The Best Portable Air Conditioners Cool in Minutes and Install Just as Fast
Our pick for quietest is also pretty energy efficient.
Updated Jul 13, 2022 12:18 PM
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Portable air conditioners are like a window AC’s go-with-the-flow cousin: They work in almost any kind of window you throw their way (even sliding patio doors are possible); wheel around from room to room as needed; and require minimal installation. Basically, we’re fans. They can handle big and small spaces, from a sprawling family den to the long corridors of a railroad-style apartment—we tried them all.
Domino editors tested the best portable air conditioners on the market, and they’re not just hulking towers of plastic, rumbling away in the corner. We would happily coexist with any of them in our living rooms, and each comes with serious chops. To eschew that ugly portable AC stigma, read on for the best portable air conditioners—they’re outfitted with a myriad of smart technologies (and cooling powers) you won’t want to miss out on.
- Best quiet: Midea DUO Smart Inverter Portable Air Conditioner
- Best compact: Frigidaire 3–in-1 Portable Room Air Conditioner
- Best design: LG Smart Portable Air Conditioner
- Best no-frills: GE 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner
BTUs: 14,000 | Weight: 72.75 pounds | Depth: 19 inches | Smart app: Yes | Noise level: Very quiet
What we like:
- Very quick install
- Built-in dehumidifier
- Really big exhaust tube
- Vents are rather noticeable
Why we chose it: It toils away whisper-quiet in the corner and chills a room fast.
This do-it-all device from Midea is pretty cool (yes, pun intended) in its glossy all-black coat. The unit sits on caster wheels, so it can be rolled easily from one steamy room to another. But the DUO model has a special trick up its sleeve that’s unlike others: Its sound level is as low as 42 decibels, which is library quiet. Our tester also took notice of the appliance’s advanced duct system, which shoots up and out to amplify airflow (it reaches all the way to her office, which is more than 20 feet away).
Our tester did find the AC’s hose size a little intrusive—there are two built in to the exhaust hose; one removes hot air from your home and the other brings in fresh air from outdoors. That said, there is a compartment for storage, so she can tuck the hose away neatly (like it’s not even there) when not in use on cooler days. While it’s definitely pricier, the DUO’s state-of-the-art tech, like having the ability to cool a 450-square-foot room in minutes, and its low noise level (quieter than most portables we’ve ever tried), is truly worth the price tag.
Best Compact: Frigidaire 3-in-1 Portable Room Air Conditioner
BTUs: 10,000 | Weight: 72 pounds | Depth: 13 inches | Smart app: Yes | Noise level: Can run loud
What we like:
- Slender for a portable
- Reduces airborne particles
- All-white exterior
- Black control panel is less attractive compared to others
Why we chose it: There’s a lot of power in this small package.
This Frigidaire wears many hats beyond being a medium for very cool air. It’s also a clean-air ionizer, using ions to purify the air in your room, and a dehumidifier when on dry mode to keep your space feeling less sticky and thick. You’re able to create custom schedules for cooling through the app, too, but our favorite attribute is its size. Its depth—just 13 inches, the most slender on this list—and its 16-inch width means it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb next to your window treatments.
The Frigidaire has prime circulation thanks to an auto-swing louver, and if you shut it off and come back later, it’ll pick up right where you left off; for example, at the same high setting versus having to build back up to cool temps. When crud builds up on the washable dust filter, you can just pop it out, toss it in the sink, and clean with warm soapy water. (You should change it every few months, but you’ll be able to tell if your AC needs to be cleared out sooner from any rattling sounds.) While portable ACs can typically be an investment buy, this pick is also the most affordable.
Best Design: LG Smart Portable Air Conditioner
BTUs: 10,000 | Weight: 70.1 pounds | Depth: 18.1 inches | Smart app: Yes | Noise level: Quiet
What we like:
- Second quietest on this list
- Energy efficient
- Vent hose is fairly short, so needs to be close to a window
Why we chose it: We consider it a looker as far as portable ACs go.
With an all-white, shiny outer shell and silver trim around the control panel, this portable is designed to look really good and cool even better. Its barely there vent is far from an eyesore, and those gliding caster wheels allow you to move it around the home and office. Voice controls using Alexa or Google Assistant make it simple to turn the unit on or off without ever needing to get up from the sofa.
“Install was incredibly simple,” says our tester, managing editor Kim Watkins. “Everything was thought through, and the instructions were easy to follow.” And for a portable air conditioner, this model is also energy efficient (similar to the Midea), saving up to 40 percent more than the federal standard for ACs.
Best No-Frills: GE 3-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner
BTUs: 7,000, 8,000, 10,000 | Weight: 72 pounds | Depth: 15 inches | Smart app: Yes | Noise level: Loud
What we like:
- Simple and streamlined design
- Very user friendly LED panel
- Remote included
- Pretty loud
- No eco-mode
Why we chose it: You won’t need much time or brainpower to get this thing going.
“We’ve never had to turn up this AC above low cool—it’s that powerful,” says deputy commerce editor Samantha Weiss-Hills, who tested this model out during a red-hot few weeks in her Brooklyn apartment. A dehumidifier, air conditioner, and fan all in one, this product is pretty flexible for whatever your needs may be.
Weiss-Hills loved that the display turns off, so you don’t get any flashing light while trying to watch a movie in a darkened room. It’s streamlined design doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but they aren’t too missed as far as how well it cools a room. This one doesn’t go unnoticed, though, in the noise department; Weiss-Hills said it was noticeably loud. But with its ability to cool efficiently (and rather quickly), she turns it on while moseying around the house, and shuts it off during the times she needs quiet, like when she takes video calls.
How We Chose These Products
When deciding on our short list of the best portable air conditioners to test, we started with our priorities: clean silhouettes, well-designed controls, and smart functionality (such as Wi-Fi or other perks). From there, our editors installed their ACs and put them to work for testing over two months, from the first sweltering 90-degree day onward. We rated them based on their installation (how cumbersome was it to install solo) as well as unboxing, weight, and if there were any issues. From there our focus moved to cooling power (how fast it cools and if it cooled to the square footage promised), noise level (if there’s a loud irritating hum or rattle, or it lets in too much street noise), and drainage.
Our Shopping Checklist
The size of the portable AC you need depends on the size of the room, and the amount of British thermal units (BTUs) is what you’re looking for. An AC unit needs about 20 BTUs to cool a square foot, so if you have a room that is 400 square feet, you’ll want to look for an appliance that’s at least 8,000 BTUs. Keep in mind, if you think you’re getting ahead, that it shouldn’t be too big for your space either. If it’s too high of a BTU for the room you’re cooling, it will quickly lower the temps but won’t properly reduce humidity.
We hear it loud and clear: Portables are notoriously noisy. In our selection process, we prioritized machines that were lower in decibel, so when you crank yours up to medium or high, you won’t be upset about it. A unit’s average noise output is measured in decibels—quieter ACs are at about 40 decibels and loud would be around 60.
Just like the best window air conditioners, smart appliances have a whole bucketload of digital features to amplify your cooling experience. We’re talking auto shutoffs and built-in timers and voice control through apps like Amazon Alexa and Google Home. “It allows you to control your unit from anywhere so you never have to walk into a hot, muggy room again,” says Mike Mayer, founder of popular direct-to-consumer AC brand Windmill.
Q: Do portable air conditioners have to be vented out a window?
Yes. The process is typically pretty simple (and easier than a window AC installation). All you have to do is set the device up near a window or vent (for an opening for the hose) so that it can exhaust hot air somewhere out of your home. Yours should come with a window kit so you can create an airtight seal for the opening. Have at it! Or you could always hire a TaskRabbit.
Q: Does a portable air conditioner need to be drained?
When the time comes to drain your portable AC (which will wholly depend on your model, how often you use it, and if you often use settings like a humidifier), you can empty the water tank by placing a pan under the unit and letting the water drain into it. Easy-peasy.
Q: Which is better: a portable AC or window unit?
Not all windows are compatible with window ACs. If you don’t have a standard double-hung window or a narrow 20-inches-or-less window, things will usually be too tight for a standard window AC. In those cases, these standing models are an ideal option. There’s also little installation time when it comes to a portable—you’ll just need a window to vent out moisture and the exhaust tube. Plus they’re mobile and can be scooched from room to room on wheels when hot days strike (as long as the hose reaches or you’re willing to install it in another window). The downside is that they take up floor space and have worse energy efficiency than window units. It’s your call!
The Last Word
With the best portable air conditioners you don’t even need to fret about not having central air. While they are an investment, you get easier installs, better window compatibility, and high cooling strength. What’s not to love?
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