In the thick of the summer heat, you’ll want an effective way to stay cool. Some people opt for a simple fan or a classic window air conditioner, but portable AC units are another great option to consider.
Portable air conditioners are an alternative to traditional window units. They're ideal for a low-occupancy household that only needs to cool one room at a time, and offer the flexibility to move the unit from room to room. Portable air conditioners are easier to set up than window units and typically less expensive.
After testing some of the highest-rated portable air conditioners currently available, we've determined the Whynter Elite ARC-122DS(available at Amazon for $331.20) is the best you can buy. Not only does it offer superior cooling and room coverage, but it's also the best value of the bunch.
While we liked this one best, there are still a lot of great options on our list. These are the best portable air conditioners we tested, ranked in order:
The Whynter Elite ARC-122DS packs a lot of cooling capacity into a relatively inexpensive package. During testing, it cooled an 81°F room down by about 20°F in roughly 20 minutes; then, within 15 minutes it cooled the room within a couple of degrees of its target temperature, 61°F. While not the fastest unit we tested, this was a remarkable performance for a portable AC at this price point.
Similar to the LG, this Whynter has a high-quality build, and it boasts the best filter system out of the bunch. While most other portable AC filters were large and flimsy—making them difficult to maneuver or snap out of place—the ARC-122DS's filter is a sturdy panel you lift out of the device vertically. It is, by far, the best-designed and easiest to use filter of the bunch—and given how little differentiates these portable AC units from each other, this is kind of a big deal.
The ARC-122DS is also fairly small and easy to move around and store. It is one of the more portable units we tested, which definitely means something for those who will need to lug their portable AC up some stairs. However, taller folks may not love this size. A shorter model requires you to stoop down pretty far if you do want to move it around, and this may actually make it harder to transport during room-to-room transitions.
While it doesn't have the most robust build of the bunch, the LG LP1419IVSM still has plenty to offer.
It was able to cool down the whole testing chamber remarkably quickly. Its handles, small size, and manageable weight make it easy to move from room to room. It's also relatively quiet compared to other models we tested. The unit also has WiFi-enabled smart features, like remote control via a smartphone app.
While the LP1419IVSM was one of the better portable air conditioners we tested, its filter cover felt a bit flimsy, which made removing and replacing it a bit more difficult than it needed to be.
This compact portable air conditioner from LG performed pretty well on just about all of our tests.
The LG LP0621WSR has decent portability and handling, and rolls smoothly even over carpet. Its handle placement and center of gravity help it keep moving without falling over.
This air conditioner is loud on the highest setting, but lower settings are much quieter, ranging from 57dBA down to 46dBA.
When it comes to performance, we have no complaints: The unit is able to cool down our test chamber quickly and maintain that temperature.
Its controls are about what you’d expect from a portable air conditioner, with easy-to-read labels and an intuitive layout. Our only complaint is that switching between fan strengths can take up to four seconds to finally switch.
The Frigidaire FHPC132AB1 was capable of some very cold air, chilling the sensors in its path about 20°F in a speedy seven minutes. The other sensors around the room took about 20 minutes to get down to their lowest temperatures. Again, it is not our fastest cooling unit, but it's not the slowest either. And you can always opt to sit directly in front of its chilly blast while you wait for the room to cool down.
The FHPC132AB1 is much smaller and squatter than some of the other Frigidaire models we tested: It's one of the easiest to fit into storage, but you have to bend pretty far over to access its handles. Also, this portable AC unit lacks WiFi control support, so you're stuck with onboard controls or the tiny, included remote.
The performance of the Black & Decker BPACT14HWT was one of the slower PACs on our list, albeit by a small margin. It required about 25 minutes to cool down our testing chamber, and even so, its cooling spread was a bit uneven, leading to a few degrees difference between our sensors, though not as much as the HL12CESWK.
The implementation of the removable filter could have been better: Its outer panel is a bit awkward to snap back into place.
In terms of portability, the Black & Decker BPACT14HWT's small size and relatively low weight make it easy to store away or lug up the stairs. On the other hand, its pocket handles are located a bit low on its sides, which can make it a bit awkward to move around without stooping over.
The Whynter ARC-14S is able to cool an area about 22°F in 20 minutes, which is about average for this group of portable air conditioners. During testing, the sensors that were less directly in the path of the cold air took about another 20 minutes to get the room down to its maintenance temperature.
While its small size makes it easy to move around, the ARC-14S doesn't really have any handles to grip onto, making portability more difficult than most. The unit features edges towards its bottom to grab onto, but these can only accommodate fingertips. Pushing it from room to room is relatively simple, but actually hoisting it up is difficult without any real handholds.
One of the more notable aspects of the ARC-14S is that it uses more eco-friendly parts than the typical portable air conditioner. Its refrigerant is CFC-free, and the unit uses lead-free components that comply with the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive. Air conditioners historically haven't been the most environmentally-friendly appliances, due largely in part to their refrigerants. So, we're glad this Whynter tried something new here and is fairly successful at it.
If you want to support companies that produce less dangerous products without losing much functionality in the trade-off, the ARC-14S is a good choice.
This Tosot unit can cool small rooms and is a decent, sturdy option, but it isn’t the easiest portable air conditioner to move around. The GPC05AK-A3NNA2B is on the heavier side, so you’ll run into some significant friction trying to scoot it along a carpet. It also just has a single handle on its back, meaning you’ll probably need to grip the front vent area with your other hand to pick up the unit—while this works, it means putting your fingers into the vent, which doesn’t feel like the correct handhold.
The controls can be difficult to read in dim light, as they use silver text on a black background.
In terms of noise, the Tosot GPC05AK-A3NNA2B is about average for a portable air conditioner, ranging from 48dBA at its lowest setting to 57dBA at its loudest.
The Homelabs HME020235N portable air conditioner displayed mixed performance. On one hand, it was able to get the air around its closest sensor 22°F cooler in an incredibly fast five minutes. However, outside of this sweet spot right near the device, the unit does not achieve that kind of cooling, showing an almost 10°F difference with the rest of the room, even after the room had gotten down to its lowest temperature.
The flimsy plastic of the filter and its covering panel makes cleaning more of a chore than it needs to be, but otherwise, the build quality of the device is pretty good.
The HME020235N's pocket handles are located towards the top of the unit, which makes it easier to move from room to room, but its height also makes it less ideal if you need to lug it up stairs.
The De'Longhi Pinguino PACEX390LVYN does a pretty good job at cooling down a room. In the first eight minutes, the average temperature in the room had dropped by about 20 degrees, and after 15 minutes the room was within a degree of the unit's target temperature, 64°F. Of course, the issue here is that just about every other portable air conditioner on this list is capable of hitting temperatures a few degrees colder, which puts this Pinguino at a slight disadvantage. If 64°F is cold enough for your needs, then the Pinguino will do a great job.
In terms of portability, the Pinguino lands in the middle of the pack. It has an average height and weight, with pocket handles located about halfway down the sides of the device. While you'll have to stoop to pick it up, it is easy to grip and lug around once you have it lifted.
The Frigidaire FHPC082AC1 has an average performance in terms of cooling—nothing to write home about, but nothing to be concerned about either.
In terms of noise, the FHPC082AC1 is louder than average, ranging from 50dBA to 58dBA on the higher fan settings. Most portable air conditioners are also fairly loud at top speed, but the competition has a much lower decibel output on their lower fan settings.
The FHPC082AC1 excels in terms of its overall size and shape. Its compact, narrow build makes it ideal for smaller spaces.
The Midea MAP08R1CWT has average cooling power: You shouldn’t have any issues with it, but it’s also not the strongest performer.
Moving this unit around can be a little tricky. While it does have two dedicated handles, they’re only about an inch deep, which can make gripping the unit difficult. That said, it rolls around smoothly, even over carpet, with no tendency to tip over.
This is another noisy unit, which peaks at 58dB, though it is much quieter on the lower settings.
One minor complaint: The remote has some serious responsiveness issues, with inputs either not going through or taking a few seconds to register.
The GE APFD06JASW commands a lower price than some other portable air conditioners, though it still delivers decent cooling power.
This unit isn’t the most portable of the ones we tested. The handles on its side are just over a centimeter deep, making it difficult to grip. The center of gravity and size of the wheels also make it difficult to push around on carpet.
While you shouldn’t have any problems with the APFD06JASW’s noise level, it does get loud on the higher settings, peaking at 59.1dBA.
The Costway EP24619US feels like it has cut some corners. Its cooling power isn’t impressive, though it also doesn’t fall far below the average.
The remote has a few blank buttons that don’t have any functionality and, during testing, was completely unresponsive at times. Instead of a second handle, you need to grip the vent with your other hand, which doesn’t feel great.
In terms of noise, the Costway EP24619US leans toward the louder end, peaking at 57dBA at its highest settings.
I'm Mark Brezinski, and I've been testing and reviewing consumer tech for over a decade. At Reviewed, I’ve spent several years reviewing and developing tests for dozens of different categories, from cell phones to headphones to vacation cruises—and now portable air conditioners!
Dave Ellerby, the Chief Scientist at Reviewed, tested our most recent batch of window air conditioners. In the New England climate, summers can get especially hot, so he has a lot of experience using them, and built an all-new testing chamber for air conditioners to make sure our results would be even more consistent.
Every portable air conditioner went through the same testing regimen, which addressed both performance and user-friendliness.
A cooling test was our main performance indicator. We outfitted our testing chamber (200 square feet) with temperature sensors, placed at the center of each of its four walls, with a fifth sensor in the middle of the room. We set up a control sensor outside the room.
First, we heated up the room using a space heater to as hot as we could get it, and then we let our portable air conditioner testing unit run for two hours, taking measurements every minute from our sensors. The resulting data lets us see how quickly the portable air conditioner is able to cool down the whole room, and it verifies how good the portable AC unit is at spreading its cooling air around the room.
Beyond our main performance test, we also assessed the usability of each portable air conditioner. We often see big differences among products in various categories, but for portable air conditioners, we observed little variation between the units we tested. Each has roughly the same control layout and was equally easy to use, set up, and move around.
Features were also relatively minimal, and while most units come with a remote control, there isn't much else in terms of extras.
We did observe one main difference: overall size and weight. Despite this, we didn't run into any problems moving any of them from room to room.
How Do Air Conditioners Work?
An air conditioner takes in air from around the room (or outside) and passes it over coils filled with coolant. The coils extract heat from the air, then blow this cooler air back into the room. The machine exhausts its heat out the back of the device (window units) or through a ventilation tube (portable air conditioners).
This cooling process produces condensation, which either drips out the back of the device, drains into a reservoir that you need to empty, or is pushed through a single hose that you can run to a nearby drain, depending on the unit.
What to Know Before Buying a Portable Air Conditioner
What Are BTUs?
BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, which is the amount of heat necessary to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. It's essentially a measure of an air conditoner's cooling strength: The higher its BTU rating, the more heat it's capable of removing from the air.
For each of the products we tested, you may see a BTU ASHRAE or BTU DOE measurement. BTU ASHRAE is the BTU the unit actually outputs, while BTU DOE is how cool it may truly feel given the loss of some cooling through the hose and ventilation system.
What Size Air Conditioner Do You Need?
Usually when people ask this, they're referring to what BTU rating they should buy for a room of a given size. If you only want to cool down a small room, a large AC unit could be overkill, and spending extra money on power you don't need isn't the best move—especially if you're on a budget. If you're not sure how much power you need, we'd recommend checking out the Energy Star square footage chart for BTUs based on room size.
Should You Get a Portable AC or Window Unit?
This really depends on the space you’re trying to cool off and your personal preference. Window air conditioning units are heavy, boxy-looking appliances, although they're more efficient than portable AC units when it comes to cooling off a space.
The benefits of a portable air conditioning unit are its easy storage and versatility, and the fact that it will typically cost less than purchasing a regular window mounted unit.
Does Noise Level Matter?
Portable AC units tend to be slightly louder than traditional window units since they're not able to funnel as much of their noise directly outside. If you are concerned about how loud your air conditioner is, you can check to see how many decibels (dB) the unit produces. Most portable air conditioners land around 56 dB at the highest setting, although some may be slightly quieter or louder.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.