What are Recirculating Range Hoods and How do they Work?

April 14, 2023 7 min read

Having a good ventilation system in a kitchen should not be overlooked, as it clears the air of odors and fumes from cooking. A good ventilation unit will also quickly remove hot air and smoke, which can help make the kitchen space a lot more comfortable.

Most kitchens use range hoods to keep the air clean when cooking, but the many range hood options can be confusing. Getting a recirculating range hood is an alternative option to consider. But they operate and vent kitchen air differently than other hoods. People often ask me what recirculating hoods are, how they work, and their benefits. This article answers all those questions.

What is a Recirculating Range Hood?

A recirculating range hood is a ventilation system that removes smoke, steam, and cooking odors from kitchen air. They are also called ductless, recycling, or unvented range hoods. They don’t work like ducted range hoods, which vent smoke and odors outside. Instead, they pass the air through filters that trap and remove all the pollutants in the air. Then, they recirculate the cleaned air back into the kitchen.

Recirculating or ductless range hoods improve indoor air quality as they eliminate pollutants and ensure the circulation of clean air in the kitchen. They are needed in homes without access to external ventilation, that need a quiet range hood, or can’t install ductwork for a vented hood. They are popular in apartments or condos, where external venting isn’t possible.

They come in different forms, like:

  1. Under-Cabinet Recirculating Range Hoods are installed against a wall, and the space beneath the cabinet and 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's how they work harmoniously when clearing the kitchen air:

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.

Advantages of Recirculating Range Hoods

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Provide Flexibility in Kitchen Design

Recirculating range hoods offer homeowners greater flexibility when designing their kitchens. They are ductless hoods, so no external vent is needed. They are perfect for apartments, condos, or homes where traditional venting isn’t possible. Homeowners can get the benefits of a range hood without affecting their kitchen design. They are practical and efficient and can make any kitchen more functional.

4. Tons of Modern Features

Recirculating range hoods offer several modern features that make them a popular choice for kitchen ventilation. They come with variable fan speeds, which allows the user to easily adjust the airflow to match their cooking. Other modern features include advanced filtration for better odor removal and touch/remote control for easier adjustments. Advances in motor and fan technology used in them contribute to quieter operation. This feature is particularly beneficial for open-concept kitchen designs.

5. They Are Very Compatible With Different Kitchen Designs

Recirculating range hoods come in many sizes, styles, and designs. This means they would work well with many kitchen designs, as they don’t need external vents. They can be used with gas, electric, or induction cooktops, which makes them a flexible solution for any home. They are especially useful in small kitchens with limited space, as they take up less room than ducted range hoods.

Disadvantages of Recirculating Range Hoods

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

1. 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.

2. Unsuitable for heavy cooking

Recirculating range hoods may not be suitable for heavy cooking. These hoods don’t vent outside, so they may be less effective at removing airborne particles. This can lead to a buildup of grease and other contaminants in the kitchen. This can be a problem for homeowners who often cook greasy or heavily spiced foods. A traditional custom range hood may be more practical if this is the case. Recirculating hoods are often low-powered, which means they can’t adequately vent kitchens where regular deep-frying or high-heat cooking is done.

3. Can’t remove steam or condensation

One major downside of these hoods is their inability to effectively remove moisture or condensation. Recirculating range hoods don’t vent air outside; instead, they filter it through activated charcoal or carbon filters. These filters aren’t designed to handle a lot of moisture content in the air. So, steam and condensation can build up in the kitchen. This can lead to mold and mildew growth. If you cook often and generate a lot of steam, a recirculating range hood may not be the best choice. You might need to consider a different ventilation system that can remove excess moisture from your kitchen.

4. They can be quite noisy

The recirculating process pulls air through filters, which requires a strong fan to push the air through the filters. As a result, some models can make a lot of noise, which can disturb those in the kitchen or nearby areas. However, modern recirculating range hoods often have multiple fan speed settings, which allows for quieter operation. Also, adding insulation around the range hood and proper installation can help lower noise levels.

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

Recirculating range hoods can take a long time to clear the air. Ducted range hoods release everything outdoors immediately, but recirculating hoods filter the air through several filters. These filters can only capture a certain amount of particles before they get clogged. So, the fan has to work harder, which can slow down the clearing process.

Recirculating hoods aren’t designed to handle a lot of smoke or grease. If you cook food that creates a lot of airborne particles, the hood may take longer to clear the air. Vented range hoods expel air outside, which can clear the kitchen air faster. So, they are a better choice for those who often 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.