Homemade dehydrator

Way back when, I had read some posts extolling the virtues of dehydrators. They were good to make fruit leather, jerky, dried/candied fruits, yogurt, etc. They also were great at extending the shelf life of many foods without needing to keep them in the freezer and spend electricity on that. (I wrote more about that here.)
However, when I looked at the price of a dehydrator, the prices scared me away. The cheapest one I could find was 50 dollars, and while it would save me more than that in the long run, I had a hard time justifying that expense. I thought a dehydrator was out of the budget for me.

Then I stumbled across a post on a message board. A lady was sharing that her son built a dehydrator in Home Ec class in high school. Said I, if her son could build one as a teenager, surely I could build one myself and fulfill my dream of having a dehydrator without needing to fork over 50 dollars.

I googled a little bit and discovered that making a homemade dehydrator was quite simple. All that was needed was a container that could withstand some heat, some shelving units, and a heat source. A thermometer and a little fan would improve it even more but were unnecessary. .

To make a dehydrator I saw so many different types of equipment used. The simplest container I saw was a cardboard box lined with aluminum foil. I also saw a dehydrator made out of an old filing cabinet. The easiest shelving units were cookie sheets. Nearly all the dehydrators called for a lightbulb.

Once I made up my mind to build myself a dehydrator I kept a lookout for things in the dumpster that would be of use to me for my project. I chose not to use a cardboard box because that dehydrator didn't seem like it would withstand constant use; it was something a guy built for a one time thing to prepare jerky for a camping trip. As I wanted to have dehydrator that would have a bit more use than just a one time thing, I decided to look for a sturdier container to house my unit.
I also opted for shelving that would allow more air to flow than cookie sheets would. More airflow ensures a more even distribution of heat, which would help ensure that all the food dehydrated at a similar pace and would not need constant mixing.

I found a wooden night stand in the dumpster near my house. I paid a boy 2 dollars to climb in (it was just filled with furniture, no actual gross garbage), take out the night stand, and lug it to my home. On that same trip I also found an old wooden crib railing with bars an inch wide and half an inch thick. I decided that these would make the perfect frames for my dehydrator's shelves.
My husband also randomly collects scraps from the dumpster that he assumes we may need, so we had already some boards of wood and some old screens.

I took out the drawers from the night stand and was left with an empty frame with two tracks for drawers.
We flipped over the nightstand and as there was no bottom, nailed down a thin board for a cover, leaving some air holes on the side of the cover to allow moisture to escape.

Using a saw, we cut the rails from the crib into short bars and used a staple-gun to attach four pieces together  to make a frame. We made 4 of these and then cut up the old screens and staple-gunned them on to the wooden frames. We now had our shelves that would allow air flow.

As there were only 2 sets of tracks in the old nightstand, we nailed some short nails into the sides to hold the other two frames in place.

My husband had a piece of wood (found from a previous forage in the dumpster) that fit perfectly over the front of the nightstand as a door.

All that was missing was a heat source. A trip to the hardware store provided me with a 60 watt light bulb, light socket, and extension cord.
We made a hole in the back wall of the dehydrator for the electric cord and then used electricians' tape to hold the light bulb in the exact place we desired it to be.

This is the inside view of the dehydrator with the light bulb lit. 

Here is the view with the door closed, as it would look while dehydrating.

The dehydrator is simple to use. You put cut up vegetables or fruit or otherwise on the shelves, put them inside the dehydrator, close the door and turn it on.
It takes 12 - 24 hours to dehydrate most foods. Because I do not have any fan to help the airflow, I need to occasionally change the shelves around, moving the lower shelves higher and higher shelves lower.

Total cost for this dehydrator? 2 dollars for the delivery fee for the night stand, and 10 dollars for the electrical equipment. 12 dollars instead of the 50 dollars it would be otherwise. If you have a spare electric cord or socket in your home and are willing to dive into the dumpster yourself, it could be free. (I didn't dive into the dumpster myself as I was 9 months pregnant at the time and it was hard for me to do such athletic feats as that.)

Total time expenditure? Once I had all the equipment, it took my husband and me less than an hour to make the whole thing.

Tips on dehydrating foods in a future post.

This post is part of Craft Schooling Sunday.

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Two dollars for someone to climb into a dumpster for you? I'd hate to be your server at a restaurant.

    1. I don't live in the US, salaries are lower where I live, so 2 dollars go further here and are worth more. And obviously I didnt force the person to get it out. He wanted to, was happy with the money. And I tip well on the rare occasion that I go out to dinner.

    2. Unnecessary response Anonymous! I hope you feel schooled by Penny's response!! To any kid $2 is awesome...can't wait to try and make my own dehydrator!

    3. Nice job on the dehydrator, looks great. Also im from california so $2 for someone to hop in a garbage and "lug" a piece of furniture to your house sounds funny. Great post though.

  2. Try adding a dessicant chamber into your dehydrator to save time and increase efficiency :)

  3. Adding a dessicant chamber is a cheap and easy way to increase efficiency and and save time :)

  4. Using a cheap hairdryer or box fan on low works too!

  5. This is awesome, thank you for taking the time to share this! It's all about self-sufficiency, right? You are most resourceful! Just wondering why you turned the bedside table upside-down?


  6. I for 1 think it is awesome that you did it yourself...I have kids too...its not cheap to raise them...my family also has extremely easy access to a dumpter...my 12 yr old girl frequently is in it when I'm looking for her...lol...it's next to my front yard...anyway; people need to learn to be more frugal...having more $$$ doesn't mean having the sense to spend it more wisely

  7. A small computer fan would work wonders. Thats what I use in homemade egg incubator

  8. i have an old school canning and dehydrating book that has instructions for making a dehydrator but it and several other sources i;ve read say u should use sulfur, which basically scared me away, what with kids and animals and all...so, you dont find that necessary?

  9. Hello,
    While I am a dedicated DIY-er and dumpster-diver and admire your frugality, I thought it might be relevant to mention that it appears the trash cabinet you are using may be made of particle board, a big source of formaldehyde gas. If it is, heating it would only exacerbate the issue. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/30/AR2008053001485.html

  10. This is great! Thank you so much for sharing. How utterly resourceful of you. :)

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