To determine the best portable air conditioner for your money in 2021, we started by researching online to find the most popular models and then we took it one step further and purchased the top 20 for hands-on testing. After we received the air conditioners, we turned off any other units or central air systems we have and let the summer heat sink in. As we let the portable AC units cool our space down, we measured key factors like noise levels and cooling capacity. We even considered ease of installation and power saving functionality.

After all the hot days and all the cooling down, we found that the Honeywell Contempo HL10CES Air Conditioner is the best at keeping you cool. Its portable and compact design doesn’t sacrifice cooling power. This powerful little unit will keep you cool without making too much noise or taking up too much space. Keep reading to learn more about our #1 portable air conditioner and the other top models we tested.

Table of Contents:

 

#1 Pick Honeywell Contempo HL10CES Air Conditioner

honeywell portable ac
The Honeywell Contempo may not win any awards for power, but it’s still a great buy for smaller rooms and apartments.

Price: $349.00 | Features: 10,000 BTU, dual-filter, quiet operation

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Honeywell Contempo HL10CES air conditioning unit may not have the best cooling power, but it’s dirt cheap and features whisper-quiet operation to compensate.

[su_expand more_text=”Read Full Review” height=”50″ link_color=”#1e73be”]With single-hose systems, you’re never going to get the same amount of cooling power you would from a comparatively powered dual hose unit, but here’s the catch: dual hose units are quite a bit pricier than their single-hosed counterparts And when it comes to heating and cooling prices matter.. 

So if you’re trying to shop on the cheap and only need something that air conditions a small bedroom or living room with ease, the Honeywell Contempo HL10CES portable AC unit is what you need. Again, this single hose 10,000 BTU portable air conditioner can’t really hold its own on cooling power alone with dual hose units, but what it lacks there it makes up for in a small profile and one of the quietest operation volumes of any portable air conditioner on the market today. This portable AC unit also has a better airflow than the Black Decker BPACT08WT that only offers 8 000 BTU of power, even though Black & Decker has been a top American brand for decades. It’s a popular choice for large apartment bedrooms, living rooms, and offices, making it our best overall pick, and it is also available with free shipping and free returns for Amazon Prime members.

View on Amazon – $349.00 [/su_expand]

#2 Pick Whynter ARC-122DS Elite 12000 BTU Dual Hose Digital Portable Air Conditioner

whynter portable air conditioner
The Whynter ARC-122DS keeps a ton of power packed under its petite hood.

Price: $479.00 | Features: 12,000 BTUs, extra light, dual-hose exhaust

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Whynter ARC-122DS is able to pack a ton of cooling power into a petite package.

[su_expand more_text=”Read Full Review” height=”50″ link_color=”#1e73be”]When you opt to go for a portable air conditioner over a window-mounted unit, you’re probably going to want to prioritize one aspect of the feature set over everything else: how “portable” the unit actually is in day-to-day use. Often though the tradeoff for choosing smaller/lighter units that you can move easily from room to room is the overall cooling power output you get from the unit, but not so with the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite.

Weighing a comparatively petite 57 pounds and just 30 inches tall, the 12,000 BTU portable Whynter ARC-122DS Elite puts out some of the best cooling power in its class, thanks in part to its Whynter dual hose exhaust system which simultaneously pumps hot air out of the room at the same time it’s bringing cold air in.  These dual hose designs are very popular for a reason. Matching its small stature, the ARC-122DS Elite also happens to be one of the quietest personal air conditioners on the market both in cooling and the standard fan in high setting or air conditioner dehumidifier modes with less than 52 dBA of noise level. It is also knows as an evaporative air cooler.

No portable A/C will ever quite be able to measure up to what window-mounted units are capable of, but the Whynter dualhose ARC-122DS gets about as close as any to hitting almost every feature out of the park.

View on Amazon – $479.00 [/su_expand]

#3 Pick hOmeLabs Portable Air Conditioner

The hOmeLabs Portable Air Conditioner is ultra quiet and super powerful, perfect for larger living spaces.

Price: $449.99Features: 14,000 BTU, capable of cooling a 500 sq. ft. room

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The hOmeLabs portable air conditioner has enough power to cool down any size home.

[su_expand more_text=”Read Full Review” height=”50″ link_color=”#1e73be”]While 10,000 BTUs (British thermal unit) may be enough to keep your home office or smaller living room at a comfortable temperature in the middle of a heat wave, what should you get when you have to cool an entire floor during the hottest portions of the day?

This is where bumping up to 14,000 BTU portable air unit like the hOmeLabs portable air conditioner comes in, with its ability to both cool and dehumidify a room size of up to 500 square feet at a time without even breaking a sweat. It’s got multiple air conditioning functions and a dehumidifier setting. Dehumidifying a 500 square foot space isn’t a joke; this unit is was built for cooling larger spaces. Plus, even though all that power may be reason enough to buy this monster on its own, it runs ultra quiet, features wheels that make it easy to move, and can be controlled with a fully-featured included remote as an extra bonus, making this an easy choice to make. 

View on Amazon – $449.99 [/su_expand]

 #4 Pick  Whynter ARC-143MX Dual-Hose

what is the best portable air conditioner on the market?
Its design may be offputting to some, but personally I love the Whynter AC143MX’s aggressive machinistic style

Price: $514.49Features: 14,000 BTU, auto-drain exhaust, CFC-free refrigerant

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Whynter ARC-143MX is a beatly powerhouse of a portable A/C.

[su_expand more_text=”Read Full Review” height=”50″ link_color=”#1e73be”]From the boringly blasé design of the NewAir, we move on to the downright beautifully crafted Whynter ARC-143MX, a master class in how to make a home appliance both obscenely powerful and not too shabby on the eyes to boot. 

Although the ARC-143MX may look imposing on the outside, on the in it’s all about eco-friendly energy consumption that keeps your electricity bills and ambient temperatures at an all time low. Chuck in a 3M antimicrobial air filter and 14,000 BTUs of horsepower, and you’ve got a quick contender for one of the best portable air conditioners in 2021. These high BTU models really crank the cool.

View on Amazon – $514.49[/su_expand]

#5 Pick LG Electronics LP1414GXR

LG lp1414gxr quietest portable air conditioner
The LG LP1414GXR’s small stature really puts the “portable” in “portable air conditioner”

Price: $489.05 | Features: 12,000 BTU, 1.2 pints per hour dehumidification, LCD remote control

WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: If you’re cramped for space, the LP1414GXR fits nicely in any home.

[su_expand more_text=”Read Full Review” height=”50″ link_color=”#1e73be”]Last up, we’ve got the LG Electronics LP1414GXR, which is a perfect solution for those who live in smaller homes or apartments and need to save all the space they can while still needing a moderate amount of BTUs to pump out of their portable AC.

At only two-and-a-half feet tall, this LG portable air conditioner is a pint-sized powerhouse that is a cinch to set up and also comes with its own fully-functional LCD remote control. While it may not be as fancy as the smart home-ready LG LP1415WXRSM, it’s also about half as big and heavy. So, if you’re willing to sacrifice a few features here and there to make sure your AC doesn’t become the centerpiece conversation starter of your living room, do yourself a favor and grab the thoughtfully designed LG LP1414GXR portable AC unit instead.

View on Amazon – $489.05 [/su_expand]

 

Note: Other portable ACs that did not make this list but are still worth mentioning include the Stalwart fan blower that’s committed to providing the best price and value, with customer satisfaction guaranteed. There’s also the Max Storm Durable Lightweight Air Mover Carpet Dryer Blower with 3 operating angles, 2-speed settings, 25 feet power cord with a cord wrap, and is available in 3 colors Another portable AC, the LG LP 1419IVSM features a large easy to read control panel, a quiet BDLC motor, and a dual inverter compressor that makes it the most quiet air blower. The dual inverter system also changes the compressor speed so that the AC can change its power to match the temperature of its surroundings. And finally, there’s the Frigidaire Gallery 12,000 BTU Cool Connect Smart Portable that is not very powerful, but is stylish and has a very unique design.

How Air Conditioners Work

[su_expand more_text=”Read More” height=”200″ link_color=”#1e73be”]Air conditioners work by exploiting a physical law known as “phase conversion”, which says that whenever a liquid is converted to a gas, it absorbs heat in the process.

Air conditioners use a series of refrigerant compounds to repeatedly force warm air through a series of air circulating coils which continuously waft warm air over themselves to cool it down. When the warm air is pulled from either from inside your home or outside, depending on your air conditioner’s hose setup, it then flows over the cold evaporator coils, the coils absorb the heat, and then transfer that heat over a secondary set of coils known as “condenser coils”.

The condenser coils expel the excess heat created by the process of phase conversion out of the back of the unit, which can be returned to the outside world via hose or the back of the unit itself, depending on the style of air conditioner you purchased (portable vs. window mounted).[/su_expand]

Window vs. Portable – Which is Better for You?

[su_expand more_text=”Read More” height=”200″ link_color=”#1e73be”]Speaking of portable air conditioners vs. window-mounted, what’s truly the right setup for your home?

Well, it all depends on your windows. For a window-mounted air cooler to work, it needs to fit in a sill that slides up and down, rather than those that either open wide bay-style, or slide left to right. The window size is also a factor to consider. So a window air conditioner is harder to install than portable ACs due to design limitations. This makes it so window-mounted units are only viable in a few home setups, which is why the A/C industry offers a better option to anyone with alternative setups: portable air conditioners.

Portable air conditioners may not exactly be as “portable” as their name implies (some units can top 100lbs plus), however even the heaviest units will still come with caster wheels on the bottom and a convenient hose setup which allows you to roll it around the house and use it on just about any window configuration imaginable.

One of the biggest benefits window-mounted units have compared to portable options is cost. But central air conditioners are the most expensive. BTU-for-BTU you can expect to save anywhere between $50-$100 going with window air conditioners, but for all the convenience they provide, portable air conditioners are still worth a second look despite their higher price. Portable ACs are also generally better at energy efficiency.

That said, window units are also more difficult to maintain. Portable units will usually have hoses to dispose of collected water or use self-evaporation system features that make it easy for the A/C to dump out excess moisture on its own, unlike a window unit. Windows units on the other hand will often come with trays that need to be regularly emptied out by hand. Draining the unit on a regular basis is a real hassle. On particularly hot days you may even find yourself having to empty the tray twice in less than 12 hours, depending on the humidity levels of the air pulled from outside.

Lastly, there’s the issue of air recirculation. With portable units you have the luxury of choosing between single-hose and BTU dual hosed portable air models which will either pull warm air from the inside or outside respectively, and determines air pressure. Dual hose ACs get rid of negative air pressure. Window-mounted units will only recirculate air from the inside of your home, but why is this approach sometimes considered a bad thing?[/su_expand]

Portable A/C Units: Single-Hose vs. Dual-Hose

[su_expand more_text=”Read More” height=”200″ link_color=”#1e73be”]If you do opt for the portable option, there are two different configuration types you need to know about before buying: single-hose and dual-hose.

Single-hose portable air conditioners work by pulling in air from the surrounding environment through a filter placed on the back of the unit. That air is sent through the system, cooled, and the cool air is ejected out of the air conditioner fan port, while the air carrying the excess heat generated by the phase conversion process is ejected out the hose that’s mounted in the bracket facing outside of your window.

While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this approach, recently several studies released by the EPA suggest that indoor air – and more specifically, recirculated indoor air – may actually contain more pollutants than the air outside. If you’re worried about the overall quality of the air inside your home more than you are the outside, a dual hose portable option might be the choice for you. In this case, air quality is also important if you suffer from allergies or are sensitive to dust.

The easiest way to decide is to take stock of your particular setup, and how you want to minimize pollution the most given what you’re working with. Let’s say for example you live in an apartment like mine, which was only built last year and has little-to-no problems with indoor pollution, but I also live next to a major road which clogs up with cars two times a day. In this situation I’d want to stick with a single-hose air conditioner, because I’d want to recirculate the internal air rather than risk pulling from the pollution gathering outside.

That said, if you maybe live in an older house with possible contaminants, but it’s in the middle of the forest with plenty of fresh air to go around, a dual-hose option would be the obvious choice to make sure your home is always getting as much non-polluted air cycled in as possible.

Dual hose portable air conditioner options can sometimes be slightly pricier than single-hose, however when it comes to making sure you’re breathing the freshest air out there, a couple bucks here and there really won’t cost you as much as you think it will in the long run.[/su_expand]

Key Factors and Features to a Good Portable Air Conditioner


[su_expand more_text=”Read More” height=”200″ link_color=”#1e73be”]Power/BTU Rating

  • The first thing you’ll need to calculate before buying your next portable air conditioner is just how much power is required to cool down the room of your choice. This is one of the most important things to consider, and you need to look at your floor space and room layout.
  • This power is rated in what’s known as “BTUs”. Without gettting technical, in general it’s said that a medium sized 10,000 BTU portable AC can cool upwards of a 250 sq. ft room, a 12,000 BTU unit can handle 400 sq. ft floor space, and the max 14,000 BTU unit can cool a single room or single floor as large as 500 sq. ft on its own. That’s also known as the maximum cooling area of an AC. The larger the BTU, the larger the room an AC can cool.

Air Filtration

  • Several of the air conditioners we’ve mentioned on this list not only keep your house cool, but will also double as full-on air purifiers.
  • These can keep the air in your home free from fine particulate dust, pollen, or other allergy-inducing matter that might set more sensitive noses into a sneezing fit if left unchecked.

Noise

  • Look, there’s no getting around it: portable air conditioners can be very, very loud when they’re running at full operation.
  • Some people prefer the low hum they give off, but others can be quickly driven to madness by the constant rumbling these things put out.
  • Don’t be surprised if you have to turn up your TV a few notches or blast your music a bit louder while the A/C is in the same room, and make sure your ears can handle any extra disruptions accordingly.

Ease of Installation

  • Setting up a portable air conditioner can be a difficult process to learn if you haven’t already done it once or twice before.
  • That’s why it’s important to make sure you have both the necessary tools and a window/sliding door where you’ll be able to mount the exhaust hose/intake hoses and keep a good seal.
  • Measure the window you plan to keep the A/C next to first, and then once you have those figures go back and see if the unit you plan on buying has a mounting kit that fits appropriately.

Smart ACs

  • If your primary concern is owning smart home devices, you should look for smart portable air conditioners that include useful features such as WiFi to connect to voice assistants like the Amazon Alexa voice command.
  • Extra features will most probably include smart capabilities that allow you full control via smart devices, e.g. digital control via smartphone, SmartThinQ, or Google Home. There are other nice features too such as integration with the lighting system.

Power Saving Options

  • Although it’s nearly impossible to find an A/C unit that won’t cause you to see a significant uptick in your monthly electric bill during the summer, you should still keep an eye out for any A/C units labeled “eco-friendly” for better energy efficiency. Also, make sure you check from the user manual what power outlet the unit operates.
  • These types of units are made to be more power-efficient than most, and will have various low-power fan speeds available so you can strike a fine balance between how cool your house is and how much you’re spending to maintain that temperature throughout the day.[/su_expand]

Mistakes to Avoid

[su_expand more_text=”Read More” height=”200″ link_color=”#1e73be”]Don’t be fooled by the word “portable”: While it may be tempting to believe that it’s possible to fit an air conditioner that cools a whole room inside your pocket, in reality most ‘portable’ A/C units will end up weighing anywhere from 50 – 100 pounds, depending on the model you eventually go with. Make sure you have enough room where you plan to keep the unit before making your purchase.

Miscalculate necessary BTU rating: The last thing you want to do is overspend on a unit that’s too powerful for your personal spaces, or underspend on a lower-BTU unit and be left sweating the difference. Know where you plan on keeping your A/C first, and measure out the entire room’s square footage accordingly to afterwards get to your final BTU figure. BTU is measured using one of two rating systems, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) system which is the standard system, or the US Department of Energy (US DOE) system. For medium to large rooms, a 1400 BTU unit is sufficient, which equates to 10,000 BTUs using the DOE rating, which calculates the weighted average performance of an AC in a number of test conditions. DOE’s test conditions for ACs are more demanding with higher efficiency standards than the ASHRAE conditions. They have also set new maximum efficiency standards set to take effect in 2021.

Get a window acs unit if you can: At the end of the day, even though portable or free standing air conditioners have the option to be moved quickly from one single room to the next, if you’re really hurting but spend most of your time in an office or bedroom, window air conditioners will do the job just as well at a fraction of the cost/hassle. You just need an installation kit that involves screwing panels together to form a seal in the open window.

Which Portable Air Conditioner is Right For You?

If you’re looking for the best portable air conditioner in 2021, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with any of the models listed here. They all serve their own purpose in the space for home comfort, whether it’s ultra-compact cooling, high-fashion design accents, or just a solid all-around pick that does what you need it to at the lowest cost possible.

Because of its features and affordable price, the Honeywell Contempo HL10CES air conditioning unit is the perfect pick for shoppers on a budget, while the LG LP1414GXR is the obvious selection for those who want the latest technology. The Whynter ARC-143MX air conditioning unit cools half your house and looks great doing it, while the hOmeLabs Portable AC offers the kind of no-fuss, no-frills experience that anyone can get on board with ease.[/su_expand]

Read Next: Best Wifi Air Conditioner

Chris Stobing

Chris Stobing is a writer and blogger from the heart of Silicon Valley. Raised around tech from birth, he's had an interest in PC hardware and networking technology for years, and has come to Gadget Review to contribute his knowledge on both.

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2 Comments

    1. MrCooper, we’re very sorry to hear that. We’re you able to get a return label processed from the vendor since it likely falls within their return window? If it’s Amazon they should pay for return shipping, just mark the product as defective during the process.

      That said, we do our best to vet all the products that we pick. But you just never know when you’re gonna get a dud :(. Of course this doesn’t make your pain any less, especially when it’s 90 degrees + outside.

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