The 4 best portable air conditioners we tested in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • If you don’t have space for a window air conditioner, a portable AC can help cool your home.
  • Our top pick is the LG LP1419IVSM Smart Wi-Fi Portable Air Conditioner.
  • It performed well in our cooling tests, used the least electricity, and features a helpful app.

A portable air conditioner is a good solution for rooms that don’t have the single- or double-hung windows required for window units or those that aren’t frequently used, like a guest room.

We typically recommend window units over portable air conditioners when your space allows for them. Window ACs perform better, are more energy efficient, and have cheaper upfront and operational costs. However, a portable air conditioner can be rolled wherever you need it, is easier to install than window units, is often allowed in rentals, and can be easily stored away when not needed.

We tested 12 models (details on our testing methods here) and consulted with three experts to determine the best portable air conditioners. All the units we recommend performed well in our tests, have useful features that justify their price, and are designed to maintain a cool temperature in appropriately-sized rooms.

Here are the best portable air conditioners of 2021

The best overall

best portable AC 2021 best overall LG

The LG LP1419IVSM Smart Wi-Fi Portable Air Conditioner is a well-rounded, energy-saving unit that can be controlled by your phone or voice.

Pros: Can be controlled and scheduled using your phone, voice control, easy to move, performed well in cooling tests, fits a wide array of window sizes, lowest power consumption in our tests

Cons: Setup took longer than others, one-year warranty

The LG portable AC has a dual-inverter compressor, which relies on variable motor speed to regulate temperature — rather than just being on or off. This makes it more energy-efficient than non-inverter portable ACs. (Though it’s still less efficient than window units, and like all portable ACs, it’s not Energy Star-certified.) This checked out in our power consumption tests, where it used 20% less power than any other portable model we tested. 

It’s supported by the LG ThinQ app (available for iOS and Android), which allows you to use your phone as a remote and set a schedule. Additionally, it’s Alexa-enabled.

It performed moderately in our cooling tests, and was within 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit of the Whynter ARC-14SH, our top performer. This is the air conditioner I use in my bedroom. Even during muggy Michigan heat waves, it does an excellent job of keeping me cool.

I’ve never had any problems with it waking me up. In our noise test, it registered 56 decibels on high (about as loud as a refrigerator). 

Installation took a little longer than the other ACs we tested, but I liked that the window slider can accommodate windows up to 60-inches wide. Once set up, it only took a little more than a minute to move from room to room thanks to its handles, smooth casters, and a dedicated slot for the window slider when in transport. However, at 71 pounds, it can be a hassle to switch between floors.

Another negative is we noticed an uptick in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air during our tests, but the levels were still low enough not to be concerning.

Best budget

best portable AC 2021 best budget Frigidaire

The Frigidaire FHPC102AB1 Portable Air Conditioner is one of the cheapest units we tested and does a good job cooling without making much noise.

Pros: Quiet operation, fast installation, fits a wide range of window sizes, low power consumption in our tests, good cooling

Cons: Hose came unattached when changing locations, minimal warranty

When heat waves make sleep difficult, you want a portable air conditioner that not only cools well but also runs quietly. The Frigidaire FHPC102AB1 Portable Air Conditioner offers the best balance of cooling and quiet operation (55 decibels on high), at about half the price of our top pick.

Within 10 minutes of cutting open the box, I had this Frigidaire AC up and running. I like that the window slider extends up to 52.5 inches, which was more than enough for my windows. And, with the foam seals that are included, the unit doesn’t have to do as much work to keep your room cool.  

The Frigidaire FHPC102AB1 has wheels, handles, and cord storage to make it easier to move the appliance from room to room. However, I was slowed during transport when the hose disconnected from the unit. There does not appear to be a way to keep it on more securely when moving it. Yet, this will be little to no inconvenience for most users.

The Frigidaire portable AC was second only to our top pick in energy efficiency, using 1.71 kWh of electricity during a two-hour period. 

In that time, it also brought the temperature in the room down 2.6 degrees, which is particularly impressive when you consider it has the lowest Btu rating of the units we tested and wasn’t designed to cool rooms as big as our testing area.

Best with heat

best portable AC 2021 best with heat black and decker

Not only was the Black+Decker BPACT14HWT Portable Air Conditioner the runner-up in our cooling tests, but you can also use it to heat your room in the winter.

Pros: Excellent cooling, fast setup, five-year compressor warranty, heating mode

Cons: Loud operation, doesn’t come with window security brackets

For its price, the Black+Decker BPACT14HWT Portable Air Conditioner does a lot. In addition to being one of the top performers in our cooling tests, this workhorse also has heating capabilities for the colder months. 

I purchased this three years ago, and it’s still going strong. I like that I don’t have to put it in storage during the winter. Instead, I use it to heat the living room, which tends to run colder than the rest of the house.

Installation was a breeze, taking about five minutes. I didn’t need any special tools to get the job done. I like that the window slider extends to 60 inches, which is more than enough for my needs. However, I wish it came with window security brackets to make it harder for someone to push the window open and gain access to my house. Fortunately, this hasn’t been an issue.

It’s one of the louder units we tested and when I neglect to regularly clean the filter, the Black+Decker produces jarring sounds as it changes fan speeds. 

In our tests, it was in the middle of the pack in electricity use. Over the course of two hours, it consumed 1.83 kWh. 

We should also note that our air quality monitor registered a 50% increase in VOCs during the testing period. However, the levels weren’t high enough to cause concern.

What else we tested

best portable AC 2021 what else we tested

Over the last year, we’ve tested 12 portable air conditioners, and there are a few that barely missed the cut for our guide but are worth considering:

What else we recommend and why:

GE APWA14YZMW ($546.00): This was one of the top performers in our cooling tests, installation was quick, and I was able to easily connect to the SmartHQ (available for iOS and Android) to control and schedule the AC. However, it was louder and used more power than any of the other models we tested. Still, if our top picks are sold out, we think this would be a good backup option for medium-size rooms.

GE APCA10YZMW ($314.10): This is a lower Btu (6,700), non-smart version of our pick for best portable AC for medium rooms. It didn’t cool nearly as well as the GE APWA14YZMW but used less electricity. Installation was quick and easy, and I was able to uninstall it and reinstall it in a different room in under a minute.

Whynter ARC-122DS ($446.99): With its handles and smooth-rolling casters, this portable AC was among the easiest to uninstall in one room and reinstall in another. But, at 76 pounds, it’s very heavy to move between floors. The cooling power was in the middle of the pack in our tests. It was one of the quietest at just 55 decibels while on high power, but only fits windows up to 46-inches long, which is limiting.  

Honeywell HL12CESWK (Discontinued): We don’t usually recommend discontinued items. We put this Honeywell model here because it was our pick for the best quiet portable AC before this update. For transparency, we wanted to note why this model is no longer in our guide. We recommend our budget pick as a great alternative.

What we don’t recommend and why:

GE APCA12YZMW ($449): This is a higher Btu (8,200) version of the GE APCA10YZMW, but we it uses more power, is noisier, costs more, and doesn’t cool any better. On the plus side, it was easy and quick to install, and I was able to reinstall it in another room in a little more than a minute.

Frigidaire GHPC132AB1 ($599): This model uses comparatively little power (1.74 kWh in two hours), runs quietly (51 decibels on high), and has smart connectivity. However, it was one of the worst performers in our cooling tests. We think there are better options that cost much less.

Best for large rooms

best portable AC 2021 best for large rooms whynter

The Whynter ARC-14S Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioner may be big and not as portable as other units, but it did the best job of cooling our 550-square-foot test room.

Pros: Top performer in our cooling tests, comes with a storage cover, three-year warranty on compressor

Cons: Cumbersome to move, longer setup, one of the loudest units we tested, window slider only fits windows up to 46-inches long, doesn’t come with foam seals

Editor’s note: We link to and recommend the Whynter ARC-14S Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioner in our guide, but we actually tested model ARC-14SH. The only differences between the model we tested and what we recommend are that the ARC-14SH has heating capabilities and is perpetually out of stock. If you happen to find it in stock, we still recommend the ARC-14SH.

The first word that comes to mind when looking at the Whynter ARC-14S Dual Hose Portable Air Conditioner is “monolithic.” It looks like something out of “2001: A Space Odyssey” with its large, imposing flat front.

Other than its appearance, the most notable feature of the Whynter ARC-14S is its cooling abilities. It performed the best in our cooling tests, decreasing the temperature in the room by 3.6 degrees over two hours. However, it was also one of the loudest models at 58 decibels. 

Weighing 86 pounds, the unit is heavy and lacks handles, making it hard to move from room to room. The initial installation took me half an hour, which is longer than most models. It was slower because  the fixtures needed to be screwed by hand into the window slider. The slider was just short of being long enough for my 47-inch window opening so I used some of the Styrofoam packaging to fill the gap. Additionally, it doesn’t come with foam seals, which are helpful for efficient cooling.

Testing methodology

best portable AC 2021 methodology

I’ve been reviewing heating, cooling, and air quality devices for the past three years. For this guide, I personally tested 12 portable air conditioners and consulted with Joanna Mauer, the technical advocacy manager for the Appliance Standards Awareness Project; Matt Brown, the merchant for home comfort, air quality, and floorcare at The Home Depot; and Enesta Jones, a spokesperson for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which oversees the Energy Star program

Based on the interviews and my research, the most important features to consider when shopping for a portable AC are its cooling abilities, power usage, and how well it will fit the window where you want to use it. Here are the main ways we test each unit:

Cooling: I set the unit up in a 550-square-foot room and crank the AC on its highest setting with the goal of achieving the lowest temperature possible. I then use a digital thermometer placed at the opposite end of the room from the AC to compare the starting temp to the temp two hours later. To ensure an even playing field, I keep my home’s heating system at 75 degrees while testing ACs.

Setup: To assess setup, I timed how long it took me to unbox and install the air conditioners. I also noted whether you needed tools to complete the job. None of the models took more than 35 minutes to install, and I didn’t need anything more than a Phillips-head screwdriver to do it.

Portability: To test this, I used a stopwatch to time how long it took me to uninstall the unit, move it to the next room, and reinstall it. There is a three-quarter-inch lip in the flooring between the rooms, so handles were important. And, the weight of the unit was taken into consideration.

Extras: All of the models I tested came with remote controls, had dehumidifying and fan modes, and a warranty of at least one year. This was the baseline. To score well in the extras department, the AC had to have more than the basics. This includes app connectivity, a longer warranty, a heating mode, and foam seals to assist with efficient cooling. 

Noise: Whether you’re sleeping, working, or watching a movie, you don’t want your room’s air conditioner to be loud and distracting. To test this, I cranked the AC to its highest setting and used a sound meter to measure the decibels from six feet away. I also paid close attention to what sounds the device made as the compressor turned on and off. If the change was jarring, the model lost points.

Air quality: This is a new category that we didn’t weigh heavily. Using an indoor air quality monitor, I compared the readings for carbon dioxide, VOCs, and particulate matter in the room before and after running the AC for two hours. I noted whether there were significant changes in the air quality.

Energy consumption: I used a smart plug to measure the amount of electricity used while running the unit on full power for two hours. All of the portable ACs I tested used much more power than even the least efficient window AC I’ve tested.

What we’re testing next

To make sure our guide is as comprehensive as possible, we are always on the lookout for new portable air conditioner models to test. We are looking forward to testing the following for our next update:

Whynter ARC-148MHP ($485.32): This 10,000 Btu unit is geared to rooms of about 500 square feet and features a heater. We also noticed that the window slider kit fits windows up to 48 inches, which will make it long enough for our test window (an improvement on previous Whynter models we’ve tested). Based on our previous experience with Whynter ACs, we’re excited to see how well this performs.

Honeywell MN14CHCSWW ($669.99): The two Honeywell models we tested have been discontinued so we’re curious about what the company is working on. This 8,000 Btu unit is designed for larger rooms and features heating. 

Haier HPC12XCR ($409.00): We tested a Haier window air conditioner and were impressed with how quietly and efficiently it cooled our test room. We’re excited to see if the manufacturer does as good of a job with portable ACs.

FAQs

best portable AC 2021 FAQ

What should you look for in a portable air conditioner?

We talked to Matt Brown from the home comfort, air quality, and floorcare division at The Home Depot, to learn more about what to look for in an air conditioner. (The Home Depot was not involved in our testing and selection process.) Brown said there are four primary factors to consider when shopping for an AC: room size, outlet type, window size, and extra features.

“ACs are rated by Btu and range from 5,000 to 24,000 Btu, which correlates to 150 to 1,500 square feet. The larger the Btu, the larger the room it covers,” Brown said. “It’s critical to not get a unit too big or small for a room for maximum cooling and efficiency.”

If you get a unit that is too big for a room, it will cool too quickly without removing the moisture, which will create a cold, clammy environment. An AC that is too small will be overworked, which boosts your energy costs. 

Window size is also important. A portable AC still needs access to an opening for its exhaust hose in order to emit hot air. “Customers need to confirm the window opening is large enough to accommodate the unit,” Brown said. “Each unit specifies how large the window needs to be to accommodate [it].” 

When it comes to new technology, Brown said to look at inverter technology. “These units use more efficient motor technology that can ramp power up/down as needed while continuously running,” he said Our top pick features a dual-inverter compressor.


How many Btu do you need to cool your room?

When you’re shopping for portable AC units, it’s best to prioritize the size of the area you wish to cool, rather than the size of the actual unit. To pick the most appropriate model, you’ll want to match the Btu requirements to the room size you plan to use it in. 

Btu is the international measure of energy and measures the amount of heat needed to raise one pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit at sea level. When it comes to air conditioners, manufacturers use Btu to indicate the quantity of heat a conditioning unit can remove from a room per hour. 

As the Btu rating increases so does the weight, size, and cost of the air conditioner, but you have to make sure you get the right cooling capacity for your space. If you purchase a unit that has a higher Btu rating than the room requires, it will cycle off too quickly and won’t remove the humidity from the air properly. On the other hand, if you purchase a portable air conditioner that has a lower Btu rating than the room requires, it will  never cool the room adequately.

With portable ACs, there are generally two Btu ratings listed, the manufacturer’s Btu (ASHRAE) and DOE. We consider the DOE rating to be more accurate. “For cooling capacity for portable ACs, the ASHRAE rating doesn’t take into account the impact of hot air infiltration from outside or heat losses through the ducts, which can be significant,” says Joanna Mauer, the technical advocacy manager for the Appliance Standards Awareness Project. “In addition, the ASHRAE rating refers to an industry test procedure, but it’s not clear that all manufacturers have been testing their units in a consistent way.”

“In contrast, the DOE ratings are based on a standardized test procedure established by the U.S. Department of Energy, which manufacturers are required to follow and which does account for hot air infiltration and heat losses through the ducts,” adds Mauer. In our guide, we primarily reference the DOE ratings.

Below are some rough guidelines for determining how many DOE Btu you want for your room size:

  • A 150 sq. ft. room requires 5,000 Btu 
  • A 250 sq. ft. room requires 6,000 Btu 
  • A 350 sq. ft. room requires 8,000 Btu 
  • A 450 sq. ft. room requires 10,000 Btu
  • A 550 sq. ft. room requires 12,000 Btu
  • A 700 sq. ft room requires 14,000 Btu

What can you do if you are stuck with an AC that doesn’t have enough Btu to adequately cool a room?

“It’s always good to keep the filter clean,” says Mauer. “You can also try to reduce the heat gain in the room, for example, by closing the blinds and curtains during the day. Finally, if you have a ceiling fan, running the fan can make it feel a few degrees cooler.”


Which is better: a portable air conditioner or a window/room air conditioner?

“In general, a room air conditioner is a more efficient choice over a portable air conditioner,” says Jones. “Portable air conditioners are not part of the Energy Star program.”

Our testing backs this up. Our top portable air conditioner, which uses an energy-efficient inverter compressor, still used 60% more electricity than our top window air conditioner. The window AC also did a much better job of cooling and costs much less both upfront and to run.

“Portable ACs often don’t provide good cooling performance,” explains Mauer. “With single-duct units in particular, because the air flow used to reject heat to the outside is drawn from the room being cooled, this process creates a negative pressure, which results in hot air being drawn in from outside.”

Window air conditioners on the other hand are mostly outside so the hot air has a harder time entering your room.

So, if you have a double-hung window with the right dimensions for it, we strongly recommend choosing a window air conditioner. Only opt for a portable AC in spaces where a window AC isn’t an option.


Can I use a portable air conditioner in a room without windows?

The short answer is yes, but you need to have some way for the hot air to leave the room. If you don’t, you won’t experience any of the cooling benefits of the AC. With portable air conditioners, you just need an opening to the outside that is as big as the ventilating hose.


How do I clean and maintain my portable air conditioner?

Here’s what you should do to clean and maintain your portable AC: 

Weekly:

  • Wipe down the exterior: This one is easy and should be done frequently — just take a damp cloth to the outside of your portable AC to keep it free of dust. Avoid using harsh cleaners to keep the exterior nice and shiny. 
  • Keep any hoses as short as possible: If you move your portable AC around and it has hoses for exhaust and condensation drainage, you’ll want to keep them as short and straight as possible between the unit and the window to reduce potential moisture or dust build up inside. This can lead to inefficiency and run up your bills.
  • Remove condensation: Condensation builds up during the cooling process, so it’s important to remove it regularly. Many portable ACs have a drain hose or a built-in dehumidifier that makes this easier, but you should still check often. It’s also important to remove condensation if you’re putting away your portable AC for the season — it’s never fun to discover mold has grown all over your unit the next time you take it out. 

Monthly:

  • Clean or change the filters: Filters are an important part of keeping your indoor air free of dust and potential allergens. Some brands recommend monthly cleaning, while others like GE recommend weekly — whatever you choose, just make sure it’s consistent.
  • If you’re changing filters, make sure you’re buying the right one as the wrong size or brand might make your unit less efficient. If you’re cleaning reusable or washable filters, avoid harsh chemicals and cleaners. According to Bob Vila, usually, a vacuum with a crevice attachment or warm water with a mild detergent and a soft brush to loosen dust will suffice. 
  • Check the insulation: Even though your portable AC won’t sit in your window frame, the exhaust hose and potentially drain hose will extend outside your home so it’s important to make sure your insulation is flush to keep your machine running efficiently. Some models might include strips of insulation, but if they don’t, you can get some inexpensive adhesive strips easily. Proper insulation keeps your portable AC from wasting energy and efficiency to cool your room, so you should do this any time you move your unit.

Twice per season:

  • Clean the condenser coils: This looks like a metal filter inside the back of your portable AC, so you’ll need a screwdriver to pop out the back panel. It attracts a lot of dust and can make your AC run less efficiently over time, so grab a vacuum cleaner with a crevice attachment and run it over the coils — don’t press too hard on the metal fins otherwise, you risk dents. Once the coils are clean, secure the back panel.

Glossary

best portable ac 2021 glossary.JPG

In the heating and cooling industry, there’s a lot of jargon to wade through. What do all of those acronyms and terms even mean? Here are the definitions for a few that you’ll commonly hear:

Btu: This is short for British thermal units. One Btu is equal to the amount of heat needed to raise one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. In cooling, Btu is used to measure how much heat is removed from a room. The more Btu per hour an air conditioner is rated for, the better job it does cooling.

Compressor: The compressor works to push the hot air outside so cold air can circulate in your room. The gas refrigerant within the cooling system takes on the heat from the air, and the compressor turns the hot gas refrigerant back into a liquid. It works with the condenser on the air conditioner’s hot side to dissipate the heat from the refrigerant. Along with the condenser and evaporator, the compressor is one of the three main components of any air conditioning unit.

kWh: This is short for kilowatt-hour. It’s a unit of energy that most electricity utilities use to measure your power use, and it’s what we use to measure the energy consumption of the air conditioners we test. 

Window slider: This is the long, adjustable piece of plastic that comes with your portable AC and goes in your window’s opening. The hose from your portable AC connects to the slider to send the hot air emitted from the unit outside. Installing the window slider is the main step in installing a portable AC.

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