Many homeowners and renters wonder which is better between ducted and ductless exhaust fans for bathrooms. We did a bit of research and found that ductless fans are a favorite as they solve moisture and odor management issues with little installation hassle. This article details the findings of our research.


But before you can decide which is better between the two, it’s vital to understand the importance of a fan in the bathroom.

Why You Need to Install a Bathroom Fan

Bathroom exhaust fans are an important bathroom fixture that will keep your room free of excess moisture, odors, and fumes from paint and cleaning products used in bathrooms over time.

Bathrooms are enclosed spaces with many fittings and fixtures and little ventilation from the outside. As such, bathroom air tends to hold high amounts of moisture from running taps, tubs, and showers, which can cause damage if left unchecked.

Moisture in bathroom air causes a high potential for mold growth, thus requiring stronger than normal natural ventilating systems beyond opening a window. However, some bathrooms are windowless, which further compounds ventilation issues.

When moisture is trapped inside a bathroom, a film of mildew can form on ceilings and walls; this is most commonly seen on bathtubs and shower stalls, but could also grow behind sinks or other fixtures.

To ensure that excess moisture does not damage your home’s structure, you should ensure that all bathrooms have some method for removing moisture from the air. Some of the most popular methods include the use of a dehumidifier and exhaust fan.

Related Read: Dehumidifiers to Windowless Bathrooms

Bathroom exhaust fans are quite inexpensive and easy to install, but they can also be easily overlooked during home renovations due to the fact that they are not visible when installed in the ceiling.

How Do Ducted And Ductless Exhaust Fans Work?

At the heart of every bathroom fan is an electric motor.

When turned on, the motor turns a squirrel-cage blower wheel with blades around its edge. The wheel spins inside an enclosure called the venturi, which is positioned near a register vent in your ceiling or wall.

As room air passes through the venturi, the fan “squeezes” it out of the way and sends it directly into an exhaust pipe (for ducted models) or through a filter (for ductless models).

Ducted vs Ducted Exhaust Fans: Which is Better

The choice between ducted and ductless bathroom fans comes down to your structural capabilities and ventilation needs.

A ducted exhaust fan works perfectly where ductwork is practical, for instance where you already have a vent that will take air outside your bathroom. However, where ductwork is impossible, such as in rentals or basement bathrooms, you’ll want to use a ductless bathroom exhaust fan.

Here are the factors to consider when choosing between a ducted and ductless exhaust fan:

  1. Venting

    If you have the structural capacity, including space to install ducting and vents then a ducted exhaust fan is your ideal choice.

    Ducting involves installing pipes and tubes to carry air from the bathroom to the outside. It can be done using materials such as metal, fiberglass, and plastic. Moisture or odor-laden air from the bathroom travels through the ducting to an outside vent.

    In areas that experience really cold winters, a layer of insulation is added to the ducting to prevent freezing of condensation that can cause blockage in the pipes and tubes.

    However, ductless bathroom fans are great if you have no way of venting air out of your bathroom or house. All you need to do is mount the unit and start enjoying moisture-free air in your bathroom.

    A ductless fan removes excess moisture from the bathroom air by passing air through a filter that draws moisture from the air. This humidity control function is critical to keeping your bathroom fresh and your furniture in tip-top shape.

    Ductless fan models include inline fans that are mounted in the roof space or wall rather than in the ceiling. Other ductless models resemble the conventional ducted fans, while others have decorative designs and architectural casts. 

  2. Installation

    The installation process for duct exhaust fans involves a series of complex steps that could involve remodeling your bathroom and roof.

    Ducted fans must have a roof vent to safely exhaust moisture-laden air but this requires more construction and insulation (which costs money).

    However, ducted fans make more sense when installing new bathrooms, especially if you’re already having a builder remodel some existing space into another bathroom. It’s easier to add ductwork if there are ongoing remodeling works.

    On the other hand, installing a ductless fan typically involves fastening the unit to the wall or ceiling using brackets.

    Ductless exhaust fans are easier to install as don’t require extensive remodeling of an existing bathroom to install. This makes them a favorite among DYI-ers.

    Despite the type of exhaust fan you pick, you should always check with a licensed electrician before starting as there may be some wiring issues that need addressing.

  3. Maintenance

    All exhaust fan models require routine maintenance to continue delivering optimal exhaust airflow.

    Material build-up such as dust, paint, or condensation can impair airflow, undermining the effectiveness of the exhaust fan.

    Luckily, it takes a short time and little effort to maintain your exhaust fans, whether ducted or ductless.

    Here is all you need to do: 

    • Remove the Exhaust Cover

      Squeeze the clips that hold the exhaust cover in place and take it off. You’ll need to unscrew screws if your model is held with screws. Removing the cover will expose the blades and motor.

    • Clean the Cover

      Use dish soap and warm water to clean the exhaust cover thoroughly.

    • Vacuum Blades and Motor

      Use a vacuum wand to dispel dust, cobwebs, and other contaminants from the vacuum blades and motor.

    • Dust off the Blades

      Use a dry cloth to remove stubborn dust from the blades and motor.

    • Replace the Filter (Only for Ductless Fans)

      Depending on the frequency of use, the filters in ductless exhaust fans will get depleted, requiring replacement. Typically, a single filter lasts anywhere between five to eight months.
      However, it is best practice to replace your filters at least once annually.

    • Replace Exhaust Cover
      Fit the cover back in place by tightening the screws or brackets (depending on your model).

  4. Features and Design

    Bathroom exhaust fan manufacturers are increasingly adding useful features. Today, you can find a fan fitted with a heater, motion sensor, or light.

    Both ducted and ductless exhaust fans come in a choice of stylish finishes, including nickel, chrome, silver, white and black to blend in with your bathroom decor.

    However, in terms of size, ductless bathroom fans tend to be smaller than ducted models.

  5. Energy Efficiency

    Ductless fans work by expelling air out of the home (through open windows if necessary) so that no condensation forms on surfaces in the room.

    The blade speed in ductless models is significantly lower than in duct fans. This helps draw in more air into the fan. Many ductless fans have a 4-way switch that allows you to adjust the fan speed: slow, medium-low, medium-speed, and high.

    Moreover, ductless fans are not likely to cause drafts or odors in adjacent rooms.

    Ducted bathroom fans either exhaust air through roof vents or stack vents depending on your local codes. Both methods of forced ventilation can push moisture-laden room air into the attic where it may promote rot and lead to water leaks down the road.

  6. Ventilation Requirements

    Your ventilation needs will also determine which fan is best for you.

    If you have any moisture management issues or need to remove odors, ductless bathroom fans are a good solution because they do not rely on ducts to ventilate the room.

    Ducted bathroom fans can address both problems but it’s up to you to determine if it makes sense for your project given the amount of planning and time needed for ducting and venting.

    If your home is subject to excessive moisture condensation (indoor humidity levels that frequently get past the comfort threshold), you’ll probably need some kind of forced ventilation system in addition to an exhaust fan.

    Compared to natural ventilation that relies on the laws of nature to create airflow, a forced ventilation system uses a powered exhaust fan to generate airflow by forcing air out using an industrial exhaust fan.

    These fans suck out bathroom air at the top of buildings while also sucking new fresh air in through vents located in the walls.

Our Overall Pick

Ductless bathroom exhaust fans are our top pick.

If you’re looking for quick installation then ductless bathroom fans are a good choice owing to their simple installation.

Ducted bathroom exhaust fans are not as common in homes today as they used to be. A major reason could be that they generally require more planning and could be time-consuming to install. In addition, installing a ducted exhaust fan could require extensive remodeling that could be impractical if you are a renter.

Bonus: Characteristics of a Good Ducted Fan System

If you opt for a ducted exhaust fan, here are a couple of things you should consider.

It is important that your ducted fan system is installed properly as it will have to perform a certain number of functions. It can be used for both heating and cooling purposes, but its main job is ventilating your home.

Ducting has the ability to channel cool or hot air into specific areas in your house so you don’t waste either energy source. Ducts can also help improve the scent left behind by a diffuser or essential oils during an aromatherapy session.

In addition, think about what the reason for the ducted fan is: Do you want to cool one room or several rooms?

You should also consider how much space you have; if two ducts are installed in a small area, it might affect its efficiency.

Finally, make sure that your ducting system does not leak air; otherwise, it will cause problems when cooling or heating up an area. To do this, make sure your fan ducts are 100% sealed and insulated to prevent heat loss or the creation of a fire hazard.

Bathroom vents also need to have special purpose backdraft dampers installed in them between the bathroom fan and the roof vent. These dampers prevent outside air from flowing back into the bathroom through the duct.

In case you’re wondering what is the difference between an exhaust fan and a ventilation fan.

The main difference is that ventilation fans pull fresh air from the outside into the room. On the other hand, exhaust fans dispel pollutants, odors, and moisture from the air.

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