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Living, sleeping or working in a hot and stuffy environment can be a miserable experience. As far as cooling devices go, there are a few reliable options to turn to now that summer is upon us. You can install a window air conditioner in your living space or simply put a tower fan in a room that tends to feel stale. But for versatility, you can’t beat a portable AC. Not only can you place these appliances almost anywhere you want in your home, but some of the best portable air conditioners double as dehumidifiers, space heaters or fans as the seasons change.
The EvaChill from Evapolar is a pint-sized gadget that will fit easily on a desk and can run ... [+] continuously for four to six hours, making it a smart cooling solution for a home office or bedroom.
So how do you go about choosing the right unit for your living space? “The most important things to consider in your choice are the room size you need to cool and the location of ventilation and drainage,” says Chris Forbus, owner of Choice Air Care, a Texas-based air conditioning and heating services company.
You’ll want to take a close look at the unit’s BTU (British Thermal Units) rating, which measures the machine’s power. The higher the BTU rating, the larger the space the AC can efficiently cool. Noise level (some machines can be loud) and programmability (some devices can be controlled with an app) are other things to consider.
To help cool you off this summer, we’ve rounded up the best portable air conditioners out there. For a more fleshed-out breakdown on the factors worth considering when shopping for one—plus tips on how to choose the ideal unit for your home—check out our handy buying guide below.
You’ll find the slightly beefier Whynter ARC-14S elsewhere on this list, but the Whynter Elite ARC-122DS earns its place as the best overall portable air conditioner by offering most of the same capabilities at a more affordable price point. The 12,000 BTU ASHRAE (7,000 BTU DOE) cooling engine can accommodate rooms up to 400 square feet and has three operating modes: cooling, fan-only and dehumidifier-only.
Unlike most air conditioners in this price range, this is a dual-hose system; one hose serves as an input and the other as an exhaust, which makes it run more efficiently by cooling a room without drawing in warm air. While it has an automatic drain to clear out accumulated moisture, many reviewers suggest getting a drain hose (which you’ll have to purchase separately) especially if you live in a humid area.
While you don’t want an underpowered air conditioner, one that delivers too many BTUs is wasteful. With 10,000 BTU ASHRAE (6,000 BTU DOE), this model from Black+Decker is well suited to small rooms up to about 250 square feet. (That being said, it will do much better with rooms up to about 150 square feet.)
It can operate as an AC unit, fan or dehumidifier, and more importantly, its bucket-less design evaporates condensation from the air conditioner without the need to dump water, keeping maintenance simple. Pretty much the only thing you need to do is clean the filter about twice a month.
The BPACT10WT rolls around on casters for easy placement and features an LED display with controls on the top panel, but you can also operate this air conditioner using the included remote control. You’ll also appreciate the fact that it’s largely autonomous; it’ll run for 24 hours at a time with an automatic sleep timer.
Have a large space you’re trying to cool? The Whynter ARC-14S Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioner is near the top end of what portable AC units can do. That said, you should probably be sure you need this much air conditioning before you invest in the ARC-14S; it’s a bit of an investment, weighs a formidable 80 pounds and the lack of handles makes it challenging to move on anything but smooth flat surfaces (where the casters can help out). However, this unit means business.
Unlike most portable air conditioners, this is a dual-hose model, with one hose serving as an input and the other as an output. That makes it more efficient and better able to cool your space without unintentionally sucking more warm air into your room. It has an impressive 14,000 BTU ASHRAE (9,500 DOE) that can cool a 600-square-foot room with ease, moving 253 cubic feet per minute. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a portable unit able to cool a room faster.
Better yet, it can dehumidify an impressive 101 pints of water per day from your home and has an automatic drain function that’s supposed to exhaust moisture (although, some reviewers say they had to manually drain the unit). And if you’re concerned about air quality, it has a washable pre-filter and activated carbon air filter to keep your air fresh. Unlike some of the other options in this roundup, the Whynter air conditioner has a temperature setting between 61 degrees Fahrenheit and 89 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing you to set your desired temperature and let the device do its work. If you’re looking for a similar unit that also heats, check out the brand’s ARC-14SH model.
Evapolar’s EvaChill is an evaporative cooler, meaning it pulls air through a moist environment to lower the temperature instead of using refrigerants. While generally less efficient than traditional air conditioners, this pint-sized gadget is ideal for small spaces. While it won’t cool an entire room, it’s more than capable of tackling a roughly 21-square-foot area around the device, such as a workspace. In fact, its nightlight feature, plus the fact it does double-duty by cooling and humidifying, makes it suitable for your sleep space. (Note: This machine is not ideal for humid climates)
The EvaChill is incredibly small—7 x 7 x 7 inches and weighs just 1.7 pounds—so it will fit easily on a tabletop or desk. Plus, its oversized tank allows it to run continuously for four to six hours. It’s powered by a USB cable, which again makes it a smart cooling solution for a home office or bedroom. If you’re only concerned about keeping your personal space cool rather than the entire room—and you want a cooler that looks like it belongs on a space ship—this unit is a tremendous value.
The SereneLife SLPAC10 earns its status as the best affordable portable air conditioner thanks to its moderately powerful cooling abilities and its overall versatility. Not only does the SereneLife SLPAC10 operate as a simple air conditioner, but it can be used as a circulating fan (the fan automatically swings around to spread the airflow) and a dehumidifier. It comes in a variety of capacities from 8,000 BTU to 12,000 BTU. This particular model is rated for 10,000 BTU ASHRAE (6,000 BTU DOE); it’s able to keep rooms up to about 270 square feet cool with an airflow of 290 cubic meters per hour.
The SereneLife stands just under 3 feet tall and has a 17 x 13-inch footprint. It has easy-rolling casters, though, and the sides are easy to grip, making it a cinch to move around the house. Don’t expect it to be the quietest air conditioner on the market—with a rated noise level around 57 dB, it can seem louder in actual operation, sometimes whining like a vacuum cleaner. Nonetheless, it’s fairly compact and comes with a remote so you can operate it from across the room, though there’s also a simple control panel on the top of the unit as well.
Multi-purpose devices are always handy, which is why it’s great to get an air conditioner that can do double-duty as a dehumidifier. This portable air conditioner from Black+Decker does one better, though: You can use it year-round, since it works as both an AC and heater—and you get formidable cooling power in the BPACT14HWT.
It’s rated at 14,000 BTU ASHRAE (7,500 DOE), which can competently cool about 300 square feet. It’s worth noting that this air conditioner has the same ASHRAE rating as the Whynter ARC-14S but a lower DOE rating and smaller max room size. That’s the advantage of Whynter’s dual hose system—it can make a substantial difference—but if you are okay with Black+Decker’s more modest specs, you get the ability to heat a room up to about 81 degrees in cooler weather. However, as a heater, it has slightly less reach, only good for about 250 t0 300 square feet.
You can run the unit as a dehumidifier, choose multiple fan speeds, and set a 24-hour timer for automatic all-day operation. It’s also simple to move around thanks to large, free-spinning casters and an easy-to-grip handle, and Black+Decker puts a simple set of controls on top of the unit in addition to providing a handy remote.
If your house is filled with smart devices, you may come to expect all your appliances to be app- and voice-operated. Good news: Your portable air conditioner can be just as smart as your doorbell, thermostat and alarm system if you choose the LG LP1021BSSM Portable Air Conditioner. Equipped with Wi-Fi and compatible with LG’s ThinQ app, you can control the AC from anywhere—at home or while on the road.
The app allows you to start and stop the cooling, set the temperature and change the fan mode. It’s also Alexa- and Google Assistant-compatible, so you can command the AC by voice. It’s certainly not a necessity, but this feature is a great convenience, especially if you’re already used to turning lights and other appliances on and off by voice.
LG has packed this model with a fair amount of cooling power; it is rated at 14,000 BTU ASHRAE (10,000 BTU DOE) and it can effectively cool rooms up to about 450 square feet. The 3-in-1 operation includes cooling, fan-only and dehumidifying-only modes with two fan speeds and an auto-swing vent mechanism to spread the cool air around the room automatically.
In addition to the smart device controls, it has a 24-hour sleep timer (handy if you just want to control it from the remote control and not worry about the mobile app) and an auto-restart feature in case you lose power while it’s running.
True portable air conditioners require a hose that vents out a window, and if you don’t have the space for this ventilation (or simply don’t want the eyesore), you might want to consider an evaporative cooler—also known as a swamp cooler—like this one from Honeywell. The indoor/outdoor unit works by pulling air over ice that you load into the appliance, and it creates a cool breeze that can cool spaces up to 320 square feet.
Despite not being a true portable air conditioner, this product is surprisingly effective, especially in hot, dry climates. It has three humidity settings and a programmable timer that can run for up to 7.5 hours, and it comes with a convenient remote control, as well.
When buying a portable air conditioner, you want to make sure the one you’ve selected is a good fit for your home and lifestyle. Below, take a look at the key factors worth considering when shopping, from BTU ratings to room size.
The BTU rating of your portable air conditioner is probably the most important factor to consider, as it determines how much square footage your unit can cool down. BTU stands for British Thermal Units, which measures the cooling power of your unit. There are two standards used to measure BTUs: One is ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) and the other is DOE (the Department of Energy). The DOE number will generally provide you a more accurate read of how well the portable unit will perform inside your living space.
All that being said, you shouldn’t necessarily buy the unit with the highest BTU rating. “More does not mean better, you need the correct rating for your room size,” explains Forbus. “A rating too low will run constantly and possibly not cool effectively. A rating too high may cool quickly and then cycle off, which won't allow it to dehumidify the air, causing you to still feel uncomfortable.”
True portable air conditioners need to be vented out of a window to effectively remove heat from a space. “Ideally, you'll want the unit close to a window for easiest installation,” says Forbus. “Shorter ventilation hoses are easier to manage.” (If you’d prefer a unit that doesn’t require window ventilation, go for an evaporative cooler, like the Honeywell Indoor/Outdoor Portable Evaporative Cooler.)
If you’re in the market for a portable AC unit that also tackles humidity, just know that it will need to be drained regularly (the frequency depends on the humidity in your space). While some low-maintenance models come with a drain line that leads outdoors, others need to be emptied manually.
If you’re planning on using a portable AC in the bedroom or the living room—or you’re sensitive to noise—it’s worth looking into how loud the unit is. Especially when they’re running on high settings, portable ACs can be on the noisy side. So, before purchasing one, take a look at the machine’s decibel rating.
Once you’ve decided on the basics, there are other conveniences to consider. Does the AC unit come with a remote so you can control it from faraway? Can it be programmed to operate on a set schedule? Is it a “smart” device that can be hooked up to an app on your phone? While not always necessary, features like this make using your unit a whole lot more convenient.
The right BTU for a portable AC unit depends on the size of space you’re hoping to cool. “BTUs for portable units usually range from about 8,000 to 15,000,” says Forbus, and you’ll want to select a model that’s appropriately sized for the room you plan to put it in. If you choose a unit that’s too small, it will likely struggle to cool down the space; if your model is too powerful, it may not function properly.
Portable AC units require some kind of venting, whether it’s through a window or a duct system in the wall. The warm air your unit collects will need to be released somewhere; otherwise, it’ll just gather in your room, which defeats the whole purpose of having an AC unit in the first place. If you don’t have a way to vent out your unit, you have a few options to work with. Some compact and travel-friendly models of portable ACs, for example, don’t require venting; just keep in mind that these units will likely be too small to efficiently cool an entire room.
A portable air conditioner can last between five and 10 years, depending on use and maintenance. And unfortunately, most brands only offer 1- or 2-year warranties on these units, so it’s important to keep up on recommended maintenance to get the longest possible lifespan out of your purchase.
So long as you get a quality portable AC unit, it can be an excellent cooling device—it’s basically a happy medium between a strong fan and window AC. One thing worth noting, though: These units do typically take more BTUs (and more electricity) than window units to cool down the same size of space, so keep that in mind when you’re trying to decide which unit makes the most sense for you.
This really depends on your space and needs. Generally speaking, the best window air conditioners are more effective (and a better value) than portable units, considering they can typically cool down a space with fewer BTUs. That being said, they’re also less versatile and significantly harder to install.