The Best Bathroom Fans for Spaces Big and Small
Control humidity and excess moisture in the bathroom with an exhaust fan suited to your needs and budget. Ahead, learn the features of bathroom fans and what to look for in a quality model—and don't miss our top picks!
Nothing beats a hot shower at the end of a long day. But while steamy water may work wonders on your nerves, it has the opposite effect on your bathroom—especially if the space isn’t properly ventilated. Excess humidity settles on available surfaces in the space, causing damage in myriad forms—cracked paint, peeling wallpaper, warped cabinetry. What’s more, the buildup of moisture encourages mold growth in drywall and caulking, threatening indoor air quality.
Some renters and homeowners can ventilate their bathrooms by opening a window after every bath or shower. Those without windows, however, can consider installing a bathroom exhaust fan. The best bathroom fan removes excess moisture effectively, protecting your bathroom against mold growth and water damage, while also helping eliminate mirror fog and odors.
When shopping for a bathroom fan, you’ll find a wide variety of options at every price point, from bare-bones models to high-end fans that come with built-in lighting, heaters, and motion sensors. To understand the ins and outs, continue ahead for guide to navigating the options—and don’t miss our top picks, below!
- BEST FOR SMALL BATHS: Delta BreezSlim Bathroom Fan
- BEST FOR LARGE BATHS: BV Ultra-Quiet Bathroom Fan
- BEST FOR CHILLY BATHS: Delta Electronics BreezRadiance Heater/Fan/Light Combo
- BEST VALUE: Broan 688 Bathroom Exhaust Fan
- UPGRADE PICK: Panasonic WhisperSense Fan with Motion and Humidity Sensing
Fan Size and Power
Bathroom exhaust fan performance is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM), which gives the amount of air moved by the fan each minute. The product’s box will list the CFM number, and it will typically give a suggested room size as well. As a general rule of thumb, homeowners should buy a fan with a minimum CFM rating that equates to your bathroom’s square footage. For example, you’ll want a 50 CFM rated fan for a 50-square-foot bathroom and a 100 CFM rated fan for a 100-square-foot bathroom.
For even more accuracy, measure your bathroom and use the following mathematical formula:
Length X Width X Height X 0.13 = Suggested CFM
Suppose your bathroom is 8 feet wide, 10 feet long, and 8 feet high. Then you’d multiply 8 by 10 by 8 by 0.13 for a total of 83.2. In this case, a fan with a CFM rating of 80 would probably be sufficient for your bathroom.
The noise emitted by an exhaust fan is rated in “sones,” and most fans have a sones rating between the range of 0.5 to 6.0. The lower the sones number (which is typically printed on the fan box), the quieter the fan will be when operating. Since a sones ratings of 1.0 compares to the sound of a quiet refrigerator, any fan with a sones rating of 1.0 or less is considered very quiet. On the other end of the scale, a sones rating greater than 4.0 might be loud enough to drown out your shower singing.
Nowadays, many manufacturers produce bathroom fans that operate quietly. If you’re very worried about sound, consider installing a 6-inch ducting attachment for your fan rather than the standard 4-inch attachment. Air can move easier in a wider duct, so 6-inch duct puts less strain on the fan and allows for quieter operation.
Many people opt for a bathroom fan with an integrated light. These fan/light combinations allow the buyer to remove their current light and install the new fixture with the existing wires, making installation easy. Some of these models also have motion sensors that automatically turn on the light when someone walks into the bathroom.
Other optional features in bathroom fans include humidity sensors that activate the exhaust fan when the moisture levels reach a specific level, nightlights that offer a comforting glow for midnight bathroom visitors, and built-in heaters that warm the bathroom quickly on chilly winter mornings.
Installation and Ducting
When you draw moisture-filled air out of the bathroom, it needs somewhere to go. Some bathroom vents release exhaust into a home’s attic; however, this setup isn’t ideal, since excess moisture in the attic can lead to mold-related issues. It’s usually best practice to vent bathroom fans to the outdoors.
- If the bathroom is located on the first level of a multi-story home, you can vent the air through the side of your house. A standard ceiling-mounted fan is suitable for this type of venting, as long as you can run the ducting through the ceiling joists to an exterior wall.
- If you can’t run ducting between the joists, and if your bathroom has at least one exterior wall, you can install a wall-mounted fan that vents the exhaust directly out the side of the house.
- For any bathroom located on the floor directly below the attic, your best bet is to direct the vented air to the attic and then, via ducting, either to a soffit under the roof’s eave or out through a vent pipe in the roof.
Bathroom fans are typically best located between the shower and toilet, in an area of the ceiling without any obstructing joists or pipes. Replacement fans should be installed in the same location as the existing fan. Keep in mind that larger bathrooms may require multiple fans to effectively ventilate the space. Fans with added features—such as lights, heaters, and nightlights—may require additional wires or a designated circuit to operate.
Our Top Picks
1. BEST FOR SMALL BATHS: Delta BreezSlim Bathroom Fan
For small bathrooms—as well as laundry rooms and utility rooms up to 50 sq. ft.—consider the Delta BreezSlim Bathroom Fan. It offers 50 CFM air movement but with just 1.0 sones of noise, you might not know it’s running. We love this unit not only for its quiet operation, but also for its speedy humidity removal and ease of installation (which is done via a 3-inch duct connection). The fan comes with a 1-year limited warranty.
2. BEST FOR LARGE BATHS: BV Ultra-Quiet Bathroom Fan
This powerful ventilation fan removes humidity from bathrooms up to 150 sq. ft.—and at 2 sones, it does so quietly. Though priced lower than many similar models, BV Ultra-Quiet delivers more than satisfactory performance. It comes with a 4-inch duct connection and a 1-year limited warranty.
3. BEST FOR CHILLY BATHS: Delta Electronics BreezRadiance Heater/Fan/Light Combo
Thanks to its heating element and programmable thermostat, this Delta fan radiates warmth, while working to remove humidity in bathroom up to 80 sq. ft. The BreezRadiance operates at a soft 1.5 sones and comes with an LED light, which can supplement existing bathroom lighting. Just know that, because the fan includes a heater, it must be wired to a dedicated electrical circuit. This Delta fan comes with a limited 3-year warranty.
4. BEST VALUE: Broan 688 Bathroom Exhaust Fan
Save money with this model from Broan that eschews bells and whistles without sacrificing quality. Though it hums more loudly than some of its peers, the basic Broan does a great job of eliminating humidity and excess moisture in bathrooms up to 50 sq. ft. Backed by a 1-year warranty, the fan can be installed in the ceiling with a 3-inch duct connection, or it can be be mounted on an exterior wall.
5. UPGRADE PICK: Panasonic WhisperSense Fan with Motion and Humidity Sensing
The WhisperSense offers exceptional quiet—less than a whisper of noise at only .3 sones—among other high-end features. Motion sensors allow the fan to turn on or off when someone enters or leaves the bathroom, and humidity sensors do the same to maintain a preset level of humidity. This fan operates virtually hands-free. It comes with a 4-inch duct attachment and a 3-year limited warranty.