan or with your heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

Clean Your Vents

If the interior of your air conditioning or ventilation unit accumulates dirt, it needs to be cleaned. The recommended cleaning regime is once a year.

Cleaning your vents once a year also provides a good opportunity for inspecting them to make sure that there is no mold or mildew building up. If you notice mold growing inside or near your ventilation ducts, consult a professional, as this could be a sign of more serious problems.

The material simply can not be cleaned effectively to eliminate the mold, and so in all likelihood, the system needs to be replaced. There are currently no antimicrobial cleaning products approved by the Environmental Protection Agency that will help clean your HVAC ducts.

Consult a Professional

A moisture problem in your ventilation system could be a serious issue. This could lead to structural damage or mold spreading throughout your home.

Structural damage caused by damp can go unnoticed until it causes a serious issue (like your floor caves in!). If you find you have damp-caused structural damage, you may need to consult an engineer or contractor on how safe your home is, what can be repaired, and what will have to be replaced.

Additionally, it is dangerous and unhealthy to breathe in mold, and any mold problems need to be managed immediately. It is best to consult professionals for help.

Make Sure That Your Fan Is Properly Vented

Improper venting can result in poor fan performance. It may also be an indication that your fan ventilation system is very old and needs to be upgraded.

Most building codes today require exhaust fans to be vented through ducting that goes straight outside of the home.

Most building codes also require exhaust fans in windowless bathrooms. Be sure to check your building codes and ensure that your building is up to code.

While today it is mandated that exhaust fans filter the air to the exterior of the home, in the 1970s and 1980s, ducting systems often released that air into the home’s attic, which then led to mold building up in the attic space—double-check to make sure that your exhaust fan is up to current codes.

Read my article about how bathroom fans should be vented to learn more.

How to Install an Exhaust Fan

If you need to replace an old exhaust fan with another fan, the task will be relatively manageable. You will be able to use already existing vent ducts and electrical work.

If you are nervous about working with electrical work, it is important to consult a professional. In fact, in some areas, it is illegal for anyone but a licensed electrician to replace a bathroom fan, so be sure to check your local codes.

If you go ahead with replacing your van yourself, make sure to install it in the optimal position. Your fan should be near the shower, but not near any existing air conditioning vents.

How to Clean Your Exhaust Fan

To clean your exhaust fan, make sure you first turn it off so that you don’t get shocked. This is a vital step. Then remove the fan’s cover. You can remove any debris like dust or cobwebs using a vacuum tube, and then wipe it down with a dry microfiber cloth.

Check out our guide to cleaning the bathroom fan.

If you notice mold growing inside and around the vent, this could mean that there is mold inside the ducts. At this point, you should contact a professional.

2. Install a Fresh Air Supply Vent

Installing a fresh air supply vent functions oppositely to an extractor fan, but still provides true ventilation.

When you pump fresh air into the bathroom it increases the air pressure in that space. Pressure systems want to be balanced, so the result is hot and humid air moving out of the bathroom through any opening it can find: open doors, cracks, etc.

3. Exhaust Fan + Air Supply Vent

When you combine an exhaust fan and air supply vent, each aspect of ventilation is satisfied in two ways. The exhaust fan actively removes old air, causing the passive inflow of new air. The air supply vent actively pushes new air into the bathroom, leading to the passive outflow of old air.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, combination systems are often considered to be overkill. However, there are some situations where this level of ventilation is the most appropriate.

For example, if you run a hostel or you even just have a big family with too few bathrooms, then the level of moisture generated may well require the “big guns”, so to speak.

If you are often dying your hair or working with chemicals for nail art, etc., the added ventilation of a combination system can help to prevent the build-up of noxious fumes.

4. Use a Dehumidifier 

Clarifying When Dehumidifiers Provide Ventilation

A dehumidifier is an appliance that controls the level of moisture in the air and reduces the humidity, essentially “dehumidifying” the air.

When it comes to dehumidifiers and bathrooms, here is where people go wrong: a regular dehumidifier cannot provide ventilation. Why?

Well, remember our definition of what true ventilation means. It is the removal of warm, moist air and the replacement of this air with fresh air. A dehumidifier removes moisture from the air inside the bathroom and then releases the same air back into the bathroom. It does not cycle the actual air out of the room to make space for fresh air to enter.

Only commercial-grade or whole house dehumidifiers installed into the HVAC system can function as an alternative to bathroom fans thereby satisfying the building codes.

As this is such a common error, I have written a whole article on Can a Dehumidifier Be Used Instead Of a Bathroom Fan, which explains this in detail.

Dehumidifiers Can Assist Other Ventilation

If you feel that your exhaust fan needs a little extra help removing the moisture from your bathroom, such as when you have overnight guests and more people are showering, then you can set up a dehumidifier to assist in moisture removal.

Another factor to consider is that an exhaust fan works by bringing in fresh air. If the air is humid, then the humidity levels in your bathroom will not change greatly. Exhaust fans are not as effective in humid climates.

If you live somewhere that has a humid climate, you might want to consider adding a dehumidifier.

For the most effective results, you should look at a dehumidifier that drains directly outside or into the bathroom drains.

Types of Dehumidifiers 

  • Condensate dehumidifiers: This kind of humidifier uses a refrigerator to collect condensate or water. These humidifiers essentially pull the moisture from the air and turn it into water. Here is a dehumidifier that removes up to 9 ounces of water per day. Keep in mind that the water container needs to be emptied often.
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You can purchase reverse osmosis filters (amazon link) that will then turn the collected water into drinkable water if you are looking for ways to reduce water waste.

  • Absorption dehumidifiers: These dehumidifiers are also known as desiccant dehumidifiers. They pull in the moisture from the air, and the moisture then bonds with materials like silica gel. Silica gel is known to absorb moisture. This type is suitable for very small amounts of moisture and won’t be suitable for use in a bathroom.

How Do Dehumidifiers Assist Other Forms of Bathroom Ventilation?

Dehumidifiers draw moisture from the air and thus will assist in preventing water build-up in the bathroom and all the associated issues thereof.

Be sure to empty your dehumidifier if it is not rigged to drain directly into bathroom drains or outside, as it can collect too much moisture and overflow into the machine.

This can cause leaks, which simply re-introduce moisture into the bathroom air, negating the benefits of the dehumidifier, and to a certain extent, the actual ventilation system itself. Furthermore, failing to empty your dehumidifier could lead to mold growth within the appliance, which would also be very counterproductive.

How Often Should I Empty My Dehumidifier?

How often you empty your dehumidifier will depend on the humidity levels in your home. If you live in a rather humid climate, you will want to empty your dehumidifier more frequently. This is because humid climates have more moisture in the air.

As a general rule of thumb, you will want to empty your dehumidifier between once every two days to twice a day. Keep an eye on the water level in your dehumidifier to see when it is getting full.

How Expensive Are Dehumidifiers?

The amount of money you spend on dehumidifiers will depend on the kind of dehumidifier you are looking for.

The type of dehumidifier that can provide ventilation will likely cost you a couple of thousand dollars. You will need professional installation of such units as well. In my opinion, unless you live in an incredibly humid climate that makes it worth installing whole-house dehumidification systems, then an extractor fan is the better choice.

Online, dehumidifiers (for assisting ventilation) range from as low as $30 to as high as $1,378. There is a great variety of makes and models of this particular appliance. All of them, despite their size and shape, work towards the same goal of dehumidifying the room.

5. Install a Ceiling Fan

Another way to help ventilate your bathroom is through the use of a ceiling fan. While a ceiling fan will not draw moisture from the air in the same way dehumidifiers and exhaust fans will, they can still help to ventilate your bathroom, but only when used correctly.

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A ceiling fan can only assist with ventilation if it moves air into the bathroom from another, well-ventilated room.

If the ceiling fan is installed in the bathroom and the bathroom door is kept closed, then all it is doing is moving the moist and warm air around in the confined space.

If the ceiling fan draws air in from an unventilated or poorly ventilated room, then the warm and moist air is not being replaced by fresh air, the other room is now at risk of moisture-related issues, and eventually, the fan will pull the same moist air back into the bathroom.

Airflow for a ceiling fan is measured in cubic feet per minute, and typical ceiling fans range from 71 to 86 cubic feet per minute.

If you are using heavy chemicals or dyes, be sure to leave the bathroom door open.

6. Install an Air Conditioner

Air conditioners will keep the bathroom cool and help to remove moisture from the air in a similar manner to a dehumidifier.

Only air conditioners that pull air from outside, cool it, and release it into the bathroom, thereby forcing out the warm, moist bathroom air can be considered to provide ventilation.

If the air conditioner draws in air from the bathroom, cools it (causing condensation of water out of the air and into the water tray), and returns the air into the room, this is not considered to be proper ventilation. However, these air conditioners can relieve some of the humidity, assist other ventilation methods, cool the room, and ultimately make the bathroom feel more pleasant.

While air conditioners won’t bring the bathroom air to the exterior of the home like exhaust fans, they will help to fight mold and mildew by keeping the temperature of the bathroom too low.

7. Keep the Bathroom Door Open

A simple and costless way to ventilate your windowless bathroom is by keeping the bathroom door open.

Allowing the air to flow freely and having fresh air enter your bathroom will help disperse the water molecules. This will allow for the moist air to exit the room through the open door and be replaced by fresher air.

Usually, opening the bathroom door will help the moist and humid air dissipate. If your home is overly humid, you can help reduce excess moisture in the air by opening windows near the bathroom.

8. Use a Regular Fan

If you cannot afford to replace your exhaust fan, consider using a regular fan in the same manner as a ceiling fan.

Fans help move the air between the windowless bathroom and adjoining ventilated rooms. To use a fan to its maximum potential, position it in the back of the bathroom near the shower and have it face the door.

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Keep the door open while the fan is running. This will force the humid air out of the bathroom, where it will disperse in your home. If your home has a high humidity level, consider opening windows to allow the air to flow outside.

9. Open Windows Nearby

Opening nearby windows will allow for air to flow. Keeping your windows open will allow for fresh air to enter, and moist, humid air to leave. Ventilation is all about maximizing airflow, and the more opportunities for air to circulate, the better.

10. Make Sure Your Door Is Not Sealed

Few people are comfortable showering with the bathroom door standing open, and in some cases, this is just not possible.

However, if your door fits so snugly in its frame that it is essentially air-tight, there is no way for air to escape or filter into your bathroom, and it will be easier for moisture to collect.

Ensuring that your door has space beneath it is one way to help keep your bathroom ventilated. It is recommended that the space beneath your door is around ½ an inch to allow air to flow out.

Another option is to install a bathroom door that has a louvered grille. Privacy can become an issue here, so just be sure that the grille is located low on the door, the louvers are fixed at the right angle, and the layout of the room facilitates privacy from the vantage of the door.

11. Use the Dryer

Your dryer can serve as a ventilation system in your bathroom, but only if it is ducted to the outside. The dryer does this by pulling moisture from the wet or damp clothing into the air in the dryer (which is supplied from the bathroom atmosphere). This moist air is then vented outside.

Thus, the moist and warm bathroom air is vented outside, albeit following an indirect path. The vented air is replaced with new air thanks to the created pressure gradient, satisfying the second condition of true ventilation.

The issue with this method is that it is pretty difficult to dry your clothes if the air being supplied to the dryer is already laden with moisture from your shower.

Related article: Ventilating a Room Without a Window

Additional Tips for Removing Bathroom Moisture

  • Moisture-absorbing powders.
  • Run the range hood (if near the bathroom).
  • Use your shower curtain to limit the spread of water.
  • Dry your towels outside the bathroom.
  • Wipe down you walls adn floor after takign a shower.
  • Take shorter, cooler showers.
  • Limit consective showers.
  • Make sure showers, tubs, and basins are draining properly.

If you would like more details on how the above methods help, you can find these details in my article on Tips to Keep Bathroom Dry Without a Fan.

Reduce Any Unnecessary Furniture

If your bathroom is full of cabinets, chairs, or other unnecessary furniture items, consider relocating those items. The humidity and moisture that accumulate in the bathroom after a shower can warp wood and rust metal.

Beyond that, a cluttered room creates obstacles for airflow, making it harder for air to circulate. By removing any excess furniture, you can help the air to have more room to circulate.

Other Ways to Remove Odors From Your Bathroom

Ventilation systems are not aimed at odor removal, but it is a happy secondary function. However, if you find that your ventilation system is not quite ridding your bathroom of odors, there are steps you can take to remedy that. Dank and musty smells are certainly unpleasant, but some simple hacks can help freshen the odors.

Use Vinegar

The musty bathroom smells come from mold, which can accumulate in an overly moist space. As mold grows, it releases a gas called microbial volatile organic compounds. The musty smell is not necessarily the mold itself, but a result of the chemicals released during the mold’s growth.

Mildew is a type of mold that looks like a patch of black, white, or grey fungus. Mildew grows in places with high levels of moisture, like showers. Luckily, you can treat mildew yourself.

The natural, chemical-free way to fight mildew is to use a spray bottle of lemon and vinegar. Focus the mixture directly on the mildew. Let it sit for a few hours, then spray again. Use baking soda and a sponge to scrub away the mildew. I have written a guide on how to do it if you need more info.

Be sure to keep your bathroom door open while you are cleaning!

Keep a Scented Candle in Your Bathroom

Keeping a scented candle in your bathroom, either on the counter or on a shelf, can help keep your bathroom smelling fresh. Some old bathrooms can have years of odors that can be difficult to fully eliminate. The scent of a scented candle can help to cover any unwanted odors.

Light a Match

This is a classic and simple trick to help mask unpleasant bathroom odors. Bathroom odors are not always caused by mold or mildew. There may be other more human smells attributing to the odors in your bathroom.

To remove those unpleasant human odors, light a match. Intestinal gas is created by food being broken down in our gut. The smell comes from hydrogen sulfide or sulfur. Lighting a match will ignite phosphorus that will then ignite the sulfur and remove the smell from the room.

Use an Odor Absorber

Odor absorbers, like activated charcoal, or baking soda, will absorb any odors from the air. Activated charcoal is charcoal that has been activated to increase its oxygen content. This makes the charcoal more porous, giving it more surface area with which it can absorb odors.

Activated charcoal is used to neutralize odors in the air. It is used for pet odor, mold, and human waste. Some people prefer charcoal and deem it safer than chemical odor neutralizers. 

If you use an odor absorber like charcoal or baking soda, remember to change it out every few weeks, as they will absorb the bad odors and hold onto them.

Make Sure to Keep All Surfaces Dry

Keeping all of your surfaces dry will help to prevent any unwanted mildew or musty smells. Wiping down sinks, tubs, mirrors, and tiles dry and ensuring those surfaces stay free of moisture will help ward off the likelihood of any odors appearing.

Likewise, dry your towels and bath mats outside of your windowless bathroom to limit the amount of moisture in the room.

Here are 8 alternative ways to keep your bathroom smelling fresh!

Final Thoughts

Windowless bathrooms can be tricky to ventilate. To recap, here is a summary of ways to do so:

  • Run an exhaust fan.
  • Make sure your exhaust fan is functioning correctly.
  • Use a dehumidifier.
  • Use a regular fan to circulate air.
  • Wipe down excess moisture on the walls.
  • Make sure your door has a crack.
  • Open windows in your home.

Hopefully, you found some helpful hacks in this article to help keep the air in your bathroom fresh.

Sources

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