The Best Portable Air Conditioner
The best portable air conditioner is easy to maneuver (deep handles and balanced wheels), simple to program (a working remote and clear displays), and aesthetically pleasing enough to be a permanent fixture for the summer. We brought in eight well-reviewed machines from the most trusted brands to try for ourselves and ended up with three favorites that will cool any size room.
The Best Portable Air Conditioner
- LG LP1215GXR 115V Portable Air Conditioner
Best for Average-Sized Rooms
- BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT 8,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
Best for Small Rooms
- Friedrich PH14B Air Conditioner
Best for Large Rooms
How well a portable air conditioner can lower your room temperature depends on a few factors: its cooling capacity (BTU), the size of room, and the current climate/humidity. Larger rooms and more humid climates require a higher BTU, and consequently a higher price tag. Once you’ve found the BTU that matches your desired square footage, usability details like portability and responsive programming play a huge factor into how well your machine will integrate into your life. All three of our top picks, selected for a variety of room sizes, impressed us by going above and beyond the basics.
The $400 LG LP1215GXR 115V was our consumer-friendly favorite. At 12,000 BTUs, it cools around 400-550 square feet and should work for most average-sized rooms. In addition to generous handles and clear labeling, the LG has thoughtful programming like a sleep mode and an oscillating fan. Storing this machine for the winter will also be a breeze, partly due to its one-of-a-kind remote storage and cord wrap.
Small, simple, and storable, the $300 BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT is ideal for smaller spaces of about 300 square feet. The BLACK+DECKER is our only pick to be offered in multiple BTUs, though it does lack a few of the convenience features of our more powerful top picks, like the LG’s oscillating fan — if you’re searching for a higher BTU, we’d recommend upgrading to the LG or the Friedrich. Still, the BLACK+DECKER is a solid choice for small rooms, and the unit itself is slim enough to fit comfortably into storage. Its Max Mode is a standout feature, automating the lowest temperature and highest fan speed with a single button press.
For a mondo machine that can tackle your large living spaces and kitchens (550-700 square feet), the 13,500 BTU Friedrich PH14B is up to the task. It’s a $600 dual-hosed unit, which means that one hose is dedicated to removing the heat that the unit creates, making its cooling more efficient for bigger rooms. It’s heavy duty, weighing in around 95 pounds, but no need to fret; with slick wheels and ergonomic handles, we could transport this unit just as easily our less bulky top picks.
How We Found the Best Portable Air Conditioner
The bigger the room, the more BTUs your unit should have.
The most important factor in choosing your portable air conditioning unit is its British Thermal Unit (BTU) rating: the amount of heat necessary to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. For portable air conditioners, BTUs estimate how much heat the unit can remove per hour. The larger the room, the higher that BTU number should be.
Portable air conditioners work by adding cool dry air into a room and venting out hot air via an exhaust hose, which you must install out a window or sliding glass door. More efficient units, designed for larger rooms, use two hoses to exhaust any heat the unit is creating itself. The dual hose units have higher BTUs, but they're also more expensive, heavier, and will have more impact on your energy bill. Getting the right size for your room is essential for effectively cooling the space.
Larger Rooms Require Higher BTUs
Source: Energy Star
For some context, the average master bedroom is around 400 square feet. But you’ll want to overcompensate if you have high ceilings (eight feet or more), a space with lots of windows and/or appliances (a kitchen), live in a particular warm/humid region (Florida), or want to cool a room with poor insulation (a garage or workshop). Choosing the right BTUs should lead you to a unit that can effectively keep you cool. Because the size and number of hoses differ depending on your needs, we looked at a variety of BTUs and hose options when bringing in units to test ourselves, and each of our top picks cater to a different circumstance.
We cut unpopular brands and low-rated machines.
Attempting to measure the effectiveness of a portable air conditioner during December in Seattle wouldn’t have told us anything other than “it's cold outside and now its cold inside, too.“ With too many uncontrollable factors to accurately measure cooling rates, we looked to consumers who’ve been using portable air conditioners in their homes in the most applicable conditions. Like most large appliances, the best way to discover issues in performance is to live with the unit on daily basis; we wanted to seek units that had customer-confirmed efficacy. So we started with some of the most reputable and consistently recommended brands: Whynter, NewAir, LG Honeywell, Haier, Frigidaire, Friedrich, DeLonghi, and BLACK+DECKER. More obscure brands like Soleus Air and Arctic Wind didn’t have the kind of following or online presence to allow us to gauge reliability.
We then combed through user reviews and looked closely at best selling, well-reviewed, and renowned units, pulling models with a variety of BTUs and number of hoses. We didn’t consider any product with fewer than three stars, or products with a troublingly-high number of one-star reviews. NewAir fell out entirely here, as their units consistently received a higher percentage of one-star reviews than five-star.
We also eliminated popular models that had fewer than five models in stock. Why? Portable air conditioning units are notorious for going out of stock, and going out of stock fast. So when companies were this low in stock during winter, we had little confidence they would be available during the warmer seasons. Pro tip: Buy ahead of the season, or you may not have much of a choice at all.
After scouring the market, we brought in eight popular portable air conditioners from the most well-reviewed brands at a range of price points, BTUs, designs, and sizes to test for ourselves.
The Eight Portable Air Conditioners We Tested
- BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT 8,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
- Friedrich PH14B Air Conditioner
- Frigidaire 8,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
- Haier HPC10XCR 10,000 BTU Portable Electronic Air Conditioner
- Honeywell 10,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner
- LG LP1215GXR 115V Portable Air Conditioner
- Whynter 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner and 11,000 BTU Heater
- Whynter ARC-14SH Air Conditioner
We looked for models that were easy to maneuver and intuitive to program, with wide-range remotes.
As tools of cooling convenience, we wanted the best portable air conditioner to integrate easily into our lives. As we unpackaged and set up each unit, we noted some specific features that affected their usability.
Give it 24 hours.Depending on how your air conditioner was transported, shipped, or stored, you’ll want to leave the unit in an upright position for at least 24 hours to let the refrigerant settle.
- Portability: A portable air conditioner should be, well, portable. You’ll likely be transporting your 50-pound (or more!) machine up and down stairs, into basements and garages, and from bedrooms to living rooms. Deep handles, smooth wheels, and slim profiles are huge boons in this department. The Haier had the best handles because they indent about an inch — double the depth of others we tested — which makes for solid gripping. The Frigidaire’s handles, by comparison, are angled so sharply that our fingers kept sliding out. And the dual hose Whynter ARC-14SH doesn’t even have handles, despite being the largest unit. We struggled to maneuver it even across flat surfaces without bumping our shins or tipping it over, as the wheels also aren’t stable.
- Remote and programming: Adjusting temperature and fan speed should be simple, and doing so from the comfort of your couch or bed should be, too. Control panels with large LED displays, uncrowded buttons, and clear labeling were easier to use. We weren’t fans of units like the Frigidaire and the Honeywell, whose remotes either didn’t work at all or required us to align them directly with the receptor. The remotes of the LG and Friedrich, in contrast, worked even when we approached from the side of the unit. In general, we preferred remotes that had LCD screens in order to clearly see what we were programming. The Haier and Honeywell remotes lack this feature, requiring you to squint at the unit itself to decipher what you’re programming, and they worked only at such a close range that it defeated the purpose of a remote altogether.
- Aesthetics: While not a dealbreaker, we considered the general aesthetics of each unit. As fixtures that will be displayed in rooms you spend a lot of time in, we preferred models that are visually appealing. The Honeywell earned points here for its modern simplicity, with curved edges and a smooth black exterior. The Frigidaire we tested, in contrast, looks like a trash can.
- Unique features: Some units include additional features that aid in storage or air circulation, like cord wraps and adjustable vents. The LG offers a cord wrap, remote storage, and an oscillating vent that circulates that air automatically. Manually-adjustable fans were hit or mass; the Whynter fan’s plastic vents, for example felt so weak that we were sure we’d break them as we shifted their direction. We loved features like sleep and energy-saving modes, as well, which automatically adjust the fans to lower noise levels. In units without a sleep mode, consumers complained that air conditioners would wake them up as it turned on and off during the night. You won’t be deprived without these additions, but their thoughtful convenience took some units the extra mile.
Our Picks for the Best Portable Air Conditioner
A single-hose design at 12,000 BTUs, The LG LP1215GXR is suitable for most rooms, cooling 400-550 square feet. What it may lack in modern design, it makes up for in exceedingly consumer-friendly features. Even as we unpacked the LG, it was making life simpler — in other models, we spent chunks of time struggling to twist together hoses and attach them to units, but the LG arrived almost entirely pre-assembled. It also hosts a cord wrap, built-in remote storage, and grippable handles.
The LG looks more utilitarian than other units, reminiscent of a droid from Star Wars, but we’d hardly call it ugly. With a prominent vent and blocky front-facing buttons, it lacks a modernity that models like the Honeywell impressed us with. However, this design is supplemented with clear labels for locking in and releasing your exhaust hose, opening and closing the drain, and removing the filter. The LG was the only one to add this simple addition that cut our setup times in half and eliminated the need to hunt through manuals.
Additionally, the LG has the most intuitive remote of the bunch and refreshingly unique programming. The remote has a large digital display that clearly shows its current settings. Other remotes feature unlabeled symbols or digital screens that are hard to read in bright light. As a result, the LG remote is also the largest — think Blu-ray player remote vs. key fob. With each button press, the LG responds with a friendly chime rather than the typical monotone beep.
Modes unique to the LG include an Energy Saver mode, which only initiates fan cycles when when the temperature of the room rises (typically, the fan runs constantly, even after the desired temperature is reached), and an Auto Clean mode that removes moisture from the heat exchange coils, prepping the unit for storage and preventing any mold buildup. With other models, you’ll have to facilitate this yourself by running the machine on a dry fan mode for several hours. But our favorite programming option? An “auto-swing” mode that automatically oscillates the fan for optimal air circulation. It’s a feature so handy we’re baffled it isn’t standard for all units.
The LG’s only fault is that it’s louder than our other picks, and it will sometimes squeak a bit as it engages its cooling mode. It’s not overwhelming, but you may be sensitive to it when sleeping, especially on higher fan speeds. However, at $400, the LG was a clear mid-range favorite for its user-friendly features and design.
As the lightest and smallest of our favorites, the box-shaped BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT is best suited for storage, mobility, and small spaces. If you live in a studio apartment, lack storage space, or want to cool a child’s bedroom, the BLACK+DECKER is uniquely size-conservative.
The BLACK+DECKER also nails many of the convenience features that larger, more expensive models like the Whynters lack. Its curved front-facing vent allows for output to a wider area than the straight vents of those larger units. Even though the unit is smaller, more of the room catches a cool breeze. And with just five buttons and one display screen, the BLACK+DECKER has the simplest control panel of the bunch, which makes for quick and thoughtless programming.
Programming ease extends to its calculator-like remote, which offers a few more features not accessible on the control panel. Of these is a one-of-a-kind “Max” mode, which automates the fan speed and sets the temperature to the lowest possible — a one-button lifeline if you’ve just come inside from the summer heat. The Sleep Mode will dim the LED lights, operate the unit at a quieter fan speed, and will shut off after eight hours. While Sleep Mode is not unique to the BLACK+DECKER, it’s a thoughtful inclusion in a machine that already offers more than other units.
It's worth noting that the BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT is one of the few models that offer four different size options, with cooling capacities ranging from 8,000 to 14,000 BTUs. However, the BLACK+DECKER’s 12,000 BTU model rings in at $330, just shy of our our $400 LG pick (also 12,000 BTUs). Because the BLACK+DECKER lacks a few unique convenience features — namely, the oscillating fan and superior storage options like the remote holder — we recommend our other picks if you're looking to scale up your room size.
The BLACK+DECKER’s cord wrap is ideal for winter storage and hazard-free transport up and down stairs, and though its handles aren’t as cavernous as those of the LG or Friedrich, it’s enough grip to scoot around a living room. And at just $300, the 8,000 BTU model it’s a fairly affordable starting point to chill a smaller room and will take up the least space in your home.
If you need to cool a large area or a kitchen, the massive dual hose Friedrich PH14B air conditioner is capable of tackling rooms up to 700 square feet. Though this 13,500 BTU unit is a whopping 95 pounds, the Friedrich was just as easy to maneuver as the 65-pound LG. It is heavy (likely a two-person lift), but with grippable handles and incredibly smooth wheels, it lets you manage the weight in a way that others like the dual-hosed Whynter doesn’t. Not only does the Whynter lack handles, but it lacks any crevice or leverage for gripping.
We also felt confident programming the Friedrich, thanks to its responsive remote and crisp control panel. Its remote is smaller and more reminiscent of a key fob. It’s a bit dated and has rather ambiguous symbols, but we still preferred this over remotes that lack screens entirely. And its on-unit display more than makes up for the remote, with clear and color-coded buttons for each function. Something to note: When on cooling mode, you can’t program a lower fan speed until the machine has reached your desired temperature, so you might sacrifice the ability to control noise levels.
In order to drain moisture that builds up in the machine, this Friedrich model also features a built-in drain pump that allows you to connect a small drain hose to the panel in your window — other units typically require you to open up the unit and empty a drainage bucket. To know when you’ll need to drain the unit, the Friedrich includes a “water full” notification light, a feature absent from other models.
With two hoses, it was noticeably more powerful than our single hose options and more suited for larger living areas. For $600, rest assured that the Friedrich is up to the task during a heat wave.
When Should You Buy a Portable AC?
Portable air conditioners are best for seasonal cooling.
You have several options if you’re looking to cool your home during a sweltering summer, and a portable air conditioner may not be your best. Though they're relatively simple machines and can easily be self-installed, they don’t have the capacity to cool more than one room and can be a bit intrusive for a permanent fixture in smaller homes. They’re best suited for seasonal cooling, RVs and boats, supplementing central air conditioning, or when a window unit isn't an option. If you need more heavy duty cooling throughout the year, a different option may suit you better.
Window air conditioners are the big boxes that hang out of windows. They’re often a more affordable option and range in price from $100 to $400. They’re fairly easy to install and are often more effective than portable air conditioners. However, they can be heavy, noisy, and may not fit in your window.
Central air conditioning is a system built into the air ducts of your home. It’s the most efficient way of cooling and has the convenience of being out-of-sight and spread throughout your home. It’s also the most expensive option, ringing in around $5,000 to $15,000, depending on your home’s layout and duct system. Some of that cost is installation, which is more complicated and must be done professionally.
Wall units aka split ductless units are an alternative similar to central air conditioning. They’re (professionally) installed into your wall and don’t require any duct work. They’re more energy efficient and are quieter than window units. You can choose to install multiple throughout a home, or just one. They typically range from $2,000 to $10,000.
Extend the Life of Your Portable AC
Regular maintenance will prolong the life of your portable air conditioner.
There are a few best practices to extending the life of your portable air conditioner and ensuring you can pull it out in working order each summer:
- Keep your filters fresh to avoid grime mixing with the moisture in your unit; grime forms a film on the coils and prevents the machine from exhausting heat. For this same reason, its best to store the unit in a cool, dry place.
- Drain the unit regularly and before storage. It’s also a good idea to run the unit on “fan only" mode for a few hours before storing to make sure everything is completely dry on the inside.
- Avoid storing it in dusty or dirty areas, as smaller dust particles will clog the machine’s motor. Some units come with a cloth bag with which to cover the machine during storage, though you can also use plastic sheeting.
Our Portable Air Conditioner Review: Summed Up
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