Best portable air conditioner: How to pick one of the best tools for staying cool this summer

If you think the hot summer months are synonymous with sweaty, inescapable discomfort, prepare to have your world rocked by one of the best portable air conditioners.

The small portable air conditioner is one of the unsung heroes of summer. For many people who can’t install a window unit or that have a system that’s controlled by the (seemingly random) hand of a building super or management company, a portable model lets you take back control of your body temperature.

The best thing about a portable unit is that it does what it says: provides all the frigid satisfaction of an AC but requires zero installation; plus, you can move it from room to room. The downside: Most portable air conditioners are not cheap, sometimes they can be noisy, they’re most effective in small spaces, and they likely will not compare to central air or window units. Having said all that, if you live someplace where the heat gets unbearable and actually affects your quality of life—you can’t sleep, you can’t get comfortable, you have to take constant cold showers—the best portable air conditioner is a wise investment that’ll serve you for years to come. If you’re looking to make your summer cold as ice, a portable AC could be your dream buy.

What to consider when shopping for the best portable air conditioner

What do I do if I’m a brand loyalist? 

With electronics and appliances, including small portable air conditioners, people tend to fall in love with one or two brands and outfit their home with as many of that company’s gadgets as possible. If you’re a brand-loyal gearhead, you’re in luck: Many of the biggest names in tech, from Black + Decker to Whynter, have some of the best portable air conditioners around. 

What questions should I ask before I shop?

The best portable AC for you may not be the best for someone else, so the most important thing is to do your research and read up on what features you need most. For example, is having an energy-efficient unit important to you? What about size—would you prefer a mini portable AC instead of something large and in charge? Do you want a dual-hose portable model, or are no hoses what you propose(s)? (The hose hangs outside, so the exhaust goes out the window.) Maybe a quiet portable air conditioner is what you’re after—something that will not only keep you up at night but can also double as a white-noise machine to lull you to sleep. Figure out what you want and need, then go from there. You never know—you may find yourself loyal to a new brand altogether!

Who are some of the big names in portable air conditioners?

A quick review of brands and what they represent: LG, which has been around since 1958, promises “innovation for a better life.” If you own an LCD TV, there’s a good chance the panel is an LG. Honeywell, which was founded in the Midwest at the turn of the 20th century, is best known for thermostats but has also dipped a toe in aerospace engineering and PPE manufacturing. Italian brand De’Longhi probably makes your favorite coffee maker or toaster oven, and Whynter is, as you could probably guess, all about keeping things the perfect temp, whether that’s with outdoor fridges, portable freezers, cigar humidors, intelligent ovens, or ice cream makers. Black + Decker, one of the most trusted names in kitchen appliances, not only makes portable ACs but makes cheap portable air conditioners, so if you’re looking to save a buck, that’s your brand. (And there are, of course, loads of other manufacturers that make portable ACs, like Toshiba, Haier, Hisense, Frigidaire, and GE.)

Related: Create a refreshing oasis with the best outdoor misting fans for your patio.

The best portable air conditioner for your needs

Start with the brands you like and trust, but be free to branch out if it turns out another brand offers more of the particular features you’re looking for in a portable AC. With editions in a wide range of affordability, in the end it may just be the price tag that sways you toward a particular model. Here are our picks to help you keep your cool when picking the best portable AC, and after you get one home.

Best LG portable air conditioner: LG DUAL Inverter Smart Portable Air Conditioner 

Worth the Splurge

This energy-saver can cool rooms up to 450 square feet and is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Hey Google, so you can easily change settings by voice.
LG

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An oscillating air vent in this 10,000 BTU LG portable air conditioner circulates cool air efficiently, and dual-inverter technology is powerful but not loud (it operates at 44 decibels). An installation kit and hose make it easy to install, and it won’t take up much room: This portable AC stands at 19.41 inches by 18.11 inches by 30.43 inches. A trio of modes—Cool, Fan, and Dry—gives you the option of controlling humidity in addition to temp. And smart home-assistant compatibility (Alexa, Hey Google, plus LG’s ThinQ) is a cool feature when things heat up. 

Best Honeywell portable air conditioner: Honeywell HJ5CESWK0 Portable Air Conditioner 

Good for Big Spaces

This remote-controllable AC works in spaces up to 775 square feet and comes with dual dust filters, as well as a dehumidification mode.
Honeywell

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A washable filter (to weed out pet hair, dander, and dust) extends the life of this 72-pound 15,000 BTU option (just run the filter under the tap to clean it). With this Honeywell portable air conditioner, you get three fan speeds, sleep, and auto-wind modes, and a 24-hour energy-saving timer. A remote is included.

Best De’Longhi portable air conditioner: De’Longhi PACEM370 WH Penguino Portable Air Conditioner

Preassembled Wheels for Ease

This model on casters—for easy mobility—has all the standard bells and whistles for a relatively reasonable price.
De’Longhi

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Don’t underestimate what a gift wheels are. Especially if you plan to move your De’Longhi portable air conditioner from room to room, casters turn what could be a back-breaking endeavor into an effortless activity that just takes a simple push. On this 11,000 BTU, 13.6-inch by 16.7-inch by 27.6-inch, 80-pound model, an optional whisper-quiet night mode doubles as white noise for all the insomniacs out there. It also features a remote control, energy efficiency, multiple settings (including quiet), and an easily washable filter.

Best Whynter portable air conditioner: Whynter ARC-14S Dual-Hose Portable Air Conditioner

Cools Quickly

If you need a portable AC that’s a speed demon, this could be it thanks to dual-hose operation.
Whynter

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This three-speed wonder works on rooms up to 500 square feet and can dehumidify up to 71 pints per day. This Whynter portable air conditioner is 14,000 BTU and its maximum power consumption is 1,300 watts, with an airflow of 253 cubic feet per minute per watt. 

Best Black + Decker portable air conditioner: BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT Portable Air Conditioner 

Most Bang for Buck

This legacy American brand’s portable AC is an absolute steal at just $329.99 but works best on very small rooms (up to 150 square feet).
BLACK+DECKER

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This budget bad boy is tricked out just like some of the fancier models but at a fraction of the cost. This 8,000 BTU Black + Decker cheap portable air conditioner adjustable fan speed can cool down to 6-degrees Fahrenheit, it goes extra quiet in sleep mode, it features an LED display and 24-hour timer, and it features cool, fan, and dehumidifying modes. 

Best portable air conditioner FAQ: people also ask

Do portable air conditioners work well?

Whether portable air conditioners work well depends on your definition of success. If you buy a portable AC that is made to cool down a room that’s 150 square feet and your room is 700 square feet, then you’ll be disappointed. However, if you’re used to going without AC in the summer and you purchase a model that’s appropriate for your space, it’s not hyperbolic to say that the best portable AC will truly change your life. Some people say that they’re better than a fan but not as effective as a window unit, so calibrate your expectations. 

Is a portable AC worth buying? 

Again, whether a portable AC is worth buying depends what you’re looking for. If you live somewhere that gets oppressively hot and your options are no AC at all or a portable model, then yes, it’s worth buying. If you’re just looking for something to tide you over until, say, your window unit is fixed or you already have central air installed, then probably not. Portable ACs are not inexpensive (though there are relatively cheap portable air conditioner options for the smallest spaces). They’re best for people looking to cool down relatively small spaces and get some relief in an otherwise airless room. Think of it this way: If you use a fan and that seems to do the trick, then you probably don’t need to drop that much cash on a portable AC. 

How many watts does a portable air conditioner use?

How many watts a portable air conditioner uses varies! The models listed here use a minimum of 950 watts and increase from there. Though portable ACs are not intrinsically energy-efficient, your electric bill will depend on how often you use it/keep it turned on, and what mode you have it on (e.g. full blast vs. sleep mode). If you are strategic, you can help cut your electric bill by using a portable AC. For example, if instead of installing window units in every room you simply move your unit around the house, that should save you money. (Venting the hoses into the windows every time you move it could get tiresome, though.) If you already have an AC and want a portable model as a supplement, you can save money that way too: Keep the thermostat higher than you typically would and use the portable only in the rooms you use, ignoring the empty ones. 

Related: Here’s some advice on how to help your body defeat the heat.

The final word on buying a portable AC

Portable air conditioners aren’t for everyone…but they could be! Take a hard look at your current cooling situation and your electric bill. If you live somewhere sweltering and have no AC, you live somewhere with adequate air but you’re looking to lower your bill, or you live somewhere so small that one portable unit will get the job done, investing in the best portable air conditioner can actually be pretty cost-effective. Don’t write it off without doing your research. A small portable air conditioner could be your summer game changer.