The Best Moisture Meters of 2021

If you need to know what’s going on below the surface of your hardwoods or drywall, these moisture meters can clue you in.

By Timothy Dale and Tom Scalisi | Updated Oct 29, 2020 10:23 AM

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Best Moisture Meters Options

Photo: depositphotos.com

Moisture meters can test the moisture content of many different materials, including drywall, paneling, and wood studs. Furniture makers and other woodworkers use them frequently to ensure they’re working with a quality product, and flooring contractors use the meters to determine ideal moisture conditions when installing a laminate or wood floor over a concrete slab or subfloor.

For home and building inspectors, a moisture detector is necessary for verifying the condition of a home. Similarly, you can use this tool to verify that your home is moisture-free or ensure the quality of materials during DIY projects. A moisture meter can help you determine if there is too much moisture or your home needs a dehumidifier.

This guide features hands-on testing of the top-rated moisture meter options available. Some passed with flying colors, while others didn’t make the cut.

  1. BEST OVERALL: General Tools 4-in-1 Digital Moisture Meter
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Proster Digital Wood Moisture Meter Handheld
  3. UPGRADE PICK: Wagner Meters Orion 940 Pinless Wood Moisture Meter
  4. BEST COMBINATION: Extech MO55 Pin/Pinless Moisture Meter
  5. BEST FOR WOOD: Tavool Wood Moisture Meter
  6. BEST EASE OF USE: Lignomat Moisture Meter Mini-Ligno E/D
  7. BEST FOR PROFESSIONALS: Protimeter BLD5365 Surveymaster Moisture Meter
Best Moisture Meters Options

Photo: depositphotos.com

Types of Moisture Meters

DIYers and professionals in industries like home inspection, fine carpentry, and flooring use three common types of moisture meter: pin, pinless, and multifunctional.

Pin

Pin moisture meters get their name from the two metal prongs, or pins, that emerge from the top of the meter like antennae. These pins are what measure the moisture percentage. Using a pin moisture meter requires aligning the pins with a spot on the material, and then pushing them so they penetrate the material.

Once the pins are inserted, you can operate the moisture meter with a control pad to send an electrical signal down one pin. This signal travels through the material on its way to the other pin. The moisture meter uses this signal to measure the material’s resistance to electrical current, which can help determine its moisture content.

This method of measurement is considered invasive because it requires puncturing the material to obtain a result. However, pin moisture meters are the only type that can help identify the exact location of moisture.

Pinless

Pinless moisture meters, so named for their lack of measurement pins, do not penetrate the material to get a reading. Instead, a plate on the back of the meter lays flat against the material and a high-frequency signal travels through it. The signal changes based on the material’s ability to store an electrical charge, which enables the moisture meter to detect the levels of moisture in the substance.

The main benefit of pinless moisture meters becomes clear when testing drywall. Having to drive holes into drywall to detect moisture can quickly turn it into Swiss cheese. A pinless moisture meter can check for moisture multiple times without damaging the drywall.

Although pinless moisture meters are less invasive than pin meters, their readings show moisture in a general area rather than a specific spot. A good option for regular moisture detection is a multifunctional moisture meter. Multifunctional moisture meters use both methods of measurement for noninvasive, precise moisture detection if an issue is discovered.

What to Consider When Buying a Moisture Meter

Before purchasing a moisture meter, it’s a good idea to educate yourself about these important considerations to make sure that you settle on the appropriate product for your purposes.

Accuracy

DIYers and pros looking for a moisture meter place accuracy as one of the most important factors in deciding which one to buy. A unit lacking in accuracy is essentially useless for measuring moisture. However, not all units advertise the same accuracy rate.

High-quality moisture meters should be accurate to within 0.1 percent, but these high-end models can cost a lot. For a less-expensive option, some moisture meters are accurate to within 5 percent. This still represents a reasonable accuracy rating for the average DIYer, but if a project or professional requires a more precise measurement, it is best to stick to the high-end models. It isn’t advisable to invest in a moisture meter that has more than a 5 percent variance in its accuracy.

All moisture meters’ readings are displayed as a percentage of moisture content (% MC). Typically, a moisture meter is calibrated for use with wood and has a scale between 5 percent (dry) and 40 percent (saturated). Measuring nonwood materials like concrete uses a relative scale from 0 (dry) to 100 (saturated). Moisture meters for use with gypsum or drywall offer a third scale that ranges from 0.2 percent (dry) to 50 percent (saturated). Before deciding on a moisture meter, determine the accuracy levels you need and the materials you will want to check.

Durability

A product’s durability is important to anyone who will be using a moisture meter regularly on job sites. Even a newer model with the best features should survive having its pins pushed into a wall or being jostled in a tool box.

The moisture meter should include the features a DIYer wants but also have a reputation for durability and long life. Consider options that have a rubberized casing, a heavy-duty design, or shock resistance built in. These moisture meters will survive a few falls without damage and make a great investment because they’ll need to be replaced less frequently.

Ease of Use

Choose a moisture meter that is relatively simple to use. Complicated moisture meters take much longer to read than those with a more straightforward design and can lead to inaccurate and inconsistent readings that could result in undetected moisture damage.

Instead, opt for a moisture meter with an easy-to-read, backlit digital display that shows the information you need. Users should be able to navigate easily between the menus on the device and switch between functions quickly. Pinless moisture meters are much easier to use than pin moisture meters, but the trade-off is in pinpoint accuracy.

Range of Measurement

The range of measurement a moisture meter offers is determined by the minimum and maximum moisture percentages it can read. The broader the range of measurement, the less precisely the device will measure, with some moisture meters offering as wide a range as 0.2–60 percent.

Smaller, more precise scales provide more accurate measurement and frequently come in meters used in the flooring and fine carpentry industry to ensure optimal moisture percentage. However, most DIYers would benefit more from a broader scale range so they can use the same meter for many applications.

Additional Features

Moisture meters, like most electronic devices, can pack plenty of additional features to make the task easier. One of these features is a temperature display that can track a hot or cold water leak. Following changes in the temperature helps locate the source.

Other features include memory functions that can keep track of previous readings instead of having to write them down or remember them, audible alerts for the moisture level reading, and a carrying case to protect the moisture meter.

Our Top Picks

The top-rated products below were chosen for quality, price, and customer satisfaction to help you find the best moisture meter for your projects. And, to make sure you know everything you need to, we performed hands-on testing with several models. The following meters are ranked among the best; however, there were three tested models from Klein, General Tools, and Dr. Meter that did not meet our standards to include in this roundup

Best Overall

Best Moisture Meters Options: General Tools MMH800 4-In-1 Combo Moisture Meter
Photo: amazon.com

This multifunctional moisture meter helps DIYers test for moisture using pinless, flat sensors without damaging the material. If the meter finds moisture, the user can remove the cap to expose two pins for accurate moisture measurement within 3 percent, humidity measurement within 5 percent, and temperature measurement within 2 degrees.

You can use this moisture meter for plaster walls, drywall, carpeting, flooring, brick, grout, soil, paper, or powders, and it shows readings on two bright displays. The meter has a moisture level range of 5 percent to 50 percent for wood and 1.5 percent to 33 percent for other building materials, plus a humidity range of 25 percent to 95 percent and a temperature range of 32 to 140 degrees.

During testing, the General Tools 4-in-1 Digital Moisture Meter proved to be accurate and easy to use. We liked that it didn’t take much setup, and there aren’t any complicated charts to read in order to set it to the correct species. The built-in temperature and humidity sensors work well and are easy to read. Also, we like that we could use the cap to check our calibration. The only thing that we found frustrating is that it reverted to Celsius every time we turned it off and back on. Also, there is no “mold tester” as the product description claims.

Product Specs

  • Style: Combination
  • Range: 5 percent to 50 percent in wood, 1.5 percent to 33 percent in building materials
  • Accuracy: 3 percent

Pros

  • Built-in temperature and humidity sensors
  • Features pin and pinless design
  • Comes with durable case
  • Cap has holes for checking calibration

Cons

  • Temperature resets to Celsius every time it’s powered on
  • No “mold tester” as description claims

Best Bang for the Buck

Best Moisture Meters Options: Proster Handheld Wood Moisture Test Meter
Photo: amazon.com

The Proster Digital Wood Wood Moisture Meter is made for use with wood and wood products only. This specialization comes with two big benefits: The first is that DIYers can get this moisture meter for a bargain compared to other models. The second is that the Proster can provide impressive accuracy to within 0.5 percent on a massive scale of 0 percent to 99.9 percent for wood, firewood, logs, cardboard, paper, and other wood products.

The pin moisture meter settings can switch between four different wood groups containing 50 wood species for precision measurement. The large LCD screen is easy to read, and the body of the device comes in sturdy ABS plastic for superior durability. This moisture meter won’t work with concrete, gypsum, drywall, or other nonwood building materials, but DIYers with wood-based projects have an affordable specialty pick.

We really like the Proster meter. Unlike other models that require lengthy user manual reads and have complicated settings, this affordable meter has everything we need to know displayed right on the front. We liked the wide range, though we suspect that anything above 70 percent would probably feel like it was dripping wet to the touch. The only real drawback of the Proster is that it’s for wood use only, meaning it isn’t very helpful for locating leaks or moisture in building materials.

Product Specs

  • Style: Pin
  • Range: 0 percent to 99.9 percent in wood
  • Accuracy: 0.5 percent

Pros

  • Simple, easy-to-read screen
  • Broad temperature range
  • Very easy to use

Cons

  • Designed for wood use only

Upgrade Pick

The Best Moisture Meter Option: Wagner Meters Orion 940 Pinless Wood Moisture Meter
Photo: amazon.com

For shoppers with extra room in their meter budget, the Wagner Meters Orion 940 is one of the best pinless moisture meter options worth considering. While the model might be a bit expensive, it does offer deeper, more accurate readings than most meters, and it does it without pins.

This model from Wagner Meters features a measurement range of 4 percent to 32 percent. It also comes with a chart that allows the user to calibrate it to a specific value assigned to a species, offering the most reliable readings possible. And, unlike many other pinless meters, this model can take measurements in wood as thick at 1.5 inches, or the full thickness of a stud. Should you question its calibration, it comes with a calibration plate for checking at any point.

There’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the Orion. First, we had to read the manual to discover how to change the species setting, but once we did, the change was easy. Also, cycling through the calibration, species, and materials menu was a little confusing at first. Although it doesn’t have a tremendous range, it was incredibly accurate and consistent. Truth be told, we used this model as the baseline for accuracy in our test.

Product Specs

  • Style: Pinless
  • Range: 4 percent to 32 percent
  • Accuracy: Unknown

Pros

  • Incredibly accurate
  • Comes with a calibration plate
  • Adjustable for many tree species

Cons

  • Limited moisture range

Best Combination

The Best Moisture Meter Option: Extech MO55 Pin Pinless Moisture Meter
Photo: amazon.com

Anyone looking for a combination pin/pinless moisture meter might not want to overlook the Extech MO55 Pin/Pinless Moisture Meter. This meter offers accurate pinless readings between 0 percent to 99 percent in both wood and other building materials, as well as a 5 percent to 50 percent range in wood and 1.5 percent to 33 percent range in building materials when using the pins.

A calibration test in the cap allows users to check the Extech’s accuracy before relying on its readings. It also features a visual guide to moisture, with one digital raindrop representing dry wood, two drops for medium moisture, and three representing wet wood.

When we were testing the Extech in pin mode, we continued to press the materials button, which would inevitably give us a reading of our index fingers rather than the material we were testing. Beyond that, we liked how easy the Extech was to use, and we appreciated the digital raindrops and audio alerts that speed up according to a wood’s moisture content. And, we continued to check this model’s accuracy with its built-in calibration gauge.

Product Specs

  • Style: Combination
  • Range:
    • 5 percent to 50 percent in wood and 1.5 percent to 33 percent in building materials (pin)
    • 0 percent to 99 percent in wood and other materials (pinless)
  • Accuracy: Unknown

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Offers visual guide and audio alerts for moisture content
  • Onboard calibration

Cons

  • Material setting button seems sensitive

Best for Wood

Best Moisture Meters Options: Wood Moisture Meter - Digital Moisture Detector
Photo: amazon.com

The Tavool Wood Moisture Meter is an excellent addition to any woodworking shop. This moisture meter for wood comes with seven calibration scales for wood so DIYers can be as precise as possible with their measurements at an accuracy within about 2 percent. The pin moisture meter also can measure the temperature of the material within 4 degrees to help quickly track down leaks.

The moisture meter uses a scale of 6 percent to 60 percent for wood and 0 percent to 40 percent for other building materials. Its big, backlit LCD screen makes for easy readability, even in dim lighting. A “Hold” key freezes readings on the screen, while the built-in memory function stores readings so the user doesn’t have to keep track.

The Tavool was one of the biggest surprises we found during testing. For one, the digital screen is both easy to read and full of information. We liked that this moisture meter features a built-in temperature sensor as well. But the one “point” we liked most about the Tavool was its pin design; the pins are long and thin enough to plunge deeply into wood but not so thin that they’re not durable. The only issue we found came when adjusting for species. Tavool, for some reason, included scientific names for tree species. We didn’t bring our biology book, so we had to do a lot of googling.

Product Specs

  • Style: Pin
  • Range: 6 percent to 60 percent in wood, 0 percent to 40 percent in building materials
  • Accuracy: 2 percent

Pros

  • Excellent pin design
  • Built-in thermometer
  • Best digital screen in the test

Cons

  • Many of the tree species in the guide go by their scientific names

Best Ease of Use

The Best Moisture Meter Option: Lignomat Moisture Meter Mini-Ligno
Photo: amazon.com

The Lignomat Mini-Ligno E/D Moisture Meter is a premium tool designed for a specialized purpose. This pin moisture meter comes calibrated for use with wood and wood products, but it boasts an accuracy of 0.5 percent on a precision scale of 6 percent to 45 percent. Its sturdy body is easy to hold and use, with sharp pins that can push through even the toughest wood.

The body of the moisture meter holds a longer second set of pins for deeper penetration, but the real benefit of this model is the simplicity of the design. Select the wood type to be measured, then push the pins into the material. A unique on-off switch between the pins activates the meter so the user only has to look at the reading on the bright, digital LED display.

We’ll try not to gush, but the Lignomat Moisture Meter is pretty much everything you need from a moisture meter, and it’s by far the easiest to use in the group. First, this thing doesn’t even have a power button; simply poke it into a piece of wood and it will give you a reading. Second, it provides readings for a wide range of species while only requiring the user to switch between “Group 2” or “Group 3”—no fancy calculations necessary. And, we couldn’t help but enjoy the Lignomat’s accuracy and the way the cap forms a comfortable hand-hold during testing. If we’re going to complain about something, it’s that this thing looks and feels like it’s straight out of the 1980s, but we’re not so sure nostalgia is a bad thing.

Product Specs

  • Style: Pin
  • Range: 6 percent to 45 percent
  • Accuracy: 0.5 percent

Pros

  • Doesn’t get any easier to use
  • Extreme accuracy
  • Cap forms a comfortable hand-hold

Cons

  • Feels like an old-school design (but is that really bad?)

Best for Professionals

Best Moisture Meters Options: Protimeter BLD5365 Surveymaster
Photo: amazon.com

The Protimeter Surveymaster professional moisture meter is multifunctional but doesn’t just use standard pins and pads to take readings. It also features a set of 5-inch pins for deep penetration and a moisture probe that can plug into the unit to help with taking readings in difficult-to-access areas. It even includes a calibration tool to ensure the readings are accurate.

The heavy-duty design and highly accurate moisture readings within 1 percent make this a must-have tool for discerning DIYers and industry professionals like contractors, surveyors, inspectors, and many more. With two modes of operation for search (pinless) and measure (pin), the moisture meter works with concrete, wood, tile, vinyl, drywall, and many other building materials with a scale of 7.9 percent to 99.9 percent using the pins and a relative scale of 70 to 999 using the pads (where 70 to 169 is dry, 170 to 199 is at risk, and 200 to 999 is considered wet).

During testing, we liked the accessories and could definitely see their usefulness. Even grabbing readings from boards right in front of us was easier, since we could look at the display while getting the reading at the same time. Also, we enjoyed the 1 percent accuracy and excellent pin penetration. Our only concerns were that we would prefer the pinless readings in a percentage, and we couldn’t adjust it for species.

Product Specs

  • Style: Pin
  • Range: 7.9 percent to 99.9 percent with pins, and 70 to 999 with the pads
  • Accuracy: 1 percent

Pros

  • Plenty of accessories
  • Very accurate
  • Excellent pin penetration

Cons

  • Why aren’t the pinless readings a percentage?
  • Doesn’t adjust for species

Our Verdict

Anyone looking for a great overall moisture meter should check out the General Tools 4-in-1 Digital Moisture Meter for its accuracy and versatility. For those who’d prefer to keep it simple, the Lignomat Moisture Meter Mini-Ligno E/D is sure to delight.

How We Tested the Best Moisture Meters

Normally, we love testing products, but this moisture meter test was tough. First, every meter had a different range and accuracy rating, which made establishing baselines difficult. While we were conducting moisture meter reviews, we found that each product had a different method of adjusting for certain species, so we spent an entire day reading user’s manuals—surely a better test for eyeglasses and patience than moisture meters.

Eventually, with everything dialed in as well as possible, we began checking moisture levels. For some variety, we used three pieces of pine lumber from a recent project. One piece soaked in a bowl of water overnight. The other piece sat in an oven and dried at 225 degrees for 2 hours. The third piece was left alone. We checked each of the meters using all three of these pieces of lumber and compared readings.

Next, we checked the meters on a small section of drywall, a small section of concrete foundation, and an unfinished oak stair tread. Those readings were collected and compared as well.

Finally, we went through all the settings, modes, and extra features (for those that had them). At this point, we had a solid grasp on which models were worth the money and which we needed to discard from the test.

The Advantages of Owning a Moisture Meter

Having a moisture meter handy can save you a lot of trouble in your home and with DIY projects. It is easy to quickly test areas that look like they might be accumulating moisture to determine whether there is an issue. By taking the reading yourself, you avoid having to call a professional inspector and paying a costly fee only to find no moisture problem exists. If you have frequent problem areas in your home or in a high-moisture basement or cellar, a moisture meter can take regular readings to quickly identify and treat mold growth.

In addition, a moisture meter improves the outcome of DIY projects by providing accurate moisture readings for flooring projects, when installing wallpaper, and during woodworking projects. Without a moisture meter, DIYers only can guess at the moisture content in a material, which could lead to problems with mold growth or structural issues if the moisture buildup becomes severe.

  • Owning a moisture meter helps you to detect problems without having to call in a professional.
  • Regular readings in high-moisture homes can help detect and stop mold growth.
  • Using a meter for flooring, wallpapering, and other DIY projects will ensure a high-quality finish and appropriate moisture percentages.

FAQs

In general, a reading of 5–12 percent is optimal, but a normal reading on a moisture meter depends on the material, with drier materials like drywall needing lower moisture readings of around 5–7 percent, and damp materials like wall studs having acceptable moisture levels of up to 12 percent.

Q. Does moisture in walls mean mold?

Not necessarily. The hope is that you would use the moisture meter to detect a leak before the mold can form. But if the moisture is left untreated, it can become the perfect environment for mold spores to flourish.

Q. How do you use a moisture meter on drywall?

To use a moisture meter for drywall, first ensure that the meter is calibrated to accurately measure moisture in the material. If the meter is not calibrated, the results will be inaccurate.

Once the meter is calibrated to test drywall, operate the moisture meter normally according to product instructions. Insert pin meters into the drywall in several different spots to get an accurate reading of the entire wall. Similarly, a pinless meter should scan several sites on the wall for a full scope of its moisture content. For drywall, a reading of 5 percent to 7 percent is optimal.

Q. Are moisture meters accurate?

The short answer is that a moisture meter for walls and other structures is accurate if used correctly. A more complete answer is that the accuracy of a moisture meter varies depending on the material you are testing, the calibration of the meter, the type of moisture meter, the procedures used during the test, and the meter’s functionality, which can vary based on upkeep and maintenance of the unit.

A high-quality moisture meter used on the correct material by an experienced DIYer can accurately measure moisture to within 0.1 percent. However, an inexpensive moisture meter used on an inappropriate material without a proper scale could return inaccurate readings in the same way that a poor-quality stud finder can fail to find a stud if used improperly.