The 10 Best Portable Air Conditioners

Updated March 13, 2018 by Christopher Thomas

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We spent 42 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top picks for this wiki. If your home, office, or workshop doesn't currently have a central AC system, a hot summer can make it unbearably uncomfortable, and window-mounted units are both difficult to install and confined to a single room. Fortunately, it's easy to move one of these portable air conditioners to anywhere you'd like to keep cool. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best portable air conditioner on Amazon.

10. NewAir Ultra Compact

9. Honeywell MF Series

8. Honeywell 10

7. Whynter ARC-143MX

6. DeLonghi Whisper Cool

5. Whynter ARC-122DHP

4. Global Air

3. Friedrich ZoneAire

2. Frigidaire Cool Connect

1. Whynter ARC-14S

Beating The Heat

Let's face it. Depending on where you live, the summer can get hot. Without a way to cool off indoors, you become susceptible to dangerous levels of dehydration, among other health risks. So what do you do if you live in an apartment complex without central and/or window air conditioning? Even in a large home, how would you cope with rising energy costs associated with maintaining central air conditioning for every room?

This is where the portable air conditioner (PAC) comes in handy. Much like its name suggests, a portable air conditioner is a mobile air conditioning system that is ideal for cooling single rooms. Most PACs stand approximately 28-34 inches tall and include built-in caster wheels for easy transport between rooms. Unlike central and window air conditioners, the PAC does not require permanent installation, so if you spend a majority of your time in your bedroom or living room, moving the unit is fairly easy.

The process by which a portable unit cools the surrounding air involves altering the humidity and temperature levels of the outside air (which is processeed by the PAC unit) such that the thermal comfort level reflects more optimal indoor living conditions within single rooms. PACs are either evaporative or refrigerative in design. The compressor-based refrigerant PACs are air-cooled, meaning they use air to exchange heat. During this process, the air is being cooled and dehumidified. Condensed water is also collected, which produces hot air that needs to be vented. By contrast, evaporative air conditioners do not have compressors or condensers and instead use evaporated water to cool the air, much like humans and animals do during the sweating process to cool their bodies.

PACs are measured in British Thermal Units or BTUs. A BTU is equal to the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. But wait, I'm trying to cool my room, not make it hotter by increasing the temperature of water. Let's cool off for just a second, as we need to think of BTUs as a measurement of energy. For the purposes of portable air conditioners, this measurement is used to describe how many BTUs per hour your PAC can remove from the air. The BTU measurement is directly proportional to the size of the room in which the air conditioner is placed. For example, a PAC that has 7-8,000 BTUs of energy can cool small rooms up to 250 square feet with 8-foot ceilings. Larger rooms would require a PAC with a higher BTU measurement.

PACs can also be single or double-hosed with respect to their cooling and venting processes. PACs expel warm air through an exhaust hose that is typically installed as part of a window kit. Single-hosed PACs use air from within the room to cool their condensers and then vent the warm air outside. Double-hosed PACs not only expel warm air and moisture, but they simultaneously pull more air in to cool, making them more efficient than single-hosed units.

Getting The Most Out Of Your Portable Air Conditioner

When choosing a PAC, selecting the appropriate BTU measurement is important. A high BTU doesn't always mean that the PAC is better than one with a low BTU rating. For example, if you're using a PAC with a BTU that is higher than necessary for cooling a small room, you may find the unit cycling off more often than it really needs to. If the PAC continually cycles on and off over time in that fashion, its compressor could wear out more quickly than anticipated. For that reason, finding the right balance between BTUs and room size is a good question for a salesperson for pointing you in the right direction as you shop.

Think about where the unit will be placed. Even though PACs accommodate more than one type of room, some rooms will get more direct sunlight than others. You need to make sure that your PAC is powerful enough to adequately cool a room that receives direct sunlight for extended periods of time, even if the room is small.

If you suffer from allergies and live in very humid climates, a big selling point for your PAC is its ability to operate as both an air conditioner and/or a dehumidifier, since high humidity promotes the growth of allergens like mold.

Some PACs also come with built-in digital displays, adjustable fan speeds, and convenient remotes for easy monitoring and adjusting of their controls.

Portable Air Conditioning: From Deserts To Interior Decor

The concept of air conditioning dates all the way back to the times of ancient Egypt, even before the development of electricity. The ancient Egyptians used a primitive form of evaporative cooling technology by hanging reeds or wet cloth in both windows and doorways to cool the surrounding air from a breeze.

The ancient Romans also used rudimentary aqueduct routing systems through the walls of their homes to promote circulation of water with evaporative qualities to cool the air.

Fast forward to 1758 when Benjamin Franklin and John Hadley discovered that the evaporation of volatile liquids (i.e. alcohol) can cool an object to the point of freezing water.

In 1902, Willis Carrier developed the first modern electrical air conditioning unit. Residential air conditioners became more common by the 1950s followed by popularized central air conditioning systems by the 1970s.


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Last updated on March 13, 2018 by Christopher Thomas

A traveling chef, musician, and student of the English language, Chris can be found promoting facts and perfect copy around the globe, from dense urban centers to remote mountaintops. In his free time he revels in dispelling pseudoscience, while at night he dreams of modern technology, world peace, and the Oxford comma.


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