How to Use a Wood Moisture Meter on Drywall

What Is Drywall?

Drywall is a popular building material for creating walls and ceilings for homes and offices. During the mid-20th century, it started replacing the old lath and plaster technique because it was inexpensive and easy to install. If you live in a home built within the last 60 years or so, you almost certainly live in a home with drywall.

Drywall’s main ingredient is gypsum, a non-toxic mineral that’s mined in countries around the world. Drywall is created by grinding the gypsum crystals to a powder, mixing it with water, and then surrounding it with paper to create the familiar drywall panels. In other words, a drywall panel is just a gypsum core surrounded by paper.

Drywall was invented in the 19th century (patented in 1894) by Augustine Sacket as a labor-saving device because it was easier to use than plaster. The US Gypsum Company (USG) later bought the invention; today, it’s the world’s leading drywall manufacturer. Drywall took off in the 1950s with the post-war building boom, and today it’s used in almost all new homes.

There are different types of drywall. Greenboard is moisture-resistant and created by surrounding the gypsum drywall core with a moisture-resistant covering. You can also buy fire-resistant drywall and drywall that’s flexible enough to create curved walls or ceilings.

Do Pinless Moisture Meters Work on Drywall?

Yes, the Orion series of pinless moisture meters’ Relative Measurement mode makes it easy to test moisture in drywall. It’s the perfect choice for anyone — building inspector, homeowner, or otherwise — who wants to measure the relative moisture content of drywall.

How to Use a Moisture Meter for Drywall

How to Check Moisture Inside Walls

The first thing you need to do is find where the drywall’s moisture is located. Sometimes, there will be visible signs of moisture in drywall. These include discolored areas, a musty odor, or drywall that’s starting to crumble. These signs all indicate that there’s significant water damage to the drywall.

1. Put your Orion® moisture meter in Relative Measurement mode.

You can do this by pressing and releasing the SPECIES/MATERIAL button until you see REL on the main LCD display and in the lower-left corner. Next, press the ON/HOLD button to activate the mode. Once in this mode, your meter will be on a relative measurement scale (0-100). This is used for measuring non-solid wood or non-wood-based types of material, including drywall. (When you want to return to the Standard Measurement mode, press the SPECIES/MATERIAL button.)

2. Find a known dry spot and take a reading.

The other readings you take will now be compared to this one.

3. Scan the wall to find spots with a higher moisture content than the known dry spot.

These will be the areas of the drywall with a moisture problem.

What is an acceptable moisture level in walls?

While using your Orion® moisture meter in Relative Measurement mode, drywall with a moisture content reading of 15 or below is acceptable. Any reading above 15 could be a concern.

Read more about Wagner’s Orion series of pinless moisture meters.

Free Download – 5 Ways Pinless Moisture Meters Save You Time and Money

Why It’s Important to Know If There’s Moisture in Your Drywall

Drywall and moisture don’t get along. This is because drywall is very porous and easily absorbs and holds moisture. Even a small amount of excess moisture is too much for drywall. If you have excess moisture, you’ll need to either dry it out or remove and replace it.

If you splash a bit of water on drywall and then wipe it off right away, you should be OK. If it’s a larger amount of water, you can dry it off with a towel and then turn a fan on it until it dries. However, if drywall comes into contact with moisture over a longer period of time it can be damaged beyond repair.

Even if you could dry it out, it wouldn’t look the same because it will have lost its shape, and if pressure is applied, it will crumble. Drywall is not load-bearing, so it won’t affect the building’s structural integrity, but it will need to be replaced.

Moisture Meter for Drywall

Mold is also a problem because it doesn’t take much to get it growing in drywall. If you smell mold in your drywall, you should replace the affected panels immediately.

Although greenboard is more moisture-resistant, it’s not impervious to moisture. If moisture makes it past the covering, you’ll have the same trouble with greenboard as regular drywall.

Because drywall is so sensitive to even small amounts of moisture levels, it’s important to get the moisture reading in drywall. You need to know where these minute amounts of moisture are, and if you find any, you need to be able to monitor the drying process to make sure that all excess moisture has been removed from the drywall.

Not All Moisture Meters Have a Relative Mode

While it’s important to use a moisture meter on drywall, not all moisture meters have a relative mode. Using a relative scale may be the easiest way to test. Having a meter read something that is not the correct moisture content for the drywall may be confusing.

However, a relative mode may help the user remember the goal is to find the wettest areas. These wetter areas are where you must focus on ensuring that the drywall is dried out or replaced. Also, a digital moisture meter can help a person trace down areas where water may be entering the structure.

Are Drywall Moisture Meters Accurate

A moisture meter can accurately detect moisture for drywall. Depending on the type of moisture meter being used, it can be accurate down to 0.1% of moisture content in drywall.

Consider reading Wood Moisture Meters Buying Guide: Pinless vs Pin-type next.

Last updated on September 29th, 2022


  1. drywall expert says:

    A moisture meter is real handy to have in my tool box at work. There’s been a site or two here lately that when had arrived we had found the contractors left the lifts of drywall outside with a tarp over them! Because of this I make all of my drywall employees carry a moisture meter with them. It’s really no fun doing the job twice!

  2. Kentwood says:

    Great post! You have well explained about how to test drywall moisture. Thanks for this informative article!

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