Optimizing Dehydrator Airflow for Faster Drying


With Options for Trays, Tools, & Tips


A food dehydrator uses a heat source and airflow to reduce the water content of foods. In order to dry foods successfully, these two components must be present. Before buying your machine make sure it has both; not all dryers on the market contain a fan for airflow.

Food dehydration machines utilize two main types of airflow systems; vertical airflow system and horizontal airflow system. Both these systems help in drying out your foodstuffs with the proper understanding of what it takes on your part to achieve maximum airflow.

Bottom Line–the more unrestricted airflow you have, the faster you can dry your foods. Learning what tools to use, when to use them, and how to use them is key for maximum drying in the shortest amount of time. Knowing when to use tray liners—mesh or solid—can save you hours of time in your drying sessions.

Important Note: Whatever you use to line your trays, please make sure they are food-safe and heat-safe to at least 200F/100C.

In this article:

• Horizontal Airflow Systems (like Excalibur)
Best tools and equipment; mesh tray liners, solid tray liners, cautions and tips and tricks.

• Vertical Airflow Systems (like Nesco)
Best tools and equipment; mesh tray liners, solid tray liners, cautions and tips and tricks.

Full Disclosure: This article has affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small commission for your purchase. This costs you nothing and helps to keep this website up and running. Thank you for your support.



Horizontal Airflow Systems

The horizontal airflow food dehydrator, found in the square, enclosed box-type food dehydrators, provides uniform distribution of heat over each tray. The fan is located in the back section of the appliance. The air flows from back to front side by maintaining a stable temperature over all the trays. In this system, lots of heat is produced quickly and pushed over the food horizontally producing more even results in drying. Examples of these dehydrators are Excalibur and Cabela’s brands.

While these dehydrators offer more uniform distribution of heat over all the trays, they are also more expensive to purchase. However, faster dehydration than the vertical airflow system food dehydrator which saves time in dehydrating. While advertised as not having to worry about tray rotation while drying foods, this can be variable depending on what is being dried.

Horizontal Airflow System

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Improving Airflow in Horizontal Systems

As you can see, airflow is very important to food drying. While horizontal airflow may be optimum, there are still ways to get the best bang for your buck, as well as a faster drying session.

Mesh Trays/Sheets

Most box-type systems come with trays that are either close-mesh stainless steel or plastic. These trays will dry almost all your food without much of it falling through the mesh holes. If you do find that food falls through the holes, you can purchase finer mesh sheeting for your trays. In a pinch you can use parchment paper or solid sheets for these items, but keep in mind you are restricting airflow and the food will take longer to dry.

Netting Roll & Grill Sheets

If you choose to make your own mesh sheets, always keep in mind that the material you use should be food-grade safe. Craft plastic canvas from the hobby store is NOT food safe (as stated by Darcy, the manufacturer of these canvases).
• The Weston 78-0201-W Dehydrator Netting Roll works well for this giving you about four square 13.5” X 13.5 sheets per roll.
Barbecue Grill mesh mats are also very handy for this application and can sometimes be purchased at the end of the summer on sale.

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Solid Trays/Sheets

For liquid, puréed, and softer foods that do not hold up on regular or mesh trays (like fruit leathers, sauces, and cookies/crackers) you will need a solid sheet. These items are going to take longer to dry — not only because of the liquidity of the food product — but because of the restricted airflow as well.

Solid Sheet Options

More Solid Sheet Options

  • Silpat Non-stick Silicon baking mats can be used; keeping in mind some may not be trimmed to size because of the silicon interior.
  • A good grade of Non-stick Parchment or Baking Paper can also be cut and placed on your trays. Although these are not reusable like the selections above they will do when you are still saving up for your more permanent accessories.

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A Few Things to Keep in Mind….

  • Do not use wax paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or other papers that are not food-grade safe. You will end up ruining your food or possibly damaging your dehydrator unit.
  • When purchasing and/or cutting down solid sheets for your trays, always have at least a 1/2 inch (1.27 cm) gap between your try edge and the solid sheet. This allows for optimum airflow in drying, speed up you drying session and helping prevent any possible overheating.
  • For liquids, watch this nifty video to help you make your solid sheets into “bowls”. FYI: Dehydrating milk is not recommended however. Remember, high fat foods should not be dehydrated.
  • For light items or powdered foods, place on solid sheets and lay another solid sheet, fine mesh sheet, or cheesecloth over the powder so that it does not blow all over your dehydrator or kitchen. Just to be sure, always turn your dehydrator off before removing lightweight food items like herbs, greens, or powders.
  • To mark the black mesh for cutting, Sharpie® makes a silver marker that shows up very clearly on black mesh.


Vertical Airflow Systems

A vertical airflow system, usually found in the round, stack-type food dehydrators, require a bit more work on the part of the person using them. While these types of food dehydrators are more budget-friendly to buy, they do require that you rotate trays in the drying process which is quite irritating and time-consuming for some. It is important with these units to rotate your trays at least every two hours to achieve an even drying cycle.

Vertical Airflow System

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Improving Airflow in Vertical Systems

Vertical airflow dehydrators, while not as efficient as box-type dehydrators, still do a great job as long as optimum airflow is recognized as being important. Here are the things you need to know to make your dehydrating sessions go smoothly.

Mesh Trays/Sheets

Nesco Clean-a-Screen Mesh Sheets

Most stack-tray-type systems come with trays that tend to have large gaps or spacing. These trays work fine when dehydrating foods that are larger in size and do not shrink much (like zucchini slices or marshmallows). But if you are dehydrating chopped foods or foods that shrink considerably you may need mesh trays for support. If you do find that food falls through the holes, you can buy finer mesh sheeting for your trays. In a pinch you can use parchment paper or solid sheets for these items, but keep in mind you are restricting airflow and the food will take longer to dry.

  • Some manufacturers sell special mesh sheets for your dehydrator, like these for my GardenMaster: Nesco MS-2-6 Clean-a-Screen for Dehydrators. Just make sure that you buy the right size for your model of dehydrator as they can come in different sizes by ordering with your model number or measuring your trays.

 

Materials to make Mesh Sheets

  • If you choose to make your own mesh sheets, always keep in mind that the material you use should be food-grade safe. Craft canvas from the hobby store is NOT food safe (as stated by Darcy, the manufacturer of these canvases).
  • The Weston 78-0201-W Dehydrator Netting Roll works well for this giving you about four round sheets per roll.
  • Barbecue Grill mesh mats are also very handy for this application and can sometimes be purchased at the end of the summer on sale.
  • I have found the Barbecue Round Non-stick Grilling Mesh as well. As long as the size fits your trays, these save on the cutting of mesh sheets. Just make sure to cut a hole in the center of the sheets for airflow.

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Solid Trays/Sheets

For liquid, puréed, and softer foods that do not hold up on regular or mesh trays (like fruit leathers, sauces, and cookies/crackers) you will need a solid sheet. These items are going to take longer to dry — not only because of the liquidity of the food product — but because of the restricted airflow as well.

Solid Tray Options

  • Solid Trays can be purchased from some dehydrator manufacturers for your model of dehydrator. These are the trays for my Nesco dehydrator: Nesco SLD-2 Fruit Roll-Up Sheet for Dehydrators. I like these trays because they have a nice, spill-proof lip on them. Just make sure that you buy the right size for your model of dehydrator as they can come in different sizes by ordering with your model number or measuring your trays.
  • Silpat Non-stick Silicon baking mats can be used; keeping in mind some cannot be trimmed to size because of the silicon interior.
  • A good grade of Non-stick Parchment or Baking Paper can also be cut and placed on your trays. Although these are not reusable like the selections above they will do when you are still saving up for your more permanent accessories.

_______________________________________________________

A Few Things to Keep in Mind….

  • Do not use wax paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or other papers that are not food-grade safe. You will end up ruining your food or possibly damaging your dehydrator unit.
  • When purchasing and/or cutting down solid sheets for your trays, always have at least a 1/2 inch (1.27 cm) gap between your tray edge and the solid sheet. This allows for optimum airflow in drying, speed up you drying session and helping prevent any possible overheating.
  • For light items or powdered foods, place on solid sheets and lay another solid sheet, fine mesh sheet, or cheesecloth over the powder so that it does not blow all over your dehydrator or kitchen. Just to be sure, always turn your dehydrator off before removing lightweight food items like herbs, greens, or powders.
  • To mark the black mesh for cutting, Sharpie® makes a silver marker that shows up very clearly on black mesh.

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