More powerful than tower fans and easier to move from room to room than window units, portable air conditioners are among the most versatile cooling devices out there. If you need to cool off a large space, powerhouse models can efficiently tackle areas up to 600 square feet or more; some machines even double as dehumidifiers and space heaters. We believe the best model on the market is the mid-priced Whynter Elite ARC-122DS, as it offers great functionality for most homes. That said, there are plenty of other great options out there, depending on your unique cooling needs and preferences.
“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. When shopping, Forbus suggests looking closely at each unit’s BTU rating, which measures its power. Beyond that, you may also want to consider factors like noise level, venting method and programmability.
Ready to upgrade your cooling setup? Here are eight of the best portable air conditioners you can buy right now, along with the reasons why we think they’re great. For a more fleshed-out breakdown on the factors worth considering when shopping for a unit, check out our handy buying guide located just below our picks.
Best Portable Air Conditioner Overall
A Mighty Machine That Can Chill Up To 400 Square Feet
Best Portable Air Conditioner For Small Rooms
A Compact Model That Can Accommodate 250 Square Feet
Best Portable Air Conditioner For Large Rooms
A Beefy, Dual-Hose Model That Means Business
Best Desktop Portable Air Conditioner
A Tiny, Sleek Model That Can Sit Right On Top Of Your Desk
Best Affordable Portable Air Conditioner
A Budget Option That’s A Cinch To Move From Room To Room
Best Portable Air Conditioner And Space Heater
A 3-In-1 Unit That’s Perfect For Mid-Size Spaces
Best Smart Portable Air Conditioner
A Wi-Fi Connected Unit You Can Control Via An App
Best Evaporative Cooler
An Ventless Cooler That Can Handle Up To 320 Square Feet
How We Chose The Best Portable Air Conditioners
To assemble this list, we identified popular portable AC units and did a research deep-dive. Looking into specs like BTUs, coverage area, noise level, ventilation system and other features, then reading up on customer reviews, we identified our top picks to cater to different budgets and lifestyle needs. Further, we enlisted the help of expert Chris Forbus, owner of Choice Air Care, a Texas-based air conditioning and heating services company, to share top features to look for.
How Do I Choose A Portable Air Conditioner?
When shopping for portable AC units, you want to make sure you’re looking at models that would be a good fit for both your living space and lifestyle. From BTU ratings to programmability, here are the most important factors to consider when browsing the virtual shelves.
This is hands-down the most important factor to consider, as it determines how much square footage a unit can cool. 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). While you often see both numbers listed alongside models, the DOE generally provides a more accurate read of how well portable units perform inside your living space.
Portable AC units are usually between 8,000 and 15,000 BTUs, and the right model for you depends on the size of the room (or rooms) where you plan to use it. In other words, you shouldn’t necessarily purchase the unit with the highest BTU rating. “More does not mean better, you need the correct rating for your room size,” explains Chris Forbus, owner of Air Care. “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.”
Single-Hose Vs. Dual-Hose
There are two main types of portable air conditioners: single-hose units and dual-hose units. Without getting too in the weeds (because it’s a little confusing), here’s what you ultimately need to know. Single-hose units, which suck in warm air and expel it outside through the same hose, tend to be less expensive and better for smaller spaces; dual-hose models, which feature separate intake and exhaust hoses, are more efficient cooling systems.
If you’re sensitive to noise, it’s worth looking into each unit’s decibel rating (dB). Especially when they’re running on higher settings, portable air conditioners can be on the noisy side. For reference, moderate rainfall typically measures around 50 dB.
Once you’ve decided on the basics, there are other conveniences to consider. Can the AC unit be programmed to run on a set schedule? Is it a “smart” device that you can control via your phone? While not always necessary, additional features can make using your unit much more convenient.
What Is The Best Portable Air Conditioning Unit To Buy?
The best unit to buy is one that suits your space and budget, however we chose the Whynter Elite ARC-122DS as our top pick overall thanks to its decent power (12,000 BTU ASHRAE), cooling capabilities in rooms up to 400 square feet and attainable price point.
Do Portable ACs Have To Be Vented Out The Window?
True portable AC units require some kind of venting, either through a window or a duct system in the wall, to remove heat from a space. If the hot air your unit collects isn’t released somewhere, it’ll gather in your room, defeating the point of having a unit in the first place. For easy installation, Forbus advises placing the AC unit as close as possible to a window, as “shorter ventilation hoses are easier to manage.” That said, if you really don’t want to deal with venting, consider an evaporative cooler like the Honeywell Indoor/Outdoor Portable Evaporative Cooler.
How Much Does A Portable Air Conditioner Cost?
A quality portable air conditioner is a bit of an investment; full-sized units, for example, can run anywhere from $250 to $600 (or more). The overall cost of portable AC units largely depend on the power they provide and the area size they’re capable of cooling.