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

With temperatures increasing across most States, it's time to flick on the AC and chill

Best portable air conditioner
(Image credit: Andrea Piacquadio |Pexels)

Quick, get the best portable air conditioner you can find in: summer is here. In America, air con is pretty much the norm among the more affluent. However, a fully integrated system costs a packet to install and a sizeable chunk of regular outlay to keep it running. Figure in the fact that not every part of the US enjoys the subtropical climate of Florida, Louisiana or California and the Mid West and you can see why some households and small offices are opting for the portable periodic solution.

• Reading in the UK? Try this list of the best portable air conditioners

Well we’ve done all the online trudging for you and selected a quintet of highly-regarded portable air con units from American online behemoths, Amazon and Walmart. Dip in and chill.

What is the best portable US-centric air conditioner?

If you live in the US and are looking for a highly regarded model for medium-to-large size rooms, then you can’t go wrong with the award-winning Whynter Elite ARC-122DS which has received some very favourable reviews from Amazon shoppers. And if you want a trusty brand you’ve definitely heard of then give the LG LP0817WSR a whirl.

Best portable air conditioners: what you need to know

Portable AC units are really effective at cooling the air in a room, in most instances for less than the price of a fancy 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 450 sq ft while a 5,000BTU model is suitable for a room of about 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 that comes with every model. This can be done by either cutting a hole in the wall or a window (the most effective and most costly method) or by using the window kit that most manufacturers provide. As a last resort, simply dangle the hose out of an open window or doorway and sit closer to the unit.

Alternatively, if you’re lucky enough to have a working open flue fireplace (unlikely in the US), 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. This is by far the most hassle-free and tidiest way to enjoy the benefits of portable air conditioning but, for heaven's sake, make sure you’ve removed as much soot as possible from the fireplace first or it’ll be blown all over your furnishings.

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 – unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to be able to sleep through a hurricane.

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’re no longer an air con newbie, have a scour through our carefully curated list of contenders and take your pick of the chillers.

Best portable air conditioners to buy in the USA today

best portable air conditioner USA: Whynter Elite ARC-122DST3 Best Buy logo

(Image credit: Whynter)

1. Whynter Elite ARC-122DS

Award winning model for medium-to-large sized rooms

Specifications
BTU: 12,000
Max room size: 400 sq ft
Min noise level: 52dB
Measurements: H29.5 x W17 x D16 inches
Reasons to buy
+Highly effective cooling+Award winner+Quieter than most

•Buy the Whynter Elite ARC-122DS from Amazon

If you are scouring the market for a very decent 12,000BTU model to tackle the heat and them damn flies, then make this Good Housekeeping award winner your first port of call. The Whynter Elite is designed for rooms and offices up to 400 square feet and features full thermostatic control (from 61˚F to 89˚F), a 3 speed fan with two-way directional air louvers, an activated carbon filter, a simple-to-use digital control panel with 24-hour timer and a remote control to operate it from the comfort of a sofa.

Aside from the aforementioned award, this Amazon-sold unit has also gleaned a raft of positive user reviews. Yes, there are few disgruntled owners amongst them but the majority (around 63%) are very happy with their purchase, citing its relative quietness when on the lowest speed setting and its ability to cool a room effectively.

Perhaps inevitably, it now sells out on a regular basis but if it is currently out of stock, you can still browse all the other best portable air conditioners at Amazon.

best portable air conditioner USA: LG LP0817WSR

(Image credit: LG)

2. LG 115V

Best portable AC for small rooms

Specifications
BTU: 8,000
Max room size: 204 sq ft
Min noise level: 53dB
Measurements: H27 x W17 x D13 inches
Reasons to buy
+Commendable cooling+Great dehumidifying
Reasons to avoid
-Pug ugly

• Buy LG LP0817WSR from Walmart

Designed for smaller rooms up to around 204ft², 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 swig a Pabst Blue Ribbon in comfort while you catch the ball game?

best portable air conditioner USA: RolliCool COOL199

(Image credit: Walmart)

3. RolliCool COOL199

An app-connected option for large rooms

Specifications
BTU: 10,000
Max room size: 452 sq ft
Min noise level: 54dB
Measurements: H34 x W15 x D15 inches
Reasons to buy
+Easy to use+App enabled+Pretty quiet - for an air conditioner
Reasons to avoid
-Looks only a mother could love

• Buy RolliCool COOL199 from Walmart

This top-rated Walmart-exclusive 10,000BTU air-con is good for rooms up to 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.

• This model seems to be a Walmart exclusive. If it has sold out browse the rest of Walmart's fine portable air con selection.

best portable air conditioner USA: Honeywell Contempo Series HL12CESWB

(Image credit: Honeywell)

4. Honeywell Contempo Series HL12CESWB

Decently quiet portable AC for small rooms

Specifications
BTU: 12,000
Max room size: 441 sq ft
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

• Buy Honeywell Contempo Series HL12CESWB from Amazon

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 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?

best portable air conditioner USA: Haier 13,500 BTU Portable Air Conditioner with Dual-Hose

(Image credit: Haier)

5. Haier 13,500 with Dual-Hose

A great choice for large rooms

Specifications
BTU: 13,500
Max room size: 550 sq ft
Min noise level: 56dB
Measurements: H30 x W18 x D15 inches
Reasons to buy
+Works exceptionally well+Uses two hoses for extra efficiency+A Walmart best seller
Reasons to avoid
-Butt ugly

• Buy Haier 13,500 BTU with Dual-Hose from Walmart

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 $520, you could make a big difference to your summer comfort by bringing this top-selling Walmart beast into the living room. The Chinese-made Haier has a BTU of 13,500, which is perfect for large rooms with dimensions up to 550 sq ft. It also comes with two hoses – one to port the hot air from the room to the outside and another that draws in air from outside which helps cool the unit’s inner workings and help it function more efficiently and cool the room much more quickly. Dual hose ACs basically eliminate negative air pressure, ie warm air that is sucked through gaps in inner doors from adjacent rooms. 

Despite looks only a mother could love, this model has received loads of positive user reviews on the US Walmart site – plus a few quibbles mostly about the poor window kit – so we’ll leave you to mull over some of their more upbeat verdicts: ‘the dual hose system makes a huge difference’, ‘we couldn't be happier’ and ‘the compressor is whisper quiet and hardly noticeable while running’. Say no more.

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