Domino Editors Tested the Best Window Air Conditioners—So You Can Breeze Through Sweltering Days
Our top pick helps block out street noise.
Published Jun 29, 2022 5:55 PM
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Reading up on Domino’s shopping guides is like having your own personal product concierge. We do the tedious part—deep-dive research, hands-on testing, and tapping experts for advice—so all you have to do is hit “add to cart.” That’s why we call them Simply the Best.
If you’ve purchased a window AC in the past decade, you’ve probably been dead set on keeping it relatively unseen, or maybe there was just no hiding the bulky thing. But the best window air conditioners today aren’t like your neighbors’ old-school, rattling ones—instead these smart models are the just-right level of cooling power and style. To stay sweat-free in the throes of hot weather, you’ll be relieved to have an appliance on your side that is visually pared back—no need to hide it behind curtains—and still actually cools your room to the square footage it’s supposed to oh-so quietly.
Domino editors tested the newest and most popular window air conditioners on the market and spoke to AC designers to help you out in the decision department—and we have a lot to say on the topic. Our picks tick all the boxes: Subtle control panels? Check. Trendy colors and clean silhouettes? Check. High efficiency? Check. Whether you need one that can swiftly cool a massive living room or want a quiet powerhouse that won’t stir you awake at night, we have you covered. Read on for our favorites, ahead.
- Best overall: Midea U-Shaped Air Conditioner
- Best eco-friendly: Windmill AC
- Best custom colors: July AC
- Best for large rooms: Frigidaire Gallery Series Smart Window Air Conditioner
- Best for easy maintenance: LG Dual Inverter Smart Window Air Conditioner
Best Overall: Midea U-Shaped Air Conditioner
BTUs: 8,000, 10,000, 12,000 | Smart app: Yes | Weight: 55 pounds for 8,000 BTUs | Depth: 23 inches
What we like:
- You can open and close your window
- Great soundproofing to street noise
- Window locks built in
- LED light is a bit bright; can only turn it off through the app
- Longer installation; setup instruction manual unclear
- A bit heavy
Why we chose it: Quickly and quietly cools—and you can open your window with it still in the frame (the dreamiest perk).
If there’s a window AC out there that could create the illusion of central air, this smart U-shaped appliance would be it: Quiet as a whisper, the Midea sits under the radar in your room like it truly doesn’t exist. Clean-cut in design, with soft, rounded edges and a perforated front panel, our tester loved the fact that the vents are on top, giving it a tasteful look (no janky slats cramping your style), and the choice of air circulating on “swing” or blowing straight out. The Midea is designed so you can open and shut your window after it’s in, and thanks to secure brackets (which you’ll be acquainted with during setup) it won’t tumble out. You can open your window for a breeze when you don’t want the AC actually on, and there’s less of a gap—so hot air shouldn’t creep in from outside and street noise is kept to a minimum. Neat, right? Window access is especially key if you don’t plan on removing and storing the unit somewhere during the colder months.
Installation is a bit of a pain, but it’s less about the machine and more about the provided manual. With a TaskRabbit at her side, our tester watched this video instead, and in a railroad-style apartment, the 8,000-BTU Midea cooled down her bedroom and office (which is more than 500 square feet) rather quickly. She could have used the brand’s 10,000-BTU unit (8,000 is fit for 300 square feet), but the lower BTU version is still chugging along for a room way bigger than it should be able to handle.
Best Eco-Friendly: Windmill AC
BTUs: 8,300s | Smart app: Yes | Weight: 60 pounds for 8,300 BTUs | Depth: 23 inches
What we like:
- Cool air flows upward, ideal for tight quarters
- Reasonably priced
- Easy to install
- Can’t adjust direction of air
- Carbon filter must be changed after 240 hours, which isn’t that long, especially in warmer months
Why we chose it: A powerful, eco-friendly machine that has thought of nearly everything—oh, and a sleek, millennial aesthetic.
The Windmill is perfectly straight to the point. With standard modes (cool, eco, and fan) and a flat, dappled, no-display front, it’s not the most prominent object in the room, and we like it that way. “It doesn’t take up too much visual space and butt out into the room so our drapes can fall naturally,” our tester, deputy commerce editor Samantha Weiss-Hills, says. After spending several weeks testing one in her Brooklyn apartment, she thinks this pick is one of her favorites on the market. While the display panel is easy to read from across the room, it isn’t overly bright when in use and fades away after 60 seconds to limit blue-light exposure. The vent is at the top versus in front—a smart design innovation—and Weiss-Hills didn’t find that it cools any slower than others because of this; plus she appreciates that it doesn’t blow directly into her face while sleeping, but rather up and out. (Though her partner did note he didn’t like that there isn’t an option to adjust the direction of the air.)
While it’s not a clanker, this isn’t silent by any means compared to other models, though that eco-mode makes it way less audible. The Windmill’s eco-friendly practices are where it’s head and shoulders above the rest. The appliance uses an R32 refrigerant with 68 percent less global warming potential than what’s typically used (R410a). And if you ever decide to move on from your Windmill (and don’t sell your hand-me-downs on Facebook Marketplace like the rest of us), the company recycles old units (and partners with TaskRabbit to grab it from you) to help offset carbon emissions. P.S. Add extra carbon filters to your order, as they need to be changed out more regularly than you’d think.
BTUs: 6,000 or 8,000 | Smart app: Yes | Weight: 55 pounds for 8,000 BTUs | Depth: 14.75 inches
What we like:
- Has a built-in humidifier, and can add on an air-purifying filter
- Very slender depth
- Cover comes in 8 custom colors
- Can have July installed nationwide, but it’s an additional cost
Why we chose it: Accessorize your AC and it will look like it wasn’t just a window add-on.
Can an AC be a statement maker? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, and it’s never really been done before. With July, you can play up the far-from-utilitarian look with covers in hues ranging from forest green to muted rose, and the company has introduced premium materials like ash wood and linen. (Have you ever seen a window AC with wood and fabric finishes? What about a Chen and Kai flourish? We didn’t think so.)
And if the fact that this AC is good-looking enough for the ’gram doesn’t seal the deal, our tester, deputy editor Julie Vadnal, also found its cooling power to be very strong. “The cool breeze is immediate,” she asserts. Vadnal uses the eco-function the most to save electricity when it’s on—but that doesn’t impact its cooling efforts. “It also has an amazing function that dehumidifies a room on days when it’s cool but feels like I’m living inside a cloud,” she adds.
It is significantly quieter than most other units she has used, but Vadnal found there was a slight white noise to it. July’s head of brand, Emily Simmons, also shared with us that most ACs out there have their sharp exhaust fins exposed. “During installation you could potentially even cut your hand on one of those coils,” she warns. “Our solution when designing the July was a mesh on the back for protection; it should feel approachable to anyone dreading an install.” To sum it up: “It’s truly the chicest I’ve seen and an easy choice,” says Vadnal. And the baby blue remote, of course, is a cute addition.
Best for Large Rooms: Frigidaire Gallery Series Smart Window Air Conditioner
BTUs: 8,000, 10,000, 12,000 | Smart app: Yes | Weight: 55 pounds for the 8,000 BTUs | Depth: 23 inches for the 8,000 BTUs
What we like:
- Barely there quiet, almost as quiet as the Midea
- Uses nearly 40% less energy than the federal standard for air conditioners
- Has removable and reusable filter
- Doesn’t show the current temperature in the room
- Remote can be glitchy and finicky
Why we chose it: It’s not surprising that a brand we trust for appliances made an AC with super (cooling) powers.
Frigidaire’s smart window air conditioner does exactly what you hope it can do in the middle of sweltering heat: It reaches even corners of a larger space, and its inverter technology is both energy efficient (using about 40 percent less energy than the federal standard for ACs) and consistent. Domino’s associate commerce editor, Morgan Bulman, positioned this all-white unit into the window of her home and it pretty much cooled things down instantly—so much so that she now defaults it to eco mode or reaches for another blanket. This device is mega-quiet, too; according to Frigidaire, the unit starts at a low 41 decibels. Bulman found it a tad squeaky as it powers up or changes gears (pretty standard tbh), but she adds that it has never woken her from sleep.
This machine is a powerhouse in all three BTU models, but Bulman did need to enlist the help of her partner to install it and said it was a bit cumbersome to hold up on her own accord. Another minor inconvenience: The LED display shuts off automatically after a few quick seconds, making it hard to discern the touch-screen controls in the dark.
Best for Easy Maintenance: LG Dual Inverter Smart Window Air Conditioner
BTUs: 9,500 and 14,000 | Energy efficiency rating: N/A | Weight: 63 pounds for the 9,500 BTUs | Depth: 24.5 inches for the 9,500 BTUs
What we like:
- Clear, easy-to-read buttons
- 4 fan speeds
- A bit louder than others on this list
Why we chose it: One subtle light will be enough to let you know when it’s ready to clean.
If you have a personal gripe with cleaning basically anything, sprucing up your air conditioner probably sounds pretty painful. But this LG Dual Inverter makes the process as easy as it comes. Thanks to a nifty sensor, it notifies you when the filter is ready to be cleaned, and better yet the piece slides right out to rinse in the kitchen sink, gliding back in once dry. “My allergies are better with a clean filter,” says our tester, associate design editor Kate McGregor. “And not having to worry about forgetting about it or, worse, not being able to reuse the original filter once out, has been such a breeze.”
As an owner of this model for more than a year (that’s a lot of time testing), she’s found that the LG keeps things cool in her room without strain, and she also actively uses the effective “dry” setting on rainy, humid days. In the dead of winter, McGregor noticed a little too much cold air snuck in through the sides, so she’s become vigilant about taking it out from her window until it’s shorts season again.
Installation of this AC was unfussy, thanks to its lightweight build of 40 pounds (lightest on this list!). At the summer’s end, our tester looks forward to being able to slide this model right under her bed—at just 7 inches tall it’s easy to stow away in a closet, no questions asked. For its size and weight, it has all the gusto and chops to be a great AC, but at $800, it might be a hard sell for most people. Given that it’s a new-to-market brand, we’ll certainly keep our eye out if the price drops in the future.
How We Chose These Products
When deciding on our short list of the best window air conditioners to test, we started with our priorities: clean silhouettes, good design, and smart functionality (such as Wi-Fi or other perks). From there our testers installed their ACs and put them to work for two months of testing from the first sweltering 90-degree day of the year onward. We rated each AC first, based on its installation (how cumbersome it was to install solo, weight, and if there were other issues with installation). From there our focus moved to cooling power (how fast it cools and if it cooled to the square footage promised) and noise level (if there’s a loud, irritating hum or rattle, or if it lets in too much street noise).
Our Shopping Checklist
Room Size and BTUs
Here’s a breakdown on British thermal units (BTUs): 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 that it shouldn’t be too powerful for your space either. While it’ll quickly lower the temperature, it won’t properly reduce all that humidity—yuck.
If you like giving voice commands to turn up the tunes or set timers through a digital assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Home, smart air conditioners are certainly the way to go. Look out for high-tech versions with Wi-Fi- or Bluetooth-enabled features that let you control your device when you’re out and about (so it’s nice and cool by the time you’re back). As loving pet owners, two of our testers insisted that they would never go back to not having this feature, particularly for moments when their little furry pals are home without supervision on hotter days. Another digitally savvy feature we saw (and loved) is Windmill’s LED display, which fades after 60 seconds to lessen blue-light exposure.
Setup doesn’t have to be a total headache for air conditioners, so most of the options on our list have videos or visuals on their sites showing step-by-step how-tos. Though if you’re not feeling confident in taking it on (with a screwdriver in hand), professional help wouldn’t hurt as a plan B. When installing, most ACs come with weather strips and foam seals, great for closing up any pesky gaps.
It’s no surprise that without a good filter you leave your appliance wide open to all types of dirt and debris that will mess with its internal system and, of course, blow out unfiltered air to circulate in your home. Most on the market have either a washable or replaceable mesh filter. Allergy sufferers should be diligent about changing their filters (which you can learn about on your device’s website or in its manual), and you may even want to look into a model that gives an extra boost of purifying (looking at you, July).
Factoring in noise level was a big part of our selection process, because let’s face it—some on the market are obnoxiously loud, especially when cranked all the way up to high. You can consider a unit’s average noise output (aka its decibels: quieter ACs are at about 40 decibels and loud would be around 60) when buying or take our word for it.
Q: How can I tell if an air conditioner needs to be cleaned?
It’s important to clean your air conditioner at least one a year. But if you notice it’s not cooling as well as usual or your unit is wheezing or rattling, its filter should be cleaned sooner.
Q: How do I clean an air conditioner?
You can use a vacuum to get rid of loose debris and dust on the appliances interior-facing surface, and then bring your washable filter to the sink to give it a thorough rinse in warm, soapy water. While you’re in there, check on the fins inside and straighten out any that may have been bent. There’s even a special comb for it.
Q: How do you style around a window AC?
Most of the ACs on this list fit snug to the wall, so curtains will be able to fall in front or right over it, though you won’t want to block the cool air with thick drapes. July is basically a built-in style accessory, and Windmill has patterned covers available for when it’s not in use, making your AC an accent during the colder weather months.
The Last Word
Our favorite window air conditioners are the perfect fusion of contemporary style and efficiency—whether you want one that is small but mighty to cool down an office in minutes, or reliable but chic to be a supporting cast member in your bedroom.