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dehydrator screen material

 
pollinator
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I am setting up my old camper trailer to function as a large space to dehydrate all the goodies I harvest this season.  I am looking to make large racks with screen material to set my produce on.  

The question is, what screen material do I use?  Ideally it would be stainless steel hardware cloth at about 1/8" holes.  Of course this kind of stuff is ridiculously expensive.  So what is the next best thing?  What are folks using in their dehydrator constructions?

The two options I see at the hardware store are fiberglass window screening and galvanized hardware cloth.  Neither of these seem like the ideal thing to place my nice organic food on to dry.   Any input on what to do here would be super appreciated.  Thank you!
 
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I have thought about building a dehydrator around standard sized sheet pans and buying the perforated variety.
 
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I got a deal on seed cleaning screens from a garage sale once.  It's perforated stainless steel and I've used it in my dehydrator.  So if there are farmers nearby they might have a damaged one you could get.
 
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Stainless steal is fine or you want food safe plastic screen.
Do not use the galv or fiberglass screening.
We used the food safe screening on our dehydrator.
 
pollinator
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When we built ours we used one of the polyethylenes, o think LDPE, but both HDPE  and LDPE are considered food safe. We went to the garden store and looked through their bulk screen material catalog and found some polyethylene bird netting for trees. Then bought what we needed by the foot
 
William Bronson
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I was thinking about it more.
There are disposable aluminum grill toppers made of food safe aluminum.
Cheaper per square inch and more air flow.
But aluminum will not interact well with high acid foods like tomatoes or citrus.
Highly salted food  might be a problem as well.

Turns out, stainless steel cooling racks come in the same sizes as the sheet pans, and they are about 7 dollars apiece.
That's 16x 24 inches of drying surface, with close to 1/4" openings .
Buy from a local  restaurant supply shop to avoid shipping costs.
For anything so small it will fall through 1/4" openings , dollar stores stock  mesh grease splatter screens.
They are round so,  not  efficient space wise,  but very cheap.

Inspired by you and theses cooling racks I think I might turn a defunct fridge into a dehydrator.
 
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Never use fiberglass for drying. The screen degrades and small particles can eventually flake off. Plus some screens can contain toxic compounds such as lead. Galvanized hardware cloth can work if you put something between the food and the metal such as parchment paper to avoid metal contamination. Bamboo trays are an option for foods that aren't particularly messy to start with such as herbs or leafy greens. Cotton dish towels also work for small herbs. If you want to go for a permanent setup, stainless steel screen can't be beat. We sell screen material for our dryer design on our website: http://geopathfinder.com/Solar-Food-Drying.html
 
Simon Johnson
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Good stuff guys!

I went out in the internet world and started searching.  I found a number of places that sell the food grade plastic mesh that comes with many dehydrators by the roll.  I also found the stuff in bulk if I want to build a ton of dehydrating space.

I think "food grade plastic mesh" was the most successful search.

The stainless stuff is just too expensive (I think) for the size of drying space I want to create.  
 
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If you are handy, you can weave your own from stainless wire, just like re stringing a tennis racket or cane seat chair.  I wouldn't spend the time for 1/8 or 1/4 mesh, but big mesh like 1/2 x 1 is quick and easy.

I would do several different types, suited to the different things you want to dry.  A tray or two of the expensive stainless mesh for the things that need it, plastic mesh for the bulk of fruits and veggies, cooling racks or self strung for meat, etc.

Put a rail with hooks so you can hang bundles of herbs, too.
 
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Very interesting Guys.
I al gOin tot building a small dehydrator and the only thing i can't het my head around is the mesh tot put the food on.

As IT is nog that much i need i would like tot use stainless steal. Buy what is the difference netwerk woven and crimped woven?

Tnx

I live in Europe/belgium...
 
thomas rubino
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Hi Faber;  Welcome to Permies!
I used the food safe plastic for my dryer , but it sounds to me that the difference would be the strength of the material.

I may be wrong but I think that woven stainless screen would work best with the small holes.
The crimped screen is commonly used with 1/2" opening size or larger.
 
pollinator
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I have to agree with William Bronson, highly salted foods will pit half sheet pans. I have a speed rack that I have made some screens to dry some things, like mushrooms and herbs. I use half sheet pans covered with parchment to dry herb salts. I find with all these things it helps to buy standardized half sheet pans and parchment liners and cooking/cooling racks. I prefer equipment that multi-tasks and is standardized.
 
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I have been drying various vegetables and fruits with various cobbled together methods for several years. I find that drying sticky or sagging vegetables on a mesh from the beginning is a problem. For example, leafy items on a wide mesh sag between the wires and dry there, and you can't get them off without crumbling them all over the place. Or sticky items like tomatoes or fruits will stick to mesh and is hard to clean off. So I often lay things out on trays and plates initially. In my climate, if I lay things out on the morning of a sunny day, they have shrunk a bit and aren't sticky or sagging after one day, so then I can transfer them to a screen, or combine them onto a smaller plate or tray to make room for more things.
 
Faber vanmolkot
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Rebecca Norman,

What kind of plates/trays do You use?
 
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how about old oven racks or cake/biscuit cooling racks? They are often available at second hand stores or recycling centres. You could put baking paper or reusable bbq silicon sheets on them if you need to dry small items.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Faber vanmolkot wrote:Rebecca Norman,

What kind of plates/trays do You use?



I use random plates and trays from around my house. I bought several large tea trays to use under flowerpots on windowsills in winter, and for drying food in late summer.

To keep flies off, I use a tiny tent meant to keep bugs off a baby outdoors, or various screens from the kitchen. Maybe this summer I will build a nice enclosed cabinet with mesh sides and shelves for drying things, but for most items I expect I will continue to start them on trays inside the cabinet.

20191014-tomatoes-bananas-bitter-gourd-drying-on-trays.jpg
Starting drying tomatoes, bananas on trays and then moving them the next day
Starting drying tomatoes, bananas on trays and then moving them the next day
20191014_drying-vegetables-on-a-roof-in-desert-Ladakh.jpg
Drying fruit and vegetables in a baby tent on the roof
Drying fruit and vegetables in a baby tent on the roof
 
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IF you're DIY'ing your screens you want to be careful not to get them too big, especially if you're doing the drying outside. Even if you have 36" doors - most homes have screen doors besides the regular door and it could be quite un-handy to try and hold even a 30" tray and try to manipulate your way through the doors.

I have and Excalibur Dehydrator and the trays/shelves are 15" square with a (nylon?) panel with approx. 3/32 inch open grid. I get SOME stickyness from tomatoes in particular but they still dry O.K. AND it is surprising how many apples I have to peel and cut up to fit onto one tray, even using the apple corer that makes rings which I cut in thirds to lay on the tray.

ALSO, the trays of this size are much easier to clean in my kitchen sink even if they don't totally fit flat in that sink. I can't imagine getting a 30" screen cleaned without a power washer with hot water. O.K., I can imagine that, BUT, how do you sanitize them after cleaning - and then after pulling them out of storage again???

Now if you have a HUGE BUILDING set up specifically as a processing kitchen with HUGE EQUIPMENT  in it then I could see how you do it. But most don't have those resources available, including the money to buy them. I did spend a considerable amount on my dehydrator and I use it yearly too, so that makes up for come of the initial cost of purchase. ALSO mine runs a bit more expensive as I leave whatever I'm drying to dry to where it is less than 4 to 5% moisture so the electric bill runs up with that. I just don't trust partially dried fruits and veggies to keep whether put in a container or vacuum sealed in bags.
 
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Thanks for all of the good information.
 
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I am in the process of building a solar dehydrator. I spent some time looking through a nearby salvage yard that has a lot of old industrial equipment including food processing machines. There was quite a bit of stainless steel mesh in a variety of sizes, shapes, and screen size. I even found some that were nicely framed with stainless steel already. I was able to buy all I wanted for 60 cents per pound. Some of the framed ones are pretty big, so not easily handled and especially not through doorways. My chamber is going to be completely waterproof so I can literally use a pressure washer to clean up.
 
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My favorite material is good, old fashioned muslin. The thinner, the better. I stretch it over an old wood window frame and staple gun it in place, then prop the window (which I'd removed) over it in a sunny spot. It doesn't last forever but I don't wonder what might be leaching into my food out of a fiberglass or plastic-based window screen. It's cheap and easy to replace. Works really well and the window always fits the frame. Plus, it's biodegradeable and doesn't hurt the environment at all!
 
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Carmen Rose wrote:My favorite material is good, old fashioned muslin. The thinner, the better. I stretch it over an old wood window frame and staple gun it in place, then prop the window (which I'd removed) over it in a sunny spot. It doesn't last forever but I don't wonder what might be leaching into my food out of a fiberglass or plastic-based window screen. It's cheap and easy to replace. Works really well and the window always fits the frame. Plus, it's biodegradeable and doesn't hurt the environment at all!



Do you have issues with the food sticking? It seems like a lot of contact with the food to come off cleanly. I love the idea though, it's cheap and one could make custom sized frames to fit a cobbled together dehydrator setup!
 
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I found Commercial restaurant size Bread racks with wheels and slots for about 18 trays at a junk shop...I bought 1/2 of the trays solid and 1/2 perforated...we figure to use the perforated ones for drying and also for overwintering whatever garden stuff have a longer holding time—pumpkins, winter squash, onions/garlic, apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes and such....the solid trays we can use in the rack in the spring to set flatting boxes  on—to catch dripping water—that way we can more easily start seeds in the More climate controlled garage....
 
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Location: Northern California, zone 8b
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Rebecca Norman wrote:

Faber vanmolkot wrote:Rebecca Norman,

What kind of plates/trays do You use?



I use random plates and trays from around my house. I bought several large tea trays to use under flowerpots on windowsills in winter, and for drying food in late summer.

To keep flies off, I use a tiny tent meant to keep bugs off a baby outdoors, or various screens from the kitchen. Maybe this summer I will build a nice enclosed cabinet with mesh sides and shelves for drying things, but for most items I expect I will continue to start them on trays inside the cabinet.



I love the tent idea. We might still have one around. I am glad I found this thread.

I have been meaning to build somthing to use for dehydrating, but was going to use left over fabric from our window screens. This conversation has caused me to reconsider and has expanded my ideas. Thank you all.
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