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What are Recirculating Range Hoods, and How do they Work?

April 14, 2023 8 min read

It is often overlooked how important it is to have a sound ventilation system in a kitchen. From clearing the air of smoke and nasty fumes generated while cooking to ensuring the quick removal of hot air and grease droplets, a ventilation system makes the kitchen a comfortable place while cooking.

Most kitchens use range hoods of various forms, shapes, and sizes to help maintain cleaner air when cooking, but the many range hood choices can be confusing. Among the options available are recirculating range hoods that vent kitchen air differently than other range hoods. I am often asked what recirculating range hoods are, how they work, and what the benefits of installing them are. Well, this article answers all those questions.

This article will provide a comprehensive guide to recirculating range hoods, including how they work, factors to consider when choosing one, and installation and maintenance tips.

What is a Recirculating Range Hood?

A recirculating range hood is a type of ventilation system designed to remove smoke, steam, and cooking odors from the air in a kitchen without venting it to the outside. They are sometimes called ductless, recycling, or unvented range hoods.

They don’t function like ducted range hoods, which vent the smoke and odors outside; instead, they filter the air through a series of carbon or charcoal filters, which trap and remove grease, smoke, and cooking odors, before recirculating the cleaned air back into the kitchen.

Recirculating or ductless range hoods improve indoor air quality by eliminating pollutants and circulating clean air into the kitchen, creating a safer and healthier environment. They are necessary for homes that do not have access to external ventilation, require a quiet range hood, and cannot install ductwork for a vented hood. They are also popular for those living in apartments or condos, where external venting is impossible.

They come in different forms, like:

  1. Under-Cabinet Recirculating Range Hoods are installed against a wall, and the space beneath the cabinet directly above the cooking area.
  2. Downdraft Recirculating Range Hoods are cleverly built into the cooking range and pull air downwards rather than upward.
  3. Recirculated Over-the-Range Microwaves combine the features of a microwave with a venting function. 

How do Recirculating Range Hoods Work?

Recirculating hoods or ductless range hoods work by removing smoke, grease, and odors, making them an essential addition to any kitchen. The main difference between recirculating range hoods and other types of range hoods, such as ducted hoods, is that they do not vent the air outside; instead, they are recyclers but for air. The essential components of a recirculating range hood system include a fan, a filter, and a duct or vent that allows the air to circulate through the system.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how they work.

Step 1

When the recirculating range hood is turned on, its primary intake fan starts the venting process by drawing in any air from its coverage area. This also pulls any pollutants floating in the air into the vent hood.

Step 2

The pulled-in air first passes through an aluminum, paper, or stainless steel mesh filter. The filter layer here is multi-layered and traps and removes large particles and contaminants from the air.

Step 3

The air is pushed further inward and passes through a semi-porous set of carbon filters. This action filters or absorbs smoke particles, debris, strong odors, and other gaseous contaminants from the air.

Some models of recirculating range hoods also feature additional filters, such as HEPA filters, designed to remove allergens and other airborne particles.

Step 4

A secondary fan is used to push the recycled, and purified air is released back into the kitchen with no pollutants.

Pros and Cons of Recirculating Range Hoods

The widespread adoption of recirculating range hoods shows certain benefits to installing one in your kitchen, but they also come with some notable downsides. Below is an overview of the pros and cons of installing a recirculation hood in your kitchen.


They are cost-effective.

Recirculating range hoods are a cost-effective option for those looking to improve the air quality in their kitchen without breaking the bank. They are ductless hoods and generally less expensive than ducted range hoods, both in terms of the cost of the hood itself and the installation process.

They do not require an external vent, roof caps, or damper, which can be expensive to install and maintain, making them a more affordable option. Recirculating range hoods also use replaceable filters, cheaper than cleaning or replacing an external vent.

Environmentally friendly and very energy efficient

Environmentally friendly and very energy efficient

Every recirculating range hood is ductless, making them very eco-friendly kitchen appliances. Ductless range hood work by capturing cooking fumes and purifying the air, creating a healthy and comfortable cooking environment. They do not release pollutants into the environment as ducted hoods do; instead, they trap these contaminants inside and filter them out, reducing their environmental impact. Additionally, they are more energy-efficient with several energy-saving features, making them the finest environmentally friendly range hoods.

Recirculating range hoods are very energy efficient, as they require considerably less power to run, which translates to savings in energy costs. These hoods filter and clean the air before recirculating it into the kitchen. Because they do not require an external vent, they do not release warm air outside, so they don't have to work as hard to maintain a consistent temperature inside the kitchen. In winter, they can also act as passive air warmers.

Provide flexibility in kitchen design.

Recirculating range hoods offer homeowners greater flexibility when designing their kitchens. As ductless hoods, they do not require an external vent to the outside, which can be challenging to install in some kitchen layouts. Instead, recirculating range hoods filter and clean the air before recirculating it back into the kitchen. This makes them an ideal solution for apartments, condominiums, or other homes where traditional venting may not be an option. T

These range hoods use filters to trap grease and other particles, leaving the air in the kitchen clean and fresh. With recirculating range hoods, homeowners can enjoy the benefits of a range hood without compromising their kitchen design. They are a practical and efficient solution that can help make any kitchen more functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Tons of modern features.

Recirculating range hoods have modern features, making them popular for homeowners. These hoods often come equipped with high-performance fans that allow them to quickly and efficiently filter the air in the kitchen. Many models also have LED lighting that illuminates the cooktop and provides a sleek, modern look.

Other features include touch controls, automatic shut-off, and multiple speed settings, allowing homeowners to customize the hood to their needs. Some recirculating range hoods also come with smart technology that enables them to be controlled remotely through a smartphone or other device. These modern features make recirculating range hoods a versatile, user-friendly solution that can enhance kitchen space.

They are very compatible.

Recirculating range hoods are highly compatible with a variety of cooktops and kitchens. Because they do not require an external vent, they can be installed in virtually any kitchen layout, regardless of the cooktop's placement or the kitchen's overall design. They can also be used with gas, electric, or induction cooktops, making them a versatile solution for any home.

Recirculating range hoods are also available in various sizes, styles, and designs, allowing homeowners to select the right one to suit their kitchen needs. They are particularly useful in small kitchens with premium space, as they take up less room than traditional range hoods. Their compatibility with various cooktops and kitchens makes recirculating range hoods an intelligent choice for homeowners who want a range hood that can adapt to their unique kitchen requirements.


It is worth noting that there are several drawbacks to installing a recirculating range hood. Among the most prominent are:

Regular filter replacements

One potential drawback of recirculating range hoods is that they often require regular filter replacements. As these range hoods filter the air and recirculate it back into the kitchen, the filters can become clogged with grease and other particles over time. This can affect the hood's performance and lead to unpleasant odors in the kitchen. Therefore, homeowners must regularly replace the filters to maintain the hood's efficiency and performance. While filter replacements are a necessary maintenance task, they can add additional costs and maintenance requirements for homeowners.

Unsuitable for heavy cooking

One top disadvantage of recirculating range hoods is that they may be unsuitable for heavy cooking. As these hoods do not vent outside, they may be less effective at removing smoke, steam, and other airborne particles than traditional range hoods. This can lead to a buildup of grease and other contaminants in the kitchen, which can be particularly problematic for homeowners who frequently cook greasy or heavily spiced foods. A traditional vented range hood may be a more practical solution. They are, as they are often low-powered range hoods. This means they cannot adequately vent kitchens where regular deep frying or high-heat cooking is done.

Can’t remove steam or condensation

One of the main drawbacks of these hoods is that they cannot effectively remove moisture or condensation. This is because recirculating range hoods don't vent air outside but filter it through activated charcoal or carbon filters. These filters are not designed to handle large amounts of moisture; as a result, steam and condensation can build up in the kitchen, leading to the growth of mold and mildew. Therefore, a recirculating range hood may not be your best option if you cook frequently and generate much steam. You may need to consider an alternative ventilation system that removes excess moisture from your kitchen.

They can be quite noisy

Another drawback of these hoods is that they can be pretty loud. This is because the recirculating process involves pulling air through filters and then releasing it back into the kitchen, which requires a powerful fan to push the air through the filters. As a result, some models can generate a significant amount of noise that can bother those in the kitchen or nearby areas. However, modern recirculating range hoods often come with multiple fan speed settings that allow for quieter operation, so it's worth exploring different models to find one that best fits your needs. Additionally, adding insulation around the range hood and ensuring the unit is installed correctly can help reduce noise levels.

They take a considerable amount of time to clear the air.

One of the downsides of recirculating range hoods is that they can take a considerable amount of time to clear the air. Unlike a ducted range hood that immediately releases everything outdoors, a recirculating hood filters the air through several filters, which can only capture a certain amount of particles before becoming clogged. As a result, the fan must work harder to pull air through the filters, which can slow the clearing process.
Furthermore, recirculating range hoods are not designed to handle large volumes of smoke or grease. So, if you're cooking food that generates significant airborne particles, the hood may take longer to clear the air. In contrast, vented range hoods that expel air to the outside can clear the air more quickly, making them a better choice for those who frequently cook foods that produce a lot of smoke and grease.

Final Thoughts

Without any doubt, recirculating range hoods are excellent ventilation appliances. If you're looking for an efficient and space-saving option, a ductless range hood works perfectly, as it does not require any external ductwork. Despite their downsides, they offer homeowners a genuine and effective way to help maintain their kitchens' pristine indoor air quality.