As the dog days of summer approach, there are a number of reasons you might be looking to invest in a portable air conditioner. Maybe your windows aren’t large enough for a window-mounted air conditioner or your favorite tower fan needs some assistance. No matter your reasons, portable ACs can help make hot days much more bearable, cooling down spaces up to 600 square feet or more. Some also do double duty, serving as a dehumidifier and space heater.
But how do you find the right portable air conditioner for your home? “The most important things to consider in your choice are the room size you need to cool, the location of ventilation and drainage,” says Chris Forbus, owner of Choice Air Care, an air conditioning and heating services company based in Frisco, Texas. The power of air conditioners is measured in BTUs, or British Thermal Units, and the higher the BTU rating, the more space the AC can cool down.
However, BTUs are measured using two different standards—there’s ASHRAE, which stands for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, and DOE for the Department of Energy. The DOE number is generally a more accurate gauge of how well a portable air conditioner will perform, as it better accounts for how portable units operate inside a room. (For more details, on how to choose a portable air conditioner, make sure you scroll at the bottom of the post.) No matter the size of your space or your budget, the following are the best portable air conditioners to keep your home comfortable and cool.
Best Portable Air Conditioner Overall
A Well-Priced, Dual-Hose Option For Rooms Up To 400 Square Feet
Best Portable Air Conditioner For Small Rooms
A Low-Maintenance Model That Can Cool Up To 250 Square Feet
Best Portable Air Conditioner For Large Rooms
An Oversized Unit With Dual Hoses For More Efficient Operation
Quietest Portable Air Conditioner
An Unobtrusive Model That’s Ideal For The Bedroom
Best Desktop Portable Air Conditioner
A Compact, Hose-Free Unit That Doubles As A Desk Lamp
Best Affordable Portable Air Conditioner
A Well-Priced Model That Comes In Several Sizes
Best Portable Air Conditioner For Camping
A Battery-Operated Unit That Will Cool Down Your Tent Quickly
Best Portable Air Conditioner And Space Heater
A 3-In-1 Unit That’s Ideal For Mid-Size Rooms
Best Mini Portable Air Conditioner For Your Car
An Inexpensive Unit With Two Rotating Fans
Best Smart Portable Air Conditioner
A Wi-Fi Connected Model You Can Control Via App Or Voice Commands
Best Portable Air Conditioner Without A Hose
A Large Evaporative Cooler For Spaces Up To 320 Square Feet
How Do I Choose A Portable Air Conditioner?
There are several important factors that will help determine if a portable air conditioner is suitable for your space. In particular, you’ll want to pay careful attention to each unit’s BTU rating and ventilation requirements.
The most important criteria to consider when shopping for a portable model is the product’s cooling rating, usually expressed in BTUs (British Thermal Units). The more BTUs, the more square footage it can accommodate, but that doesn’t mean you should just buy the highest-rated unit possible. “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 a window, as this is how they’ll remove heat from your home. “Ideally, you’ll want the unit close to a window for easiest installation,” says Forbus. “Shorter ventilation hoses are easier to manage.” If you don’t have a window available, you may need to opt for an evaporative cooler, which don’t require ventilation.
If the portable air conditioner you choose helps to remove humidity from the air, all that moisture will need to be drained out somewhere. Forbus notes that models with a drain line to the outdoors are the best low-maintenance option, but other models may need to be emptied by hand.
If you’re planning to use a portable AC in a living space or bedroom, it’s important to consider its noise level during operation. These appliances can be quite loud, especially on high settings, so you should look at its decibel rating before you buy.
Once you’ve decided on the basics, there are other conveniences to consider. Does the unit come with a remote control? Can it be programmed to operate on a schedule? Is it a “smart” appliance that works with an app? These programming features will make a portable AC more convenient to operate in your home.
Frequently Asked Questions About Portable Air Conditioners
What Is A Good BTU For A Portable Air Conditioner?
The right BTU rating for a portable air conditioner depends wholly on the room you’re using it in. “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 where you plan to put it. If you choose an AC that’s too small, it will struggle to cool down the space, but if your model is too powerful, it may not work properly.
Do Portable Air Conditioners Have To Be Vented Out The Window?
Portable AC units require some form of venting, either through a window or a duct system in the wall. If the warm air doesn’t have a place to go, it will collect in the room, defeating the purpose of running an air conditioner to begin with. Some compact or travel-friendly options work differently and don’t require venting, but they likely won’t be strong enough to cool down a standard size room.
How Long Do Portable Air Conditioners Last?
A portable air conditioner can last anywhere from five to 10 years. Unfortunately, most brands only offer 1- or 2-year warranties on these types of appliances, so it’s important to keep up on recommended maintenance to get the longest possible lifespan out of your purchase.
Do Portable ACs Work Well?
While they’re not always the ideal cooling solution, portable air conditioners are a happy medium between a fan and window AC—in other words, they’re a compromise between convenience and comfort. If you don’t have the space for a window unit, portable ACs are an excellent way to cool your space in the dog days of summer. However, they generally take more BTUs (and therefore more electricity) to cool down the same amount of square footage as a window unit, so keep that in mind when choosing one for your space.
Which Is Better: Portable AC Or Window Unit?
Window units are usually more efficient than portable ACs, but there’s no clear cut answer to which one is “better.” It all depends on your space and your needs. The obvious benefit of portable ACs is that you can easily move them from window to window or room to room. While window units are typically more powerful and can cool down a space with fewer BTUs, they’re more fixed than portable ACs—and substantially harder to install.