Looking for the best portable air conditioner because it's suddenly got really hot? Don't worry: many of the air con units below can be delivered to you tomorrow, just in time to save you. 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 the best fan you can find, a wet flannel wrapped around the neck, or even a session under the best lawn sprinkler… But nothing beats the best portable air conditioning units.
• Reading in the USA? try this list of the best portable air conditioners instead…
Unless the climate of the UK and Northern European changes more radically, and we have year after year of long, sweltering summers, there's still probably not much value in getting an integrated air con system installed.
The best portable air conditioning, however, can do a great job at cooling a room with less cost and inconvenience, and can be stored in a utility room, loft, shed or spare corner when not needed.
What is the best portable air conditioner for the UK?
We’ve digested a raft of professional and user reviews and scoured the bowels of the internet to bring you this list of top units to keep you cool.
Our favourite UK-centric model is the new MeacoCool MC Series 7000 which is perfectly ample for most living spaces. But if you wish to kill two birds with one stone and want an air con that not only cools a larger room but also serves as a heater in winter, consider its stablemate, the MeacoCool MC Series 10,000CH.
If you want an air conditioning solution for you only – for while you're sat at your desk for instance, consider the JML Chillmax Air – it's only 40 quid.
Similarly, while it's not a portable air conditioning device as such, Dyson's Pure Cool Me does an excellent job of blowing cooling, filtered air directly at your face – in a non-annoying manner. It's also way more stylish than anything here.
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 while a 5,000BTU model is suitable for a room of about 14m². 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.
By their very nature, portable AC units are much louder than their built-in counterparts and that’s hardly surprising given that the compressors, pumps and fans are all in the same unit. By contrast, integrated systems have all the noisy stuff tucked away out of earshot so you rarely hear anything more than a gently whoosh. If you want a good night’s sleep with a portable air con in the room then you’re advised to turn it on a couple of hours before bedtime and keep the door closed. Then turn if off when hitting the sack.
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 for the UK and European markets.
Best portable air conditioners to buy in the UK and Europe today
Meaco of the UK produces a wide range of air cooling, purification and dehumidifying products so it knows a thing or two about the subject. This new 7000BTU model is suitable for rooms between 12 and 22m² and features two fan speeds and a low temperature setting of 16ºC, which is the norm for the majority of portable air con units and indeed most cars.
As is the case with every portable air con unit we’ve seen, it comes with a 1.8m concertina tube to the expel the hot air it creates and, in this case, a special window kit designed ostensibly for small sliding windows. It also comes with a remote control.
To use, simply select a preferred temperature (from 16ºC upwards), select either low or high mode, and before long the room’s temperature and humidity will drop to much more comfortable levels. When the room eventually reaches the preset temperature, the machine will switch off and then switch on again as soon as the internal temperature rises.
This reviewer tested it 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.
Granted, it’s quite noisy – all portables are to be honest – so it’s not really suitable for bedtime use, even in low speed mode, which registers 53dB on the decibel meter. Unless you’re a heavy sleeper and someone who can nod off in a hurricane, we would advise switching it on an hour or two before going to bed and keeping the door closed for maximum cooling potential.
In the arena of mostly ugly-looking portable air-cons, the Series 7000’s styling isn’t too bad and better in real life than the accompanying image suggests. Yes, it’s a weighty beast (thankfully it’s equipped with smooth-running castors for easy transport from room to room) and at 70cm tall, it’s also pretty big. But frankly, you’ll be too pleased with its effectiveness and good price to care about its size.
If the Meaco MC 7000 has sold out in the UK…
Meaco MC Series 9000 | £449 at Amazon
The slightly more powerful and sophisticated MC Series 9000 can cool a room up to about 26m2. As the name suggests, it's 9000BTU instead of 7000. Reader reviews offer the same compliments (it's effective and good VFM) and complaints (noisy when you need to cope with really hot weather) as its less powerful sibling. The price of this seems to vary a fair bit – it was £399 yesterday!View Deal
We can't personally vouch for the quality of the Electriq 12000BTU portable air conditioner but it has generally solid user reviews from Revoo, with an overall rating of 7.7 from 295 reviewers and few signs of anyone actively hating it. What we can vouch for is it's definitely available to buy now, which isn't always the case with the Meaco above.
At up to 65dB, this portable air conditioner is by no means quiet when in full flight. We doubt you could sleep with it on, but on the other hand, 12000BTU should be enough to cool any bedroom right down, in time for you to go to sleep.
It's a reasonably compact size, and also reasonably ugly – but then it is a portable air conditioner, and they all are. It can also work as a dehumdifier, although that's going to be the least of your worries in the heatwave that's about to hit. Comes with a remote control and 12-month warranty, too…
If you have a room bigger than the 30 square metres this one can cope with, Appliances Direct can upsell you the same machine but with 16,000BTU or 18,000BTU – enough for a room 46 m2.
Granted, this little square desktop unit isn’t a proper air conditioner but it is at least capable of blowing a chilled breeze a few feet away. The Chillmax Air is equipped with an evaporator that uses water from a small 610ml reservoir to create a chilled moist breeze. This model comes with an antimicrobial sponge filter which runs up to 10 hours per refill.
At roughly 17cm square, the Chillmax is 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 the bedside table since it’s really quiet and comes with a built-in night light. However, don’t expect it to make an ounce of difference to a room’s temperature because it’s strictly designed for personal, close-up use.
In the arena of portable air conditioners, DeLonghi’s Pinquino looks a bit less, er, hideous than most. In fact, the off-white front fascia with black display inlay could be considered fairly stylish. Shame the same can’t be said for its side profile, which is deep, bulbous and a bit butt ugly.
This 80cm tall air con sports a cooling capacity of 10,000BTU and is recommended for rooms up to 23m². It also dehumidifies the air in the process removing up to 32 litres per hour. Its digital interface and included remote control allow access to all main functions: temperature, fan speed and timer. I can also be used as a simple fan.
Portable air cons are loud by nature and this one is no exception. At full chat it hits between 53 and 64dB so you may only be able to stand its highest speed setting for short periods of time, especially if trying to watch television. Although the air con has received very positive user reviews for its performance and design, at £789 it’s pretty dear for a portable. And that’s why it hovers here at number four in the Hot Five.
Manufacturers’ specs often differ to real world use but, according to the blurb, this 12,000BTU model is ideal for rooms up to 22m² – and bigger if you believe Amazon’s description. It’s also fitted with an energy efficient heat pump that saves you money in the long term while minimising impact on the environment. Like the Meaco 10,000 it can also be used as a heater in the winter.
The Apollo is arguably the most attractive unit on this page though at 82cm tall and 39cm wide it’s a big old beast with quite a large footprint. The top-mounted electronic display is straightforward but you can always access its functions – cool, heat, dry and fan – using the remote control. Pretty much all the air cons we’ve looked at or read about emit around 53dB of sound pressure and this one’s in the same ball park.
The Apollo is more expensive than the Meacos but then it is marginally more powerful and equipped with that money-saving heat pump. Nevertheless, both Meacos still represent better value in our eyes given the intermittent use in any given year, at least up here in Northern Europe.
Two Meacos in a row? Well, yes – not only do the two models we’ve tested perform exceedingly well, they’re also really keenly priced. And that’s a major consideration when buying a product that is only likely to be used during the summer months and possibly for only a few days a year.
This marginally more gutsy 10,000 BTU unit shares the same dimensions and design as the winning Series 7000 reviewed above only it has a more powerful air flow of 325m³/hour against 300m³/hour and, hence, higher cooling capacity.
Although it gradually reduced the temperature of this writer’s 8x5m sitting room (40m²), it was pushing its capabilities somewhat given that the product is designed for rooms up to 28m². Unlike the Series 7000, it can also be used as a heater during the winter so you’re basically getting twice the bang for your buck.
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