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Summer is well underway, and if you live in a warm or humid climate, having an air conditioner is a necessity. There are plenty of AC configurations out there, including window air conditioning units, air coolers and portable units. If you don’t want the stress and hassle of installing a window unit, you may want to consider a portable air conditioner, which is easier to install and can be moved throughout your space.
To help you find the best portable air conditioner, we consulted cooling and appliance experts to help you find the right model for your space — and got their top brand recommendations.
SKIP AHEAD How to shop for a portable AC unit
How portable air conditioners work
Portable air conditioners typically cool the entire room by taking in warm room air, cooling it and circulating it throughout. The unit vents warm air outside via a tube connected to your window. Many units also help maintain comfortable humidity levels, explained Shirley Hood, an appliance sales specialist at appliance retailer ABT. Users then adjust things like fan speeds and temperature.
“A lot of people are using them to put them in a room where you want some window access and have floor space available,” said Hood. “They’re simple and easy to use. Typically, they’re being used in offices.”
Portable air conditioners are a pricier alternative to window units, though they’re also much easier to install and are typically more compact, so you can move the unit from room to room without much effort, noted John McKeon, MD, CEO of Allergy Standards — an organization that certifies products as “asthma and allergy-friendly,” among other things.
Best portable air conditioning units
Here are our top picks for portable air conditioner units, which can be easily moved throughout your home and are designed for easy installation and portability.
Best portable air conditioner overall: Frigidaire
This highly rated model comes with a remote and programmable timer, as well as dehumidifying and air filtration features. It allows for three different fan speeds and can cool rooms up to 350 square feet. This model weighs just over 62 pounds and comes with a Sleep mode, which conserves energy while you’re asleep and gradually increases temperature throughout the night.
Best affordable portable air conditioner: Shinco
With 8,000 BTUs of cooling power, this portable air conditioner from Shinco can cool a room up to 200 square feet in size and has three modes to choose from: cooling, dehumidifying and fan. It weighs 55 pounds and has both an LED display and remote that you can use to control it, plus a timer that can be set up to 24 hours.
Best portable air conditioner for smaller rooms: BLACK + DECKER
This portable air conditioner produces 6,000 BTUs of cooling power and is ideal for smaller rooms under 250 square feets. Relatively compact, it weighs only 26 pounds. It has an adjustable fan which can cool the air down to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and has cooling, ventilation and dehumidifying features. It’s easy to install and comes with an LED screen, a 24-hour timer and a cleaning reminder.
Best portable air conditioner for large rooms: De'Longhi
With 14,000 BTUs of cooling power, this portable AC is designed to cool a room up to 700 square feet in size. It's designed to auto-adjust the temperature depending on the humidity levels in the room and has dehumidifying and fan features as well as cooling.
Best smart portable air conditioner: Honeywell
This model can connect via Wi-Fi and can be controlled by your smartphone, allowing you to control your unit anywhere in the home. This model can cool rooms up to 450 square feet and weighs just under 63 pounds. Users can also use voice commands to power on, change temperature and adjust fan speeds.
Best smart, high-end portable air conditioner: Midea
This Wi-Fi-enabled Midea portable air conditioner is designed with convenience in mind: It can be controlled via a smartphone app, and it can also be paired with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to respond to voice commands. With 10,000 BTUs of cooling power, it can cool a room up to 200 square feet in size between 62 degrees Fahrenheit and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and has a 24-hour adjustable timer.
Best smart portable air conditioner for large rooms: De'Longhi
This portable AC option from De'Longhi can cool rooms up to 500 square feet in size, according to the brand. With the De'Longhi app, you can control the device from your phone — even if you're not at home. It's also compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The air conditioner can also be used as a fan, dehumidifier and heater in the colder months.
How to shop for a portable air conditioning unit
First, assess your space. The air conditioner’s cooling ability is typically measured in British Thermal Units, or BTUs. The higher the BTUs, the more powerful the air conditioner is at keeping your room cool. On average, an air conditioning unit needs about 20 BTUs per square foot of space to keep things cool, said McKeon. It’s important to find a model that’s efficient for your space, but keep in mind that more BTUs isn’t always better.
EnergyStar, a federal program promoting energy-efficient products, has its own guidelines to help you choose the right model. As BTU capacity increases, the weight and size of the model typically will, too.
- Cooling up to 250 square feet: 5,000 to 6,000 BTUs
- From 250 up to 350 square feet: 7,000 to 8,000 BTUs
- From 350 up to 450 square feet: 9,000 to 10,000 BTUs
- From 450 up to 550 square feet: 12,000 BTUs
“If you buy an undersized air conditioner, it's likely that the equipment may fail to keep up with cooling demands on hot days — not to mention ultimately increasing your energy bill since it's working overtime to meet that demand,” Marla Mock, VP of Operations at HVAC services company Aire Serv, previously told NBC News Shopping. “But if you purchase an oversized AC unit, it'll reach that demanded temperature too quickly, which leads to a short-cycling behavior and premature breakdowns.”
When shopping for portable air conditioning units, McKeon recommended considering the following.
- Price: Portable air conditioners typically run between $250 and $500, depending on the size and amount of features.
- Portable air conditioners either come with a single hose or double hose. Single hose models, which are more common, pull stagnant air from inside your room, cooling and recirculating it throughout. Dual-hose units, on the other hand, pull fresh air from outside and are typically pricier.
- Some portable air conditioners equip smart technology and can be controlled via smartphone, though these models will typically cost more, too.
- Other models come with added built-in features, like a dehumidifier, heater or air purifier.
- You may also be able to set a timer to turn the unit on or off at specific times to reduce energy consumption.
- Most units are labeled as self-evaporating, which reduces the need to drain water regularly from the unit.
Keep in mind your portable air conditioner needs proximity to a window and electrical outlet. These models also require some simple maintenance, including draining the water from the unit as needed, and replacing the air filters every couple of weeks. This will help avoid mold growth in your unit, which can decrease your room’s air quality, said McKeon.