Make a Food Dehydrator with Household Items

Written by Clayton Krebs

Dehydrating your own fruits and vegetables is fun, easy and makes a great nutritious food storage snack your whole family will love. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a dehydrator, there are about a million ways to build your own dehydrator—the basic principles governing the laws of dehydration are not rocket science, you just need to figure out the best way to remove moisture from your food before it spoils.

You can easily build your own simple dehydrator from household items and have your favorite dehydrated foods drying in no time. For those of you with a little more ambition and skill, there are larger, more efficient dehydrators that can be built.  For the purpose of this article we will discuss the basic needs a dehydrator requires and we will explain how to build a simple dehydrator for using household items.

The Required Basics
Just like people need food, shelter, and love; your dehydrator has many of the same needs.

Love. Your dehydrator needs some “love” – in the form of heat!  Heat lamps do a great job. You can also use electrical heat coils, an old crock pot base or anything that can put off heat for an extended period of time.

Shelter. Next, you will need somewhere to foster that love. You will need some sort of shelter: a box, an old cooler, an old refrigerator or a wooden box of your own creation. Place your heat source at the bottom with vents near the top of the dehydrator so the heat can rise through the bottom and out the top.

Note:  You don’t want to use any insulation that will trap moisture inside and grow mold.  Installing a fan will increase the rate of the dehydrating process – a fan from your old computer will work great.

Racks. Once you have your dehydrator built you will need some racks. Make sure your racks are removable so that they can be cleaned after use. Preferably, you want your racks to be able to breathe so the air can pass freely through your food – something like a cookie sheet won’t work as well. A wooden frame with wire mesh stapled to the bottom makes a great rack.

Note: Place old window screens on top of the wire mesh for even easier cleaning and to prevent the metal from burning your food.

Food. Once you have your dehydrator built, the only thing left is to give it some food. Your new dehydrator will love some bananas, apples, apricots, meat, or anything else you may want in your food storage.

The temperature of your dehydrator is very important in the dehydrating process. You want your temperature high enough to draw the moisture out from the food but not hot enough that it will cook your food and kill nutrients in the process. Each food you dehydrate will have a different optimal dehydration temperature. As you do your research you will find everyone has a slight difference in opinion for optimal dehydration temperatures. The following list is an overall average ballpark range to shoot for:

Dehydrator Temperatures
Fruit & Vegetables 130°-140° F
Meats 145° F or higher
Herbs 95°-110° F

These low temperature ranges are what makes using a conventional oven to dehydrate your food difficult – most ovens do not operate below 200 degrees.

Also keep in mind, the ventilation of your dehydrator will affect the amount of moisture trapped inside, which will in turn affect the efficiency of your food dryer. If there is a lot of moisture inside the dehydrator it will take longer to dry your food.

Building a Simple Dehydrator Using Household Items
Yes, it is true; you can build a dehydrator using household items.This is no Snackmaster Express by any means, but if you have the time and patience this dehydrator will get the job done. It only took me about 20 minutes to have this dehydrator fully operational.

Items you will need:

- Large, closeable box
- One of the Following: Light socket, lamp assembly, extension light, heat lamp, or some kind of safe heat source.
- Aluminum foil
- Wooden slats or dowels
- Racks (cookie cooling racks work great)
- Tape

Step 1 Select a large box (preferably one that can stand up on end for easy access) and line the inside with aluminum foil using tape. I used a 10” x 14” x 14” box.

Step 2 Cut a hole in the bottom side of the box to insert and mount your heat source (try and keep the hole as small and insulated as possible; if you are using an extension light you can just have the cord come out the bottom of the door crack.)  I used a 75 watt bulb in our extension light.

Note: Make certain there are no exposed wires in contact with the aluminum foil—moisture may also accumulate inside.

Step 3 Cut holes in the sides of the box to slide your wooden slats or dowels through to place your racks on.  I used ½-inch PVC pipe.

Step 4 Make vent holes at the top to allow the moisture to escape. I’ve found that having more small holes work better than fewer large holes. I made seven 1/4-inch holes at the top and had some bad condensation accumulation where I did not have holes. You might consider placing four smaller holes along each top edge and additional smaller holes spread throughout the top.

Step 5 Prepare your favorite fruit and place them on the racks.

Note: Do not leave your dehydrator unattended.

Step 6 Close your box and let the food dehyrate!

I dehydrated two racks of apple slices and one rack of banana slices. After 10 hours the apples were completely dehydrated (My assistant did a poor job slicing the bananas; the thin bananas were done but the thicker banana slices still needed more time in the heat.)

So, go grab your items, build a dehydrator and start drying your own foods in 20 minutes. Let us know your story and how your dehydrator turned out.

Updated July 17, 2013

18 Comments

  1. Daniel wrote:

    In my Boy Scout troop we make the same kind of box, but use it for an oven. All the basics listed above to make the box are the same except for the heat source. For this we use two pie tins. Turn one over and place it in the bottom of the box. Place the next one right side up on top. The bottom tin keeps the charcoal from burning the box. If you use standard charcoal, each briquette is about 25 degrees. So just add them up for the temperature that you need and happy baking. We use are box oven for several items and it is always a hit at our cooking demos.

    July 18th, 2013 at 5:56 am
  2. Mike T. wrote:

    What happened to the option of emailing these articles?

    July 18th, 2013 at 6:58 am
  3. Bobbie wrote:

    What is needed is a way to make a dehydrator that requires no electricity. That is when one is absolutely necessary

    Bobbie

    July 18th, 2013 at 8:12 am
  4. Spuds wrote:

    My son made a solar dehydrator: Plywood box lined with foil & hinged, angled plexiglass top.

    July 18th, 2013 at 9:04 am
  5. Spuds wrote:

    My son made a solar dehydrator: Plywood box lined with foil & hinged, angled plexiglass top with a few holes drilled in it.

    July 18th, 2013 at 9:05 am
  6. Cindy wrote:

    I saw on TV where they took an old vehicle and cleaned it out – put racks in it and the sun naturally makes the vehicle hot – cracking windows – venting from top with a solar fan would work

    July 18th, 2013 at 1:37 pm
  7. Mary wrote:

    Would love to see directions for basic solar over.

    July 18th, 2013 at 3:07 pm
  8. The Ready Store wrote:

    @Mike T. You can share this article by clicking on the grey mail icon on the sidebar

    July 18th, 2013 at 4:31 pm
  9. Pam wrote:

    This is in reply to Bobbie. We made one that only uses the sun and it works nicely. You just have to have a sunny location for them.

    July 19th, 2013 at 11:01 am
  10. Capp wrote:

    In an episode of Cookin’ Cheap, Alton Brown made beef jerky by putting the meat in cotton (not fiberglass!) furnace filters and then strapping them to a box fan.

    Apparently the fast moving air dries faster and doesn’t start cooking it like the heat method. Works with herbs too.

    July 22nd, 2013 at 5:11 pm
  11. Capp wrote:

    Correction: Alton Brown = Good Eats, not Cookin’ Cheap The latter is a different cooking show I used to watch.

    July 22nd, 2013 at 5:12 pm
  12. Manny wrote:

    You can dehydrate in a typical over.My oven is at least 20 years old and has the ability to get temps down as low as 140.For making Beef Jerky set the oven @ 160 and you can crack the oven door open with a wooden spoon to let air circulate.Have fun kids !

    July 24th, 2013 at 7:23 am
  13. NameBert wrote:

    I have been dehydrating ALL kinds of food for a number of years now, but it seems prudent that some discussion should be presented regarding FOOD SAFETY before anyone plunges in to the field of food dehydration – just like canning or any other food preservation technique. Just a thought…

    July 31st, 2013 at 8:29 am
  14. Name wrote:

    If your fancy is beef or chicken jerky then before you place your strips of raw meet into the dehydrator, It is highly recommended that they be marinated in a “briny” mixture for at least a few hours. This significantly reduces any chance of your finished product becoming moldy and or un-edible before it is consumed by family and friends.

    August 12th, 2013 at 2:39 pm
  15. Kensley wrote:

    I’m wondering if household small appliances (crockpot, electric skillet etc) can be used as a heat source?

    January 12th, 2014 at 8:21 pm
  16. Bob Myers wrote:

    Small electric dehydrators a cheap. This manufacturing is entertaining if you have the time. Solar is interesting.

    January 15th, 2014 at 8:39 am
  17. Lynda wrote:

    The old ways of setting fruit out on screened trays still works. There is a farmer/company in Northern CA that still uses the trays for making sun dried tomatoes. TWELVE ACRES of trays on the ground where one tray sits up on the tray behind it and on and on. So the screening is not actually on the dirt. Their sun dried tomatoes are canned and sold across the country.

    March 24th, 2014 at 7:54 pm
  18. Northwoods Cheryl wrote:

    I have used window screens stacked in the back end of an old station wagon. I used regular bricks as spacers between the frames to add some height to them so layers of food don’t touch the underside of the screen above it. Works GREAT! We did this in the 60′s when I was a kid; we dried a LOT of food that way.

    April 7th, 2014 at 11:52 am

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