Graphic of a Portable Air ConditionerWhen it comes to home air conditioning, one of the most common questions people have is, “What is a portable air conditioner?”

And for a good reason too.

For many of us, we’ve only been exposed to two types of AC units in our lives: a whole house central air conditioner and a window-mounted unit for single rooms.

However, a third type of air conditioner does exist that can keep you cool just as well as those other types and it’s called a “portable air conditioner.”

But, what is portable AC and should you even consider investing in this type of air conditioning unit?

Those are the questions we’re going to answer in this post.

Consider it your comprehensive guide about portable air conditioners – what they are, what they do, and the pros and cons of using one in your home.

What is a Portable Air Conditioner Exactly?

Portable air conditioners are actually quite amazing little machines.

At their core, portable AC units are self-contained, mobile appliances that allow you to regulate the temperature inside a single room (or connected rooms).

They’re positioned on the floor and some models include wheels for easier transport.

In comparison to both wall and window AC units, what makes a portable air conditioner unique is just that – the fact that it’s portable.

This means that you don’t have to permanently install the appliance, thus theoretically enabling you to easily change the location of the device without having to make any structural changes to your home.

Some people use portable air conditioners as their main source of cooling because a central air conditioning system doesn’t exist in their house. Others, use portable AC units as a way to save money by using their central air conditioner less and only cooling the room (or rooms) that they frequent most.

Next, we’ll take a look at how well these machines can actually cool down a room.

But, before we get into that, we wanted to make sure that you knew we had a free guide on the top rated portable air conditioners to help you find the perfect air conditioner for your needs.

Take a look to see what’s available.

Cooling Power of Portable Air Conditioners

Now, the next logical question you may have is, “Will a portable air conditioner actually cool my rooms well?”

And honestly, we’d like to give you a generic, clear-cut response and say “Yes, they all work perfectly,” but we can’t.

Truth be told, whether a portable air conditioner functions well or not depends largely on its British Thermal Unit (more commonly called BTU.)

In a nutshell, an air conditioner’s BTU is a unit of measurement which determines the rate at which heat is removed from a room each hour. And this directly affects a portable air conditioner’s performance – the higher its BTU, the better the appliance is at cooling an area.

Portable air conditioners usually have a BTU range between 5,000 and 16,000, a figure which can comfortably cool an area between 150 to 800 square feet.

Now, compare this to some central air conditioners which can have a BTU rating of 80,000 to cool an entire home with 2,500 square feet.

Because portable air conditioners are mobile, and as a result, less powerful than central air conditioning units, they’re not designed to cool more than one room at a time.

However, rooms that are attached to each other with openings like a doorway can receive the cooling effects of a portable AC unit that’s positioned in a nearby space. It just won’t be as cold as the room the unit is in.

Therefore, it’s important to bear these little details in mind when purchasing a portable air conditioner. Otherwise, you run the risk of being underwhelmed or disappointed by the appliance’s cooling abilities.

Types of Portable Air Conditioners

Before you purchase a portable air conditioner, you need to be aware of the fact that they come in two different types:

  • Single-hose
  • Dual-hose

While there really is no better or worse type of portable air conditioner, it’s good for you to know what the differences are between single- and dual-hose units so you’re not confused when comparing products.

The reason portable air conditioners come with hoses is because as the unit runs, hot air is drawn in from the room and cooled before being released back into the space.

During this process, the portable AC unit gets warm and must be cooled down itself, and that’s what a hose is for, to send hot air out the window instead of back into the room.

So, even though portable air conditioners are mobile and “portable,” they must also be located near a window in order to get rid of the hot air inside the machine.

Now, here’s how the two types of hose styles compare.

Single-hose Portable Air Conditioners

With single-hose portable air conditioners, there’s only one hose sticking out the back of the unit that must be funneled to a window.

This process can cause some negative pressure in the room which pulls warm air in from other parts of the house (and outdoors) through cracks and gaps around doors and windows. It’s usually not that noticeable or too much of a big deal for most people.

Dual-hose Portable Air Conditioners

Unlike single-hose portable air conditioners, these AC units feature two hoses.

The process of cooling indoor air is the same, however, the way the unit is cooled down is not.

One hose is used to draw air in from the outside to cool down the machine while the other hose is there to push the hot air out the window after the cooling job is complete.

With a dual-hose design, there is no negative pressure built up indoors.

Portable AC & Dehumidification

When you’re buying a portable AC, another thing you need to be aware of is dehumidification.

Really, it’s just a long word that refers to the process where a portable air conditioner removes moisture from the air, thereby lessening humidity to make us feel cooler.

In the process, most portable air conditioners tend to collect this water vapor on its coils, meaning that you may need to empty this buildup every now and again.

Depending on the unit you choose, water can be removed in one of three ways:

  • By dumping out a collection bucket
  • Routing an attached tube to a floor drain
  • Automatic self-evaporation which removes the collected moisture for you

If this process of maintaining your portable air conditioner concerns you, keep this information in mind when selecting a portable AC unit.

The self-evaporation version would probably be the best type for your needs. And it’s available on the best indoor air conditioners here.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Portable Air Conditioners

This final section will go over some of the pros and cons of owning a portable AC unit.

Once you’re done with it, you may want to check out our other complimentary guide on the best cheap portable air conditioners available right now on the market.

If you’re on a tight budget and not looking to spend too much money on such an appliance, this is a great guide for you to use.


  • The convenience of moving it between rooms
  • Fairly easy to install on your own
  • Much cheaper to use than a central air conditioning unit
  • Doesn’t take up much physical space
  • Can often be used in rental homes and apartments without landlord concerns


  • Designed for single room use
  • Can be a bit noisy
  • Draining the dehumidifier tank can be an inconvenience if you don’t select a unit with automatic self-evaporation
  • Slightly difficult to move even though they’re supposed to be “portable”
  • Must be positioned near a window for the exhaust hose to ventilate hot air

Well, there you have it. Finally, the answer to the question, “What is a portable air conditioner?” has been put to rest.

You no longer have to wonder what is portable AC and how it works.

Just remember to think carefully before buying a portable air conditioner for your home and use the two free guides we mentioned above as a starting point.

While a portable AC unit may be an asset to you, depending on several factors, they might not be the right cooling appliances for your home.

Be wise and weigh things through before making your final decision.