Had enough of the heat? After spending dozens of hours researching and comparing over 50 different models, we bought the 8 best portable air conditioners and put them to the test to see which one really is the best at combating that sweltering summer sun. We ranked and scored the cooling performance of each product and their noise level, as well as how easy to move these purportedly portable products are. Finally, we measured the energy consumption of each one to make sure they don't explode your power bill. Check out the full review below to see which A/C unit is truly the coolest of the cool, which is best for triple-digit temps, and which is best when shopping on a budget.
Best Portable Air Conditioners of 2018
Best for Hotter Climates
Whynter ARC-122DS Elite
Earning one of the top scores of the entire group, the 122DS Elite is an all-around, fantastic portable air conditioner. This unit is exceptionally quiet and unobtrusive, making it a great option if you have a hard time focusing or sleeping when there is background white noise. This unit has solid cooling power, is decently portable, and isn't a glut when it comes to energy consumption. Even better, this is a dual-hose model, which can handle the hottest temperatures a bit better than single hose models, making it the best option for those that live in the hottest locales — those that regularly hit triple-digit temperatures.
Unfortunately, this product is also a bit on the expensive side, usually retailing for around $420. Additionally, while this model isn't very noticeable acoustically, the double-hose system does make it more visually intrusive and can impact the aesthetic of the room. Despite this, the Elite is a great choice if you live in the hottest of locations.
Read Full Review: Whynter ARC-122DS Elite
Best Value Overall
Matching the performance of the ARC-122DS Elite, the Whynter ARC-08WB is another fantastic portable air conditioner, with the added benefit of being much easier on the budget — both in terms of initial investment and cost to run. It has solid cooling power, but it is in the energy cost metric where this product really stands out. This A/C completely dominated our energy cost projections, consuming significantly less energy than any other model we have tested to date. It's also one of the most easily moved models and one of the least expensive units that actually work well, retailing for around $350.
Unfortunately, we did find one significant flaw with this product: noise. This is one of the louder A/C units we have tested, which can be a bit of an issue if you can't stand white noise. However, this is the clear choice if you are shopping on a budget or don't want to blow up your electric bill.
Read Full Review: Whynter ARC-08WB
Best for Temperate Climates
Performing the best in our relative cooling test, this model from LG is a great option if you are looking for an A/C to get a room temperature down as fast as possible and live in more moderate climates. This unit is a single hose model, so it can get bogged down in the hottest temperatures, but does an excellent job when the temperature is 80°F-100°F (26°C-37°C). It's also one of the easier models to get set up and install, making it a good choice if you plan on moving it room to room on a more frequent basis.
However, this A/C is a bit on the louder side and definitely is a bit liberal in its energy consumption. It also is one of the more expensive models, retailing in the neighborhood of $400. Despite these flaw, it is a solid option for those that want maximum cooling power and live in the more temperate climate zones.
Read Full Review: LG LP1215GXR
Analysis and Test Results
To determine which portable air conditioner is really the best of the best, we conducted extensive research and evaluated over 50 different products. We then bought the most promising models currently available and compared their performance side-by-side, grading their performance in four weighted rating metrics: Portability, Cooling Power, Noise, and Energy Cost, with our results described below.
None of these products are particularly inexpensive, all retailing between $300 and $600, with our award winners going for $350-$450. However, there is one product that clearly stands out from the rest if you are shopping on a budget: the Whynter ARC-08WB. This model retails at the relatively more affordable price of $350 and delivered one of the best performances we have seen to date, making it a great value on its own merits. On top of that, this is also one of the most energy-efficient models we have seen, making its annual cost to run lower than the majority of its competitors.
First and foremost when you think of these products, cooling power is by far the most important aspect of our testing process. Making up 40% of the total score, this test was essentially how well each of these units cooled comparably warm room in an hour. While these units all have different BTU and room size rating, our 161 sq. ft. test room was well within the room size of each product and we found this wasn't terribly indicative of performance in our test.
We did the test at the same time each day in the middle of summer, with similar amounts of sunlight entering the room to keep the outdoor temperature as controlled as possible. We then heated the room with a set of space heaters — usually well above 90°F — stopped them and then gave the room enough time to hit a steady-state temperature before starting the test, so we didn't artificially improve the cooling power of the A/C's as it naturally cooled off. We measured the starting ambient temperature and scored off the temperature drop achieved in 60 minutes, with our results shown below.
Claiming the top spot, the LG LP1215GXR delivered the best relative cooling performance, earning a 7 out of 10. This 12,000 BTU unit dropped the temperature by the most of the group, reducing it by 13.81°F.
Following this top-notch chilling performance, the Whynter ARC-14SH came next, earning a 6 out of 10. This unit is rated for up to 500 sq. ft. and dropped the temperature of our testing room by 11.99°F.
A trio of A/C units came next, with the Frigidaire FGPC1244T1, the Whynter ARC-08WB, and the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite all earning a 5 out of 10 for their moderately cool performance. The Frigidaire has the highest room size rating at 550 sq. ft. and actually did the worst of the group, but only by a tiny fraction of a degree.
The Frigidaire chilled the room 9.93°F, whereas both of the Whynter models dropped the temperature by an even 10°F. We thought this was quite interesting, as there is a stark difference in the room ratings and BTU values of these models. The 8000 BTU ARC-08WB is rated for 250 sq. ft. while the 12000 BTU ARC-122DS Elite is rated for up to 400 sq. ft. rooms.
The Honeywell MN10CESWW and the other model from LG, the LP0817WSR came next, both meriting a 4 out of 10 for their lukewarm cooling attempts. We expected a little more from the Honeywell, as it is rated to be able to cool up to a 450 sq. ft. room, but only dropped the temperature of our 161 sq. ft. test room by 8.66°F after an hour. The LG LP0817WSR dropped it even less, only reducing the temperature by 8.21°F, but is only rated for up to a 200 sq. ft. room.
Finishing at the back of the group, the BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT earned a 3 out of 10 for doing the least to drop the temperature. This 8000 BTU unit is allegedly effective in areas up to 300 sq. ft., but only dropped the temperature in our smaller room by 6.4°F after 60 minutes.
After seeing how well these products really could cool, we moved on to evaluating and scoring how portable these purportedly portable air conditioners actually are. This metric is responsible for 25% of the total score and is based on how much effort it takes to roll each air conditioner around, how maneuverable they are, the ergonomics of the handles and difficult in carrying (including weight!), and how hard it is to install and remove the window inserts.
In the effort of full disclosure, none of these products as being all that portable. While they certainly can be moved from room to room on an infrequent basis or taken out and stored seasonally without too much of a fuss, you probably shouldn't have any illusions about moving this around with your from room to room throughout your day to save on energy costs, like you might move a space heater. On average, it probably took 15 to 20 minutes to remove the window insert, move the A/C to a nearby room, and reinstall the insert. With that in mind, you can see our ranking of the relative portability of each of these products below.
Tying for the top score, the Whynter ARC-08WB and the Honeywell MN10CESWW are the most easily moved of the entire group, both meriting a 7 out of 10 in this set of tests. The Whynter ARC-08WB is by far the easiest to roll around, offering the least rolling resistance of the entire group. It can get a little squirrely when pushing in a straight line, struggling a little to stay on course with the casters being a little oversensitive. This air conditioner is also one of the easiest models to carry, due to its ergonomic handles and lighter weight.
However, the window insert can take a little bit of time to set up and does require a screwdriver.
The Honeywell is a little easier to roll around, having the same lack of rolling resistance as the ARC-08WB, but doing a little better at staying on course. It is also a little easier to install the window insert, relying on wingnuts, rather than normal screws, so no tools are required.
Unfortunately, the Honeywell is a bit harder to carry. The handles are fine, but it weighs about 10 lbs. more than the ARC-08WB.
The majority of the models came next, with the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite, the BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT, the Frigidaire FGPC1244T1, and the LG LP0817WSR all receiving a 6 out of 10 for their performance.
The Whynter Elite is fairly easy to roll around, offering barely any rolling resistance, and is one of the more maneuverable models. However, we did notice that it can be a little finicky when it comes to turning, seemingly having a much greater affinity for continuing in a straight line than pivoting. It is also quite easy to set up the window insert, though it does require a screwdriver to tighten the pair of screws that lock in the length.
Unfortunately, this model is a giant pain to carry, having a somewhat inconvenient and hard to hold handle design and is one of the heaviest models of the group.
However, the Frigidaire managed to be even harder to carry, weighing in at almost 20 lbs. heavier and having absolutely awful handles that are quite painful on your hands when carrying.
This model was slightly redeemed by being surprisingly easy to roll around. It's very maneuverable and has surprisingly little rolling resistance, considering its bulk. It is also very easy to install the window insert, with a tool-free process relying on a quick-release lever. However, we would recommend steering clear of this A/C if you live in a multi-level home and are going to be moving it up and down stairs — the Whynter ARC-08WB or the LG LP0817WSR would be far better options.
Speaking of the LG, the LP0817WSR may be easy to carry, but it isn't the easiest to roll around. We noticed significant rolling resistance and the steering can be a little finicky. Additionally, the window insert installation process isn't the easiest we have seen.
The BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT has the dual benefits of being both easy to carry and easy to roll around. It has virtually no rolling resistance and maneuvers similarly to the Whynter ARC-08WB. It's easier to carry than the Honeywell, but a little bit more work than the LG LP0817WSR, even though the BLACK+DECKER is about 7 lbs. lighter. The handles on this product are just a little too small, making it harder to lift and dropping its score. Finally, the window insert on the BLACK+DECKER is a little more work to mount or remove, requiring a screwdriver as well.
Rounding out the back of the group, the LG LP1215GXR and the Whynter ARC-14SH both earned a 5 out of 10 for being somewhat wanting when it comes to ease of transport. The ARC-14SH and the LP1215GXR both have very little rolling resistance, but are a bit funky when it comes to maneuverability, but for different reasons. The Whynter model doesn't really like rolling in a straight line, swerving randomly, where the LG LP1215GXR doesn't really like to turn and requires a bit of effort to force it off of its current path.
These models are both incredibly arduous to carry, with the LG and the Whynter weighing in at 64.5 lbs. and 77.2 lbs., respectively. On top of that, both of these have incredibly small handles and aren't easy to hold on to at all. However, the window insert on the ARC-14SH is decently easy to install, giving you plenty of adjustability — much more than the LG LP0817WSR.
After lugging these (not so) portable air conditioners up and down stairs and across rooms, we were ready for a test that required a little less physical exertion and moved on to ranking and scoring how loud each of these products are. This metric is worth 20% of the total score and consists of two tests: noise levels measured with our SPL meter and having a panel of judges rate the relative annoyance of the tone of the sound produced by each product, with our results displayed below.
When it comes to sound, the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite and the Whynter ARC-14SH claim the top spot for being the least obtrusive. We measured the noise level from 4' away, with the meter's microphone out of the direct airflow of each portable air conditioner and these two had some of the lowest results.
On top of being some of the quietest models, our panel felt that the overall tone of these two products was more akin to white noise and easily faded into the background, without any particularly annoying tones.
Following the pair of Whynter models, the Frigidaire FGPC1244T1 came next, earning a 7 out of 10. This portable air conditioner is equally quiet on the SPL meter, but you can hear the compressor over the fan running — the exact opposite of the top models. This slightly irregular sound is a bit more distracting and noticeable, dropping the Frigidaire's score.
The BLACK+DECKER BPACT08WT is also above average in terms of being quiet, meriting a 6 out of 10. It's just a little bit louder than the top models, but doesn't have any standout tones, like the Frigidaire, making it a better option if you are better at dealing with louder white noise than distinct tones that are quieter. This was followed by the Honeywell MN10CESWW and the LG LP0817WSR, which both earned a 5 out of 10. This pair of portable air conditioners are both just a bit louder than the BLACK+DECKER, but also lack any noticeably irritating tones.
Finishing at the back of the pack in this metric, the LG LP1215GXR earned a 4 out of 10 and the Whynter ARC-08WB earned a 3 out of 10 for being a bit on the noisy side. This pair measured at the same level on the SPL meter, but our panel wholeheartedly agreed that the Whynter is significantly louder and more irritating, with a particularly loud exhaust fan.
For the final 15% of the total score for each portable air conditioner, we looked at how much it actually costs to run each of these models annually and thus, how efficient they are. For our somewhat conservative model, we went with running each of these units for 12 hours a day for the entire summer (90 days). We also assumed that the 12 hours was split, with 2 hours of the A/C being on high to initially drop the temperature when you come home, then run on low for the remaining 10 hours to maintain the temperature at a comfortable level. We used $0.135 per kWh for the cost of electricity in our calculations.
We measured the energy draw of each model for 30 minutes with a wattmeter on both low and high modes when the outside temperature was in the mid to high 80's to determine the average power consumption of each product for use in our calculations. Now, the number we came up with for annual cost isn't necessarily going to be true for you, as the prices of electricity can vary wildly across different areas, as well as the demand for A/C. You may be in the tropics and need to run the A/C 365 days a year, in which case your annual cost is obviously going to be tremendously higher than our, but the relative ranking of the A/C units should remain the same, with our results below.
If you are living in an area where you are going to be running the air conditioner more than just the hottest summer months, you probably want to place a higher weight on this metric and be a bit more biased than we were in our relatively temperate climate to models that performed well in this tests.
The best you can get by far when it comes to energy cost and efficiency, the Whynter ARC-08WB easily claimed the top position in this test, earning a 10 out of 10 for its phenomenal performance. This portable air conditioner ended up costing a little less than a dollar a day to run using our 2 hours high, 10 hours low model, which we would project to cost $81.90 to run for the whole summer and use a grand total of 622.8 kWh, making it by far the least expensive out of the entire group.
The BLACK+DECKER came next, earning a 7 out of 10. This air conditioner would end up using about 241 more kWh and raise the projected cost to around $114.
Performance dropped a bit with the next group — the Honeywell MN10CESWW, the LG LP0817WSR, and the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite all earning a 5 out of 10 for their middle-of-the-road showing. The LG used the least amount of energy of this trio in our model, projected to use about 979 kWh and cost $128 or so to run for the full summer. The Honeywell should use a bit more — about 980 kWh — and the Whynter would use even more electricity — just over 1000 kWh — to bring their estimated costs up to approximately $130 and $132, respectively.
The Frigidaire came next, meriting a 3 out of 10. Costs start to climb with this model, estimated to cost you roughly $155 to run daily for the full 3 months of summer. Finally, the LG LP1215GXR and the Whynter ARC-14SH tied for last place position in this metric, both earning a 2 out of 10 for their increased energy consumption. You can expect the Whynter to add about $160 to your power bill over the summer months if your use is similar to our model and the LG LP1215GXR to add around $165, using an additional 1200-1250 kWh or so.
Hopefully, this review has given you some insight in finding which portable air conditioner is your best ally when it comes to beating the heat and helped you get a better idea about which one is best suited for your home — and how much it's going to cost! For more information on choosing an A/C unit and figuring out which type is best for your home, take a look at our Buying Advice article, linked in the section below.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.