How Does A Ductless Range Hood Work?

Q: Im looking to upgrade a kitchen range hood but the options on the market are pretty overwhelming. Whats the difference between ducted and ductless models and what is a convertible range hood?

A: Range hoods are an essential component for every indoor kitchen, ensuring that smoke, fumes, and cooking oil don’t linger in the air after you’ve finished cooking. They are typically positioned on top of a stove and achieve better quality in one of two ways: by filtering and recirculating the air or redirecting it out of your home.

When shopping for a range hood, you’ll find both ducted and ductless options as well as convertible range hoods that offer both ducted and ductless functionality. Keep reading to learn more about what is a convertible range hood and the important factors to consider while searching for the best option.

Range hoods help to remove fumes and odors from the kitchen through an air duct or filtered recirculation


One of the most important decisions that shoppers make when purchasing an oven range hood is whether to opt for a ducted or ductless option.

Ducted range hoods pull in air and expel it to the outdoors. They may also be referred to as vented range hoods. Ducted models tend to be quieter because their fans can be located in the ductwork rather than in the hood itself. While they’re undoubtedly the most effective option available, they’re trickier to install because they require a system of ductwork that leads outdoors—which doesn’t necessarily work for every kitchen layout.

Ductless range hoods—also known as recirculating range hoods—feature a suction fan that pulls in air from the kitchen and runs it through a filter before recirculating it back into the room. These filters are typically made from charcoal and effectively trap grease and odor particles. While they’re certainly better than nothing, ductless range hoods can’t compete with ducted models when it comes to performance. They’re typically found in rental units and kitchens where installing a ducted model isn’t possible.


A convertible range hood can be adapted for either ducted or ductless installation


Convertible range hoods are versatile appliances that can function either with a duct system or without. They come equipped with fans and the necessary hookups to attach them to a ventilation system but they also feature charcoal filters for ductless operation. Generally speaking, they are sold as ducted hoods and can be adapted for ductless operation using a conversion kit that is sold separately.

When shopping for a range hood, consider the mounting style, hood size, and fan power, which is typically measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). High-quality residential range hoods typically feature CFMs of between 300 to 500.

There are a number of excellent range hood options on the market, and a recommended pick for a convertible option is the ZLINE 36″ Convertible Vent Wall Mount Range Hood, which is made from stainless steel, features high-quality baffle filters, and moves 400 cubic feet of air per minute.

Our Recommendation: ZLINE 36″ Convertible Vent Wall Mount Range Hood – Get at The Home Depot for $471.80

Convertible range hoods can come with additional costs. 

Cost can be a factor when deciding which type of range hood is best for a kitchen. While convertible range hoods are certainly convenient, they may end up being pricier than standard ducted or ductless models.

Some range hoods are marketed as being convertible and seem like a good value at first, but the cost of the conversion kits must be factored in as they often need to be purchased separately. When using the range hood as an air circulator, users will need to purchase charcoal filters that need to be replaced regularly. It’s important to check the costs of these extra components before deciding on a range hood that seems to fit a budget.

Convertible range hoods offer more flexibility for future kitchen projects. 

If you have a kitchen renovation product in your future, but need to replace your range hood now, a convertible model is an excellent option. They’re a great choice if you don’t currently have ductwork leading out from your kitchen but plan to install some at a later date.


A convertible model allows you to use the kitchen range hood as a recirculating filter system until eventually switching to a more powerful vented system. The range hood vent will also work well if you move your stove to an interior wall where installing a ventilation system isn’t possible.

Often convertible range hoods have more style options than standard ductless versions


Range hoods come in several different styles, with wall-mounted and under-cabinet options being the most popular. Wall-mounted range hoods are installed directly on a wall, and tend to be ducted. Under-cabinet models are best if you’re short on space, because they simply attach to the underside of your kitchen’s upper cabinets. Many under-cabinet models are ductless, so they’re easy to install without hiring a professional.

Ductless range hoods tend to be pretty simple in appearance, whereas ducted models are often showstopping pieces that lend a visually compelling aesthetic to a kitchen. If style is a priority, shoppers can purchase a ducted option with a convertible kit in order to attain its high-end appearance for the kitchen exhaust hood—even if it’s not actually connected to any kitchen vent.


Why do most people prefer to vent kitchen hoods to the outside?

Venting kitchen hoods to the outside is becoming m

Venting kitchen hoods to the outside is becoming more common. Outdoor venting is much more efficient for getting rid of smoke, steam, and other chemicals in the air. 

When installing a ducted exhaust fan, find an area near any pipes or ducts that reach to the outside. Many people who have homes without designated venting areas find a professional to install ventilation. 

While ducted hoods vent air to the outside, ductless or recirculating hoods simply recirculate the air throughout your kitchen.


Why would I ever want to install an unvented range hood?

Sometimes, installing a vented range hood isn’t possible because of the layout of the kitchen, especially if it’s in a condo or apartment. When a vented hood is mounted under the cabinet or on a wall, the duct has to run through or behind the cabinets to an outer wall. For a ceiling-mounted or island range hood, the duct must run above the ceiling.

If you don’t already have the duct in your kitchen, it can be expensive (or sometimes impossible) to install one. Also, the location of the duct dictates where your range will be placed in the room—a duct run that’s too long or twisty is less effective. (You may have to add a booster fan in these cases.)

A ductless range hood can be mounted anywhere, which saves money. It’s also more practical if you’re renting. And it uses less energy, since the fan doesn’t need to blow as hard.

 Above: A wall-mounted range hood in Kitchen of th
Above: A wall-mounted range hood in Kitchen of the Week: A Greek Architect’s Ode to Minimalism.

What Is A Ductless Range Hood?

Elegant ductless range hood
Elegant ductless range hood

A ductless range hood is just as popular as a ducted range hood. This type of range hood is a lot easier to install because it doesn’t need any ventilation system. You can install it anywhere you like.

However, there’s a catch. The ductless range hood doesn’t vent out the dirty air, fumes, and smoke out of the kitchen. It sucks everything from your room, recycles it, and puts it back in the room.

Also, the efficiency of the range hood depends on the quality of the filters. Advanced filters usually have activated charcoal or carbon which helps to banish smoke, grease, or steam from the air and return the fresh air into the kitchen. You can install it in your kitchen and any other part of your home.

The only disadvantage is the high maintenance. You will need to clean the filters at least twice per year. With proper cleaning and replacement, you will get the most out of a ductless range hood.

Advantages Of Ductless Range Hood

Like ducted range hoods, ductless ones have their advantages and disadvantages. First, let’s discuss the good sides. They don’t need any ventilation system set up in the kitchen.

That’s great because you can install them anywhere you like, not just in your kitchen. Also, they’re easy to use thanks to the programmable timers. However, not every ductless range hood has one.

Also, they feature filters that clean the air and bring it back into the kitchen. Therefore, you don’t need to stress about setting it up near ducts or pipes that approach the outside.

Disadvantages Of Ductless Range Hood

No good comes without evil. This has proven right in the case of ductless range hoods. They just recycle the air. Meaning, there’s a chance that the entire air isn’t completely recycled.

Also, some homeowners claimed that they produce a lot of noise because they usually need additional fan power. However, the noise also depends on factors like model, size, and brand.

Last but not least is the high maintenance. Since they have filters, you will need to clean and replace the filters regularly for better performance which can be annoying and expensive.

Change The Charcoal Filter Frequently

The primary maintenance item with ventless range hoods is changing the filter.

Changing out the ductless charcoal filter is recommended once every three months. Personally, I recommend changing the filter once a month if you cook everyday — it is an individual preference.

You also may want to change the filter every month if you are sensitive to poor air quality.

These filters usually cost in the $10 to $20 range.

With ducted range hoods, the filter only needs to be changed once a year — if at all — because usually you can just clean the mesh filter or metal baffle filters. These filters can be cleaned with a simple detergent.

Read Also: What Are The Quietest Bathroom Exhaust Fans?

How Does A Ductless Range Hood Compare To Ducted?

I don’t think there is any doubt that ducted range hoods are better that non-vented range hoods.

There just isn’t way to compete with a range hood that exhausts all of the harmful pollutants to the exterior — a filter will only go so far. Of course, sometimes you just cannot install a duct to the outside.

You may live in a condo where installing a duct would go into a neighbors condo. Or your range or oven may be in an interior wall location where it isn’t feasible to duct to the outside.

Or you may just not want to deal with the expense and hassle of ducting the range hood to the exterior. I would say that around 75% of homes that inspect have recirculating range hoods — so its pretty common. A non-vented range hood will still do the job, and it is light years ahead of having no range hood.

Save Energy

In addition, there are energy saving considerations when installing a ductless range hood. If you duct the exhaust to the outside, it is also expelling expensive conditioned air to the exterior — almost equivalent to having an open window.

From an energy saving perspective, a ductless range hood definitely beats the ducted.

Read Also: What Are The Best Bathroom Exhaust Fans With Humidity Sensors?

Are Ductless Range Hoods Legal

Many parts of the home are regulated by building codes. This is done to ensure energy efficiency and a safe living environment for people.

Thankfully the building codes are quite relaxed about using ductless range hoods.

Ductless range hoods are legal to use according to the international building code. However, it is important to keep in mind that alternative mechanical or natural ventilation must be provided.

What the alternative ventilation means is that there must be more than 5 air changes per hour in a living space. This is tested with something called a blower door test. I realize that you are probably not going to have your home tested for air changes 🙂

No need to worry about this though. Nearly all modern homes have some type of ventilation installed. Otherwise, they would not have passed the building inspection.

And for the old buildings. They have what is called natural ventilation 🙂 This means that the house is not airtight and air moves in and out through the cracks in walls, windows, and doors.

The only way I can think of when there could be a problem is when an old house is renovated and made airtight. Doing this and not installing any type of mechanical ventilation that exhausts to the outdoors can lead to problems.

Another factor to consider is the amendments to the IRC that each state has the right to make and enforce. For example, in California, you are required to have vented mechanical ventilation in your kitchen, thus ductless range hoods would not comply with these codes.

Different Types and Styles of Ductless Range Hoods 

Because of how popular and essential kitchen hoods are, there are many different types of range hoods based on the application and location of the range.  

Under Cabinet Range Hoods 

Under-cabinet range hoods are the most common type of ductless hood. You install these conventional range hoods when your oven is against a wall and overhead cabinets above it. An under-cabinet range hood is fastened to the bottom of an overhead cabinet directly above the range. 

As far as ductless exhaust hoods go, under-cabinet installations are the perfect place for them. Most ducted range hoods have vents coming out the top of them, which means that the vent pipe is inside the cabinet.

Not only does this take away from storage space in your kitchen, but it also exposes everything in the cabinet to potentially harmful chemicals. Therefore, ductless range hoods are an excellent option for under-cabinet installations. Check out our best under cabinet range hoods.

Island Range Hoods 

An island hood is what it sounds like – range hoods above a kitchen island area. If you have your oven or a cooktop grill located on a kitchen island, adding an island range is a good idea. Island ranges will ensure that all the chemicals, smoke particles, and grease created on the cooktop or island range get sucked into the range hood. 

While ductless range hoods usually aren’t used on island installations, they’re an option if you don’t have easy access to the outside for a ducted range hood. 

Island hoods pose particular problems with venting, especially if you have a second floor. Hence, this is why non-vented range hoods are particularly essential.

Wall Mounted Range Hoods 

Wall-mounted range hoods are installed similarly to under cabinet range hoods but without a cabinet above them.

Wall-mounted hoods are another example of where most people don’t use ductless hoods when vented hoods are an option.

However, if you don’t have access to an outside wall or the roof, ductless wall-mounted range hoods are an excellent option. 

Downdraft Ventilation 

Downdraft ventilation is a unique but effective solution when venting upwards isn’t an option. Where a typical range hood is installed directly above a range or cooktop grill, downdraft ventilation is built into the cooktop range and is vented downward rather than upward.

You can opt for either a ductless or ducted downdraft range hood. Downdraft hoods are clever alternatives for smaller kitchens or if you want a clean look along with your ceiling and outside walls.

However, make sure to check with an HVAC professional before installing a downdraft range hood to ensure that it will work for your purposes. 

Convertible Range Hoods 

One of the biggest problems people run into with range hoods is that they don’t know whether to install a non-vented or vent hood. Convertible range hoods are the perfect answer to this problem. Convertible range hoods can be changed from ducted to ductless and back again whenever you need to. 

Convertible range hoods are perfect for when you want a ducted range hood but are thinking about adding a wall or home addition in the future. A ducted range hood is ideal for the time being, but if you add an addition or change the kitchen’s layout, you may no longer have access to an outside wall or ceiling. 

It’s important to note that not all modern range hoods are convertible. Typically, you have to purchase one with the specific design to change from ducted to ductless simply by adding a filter. While you can also go from ductless to ducted, this is less common. 

Can I use a Ductless Range Hood in an Outdoor Kitchen?

You can use a ductless range hood for an outdoor kitchen although it’s not really necessary. If your outdoor kitchen is underneath a covered patio, you can vent a ducted hood through a side wall or install a ductless model if you don’t want to install venting.

Ducted Vs. Ductless Range Hood: Which One Is Better?

Woman cleaning her range hood
Woman cleaning her range hood

It depends on your preferences, needs, and budget as both of these have their benefits and downsides. However, If your kitchen already has an installed ventilation system, opt for a ducted type.

This type of range hood may limit the installation area but it’s more quieter and efficient. Positioning the range hood closer to the outer wall will increase its efficiency. Also, it doesn’t need maintenance.

If your kitchen doesn’t have an installed ventilation system, consider a ductless range hood. You can put it anywhere around the home, not just the kitchen. It’s easy to install and features charcoal filters.

This type of range hood sucks out the air, filtrates it, and brings it back into the room. The filters need to be cleaned and replaced often (once every 2-3 months) which can be an extra ongoing cost.

Ductless Range Hoods: The Pros Cons

The ductless rangehood is flexible and can place almost anywhere. A ductless range hood does not need to install near pipes or ducts that run outside. Ductless range hood works better than the traditional ducted system. It doesn’t need any specific or unique installation. Ductless model’s program to turn on/off and most of them have timers.

Unfortunately, ductless range hoods don’t come without their drawbacks. Because it recirculates the air instead of pulling in the fresh air and venting out old and dirty air. This type of hood can make your kitchen very humid because ductless hoods often need more fan power. The decibel levels can be higher than those with ducted exhaust systems. It will depend on several factors, such as the brand and model. To achieve the most performance, filters should clean and replace. This could lead to an ongoing cost for homeowners.


This concludes our guide on recirculating vent hoods. Hopefully this information has been helpful.

Are you shopping for a ductless hood? Check out our professional quality selection of ductless hoods here.

If you’re looking for information on ducted hoods as well, check out this article.

Thanks for reading!


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