Are you tired of paying high electric bills each month just to keep your house (or apartment) feeling cool?
Or do you not have central air conditioning at all—and want an inexpensive way to stay comfortable during the hot summer months?
Either way, you don’t have to settle for the agonizing heat inside your home.
The best portable air conditioner can keep you cool—for cheap—while also giving you the freedom to move cold air to any room you please.
But, what is the best portable AC unit you can buy?
In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know so you can make the right choice.
We’ll show you what the top portable air conditioners are for each size room and how to pick the best one for your needs.
Let’s get started!
- A Crucial Difference: Portable vs. Ventless Air Conditioners
- How to Choose The Right Size Air Conditioner
- List of the Best Portable AC Units (Product Reviews and Ratings)
- Why Portable AC Units Are a Great Choice
- Care and Maintenance Tips
A Crucial Difference: Portable Vs. Ventless Air Conditioners
Before we jump into the list of portable air conditioner reviews below, there’s a key difference you need to understand about portable AC units.
Not many people know this, but there are actually two different types of compact air conditioners you can buy for your house or apartment.
If you confuse these two AC units, you could end up making a costly (and inconvenient) mistake.
The two terms you need to familiarize yourself with are:
- Portable air conditioner
- and Ventless air conditioner (also known as “evaporative air cooler”)
A product that carries just the label “portable” is outfitted with a hose that transfers hot air from inside a room to the outdoors. This means that it has to be installed next to a window so that the hose can be vented to the outside.
A product that includes the word “ventless” or “evaporative” doesn’t use a hose for ventilation. Instead, it uses a tank of water and the natural process of water evaporation to cool warm air and a fan to expel the newly cooled air into the room.
Oddly, a “ventless portable air conditioner” is much more portable than a “portable air conditioner” since it doesn’t have to be connected to a window. Ventless AC units are easier to move from room to room—like a rolling chair—whereas a portable AC unit requires some extra work to take down and set up.
So, Which Type Should You Get?
It may seem like an obvious choice to buy a ventless air conditioner (or evaporative air cooler) because it’s a lot more mobile; however, there’s actually a more important factor you need to take into consideration before making a purchase.
And that is the humidity levels of where you live.
As you just learned, portable and ventless air coolers work in radically different ways and if you don’t buy the right one for your location, you won’t get the best results.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Portable AC units are best for humid climates because they cool the warm air by removing moisture from it. That’s why it must be connected to a window—to expel the moisture and hot air.
- Ventless AC units are best for dry climates because they add moisture back into the air to help cool it. However, there must be a constant supply of fresh air (like an open window or door) to avoid overly-saturating the air inside the room.
Take a look at the map below to quickly determine what the best portable air conditioner type is best for your region.
How to Choose The Right Size Air Conditioner
Now that you know how to pick the right kind of air conditioner for your home, the next step is choosing a model that’s properly sized for the room it’s going to be used in.
When you’re shopping for an air conditioner, you’ll find two types of efficiency ratings:
- BTU is for portable air conditioners (e.g. 8,000 BTU or 14,000 BTU)
- CFM is for ventless air conditioners (e.g. 700 CFM or 2000 CFM)
While these numbers may seem complex, they’re actually quite easy to understand; each one pertains to a maximum square footage that the air conditioner can handle.
These numbers are important because you don’t want a ventless or portable air conditioner unit that’s rated too high or too low for the room you want to use it in.
Here’s what we mean:
- You don’t want to buy a model that’s too weak to cool down the room. That will increase your monthly energy costs and leave the room feeling hotter than you desire.
- You also don’t want an AC unit that puts out too much power for the room. That will cause the air conditioner to overwork itself and eventually break down, plus you’ll spend too much money on the initial purchase.
What you do want is for the AC unit to be sized properly for a room to maximum efficiency and cooling performance.
Here’s How to Figure Out What BTU and CFM Numbers Should Be When Comparing AC Unit Models
Measure the Square Footage of the Room
Using a tape measure, measure the length and width of the room you want to put the portable AC unit in.
For odd lengths, round up or down to the nearest whole foot number. Then multiply these two numbers together. This will give you the square footage of the room.
For example, a room that is 29 ft. 8 in. long by 21 ft. 4 in. wide, would round up to 30 ft. by 21 ft. Multiplying these numbers together gives you 630 sq. ft.
30 x 21 = 630 sq. ft.
This is the maximum amount of space you want your compact air conditioner to cover.
BTU Reference Chart for Portable AC Units
Below is a quick reference chart to find the right BTU capacity for your needs. BTU is short for British Thermal Unit which is the traditional unit for heat.
Take the square footage of the room you measured and find the associated BTU number. Then, look for a portable air conditioner that has this rating in order to get the best value.
Using our previous example of a large 630 sq. ft. room, the correct BTU portable air conditioner would be one with a 14,000 BTU unit rating. In contrast, a small room air conditioner for 200 sq. ft. would only require an 8,000 BTU unit rating.
|Room Area To Be Cooled||Capacity Needed|
|up to 350 sq. ft.||8,000 BTU|
|350 to 400 sq. ft.||9,000 BTU|
|400 to 450 sq. ft.||10,000 BTU|
|450 to 550 sq. ft.||12,000 BTU|
|550 to 700 sq. ft.||14,000 BTU|
Determining the Right CFM Rating for Ventless AC Units
Unfortunately, CFM ratings don’t always match up as perfectly as BTU ratings do for square footage measurements.
For example, one of the top ventless portable air conditioners below has a 1650 CFM rating and covers up to 650 sq. ft. The other recommendation has a lower 1540 CFM rating yet covers 700 sq. ft.
That’s quite a difference.
So, you really don’t have to worry about getting the CFM number wrong when shopping for an evaporative cooler. Just look for the recommended square footage.
The 12 Best Portable Air Conditioners
Now that you know what to look for when choosing an AC unit for your home, we can move onto showing you what the best portable air conditioners are for every size room.
The list below will save you countless hours of research because we’ve done all of the hard work for you of narrowing down the best portable AC unit and ventless versions.
No matter which model you pick, you can feel confident that you’re getting top value for your money along with excellent cooling performance.
AC UNITS FOR SMALL ROOMS
Best Portable AC Units
250 sq. ft.
If you’re looking for the best portable air conditioner for a small size room, this is it.
This product is perfect for bedrooms, dens, and home office spaces and has great efficiency ratings.
It can handle up to 250 sq. ft., has three cooling settings, a 24-hour timer, and wheels to easily move it from room to room.
The push button controls and LCD screen make it a snap to operate in addition to the convenient remote control.
The best part, hower, is the self-evaporation design, which means it can dehumidify the room and get rid of the collected moisture automatically. (Other portable air conditioners require you to empty a water collection bucket.)
300 sq. ft.
Although this unit has a lower BTU number than the previous small room portable air conditioner, it’s actually more powerful—covers up to 300 sq. ft.
It also has a nice sleek design with an auto-swing air vent that helps eliminate hot spots in the room.
Two fan speeds, a 24-hour timer, sleep mode, and remote control give you a variety of options for controlling the type of cold air (and flow) you desire.
A bright LED screen is also available on the unit if you prefer that style of operation.
Finally, this unit also includes a self-evaporation feature and you can choose between three colors: black, white, or gray. It also has wheels.
Best Ventless AC Units
250 sq. ft.
If you’re in the market for a ventless air conditioner, this is the most cost-effective small room air conditioner you can buy.
It can cool a space up to 250 sq. ft., has three cooling modes, oscillation, and a 7.5-hour timer. Everything can be operated with a remote control and the wheel casters make it a breeze to move around.
The water tank holds 1.76 gallons which can last up to 8.5 hours of continuous use before refilling.
300 sq. ft.
If you need to cover a bit more space with an evaporative air cooler, this model is a great choice.
It chills rooms up to 300 sq. ft., has wheels, and three rhythmic wind modes that mimic the feeling of real wind.
Another nice feature is a washable Activated Carbon filter that purifies your indoor air by trapping dust, odors, and other indoor pollutants.
As for the cooling capacity of this ventless AC unit, it has a 5.3-gallon water tank that chills a room for 6-8 hours. A top-loading ice compartment allows you to make the air even colder.
You can control every aspect of this air conditioner (including the 8-hour timer) from the onboard LED panel or by using the remote control.
AC UNITS FOR MEDIUM SIZE ROOMS
Best Portable AC
350 sq. ft.
If you’re trying to cool a medium-sized room in your house (i.e. living room) or apartment this is the best portable AC unit available.
This compact Honeywell portable air conditioner has more than 2,000 positive reviews and can cool and dehumidify a space up to 350 sq. ft. It also has a fan-only mode if you’re just looking for a cool breeze without the icy chill.
Easy operation is controlled by buttons on the front panel or with a remote control.
The self-evaporation system also means a bucketless (and draining) operation.
400 sq. ft.
Another great choice for a medium size room is this unit here.
It covers up to 400 sq. ft. and includes a vertical wind motion feature to distribute cool air more evenly and faster for you.
A set of air filters help to purify the air by reducing indoor pollutants as well as extend the performance of the machine.
You also get three fan speeds, digital controls, a 24-hour timer, and remote control. Plus, this portable AC unit comes in three color choices: white, white and black, or white and blue.
Like the Haier mentioned above, it too includes auto evaporation technology which makes manual draining unnecessary.
Best Ventless AC
320 sq. ft.
This ventless evaporative air cooler is the best in its class for use in areas with low humidity (1,000+ positive reviews).
It covers up to 320 sq. ft. which makes it ideal for most home applications.
Additional perks include four cooling speeds, oscillation mode, and an LED control panel.
Under normal use, the 7.9-gallon water tank only needs to be replenished every 48 hours so you can enjoy cold air for long periods of time.
500 sq. ft.
While this may not be the most attractive portable evaporative cooler, it’s really your best option for cooling an area up to 500 sq. ft.
Not many other quality products exist for medium size rooms between 300-500 sq. ft.
If you do pick this air cooler, you won’t be let down. You’ll enjoy four fan speeds (controlled by a rotary switch), oscillation, a carrying handle, and wheels for easy transport.
Under normal use, the 4.8-gallon water tank gives you between 3-4 hours of operation.
AC UNITS FOR LARGE ROOMS
Best Portable AC
500 sq. ft.
If you want a super stylish portable AC unit that covers a ton of space, then you’ve found it in this machine.
No other product on the market looks this good and can handle a room up to 500 sq. ft.
It’s perfect for large living rooms, office spaces, and single levels in a townhome.
With digital controls, three cooling speeds, and a 24-hour timer, you’ve got the best of everything in this product. Plus, it’s one of the quietest portable air conditioners around.
Finally, this AC unit also includes an Activated Carbon air filter which purifies the air and leaves your home smelling fresh and clean in addition to producing cold air.
700 sq. ft.
If you liked the design of the Honeywell model recommended above for medium size rooms, you’ll be happy to know that it also comes in a more powerful version.
This unit has all of the same features but covers an area up to 700 sq. ft.
With this portable AC unit, you get stress free self-evaporation, vertical air output for more even air distribution, and a set of air purifying filters.
It also has three fan speeds, digital controls, a 24-hour timer, a remote control, and comes in three colors: pure white, white and black, or white and blue.
Best Ventless AC
650 sq. ft.
Hands down, this is one of the biggest and best evaporative air coolers around.
It covers up to 650 sq. ft. (which is HUGE), offers three cooling speeds, and an oscillation feature.
What’s also great is that this unit has a direct line input for water which means you can use it outside (and continuously) without having the refill the water tank.
For indoor use, the 10.6-gallon water tank can last 4-5 hours before you even have to think about refilling it.
If we have to give this air conditioner one critique, it would be that it uses old-school rotary dials, as opposed to modern digital controls, but given all of its power, it’s not that big of a deal for most people.
700 sq. ft.
If you thought the previous ventless air conditioner was powerful, you’ll be even more amazed by this AC unit.
For home use, it can’t be beat. Use it indoors or outdoors for a lakeside-style breeze.
It covers the largest amount of space, up to 700 sq. ft., and has extra-wide fan blades for delivering cooling airflow. An optional ice compartment allows you to chill the air even more.
This unit includes a jumbo 15.9-gallon water tank that can last around 10 hours on the low fan setting or you can choose to connect the continuous water supply option for non-stop air cooling.
Similar to the previously mentioned Luma Comfort evaporative air cooler, this product also has rotary dials instead of digital controls. But at this price point and power, you won’t find a better option.
Why Portable AC Units Are a Great Choice
Portable Air Conditioners are Cheap to Use
One of the major benefits of owning a portable AC device is that it drastically cuts down on monthly energy costs for cooling your home.
With a central air unit, you have to pay for it to run throughout the entire house even if you just want to cool down one specific room. The average homeowner spends $100-200 per month for this type of cooling system.
Portable Air Conditioners Have No Restrictions
The biggest competitor for portable AC devices are window mounted air conditioning units. If interested, we have an entire guide on the best window AC units here.
However, window units don’t comply with most building codes and HOA regulations. If you rent an apartment or live in an HOA zone, you can’t use them.
Portable units don’t have this restriction since they don’t protrude from the outside. This makes these devices one of the best investments you can make to enjoy cooled air.
Portable AC Units are Non-Permanent and Easy to Install
Most portable units are very lightweight, and as long as there’s an electrical outlet and a place to vent the warm air, you’re good to use it.
Care and Maintenance Tips
To get the most value out of your portable air conditioner, there are a few tips you can follow to maximize its efficiency:
- Insulate gaps. Cracks and gaps appear between the window, frame, and panel holding the AC vent. By insulating them you’ll help prevent hot air from slipping through those areas.
- Keep it as close as possible to the window. The shorter the hose length on a portable AC unit, the faster it can expel hot air.
- Check the air filter every two weeks. If it’s dirty, clean it.
- Inspect the condenser coils monthly. These get dirty over time with grease and grime and are expensive to replace. Use a coil cleaner solution (available at most hardware stores) to get clean it up.
- Keep the room that the portable AC unit is in clean. Dusty or dirty rooms not only cause a faster build up of debris on the air filter but also can damage the internal parts, causing it not to function properly.
Benefits of Portable AC Units Over Window Air Conditioners
If you were thinking about possibly getting a window air conditioner, here are some key things for you to consider as to why a portable AC unit would be a better choice:
- No need for weatherproofing. Since window units are partially exposed to the outdoors, they often require some sort of weatherproofing cover to keep them from deteriorating. Portable air conditioners don’t have any parts exposed to the outside, so you never have to worry about them getting damaged by weather.
- Easy to install. It doesn’t require much effort to install a portable AC unit and each unit comes with a window venting kit. Ventless air conditioners don’t need to be vented outdoors so no venting is necessary. Window units, on the other hand, often require two people for installation because they’re so heavy. These devices also need one person to hold the unit in place while the other adjusts the window around it.
- Can it from room to room. A major advantage of portable air conditioners and ventless AC units is that you can roll them from room to room and set them up with ease. Once you mount a window AC unit, it stays put.
- More attractive. Portable AC units come in some very attractive and modern designs. Window unit designs haven’t really changed that much over the years and can be an eyesore for some people.
- Can be used in apartments. Not many apartment complexes allow the use of a window air conditioner, however, some do let you install a portable AC unit because they’re non-intrusive. All landlords allow ventless AC units to be used for cooling since they don’t need any ventilation.
Single Hose vs Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioners
When you’re shopping for a portable air conditioner, you’ll find that each unit will either use a single hose or dual hose system.
No matter which option you end up with, the end result is the same – hot air is drawn out of the room and sent outside through one of the hoses.
To understand more fully how each of these systems work, here’s what you need to know.
Single Hose AC Units
As the name suggests, this type of portable air conditioner only has one single hose coming out the back of the unit.
After the hot air is pulled from the room and sent into the air conditioner, it’s passed by the internal coils to be chilled before being pushed back into the room. Some of that air is used to cool the unit down and then sent through the hose and out of the house.
That process creates negative pressure.
What this means is that hot air from the outside or other rooms of the home can be sucked into the space through cracks and gaps around doors and windows. Therefore, portable AC units with a single hose design may have to work harder to keep a room cool if there are a number of air leaks inside the space.
For most home applications, however, this negative pressure issue is not really that big of a deal to worry about.
A major benefit of using a single hose air conditioner is that these units are much easier to move to other rooms of your home since the set up is simpler.
Dual Hose AC Units
Dual hose portable air conditioners have two hoses coming out the back of the unit.
One of the hoses in a dual hose system is used to draw air in from the outdoors and use it to cool down the portable AC unit. The other hose is used to expel that used air out of the home after it’s served its purpose.
A dual hose design doesn’t cause negative pressure so there are no concerns there.
The main benefit of using a dual hose air conditioner is that these units can cool down a larger space much quicker because they don’t have to work as hard.
Which is Better: Single or Dual Hose Air Conditioners?
After all of the factors are considered, there is not much evidence that either a single or dual hose portable air conditioner is a better option but it’s worth knowing what the differences are so you are well informed before making a purchase.
We hope you enjoyed this guide on how to find the best portable AC unit and ventless air conditioner for your needs. By following the advice given above about how to properly size the unit for the intended room, you should be able to make the right choice.