Best portable air conditioner 2020: keep cool in the summer heat

The temperature is rising so grab yourself a portable air conditioner and wave goodbye to clamminess

Best portable air conditioners 2019
(Image credit: Meaco)

Nothing provides the long-term cooling efficiency of the best portable air conditioners. Sure you can try to keep cool when the mercury rises with fans, a wet flannel wrapped around the neck, a session under the hose sprinkler or a dip in the paddling pool But nothing beats the best air conditioning units. In America, air con is the norm. In fact in many civilised countries, it is. Historically speaking, the British market has been small but the unusually hot summers of recent years are changing that. And while integrated air conditioning can cost a fortune – not to say the nightmare of retro-fit installation – the best portable air conditioning units do a great job with less cost and inconvenience.

What is the best portable air conditioner?

We’ve digested a raft of professional and user reviews and scoured the bowels of Amazon, Walmart and some UK websites to bring you this list of top units to keep you cool.

Our favourite UK model is the MeacoCool MC Series 10,000 CH which also happens to double up as a heater for the winter months. If you live in the US and are looking for a well-received 115v model, then you can’t go wrong with the LG LP0817WSR or the larger Sunpentown WA-1420E. The app-enabled RolliCool COOL199 is another cheerful chiller that's received some very favourable reviews.

Finally, if you’d rather just have a personalised air-con of sorts, then the desktop-sized Hisome 3-in-1 Air Cooler is well up to the task.

Best portable air conditioners: what you need to know

These dandy chill blasters are really effective at cooling the air in a room, in most instances for less than the price of a Dyson fan. All you have to do is work out the size of the room you want to cool and select an AC unit with a suitable output, measured in British Thermal Units (or BTUs). A BTU is a unit for estimating thermal heat and it’s an important little acronym when it comes to selecting the right air conditioner for your abode. For instance, an air-con with 10,000 BTUs is good for a room of around 41m² (or 450 sq ft) while a 5,000BTU model is suitable for a room of about 14m² (150 sq ft). Hence, it’s pretty important to know your room’s measurements or the unit could underperform.

However, there is a caveat with portable units and it’s the heated air that’s pumped out of the rear exhaust port. As the ‘law of conservation of energy’ states, energy (in this case heat) ‘can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another’. Hence, you will need to port the heated air generated by the AC out of the home using the supplied concertina hose. This can be done by either cutting a hole in the wall or a window (the most effective and most costly method) or by simply dangling the hose out of an open window.

Alternatively, if you’re lucky enough to have a working open flue fireplace, you could place the air con unit in front of it and all the heat will go straight up the chimney; after all, it’s what the chimney was designed for. However, make sure you’ve removed as much soot as possible from the fireplace first or it’ll initially be blown all over your furnishings.

Energy use and environmental impact are also worth considering. While modern AC units no longer use ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), they do sap a lot more power from the grid than a humble fan and that means slightly higher leccy bills and hence more pressure on the environment.

Now you know a bit more about air conditioning, time to dip into our carefully curated roundup of portable units from both the USA and the UK.

Best portable air conditioners to buy today in the USA and UK (and elsewhere)

best portable air conditioner 2019: MeacoCool MC Series

(Image credit: Meaco)

1. MeacoCool MC Series 10,000BTU CH

Best portable air con for medium sized rooms

BTU: 10,000
Max room size: 28m²
Min noise level: 56dB
Measurements: H 74 x W32 x D30cm
Reasons to buy
+Highly effective cooling+Can also be used as a heater+Decent looker
Reasons to avoid
-Quite noisy

•Buy the MeacoCool MC Series direct from Meaco

Meaco produces a wide range of air cooling, purification and dehumidifying products so it knows a thing or two about the subject. This new 10,000 BTU unit is an excellent choice for rooms up to 28m². Granted, it’s quite a noisy beast – they all are – so it’s not really suitable for bedtime use, even in low mode (in this instance, we’d advise switching it on an hour or two before going to bed).

Noise levels aside, this portable air-con unit works exceptionally well, producing a truly chilled breeze that spreads out over several metres. Simply select a preferred temperature (it goes down to 16˚C), select either low or high mode and use the included window kit including 1.8m duct to expel the hot air it creates. Before long, the room’s temperature and humidity will have dropped to much more comfortable levels. And come winter, you can reverse the whole process and have it dish out some heat instead.

This reviewer tried it out with the rear exhaust port positioned in front of a fireplace flue and it worked impeccably well. Sitting two metres away, it was like being in a car with the air-con on full bore. Indeed, I had to raise the temperature setting a few degrees for fear of freezing to death. And this was on a 34˚ day.

In the arena of mostly ugly-looking portable air-cons, the MeacoCool is a cut above the rest. Yes, it’s a weighty beast (thankfully it’s equipped with castors for easy transport from room to room) and at 74cm tall, it’s also pretty big. But frankly, you’ll be too pleased with its effectiveness to care about its size. Top choice.

best portable air conditioner 2019: LG LP0817WSR

(Image credit: LG)

2. LG LP0817WSR

Best portable AC for small rooms

BTU: 8,000
Max room size: 19m²
Min noise level: 53dB
Measurements: H17 x W16 x D15cm
Reasons to buy
+commendable cooling+Great dehumidifying
Reasons to avoid
-Pug ugly

Designed for smaller rooms up to around 19m², the LG is a top-selling Walmart model that has garnered a fair share of glowing user reviews. As is the case with most Walmart-sourced AC units, the LG runs on 115-volt mains and is therefore unavailable for the UK market. However, there are a number of UK retailers who sell similarly-specced 8,000 BTU LG models that run on 240 volts.

The LG features an automatic evaporation system that dehumidifies the internal air at a rate of 1.8 pints per hour. And because there’s no water container to empty, you can run it constantly without hassle. At 27 inches in height and 17 inches in width, it’s not exactly small, and its white, rounded plastic casing certainly isn’t the last word in chic design. But, hey, do you want to sweat like a hog in the desert sun or sip a G&T in comfort while you catch the ball game?

•Buy the LG LP0817WSR from Walmart

best air conditioner 2019: RolliCool COOL199

(Image credit: Walmart)

3. RolliCool COOL199

An app-connected option for large rooms

BTU: 10,000
Max room size: 42m²
Min noise level: 54dB
Measurements: H86 x W38 x D40.5cm
Reasons to buy
+Easy to use+App enabled+Pretty quiet - for an air conditioner
Reasons to avoid
-Pug ugly

This top-rated Walmart-exclusive 10,000BTU air-con is good for rooms up to 42m² (450ft²) and works with an  app that provides air quality stats and notifies the user when it’s time to change the filters. It also offers the ability to turn the unit on and off from wherever you are, either manually or via a pre-programmed schedule. Moreover, those who can’t even be bothered to reach for their mobile device can control it to some degree by shouting at Amazon’s Alexa.

As the name suggests, the RolliCool is fitted with casters for easy movement from room to room, and we’re not surprised, since it’s a big, hefty beast. It’s also quite possibly one of the ugliest looking domestic appliance ever created. However, we’ll forgive its looks because it does the job it was designed to do with unflappable poise, reducing the temperature in a decent-sized room to much more comfortable levels, and without making too much noise in the process.

•Buy the RolliCool COOL199 from Walmart

best portable air conditioner 2019: Sunpentown WA-1420E

(Image credit: Sunpentown)

4. Sunpentown WA-1420E

A great choice for large rooms

BTU: 14,000
Max room size: 65m²
Min noise level: 56dB
Measurements: H30 x W18 x D15 inches
Reasons to buy
+Works exceptionally well+A Walmart best seller
Reasons to avoid
-Looks only a mother could love

With soaring temperatures in some areas of the country well in excess of what we in Britain call hot, is it any wonder the USA is so besotted with its air conditioning systems? While most affluent US households – and pretty much all offices – are equipped with integrated ACs, many smaller homes continue to sweat it out during the summer months.

For around $400 (or $40 a month for 12 months), you could make a big difference to your summer comfort by bringing this top-selling Walmart beast into the living room. The oddly-named Sunpentown has a BTU of 14,000, which is perfect for large rooms with dimensions up to 65m² (700 sq ft). Like most portable AC units, it will also reduce the room’s humidity to much more pleasing levels. However, all that moisture it removes has to go somewhere – in this case a tank that will need to be emptied from time to time.

Despite looks only a mother could love, this model has received a raft of positive user reviews on the US Walmart site so we’ll leave you to mull over some of their verdicts: ‘78˚F down to 70˚F in about 20 minutes’; ‘cool in an hour!! Yay’; ‘one of the best investments I’ve ever made’; ‘rather simple to install and works like a charm’. Say no more.

•Buy the Sunpentown WA-1420E from Walmart

best portable air conditioner 2019: Hisome 3-in-1 Air Cooler

(Image credit: Hisome)

5. Hisome 3-in-1 Air Cooler

Best budget option for personal cooling

Max room size: N/A
Min noise level: 15dB
Measurements: H17 x W16 x D15cm
Reasons to buy
+Uses evaporative technology+Small desktop size+Surprisingly effective
Reasons to avoid
-For personal use only-Needs to be close to the user

Granted, this little square desktop unit isn’t a proper air conditioner but it is at least capable of blowing a chilled breeze. The USB-powered Hisome is equipped with an evaporator that uses water from a small 600ml reservoir to create a chilled moist breeze. 

At just 17cm square, it’s perfect for sitting on a computer desktop or table where the user is more likely to feel the benefits of its air-cooling technology. It’s also a great option for bedtime since it’s really quiet and comes with a built-in multi-coloured night light. 

Pop this little fella within three feet of you and you’ll be impressed at how efficiently it works. In fact, you may even need to slow the fan down from time to time because the air coming out of its air vent is properly cool. And it’s even colder if you fill the tank with iced water. At a smidge over £40, it’s a veritable bargain.

•Buy the Hisome 3-in-1 Air Cooler from Amazon UK

best portable air conditioner 2019: Honeywell Contempo Series HL12CESWB

(Image credit: Honeywell)

6. Honeywell Contempo Series HL12CESWB

Decently quiet portable AC for small rooms

BTU: 12,000
Max room size: 41m²
Min noise level: 52dB
Measurements: H31 x W19 x D16 inches
Reasons to buy
+Top cooler for small abodes+Quieter than most
Reasons to avoid
-Questionable build quality

This Amazon US-sourced Honeywell model comes in a variety of BTU outputs (from 9,000 to 14,000) and features fuss-free auto evaporation, a dehumidifier that removes up to 86 pints of moisture per day, three fan speeds, a timer and a sleep mode.

According to Honeywell, this particular 12,000 BTU model is suitable for rooms up to 450 square feet (41m²) and, at just 52dB, it is also one of the quietest, making it a good choice for use at bedtime.

Despite some negative user reviews (mostly about the build quality), the majority of owners have nothing but good things to say about it so who are we to argue the toss?

•Buy the Honeywell Contempo Series HL12CESWB from Amazon US

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