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If you live in the swamp commonly known as Washington, you’re used to damp, humid, summer weather.

You probably could use a dehumidifier. And so could many homeowners across the country who may not realize this small machine’s power to create a more comfortable atmosphere in their homes.

Dehumidifiers take excessive moisture out of the air. This can have a huge impact on the environment in your home during the summer, a rainy spell or anytime a temperature of more than 60 degrees combines with high humidity. The most common place to install one is in the basement, which tends to be one of the dampest places in the house.

Despite their usefulness, dehumidifiers are a puzzle to some consumers, according to Elvin Bautista, a Kenmore product manager at Sears. “Everyone knows what air conditioners or humidifiers do, but not so much dehumidifiers.”

The lesser-known benefits of dehumidifiers include preventing the peeling of wallpaper, protecting home electronics and music equipment, preserving documents, and keeping sofas, chairs and curtains from smelling.

Eliminating those unpleasant odors is one of the top benefits of running a dehumidifier.

“Dehumidifiers help make a room feel less damp. Otherwise the humidity can bring on a musty smell that reminds me of an old house,” says Eric Ball, a spokesman for Lowe’s.

Shopping for a dehumidifier isn’t too complicated. Lowe’s sells models sized at 30 to 100 pints at prices ranging from $170 to $500. (The pint number indicates the amount of water the dehumidifier can remove in 24 hours.)

According to the Environmental Protection Agency , dehumidifiers that have earned the Energy Star label use 30 percent less energy than noncertified models.

Pros recommend getting one with wheels so you can move it around. There are three basic styles, Ball says. Some models require you to empty the bucket daily; others are equipped with an attachment that allows you to hook it up to a drain through a hose; a third style has a pump that moves water out. If you plan to empty it yourself, consider a larger bucket so you don’t have to empty it so frequently. Ball ­recommends setting the control panel to 50 percent humidity.

Check the model description so you can buy one with the appropriate capacity for the size and dampness of the room where you’ll be placing it. Bautista says Kenmore makes three portable models : 35, 50 and 70 pints, priced from about $200 to $300.

And don’t forget to clean the filter every few weeks. I didn’t even know there was a filter in mine until I burned out the motor in only a couple of years because of a totally clogged filter.

“A lot of people ask what a dehumidifier can do for them,” Ball says. Here are six reasons you might want to get one.

There's a musty smell in your home

When you walk into your home, you want it to smell clean and fresh. Moisture in the air tends to hold and trap odor, Bautista says. A dehumidifier will dry out the air and take away this moldy scent. (Another personal note: We use our fireplace a lot in the cold weather, so when it’s hot and damp, we can smell the fires of last winter unless we have our dehumidifier on.)

There is condensation on your windows

Bautista says this could indicate the humidity in your home is too high. If you continue to let the condensation occur and have ­water dripping onto your sills, it can deteriorate the wood framing around your windows.

Leaks in your basement are a common occurrence

After a heavy rain, if you have water dripping on your floors, sweating walls or rings of what look like mold spores, you ­probably will want to set up a dehumidifier to let the area dry out and then help keep it dry. If you have a regularly damp basement, Ball says, it’s a good idea to keep one running throughout the summer.

You like to hang laundry to air-dry in your basement

A dehumidifier can hasten the time it takes to dry those bathing suits or cotton tops that you don’t put in the dryer. As a bonus, if you are painting, a dehumidifier could speed up your drying time, Bautista says.

You or a family member has lots of allergies

A dehumidifier could provide some relief from allergies stemming from mold, mildew and dust mites. The dampness is what creates the environment for them to thrive in. “A dehumidifier can improve your air quality,” Ball says. Look for one with antimicrobial technology, which discourages the growth of bacteria on the unit’s water collection bucket.

Foods go stale or get moldy quickly

According to Ball, running his dehumidifier makes his boxes of dry cereal taste fresh longer. (He swears his favorite Honey Nut Cheerios are crunchier.) It can also keep bread from developing mold.