|Room Square Footage||BTUs Required|
|100 to 200||7,000 to 8,000|
|150 to 250||8,000 to 10,000|
|250 to 350||10,000 to 12,000|
|350 to 550||12,000 to 13,000|
Portable air conditioners (PACs) are perfect solutions for cooling spaces ranging from individual rooms to smaller condos and apartments. Unlike the traditional air conditioner unit, these machines stand on their own, and don’t need to be installed on the wall. The advantage is that you can use them just about anywhere, even if you don’t have an optimal window space for a traditional a/c unit.
Despite their size, portable models can deliver the same cooling bigger units provide! However, there are lots of options, and it’s important to make sure they you choose the right conditioner for your space and conditions.
In this guide:
We’ll help you learn all you need to know about the different makes and models on the market right now. We’ll talk you through all the technical know-how about BTU ratings, square footage, and all the other details that makes shopping for the best portable air conditioner such a challenge.
We’ve come up with a list of great models to recommend to you. During our thorough, painstaking research process, we’ve sorted through dozens of options, comparing power, portability, reliability and durability–not to mention value! We consolidated test results from Consumer Reports with all the buyer and user reviews we could find.
In the end, we’ve rounded up a portable air conditioner for just about every application. You can find all our recommendations, along with our own in-depth reviews for each one, below.
Unlike other reviewers, we’ll break it all down in layman’s terms, with real-world examples of what each of our recommendations will and won’t do. We’ll help you figure out exactly what kind of power, features, and functions you need in your new machine, and then steer you to your ideal unit.
So, let’s get started!
In This Guide
Smallest Portable Air Conditioner
The smallest portable air conditioner of decent quality is the EdgeStar Ultra Compact 8,000 BTU Portable AC. It measures 24 3/4″H x 19 1/4″ W x 13 1/4″ D and weighs 56 lbs. It can cool a room 150-250 sq. ft. relatively quickly, depending on how much heat there already is in the room.
While you may be able to find smaller models, according to customer reviews this model is the smallest that’s in any way effective at cooling a room.
What is the Best Portable Air Conditioner on the Market?
In our own in-depth reviews, we’ve looked at some of our favorite portable air conditioners available today. We’ve picked a few different options in each size category, to help you narrow down which model is the most appropriate choice for your needs.
Best Compact Model: Haier 8,000 BTUs
This Haier unit is one of the smallest on the market. We like it for its smart features, like the washable mesh air filter, its 24-hour timer, and automatic self-evaporation function. We think it’s the smallest portable air conditioner you can buy that really works well and reliably. The EdgeStar we mentioned above is even smaller, but it doesn’t have the cooling capacity or track record for reliability that the Haier boasts.
Previous buyers raved about the low maintenance, space-saving design, especially compared to other brands. It’s compact, efficient, and much more reliable than other micro units! It’s a great solution for people who want to cool single rooms in a home, or for keeping offices comfortable.
It’s very compact. It’s only 2 feet high, and is just over 1 foot deep. That means you can fit it in nearly any space, without crowding the whole room. It’s perfect for offices and bedrooms where space is tight.
The window assembly is also compact. This one’s a single-hose unit, which means that you only need half the space in your window to get it vented! The Haier comes with a very user-friendly assembly that couldn’t be easier to set up.
It has a remote control, with all the same buttons as the control panel on the machine! So, you can easily control it from the bedside or from your desk without disturbing whatever you’re doing.
It’s a 2-function machine. In addition to the cooling function, the Haier also works as a dehumidifier during the cooler months. This really comes in handy during the winter, when you’re less likely to air out your house. It can take 50 pints per day out of your air, saving mold and mildew problems. This feature is a great advantage for basement rooms and spaces with poor ventilation!
In the summer, the dehumidifier feature allows you to stay comfortable at higher temperatures by reducing the moisture content in your space.
It’s self-evaporating, thanks to the onboard dehumidifier. That means you don’t have to empty out a water container manually. Other air conditioners drain water constantly, which makes them more of a pain to use. That’s not a problem with the Haier.
There are 3 fan speeds to choose from. This helps you find the right balance between cooling power and noise level. There are also three different modes you can use: cooling (which is air conditioning), dehumidify (to make the room more comfortable), or a simple fan setting.
It’s available with up to 2 years of warranty coverage. That’s a huge plus for us, since portable A/C units can be pretty temperamental on the whole. This Haier has better reliability ratings than other ultra-compact units like the Edgestar, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
You can’t expect this one to cool a whole house. It’s really meant for small to average-sized rooms, up to 250 square feet.
8,000 BTU isn’t a particularly high power rating. Some people found that it didn’t quite do the trick in extremely hot humid scenarios. This one is also a single-hose design. While that format saves space, it also makes machines less effective overall.
Some people found it noisy. Anything this small is bound to be loud, since there’s not as much insulation in the design. Most folks found that they could still make phone calls and get their work done with it running, but you’ll probably want to use the lower fan settings while you’re in the room.
Friedrich P12B 11,500 BTU
This Friedrich unit provides a pretty sizable boost in power over the little EdgeStar. It’s one of our favorite dual-hose designs, and was one of the only portable A/C units recommended by Consumer Reports!
We love its portable features, like side handles and caster wheels, as well as its impressive efficiency. Previous buyers said this is one of the most reliable models on the market. It’s ideal for larger rooms or den spaces up to small apartments.
The dual-hose design means it’s much more efficient than the EdgeStar. As a rough rule of thumb, a dual hose model is 1.5X as efficient as a single hose model. That means that it cools faster than the EdgeStar (~40%), and doesn’t have to work as hard in the process. That means you’re getting more cooling power per BTU, and more BTUs overall than with the EdgeStar, or with a single hose unit at this BTU rating.
Our favorite part is that unlike other 2-hose units, the Friedrich window adapter is relatively compact. This makes it easier to install, and less of an eyesore both inside and outside.
It’s rated to cool spaces of up to 550 square feet. Previous buyers said it was a great choice for condos or apartments, and was a solid (if a bit overpowered) choice for large bedrooms or dens.
Like the EdgeStar, it has a smart system onboard to help you control your energy usage. It has a 24-hour timer so you can set the machine to run specifically when you’re going to be home and need air to be cooler.
It’s a 3-function machine. The Friedrich works as an A/C unit, a dehumidifier, and a fan. The Friedrich comes with a remote control and LCD display.
The condensate (water from the air and from the cooling process) is recirculated to cool the coils. That results in nearly all of it self-evaporating, like the EdgeStar. In the case that water does collect, as is common in humid areas, the unit will shut itself off automatically when it’s at capacity, saving you spills and water damage.
While many portable A/C units are built flimsily, and crack easily, Friedrich have a much better reputation for reliability. That’s why Consumer Reports listed this unit as one of the only models they felt comfortable recommending!
Previous buyers agreed. We found lots of reviews from buyers who had become loyal Friedrich customers after trying this model and seeing the excellent build quality. This is one of the most reliable units you can buy.
Most previous buyers wrote that this unit was quieter than other units they’d used.
It’s covered by a very impressive 5-year warranty.
Since there are two hoses, you’ll need a bigger window adapter to fit both of them.
It’s a larger unit than the EdgeStar, so it’ll take up more space in your house.
It’s expensive. This one is easily twice the price of the EdgeStar. However, previous buyers said they were glad they shelled out a bit more for a quality machine. Many wrote that they were apprehensive at first, but reassured after the first few months of problem-free operation.
Top Pick for Large Rooms and Apartments
This is one of Friedrich’s largest units, and it’s our recommendation for people who need to cool apartments or condos. It’s rated for the largest range of our three recommendations, and has the added bonus of the heating function.
We love its sheer power, which cools air more quickly and quietly than either of the other units! Plus, it has the same excellent reputation for reliability and build quality as the smaller Friedrich.
It’s more powerful than either of our other recommendations. With 13,500 BTU of A/C power, it’s rated to cool 700 square feet, and do so even more effectively than the other Friedrich. It’s self-evaporating, and uses the same recycled condensation feature as its smaller sibling.
Previous buyers in humid areas said they were prepared to install an additional drain line to assist the unit, as they had with models they’d used previously. However, the Friedrich surprised them by getting rid of all the condensation by itself! That’s where that extra power really comes in handy!
It’s a dual-hose air conditioner, just like its smaller sibling. That means it’s the most efficient of the portable options.
It has all the same functions as the other Friedrich, with A/C, dehumidifier and fan features all onboard. Like both the EdgeStar and the smaller Friedrich, there’s a 24-hour smart timer, 3 fan speeds, and automatic restart. It also comes with a remote control.
The major plus here is that this model adds a powerful heater function, which means that this one will work for you all year long! It’s nearly as powerful as a heater, with 10,700 BTU of heating power. Previous buyers said it’s very effective, and could compensate for central air systems in apartments, as well as space heaters!
As with the other two models, this one comes with everything you need to get it set up, including hoses, and a widow bracket that’ll work in both horizontal and vertical windows.
Even though it’s big and powerful, previous buyers still thought it was quieter than some other units they had used.
Overall, many previous buyers said that they were glad they spent the extra money to get a unit that really worked well. They cited the condensation system, energy efficiency, and evenness of the cooling as winning features over cheaper models they had owned.
It’s covered by a 5-year warranty.
It’s 3 times the price of the EdgeStar, and significantly more expensive than the other Friedrich.
It’s heavy. This one weighs almost 100 pounds, so you won’t want to be moving it about too frequently.
Some previous buyers mentioned that the air hoses and window plate aren’t built as well as the main unit.
Some previous buyers said that their units arrived poorly packaged. If you get a cracked part, you might have problems with leakage. Thankfully, that’s an issue that would be covered by the vendor.
Like the smaller Friedrich, it’s covered by a 3-year warranty.
Best Portable AC for Condos and Larger Flats
Whynter ARC-14S 14,000 BTU
The Whynter is the most powerful portable A/C unit we’re recommending here. While it doesn’t have added heater function of the Friedrich, it’s more powerful than either Friedrich when it comes to pure cooling! Plus, it has all the same smart features at a very reasonable price.
It’s very powerful. At 14,000 BTU, it’s almost twice as powerful as the EdgeStar, and has an edge on both the Friedrich’s. It’s a dual-hose design, so it’s as efficient as either of the Friedrich’s.
It’s a 3-function appliance, like the EdgeStar and Friedrich’s. This one works as an air conditioner, a dehumidifier, and a fan.
The Whynter is self-evaporating, like our other recommendations. It cycles condensed water back through the system to eliminate the need for a water pan and emptying routine. Previous buyers were especially impressed with how well it worked on this model. They said that they’d run the unit for weeks at a time in hot, humid climes, and never needed to empty the water tray manually. The condensation unit handled it all, no matter the humidity!
It has the same smart features as the other options, with a 24-hour timer, 3 speed settings for the fan, and a remote control. It’ll also restart automatically, to the same settings you had assigned before the outage.
In addition to the main functions, this one also works as an air purifier. It has a built-in carbon filter to keep air fresh and odor-free.
It looks super modern, and fits in with newer houses and apartments in particular.
It comes with everything you need–a window screen, both hoses, and the remote.
Previous buyers said it saved them quite a bit on their electric bill when compared to their traditional wall units.
It’s pretty inexpensive, compared to the larger Friedrich. This is priced about the same as the smaller Friedrich (P12B).
It’s only rated for 500 square feet, as opposed to the bigger Friedrich’s 700. We’re not sure why that is, given that the Whynter is more powerful.
It’s the bulkiest of our recommendations. It’s 3-feet tall, and weighs 100 pounds.
It’s a bit loud.
Best Swamp Cooler
Swamp coolers combine a cooling foil system with a misting function to treat hot, dry air in offices or desert-like environments. They’re great for people who live in areas with relatively low humidity, who don’t want a full air-conditioner. We like swamp coolers because they’re cheap to run, don’t require windows, and only need water to operate.
This ultra-compact unit combines a small air cooler with a humidifier. It’s designed to help people in hot, dry places have refreshing, healthier air.
It works by circulating water and air through a cooling foil, which creates a cool, moist breeze. All you need is water. The company also suggests using an ice pack in the water compartment. It comes with two ice packs, so you can keep one in the freezer while the other one is in use.
It’s rated to cool up to 250 square feet. The manufacturer says that in optimal conditions, it can cool air by up to 20 degrees! Previous buyers had pretty good success with it, but did warn others to be realistic with their expectations. It’ll be less effective in humid conditions, and at extreme levels of heat (90+).
There’s a built-in air filter. It’ll trap dust and debris, helping you breathe easier. The filter is also washable, so you don’t have to buy replacements.
There are several different settings, to help you control the speed of the fan, and the pattern of the flow. This allows you to create “breezes” inside your house or office.
It’s more environmentally-friendly than typical air conditioners. Since it’s not a traditional air conditioner, you won’t have coils full of harmful chemicals around. It’s also cost-effective solution. While most air conditioners (especially portable units) can really eat up your electricity, the evaporative system in this model uses a lot less energy overall.
The water tank pulls out for refills, and holds a full 2 gallons at a time.
Previous buyers said it’s very quiet.
It’s not a full air conditioner. You really can’t expect this to cool a whole apartment. It’s only going to work on a single room. We found that a lot of the negative reviews on this model were from people who didn’t understand the limitations of evaporative coolers compared to air conditioners.
It doesn’t work well in humid environments. You probably won’t want to get this if your average humidity level is over 40%.
Previous buyers had pretty mixed experiences with durability. Some people said their coolers developed leaks after a year or so of use.
How to Choose a Portable AC:
Step-by-Step Buying Guide
Portable ACs or PACs are the best cooling solution for spaces that are too small and narrow to accommodate a window-mounted version. Some common places in the house where these machines are used are workshops, sun rooms, garages, and other rooms that can be negatively affected without proper ventilation and circulation.
If you are planning to get one, you should make it a point to find the best portable air conditioner for your needs. There are several factors that you should consider when doing this, and it can all get a bit technical for the average Joe to understand. Don’t worry–we’ve put together a quick guide.
Here are the big points to consider when you’re shopping for your new portable air conditioner:
1. The Amount of Power You Need
The proper power rating for the area or room you want to install the PAC on is a very important factor to consider:
If your machine is underpowered, you won’t see the cooling effect that you were expecting, especially in hot, humid summers.
If your unit is overpowered, you might have trouble finding a comfortable setting.
The first thing to do is to establish the square footage of the space you’re trying to cool down. Remember that if you’re cooling a room that’s connected to another room, you should consider both of them when you’re totaling up the measurements. We’ve put together a chart of rough floor space to BTU ratios at the top of this page.
Experts also recommend that you consider the insulation and floor plan of the room where you want the unit installed in order for you to determine the proper BTU or British Thermal Unit rating that you need. If you don’t take insulation and other dynamics like air flow or ventilation, there is always the chance that you will end up with excess condensation in your room. Know how high the ceilings are compared to the standard 8 ft. height, and be sure to take any big discrepancies into account. If your ceilings are higher than average, you’ll want to round up your space/BTU requirements proportionally. For lower ceilings, simply do the reverse.
One other big consideration when you’re thinking about the appropriate BTU rating for your space is whether the unit in question is a single or dual hose portable air conditioner.
If you’re looking at a single-hose unit, you’ll want to make some modifications to our chart. That’s because most of those ratings are tested to apply only to wall units, which have two ports for cycling air.
Smaller portable A/C units like the EdgeStar are often “single-hose” designs. That allows them to be smaller an more convenient to set up in your window. However, it does make them more inefficient. If you’re looking at a single-hose unit, you’ll want to add another 50% to the recommended power rating, to compensate for the lack of efficiency.
Finally, BTU guidelines can sometimes vary depending on the manufacturer of the AC unit, so you’ll want to take them with a grain of salt. We’ve used mean ratings in our chart, to help you get a rough sense of the market as a whole.
Always round on the conservative side. That means it’s better to have a slightly overpowered unit than a slightly underpowered unit. If your unit is slightly too powerful, it’ll simply have less work to do. If it’s slightly underpowered, it could burn itself out early by trying to keep up with the load. Don’t take that too far, though, since a really overpowered unit might cool your space too severely.
2. Think About Environmental Factors
In addition to your space measurements as a factor for BTU calculation, outside factors can affect it as well. Depending on these other factors, you’ll probably have to make some adjustments when considering the BTU that you need:
Again, when you’re doing so, make sure you always round up and err on the side of a bit too much power. You might not need every single BTU every day, but that extra power can really come in handy during a heatwave or a humid streak.
Generally, you’ll want to think about a few key factors:
First, think about sunlight, especially during the middle of the day. For example, if your room is heavily shaded, it is suggested that you reduce your BTU capacity by 10%. If the room is on a part of the house that always receives sunlight, however, then you have to increase it by 10%.
The number of people that will occupy the room is another consideration. You have to add 600 BTU for each additional person beyond two who will occupy the room. That’s due to body heat, as well as the CO2 each person breathes out, which warms the room even more.
Finally, make sure you think about air flow in your house. If you’re cooling a room that’s shut off most of the time, you can get away with a lower power rating. However, if there’s a fair amount of air circulating between the cooled room and the next space, you probably want more power.
3. The Type of Controls that You Need
The controls that you prefer are the next factor that you have to consider. You can choose to have PACs which can be controlled by louvers and remote controls. Then there are also units with a manual control type which are easier to operate.
Many newer units also have smart features to save you energy, and make the whole process more convenient. We like models that automatically restart the cooling process at your preferred settings after a power outage. Another great feature is a timer, so you can tell the machine when specifically you need to cool the room down, and when it can shut off and save you electricity.
The more you pay for your unit, the more you’ll get in terms of convenience and automatic controls. To decide on your budget, think about how often you’ll want to adjust the machine, and how many different temperature settings you’ll assign. For instance, most of us won’t run the a/c quite so much while we’re not at home, so you’ll have one temp for the hours you’re home, and another for the hours you’re at work. On the other hand, if you have pets to think about, you may simply want to pick one temperature and leave it.
4. Other Features to Consider
In addition to all the other factors mentioned, it’s important to think about the long term. Consider the amount of time you are planning to keep the air conditioner on, and the quality of the customer service that the manufacturer provides. If you’re going to run it most of the year, in a warmer spot, you don’t want to skimp on durability or reliability. If you’re only going to need your unit for a couple killer weeks in the summer, you don’t need to worry too much about finding the most rugged machine on the market.
Noise levels are also very important. If you are planning to install the air conditioner in your work area or bedroom, you have to gauge to the amount of noise it produces. Otherwise, you might find yourself stuck with a unit that is too noisy. Think about where your machine will be set up, and where you’ll be while it’s running.
Pro tip: Look for models with several fan settings, so you can find the right balance between power and noise!