Looking for an easy way to escape the heat without spending a ton of money or dealing with a significant install? We researched over 70 portable air conditioning units before purchasing the best 7 to pit against each other in a series of side-by-side tests. We used a lab-grade thermometer and high-quality data loggers to track how well and how quickly each model cooled off in our testing room. In addition to their cooling ability, we measured their power consumption and how much noise they generated. We highlight which product is best for the hottest climates, which is the friendliest to your power bill, and the most portable of them all.
If you're seeking an all-around AC unit that won't break the bank, we recommend the SereneLife SLPAC10. This value option holds its own against and even outperforms some models that cost quite a bit more. We love how easy this machine is to move from room to room with the tool-free window insert setup. It also did reasonably well in our cooling performance tests and had below-average energy consumption compared to other units we tested.
However, while it did a decent job at cooling our test space down, it couldn't quite compete with some of the larger dual-hose units. This won't be a big deal for most people, but if you live in a sweltering area (routinely 100+ degrees Fahrenheit) and plan on running the AC constantly, we suggest going with a larger and more powerful unit.
The Whynter ARC-122DS Elite is a fantastic portable air conditioner and one of the top scorers in our test group. This unit is tranquil and unobtrusive, making it a great option if you have difficulty focusing or sleeping with white noise in the background. It also did fairly well in our cooling performance tests and is reasonably portable. It is a dual-hose air conditioner, which cools much better than single-hose models when outside temperatures are extremely high, making this unit a great option if you live in a hot climate.
Unfortunately, you'll pay more upfront for this model, and it also wasn't the most economical in our energy consumption assessment. In addition, the large size and double-hose system are not the most visually appealing. However, the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite is superb for anyone who needs maximum cooling power in hot climates.
The Whynter ARC-14SH is one of our favorite dual-hose options. If you live in a particularly hot climate, we suggest considering a dual-hose model. They are usually much more efficient than single-hose varieties, as you don't lose any cold air to the outside. Over an hour, it imposed one of the most significant temperature drops on our test room and has the listed capacity to handle spaces up to 500 square feet.
Unsurprisingly, this unit consumes quite a bit of electricity, and the dual hoses make it a little more cumbersome to move around and set up. It also tends to be expensive, but it is our top recommendation if you need maximum cooling power.
Since 2018, we've tested 13 different portable air conditioning units. We purchased all the portable air conditioners used in this review from major retailers at retail prices. The Cooling Power score carries the most weight. We tested each unit in the peak summer heat, comparing their cooling power head-to-head using calibrated high-end thermometers and temperature loggers. We also weighed and measured the power draw of each appliance so you can know what you're getting into by running these models. Finally, we rated the ease of rolling and carrying these supposedly portable products.
Our testing of portable air conditioners is divided across four rating metrics:
Cooling Power tests (40% of overall score weighting)
Portability tests (25% weighting)
Noise tests (20% weighting)
Energy Cost tests (15% weighting)
Our portable air conditioner testing and review team is composed of Austin Palmer, David Wise, and Buck Yedor. Combined, the three have tested dozens of appliances for GearLab and bring a wealth of knowledge and analytical thinking to this review. Having grown up in the heat of Texas, Austin knows all too well how important a quality air conditioner can be. David has a degree in mechanical engineering and lends his experience with data acquisition, instrumentation, and heat transfer to the design and execution of our testing process. Buck brings it together with clear and concise explanations that make their results accessible and easy to understand.
Analysis and Test Results
To determine which portable air conditioner is the best, we conducted extensive research and evaluated the top models currently on the market. We then bought the most promising models available and compared their performance side-by-side, grading them in four weighted rating metrics: Portability, Cooling Power, Noise, and Energy Cost.
Many of these products cost a pretty penny. Some notable exceptions are the SereneLife SLPAC10 and the Black+Decker BPACT08WT. These units both performed exceptionally well compared to the more expensive models. The SereneLife is our recommendation if you can spend a little more on your air conditioning investment, and the Black+Decker is a good option if you are shopping on a minimal budget. Even better, both these models scored reasonably well in our energy consumption test, potentially helping keep your electricity bills down.
Since cooling a room is the primary use for each product, this is one of our test's most essential and heavily weighted metrics. To rank and score the cooling power of these units, we compared how well each product could cool our test room in 60 minutes. While these units all have different BTU and room size ratings, our 161 square foot test room was well within the listed performance ratings of each product.
We did the test simultaneously 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 — and then let the room reach a steady temperature before starting the test, so we didn't artificially improve the cooling power of the ACs as it naturally cooled off. We measured the starting ambient temperature and recorded the temperature drop achieved in 60 minutes.
The Whynter ARC-14SH led the way in this test. This unit is rated for up to 500 square feet, and it dropped the temperature of our testing room by 11.99°F. A group of AC units tied for the runner-up position with moderate performance in our cooling challenge, including the SereneLife SLPAC10 and Whynter ARC-122DS Elite.
The Whynter ARC-122DS Elite chilled the room by an even 10°F. The SereneLife SLPAC10 narrowly outperformed all the units, dropping the temperature by 11°F. We thought this was quite interesting, as there is a stark difference between these models' room ratings and BTU values. The 10,000 BTU SereneLife is rated for 350 square feet, while the 12,000 BTU Whynter Elite is rated for rooms up to 400 square feet.
The Airo Comfort had the lowest temperature drop, coming in last place in the cooling metric. This 10,000 BTU unit is allegedly effective for areas up to 350 square feet but only dropped the temperature in our smaller room by six degrees after 60 minutes.
After seeing how well these products cool a room, we evaluated and scored how mobile these purportedly portable air conditioners are. This metric is based on how much effort it takes to roll each air conditioner around, how maneuverable they are, the ergonomics of the handles, the difficulty we had in carrying them, and how hard it is to install and remove the window inserts.
It turns out that portability is a relative term in this case. None of these appliances are especially easy to transport. While they can be occasionally transferred from room to room or removed and taken to storage seasonally, you probably won't move these units around much throughout your day to save on energy costs, as you might with a fan or space heater. On average, it took about 15 to 20 minutes to remove the window insert, move the AC to a nearby room, and reinstall the insert.
Claiming the top spot for portability is the SereneLife SLPAC10. This model is agile and maneuverable, effortlessly rolling across hard surfaces. It also isn't too challenging to carry for short durations, though it does tip the scales at a bit over 50 pounds, and we wouldn't be thrilled if we had to haul it up or down multiple stairs.
In particular, the ease of removing and installing the window insert impressed us with the SereneLife, which is what makes it so portable. Its tool-free installation process can be accomplished quickly, minimizing the hassle of moving this appliance to another room.
The Whynter ARC-122DS Elite is relatively easy to roll around, offering barely any rolling resistance, and is one of the more maneuverable models. However, we noticed that it could be finicky when it comes to turning, seemingly having a much greater affinity for continuing in a straight line than pivoting. It is also easy to set up the window insert, though it does require a screwdriver to tighten the pair of screws that lock in the length. However, the Whynter's handle design is inconvenient and hard to grasp. It's also on the heavier side. All these drawbacks make it a pain to haul around.
The Black+Decker rolls with ease and is easy to carry. It has virtually no rolling resistance and maneuvers similarly to the SereneLife. It's one of the lightest products in the review and is easier to carry than some other models. The handles on this product are just a bit too small, making lifting more challenging. Finally, its window insert is more work to mount and remove, requiring a screwdriver, which knocks its overall portability score down a bit.
Rounding out the back end of the group is the Vremi 10,000 BTU and Whynter ARC-14SH. The Whynter has very little rolling resistance but is a bit funky in maneuverability, as it swerves randomly and doesn't seem to like rolling in a straight line. It's also challenging to carry, weighing in at 77.2 pounds. On top of that, it has tiny handles and isn't easy to hold. However, the window insert is easy to install and offers plenty of adjustability.
After lugging these air conditioners up and down staircases and across rooms, we were ready for a test that required a little less physical exertion. The noise metric consists of two tests: noise levels measured with our SPL meter and having a panel of testers rate the sound produced by each product.
When it comes to sound, the Whynter ARC-122DS Elite and the Whynter ARC-14SH claim the top spots for being the least obtrusive. We measured the noise level from four feet 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.
In particular, our judges appreciated that the Whynter models are exceptionally quiet, noting that what little sound they do produce isn't excessively grating to the ear — something more akin to static or white noise that easily blends into the background.
The Black+Decker is above average in terms of sound output. It's a bit louder than the top models but doesn't have any standout tones, making it a better option if you can deal with white noise. Finishing at the back of the pack in this metric, the SereneLife is a touch noisier.
The fan seemed pointedly loud to us on the SereneLife — enough that it could cause problems if you were trying to carry on a conversation close to it.
For our last rating metric, we estimated how much it would cost to run each of these models annually and, thus, how efficient they are. We assumed we would run each of these units for 12 hours a day for 90 days for our calculation. We also assumed that the 12 hours were split, with two hours of the AC being on a high setting 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 US cents per kWh for the cost of electricity in our calculations.
To determine each unit's average power consumption, we measured each model's energy draw for 30 minutes with a wattmeter on both low and high modes when the outside temperature was in the mid to high 80s. Of course, the number we arrived at for the annual cost isn't necessarily going to be true for you, as electricity prices can vary wildly across different areas at different times of the day and throughout the year. You may be in the tropics and need to run the AC 365 days a year, in which case your annual cost will be tremendously higher than ours, but the relative ranking of the AC units should remain the same.
Living in a Hot Climate?
If you are living in an area where you are going to be running the air conditioner during more than just the hottest summer months, you probably want to place a higher priority on this metric and take a closer look at models that performed well in these tests.
The Black+Decker and the SereneLife topped the list in this metric. We estimate the Black+Decker would consume about 864 kWh throughout the summer. This assumption correlates to a projected cost of around $114 for the Black+Decker.
The SereneLife would cost just a bit more to run on our estimated use profile, costing around $116 over the 90 days and consuming 883.8 kWh.
The Whynter ARC-14SH earned low ratings in our power consumption metric. Our projected summer operating cost spiked with this model, and we estimate that it would add around $160 to your electricity bill.
At this point, we hope you're armed with a solid idea about which air conditioner is going to be your best bet. We believe that it's important to consider your budget and needs to beat the sweltering summer heat. You'll want to ensure that the unit of your choosing is portable and cool enough for your intended uses.
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.