best in class

The Very Best Portable Air Conditioners

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retaiilers

In this article

Portable air conditioners can be every bit as effective as window AC units — and despite their name, they can be used as permanent air-conditioning solutions.

They even have a couple of benefits window units don’t. First, they can be used in any space you want, provided you have a window or a hole in the wall through which to exhaust heated air. Second, unlike many window units, most require no permanent installation.

And note that with portable air conditioners, when they don’t seem to work well, the principal problem usually isn’t with the quality of hardware itself or its cooling potential; the issue is improper installation and sealing of the venting system. Thus, this advice from Jesse Mastro, owner of RentAnAC: “When considering what size BTU to buy for a portable AC, it’s often beneficial to jump up one level to what you might need with a traditional window AC. For example, if you believe you need an 8,000 BTU portable unit, you likely want to order a 10,000 BTU. The reason being is that they are slightly less efficient than window units.”

So when buying a portable air conditioner, size up — and don’t be surprised that you will usually have to pay up. Jonathan Berkson, owner of SuperCoolNYC, says with portable air conditioners, often the more expensive the model is, the better — though we did find a happy exception to that general rule.

What we’re looking for

BTU rating

The BTU, or British Thermal Unit, is essentially a measure of heat, which makes perfect sense when it’s applied to, say, the output of a stovetop burner, with 11,000 to 13,000 BTUs being a common rating for home kitchen burners. When it comes to an air conditioner, you can think of BTUs as cooling power: The higher the BTU number, the larger a space an air conditioner can cool. We will note the stated size of a room (or rooms) the AC units on our list can cool based on their BTUs, but remember the guidance to get a bigger unit than you think you need.

Unit size

As SuperCoolNYC’s Berkson says, portable air conditioners take up a lot of space, and in smaller homes (or offices), that can be a big problem. We have included some of the smallest portable air conditioners out there, but we also have several large (and very capable) AC units featured, and all dimensions — in the order of width by height by depth — will always be made clear. The long story short, though, is that you will be dealing with hardware that eats up some square footage.

Noise level

“Portable units are generally a lot noisier than windows units,” Berkson says. CDC reporting tells us that noise levels above 70 decibels can be dangerous, and everyday experience tells us prolonged exposure to noise levels like that are very annoying. Thus, we made sure not to include any units that surpass that 70-decibel threshold (and offer many much quieter options, too.)

Warranty

A portable AC is of little use if it stops working properly and is of no use if it breaks down. We factored in the many years of experience our experts have with various AC brands as well as the warranties offered by the companies themselves. And FYI, heavy use is no problem for a good unit — per PickHVAC: “A portable air conditioner can run 24 hours a day, seven days a week without shortening its average lifespan. Running continuously will not cause overheating, excessive wear and tear to the unit, or any other damage that will shorten its life.”

Best overall

BTU rating: 10,000 / Unit size: 19.4”W x 30.5”H x 18.1”D / Noise level: 44 dB Warranty: 1 year

Best for smaller apartments or single rooms, this AC can cool spaces as large as 500 square feet—and can be controlled remotely when connected to your Wi-Fi. And while it’s a pretty big piece of hardware at 71 pounds and a 30.5-inch height, it won’t invade your space at all in terms of sound. The twin-fan system compresses air evenly, creating more powerful air movement with less noise than a single rotor system.“If noise is a concern, the LG Dual Inverter portable units are among the quietest on the market,” says Mastro of RentAnAc, thereby removing a major pain point with many portable ACs. And along with its ease of use, you’ll appreciate the reliability of the air-conditioning hardware from LG with the longevity of these units being a major reason Mastro likes them.

Best (less expensive) overall

BTU rating: 8,000 / Unit size: 12.2”W x 30”H x 12.1”D / Noise level: 53 dB / Warranty: 1 year

This portable air conditioner costs less than $300. Wary of a unit that affordable in this category of hardware, which usually costs well over $400, I cross-referenced the reviews of six other EUHOMY portable air conditioners and found overwhelming praise and took a look at this one in person in the store myself. Granted, this portable air conditioner is only rated to cool a 250-square-foot space, but it will do that well. The venting kit is easy to connect to most windows using a few wood screws, and the maintenance is a snap — just clean the filter once a week and drain the condensation reservoir when the air conditioner indicates it is full. At 52 pounds, this unit isn’t too heavy for most adults to handle — maybe you even want to get two in order to truly bring the cool home.

[Editor’s note: EUHOMY’s portable air conditioner is currently out of stock, but we’ll keep an eye on it and update this piece when it comes back in stock.]

Best smart

BTU rating: 7,000 / Unit size: 19.4”W x 31.3”H x 16.5”D / Noise level: 49 dB / Warranty: 1 year

Mastro says his 15-plus years of selling and renting portable air conditioners have given him a huge amount of confidence in Frigidaire units. The Cool Connect, which is rated for 600-square-foot spaces, connects to your home Wi-Fi and can be operated remotely, but can also be controlled via onboard controls. These include an option for a 24-hour programmable timer, so you can preset when the unit will run and when it won’t, ensuring cooling when you want it and energy savings when you don’t. It has three fan-power settings and is very quiet even at the strongest, hitting just 49 decibels at full power. Notably easy to assemble and set up, including the installation of the venting connection, this is a great unit for when you’ll want to use the AC in different spaces during the summer or pack it away during the cooler months.

Best compact

BTU rating: 8,000 / Unit size: 12.1”W x 26.8”H x 13.8”D / Noise level: 50 dB / Warranty: 1 year

No portable air conditioner is small enough to tuck away completely unseen or unheard. But this one from Frigidaire is only about the size of a large kitchen trash can. That’s as small as high-quality units get. And as far as quality air conditioners goes, Berkson says, “Frigidaire offers some of the most well-built machines.” It has two fan speeds, operates at 50 decibels in its higher setting, and can cool down about 350 square feet of space. It also removes about two-and-a-half pints of moisture from the air daily — more than most other air conditioners — which adds the feel of more cooling and can help prevent mold and odors. Plus its six-foot power cord and long vent hose allow for easy positioning in a room.

Best for large spaces

BLACK+DECKER Air Conditioner
$450
$450

BTU rating: 8,400 / Unit size: 16.5”W x 27.1”H x 14.5”D / Noise level: 54 dB / Warranty: 1 year

I used this portable air conditioner to cool a large (and largely unfinished) garage — one that accommodated my work area, laundry space, and storage for our lawnmower, rakes, shovels, and bikes — and it stayed cool even during summer months when it was often 90 degrees. In a properly finished and sealed space, you can count on this Black + Decker portable air conditioner to chill up to 700 square feet of space, making it powerful enough for an entire floor of most houses or for the whole of a smaller apartment. It’s easy to install thanks to its venting kit, which works with double-hung or sliding windows, or with a wall cutout, and is simple to control via remote or the onboard buttons.

Best air conditioner and dehumidifier

BTU rating: 12,000 / Unit size: 12.8”W x 27.4”H x 16.9”D / Noise level: 53 dB / Warranty: 2 years

If you live in an area prone to humid summers, then you need hardware that can not only blast out air but also remove moisture from it. This dual-function device from Hisense, a favorite of Berkson’s, can do just that. It’s rated for rooms between 350 to 500 square feet, making it a great choice for the bedroom or a living room, though note that even at its lowest power mode it operates at 50 decibels — noisier than most other units we’re covering. You can run this device as a dehumidifier alone without any cooling, so it can still be useful even in milder yet still humid weather. And with its two-year warranty, you can count on quality here.

Best quick cooling

BTU rating: 14,000 / Unit size: 19.53”W x 34.48”H x 16.73”D/ Noise level: 53 dB / Warranty: 1 year

This portable air conditioner is most impressive based on how far its chilled air reaches: up to 26 feet. This ensures it can rapidly cool spaces— the air gets circulated far and wide. And because it uses a novel hose-in-hose design rather than two separate hoses (one for intaking air to be cooled and one for exhausting heated air), the Midea allows for a more secure, snug fit in the window or wall opening, meaning less hot air leaks in (and less cold air leaks out). A smart unit that can be controlled by voice or app, this air conditioner is a great choice for anyone looking to make a portable air conditioner into a permanent part of their HVAC plans because another of its notable traits is reliability. Robert, a salesperson at Lowes in Garden City, New York (who asked his last name not be used) said of Midea ACs, “They just don’t come back. We don’t see customers returning them with issues hardly ever.”

Our experts

• Jonathan Berkson, owner of the AC installation company SuperCoolNYC
• Jesse Mastro, founder of RentAnAC
• Steven John, founder of Dad Gear Review

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.

The Very Best Portable Air Conditioners