Going crazy with the heat? Cool things down with our pick of the best portable air conditioners
Do you struggle to sleep when it’s too hot? Or do you have an office where it’s too muggy to get anything done? The best portable air conditioners (PACs) will keep a single room cool in the hot summer months, with no disruptive installation required and at a much lower cost than house-wide systems.
Most models feature a built-in timer, so they run only when you’re using the room and without wasting energy. You can even move them around, with some limitations, so the same unit that cools your home office in the day can also keep your bedroom chilled at night.
Best portable air conditioner: Still in stock
How to choose the best portable air conditioner for you
How much do I need to spend?
PACs aren’t cheap: most cost somewhere between £300 and £1,000. Below this price, you tend to find evaporative air coolers rather than true air conditioners, which aren’t as effective.
How much you need to spend depends on your cooling requirements. PACs are rated in British thermal units (BTU): one BTU is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree. A higher rating means an air conditioner can cool a larger space, which normally means the unit itself will be larger and more expensive. A 9,000BTU unit will handle a space of approximately 45 cubic metres, while a 12,000BTU unit could go up to 90 cubic metres. Measure your room before you buy to make sure you choose an air conditioner that’s up to the job.
Of course, you don’t want to go much bigger than you have to. Weight, size and convenience matter, and if a unit’s too big, too heavy and too difficult to set up, then you may end up avoiding using it except for a few really hot days in the summer. You need to balance the cooling power you need against how big and obtrusive a PAC can be before you’re not prepared to put up with it.
Where can I put a portable air conditioner?
Positioning is another issue: most PACs need to vent hot air through a window, and if you can’t place it right next to a suitable opening, you’ll either need to put a permanent vent through the wall or find a model with a hose extender. What’s more, where the air goes out, there’s also potential for more warm air to creep in. In fact, the negative air pressure created by the air conditioner actively encourages it to do so.
Most PACs will come with a window fixing kit to block any gap, but this might only be suitable for a sash window, sliding door or hinged top window. While you might be able to improvise with hardboard or towels, it makes sense to check what options you have available for your chosen PAC before you get it home.
Hot air isn’t the only thing your air conditioner needs to expel. As the air cools, moisture condenses out of it, which is collected inside the PAC. Some units can evaporate this internally and exhaust it through the hose or the back of the unit; in other models, it’s kept in an internal reservoir that needs to be emptied manually.
Is it going to be noisy and expensive to run?
All PACs incorporate a compressor and one or more fans, so they’re never going to be totally silent. Some are quieter than others, however: you should find the minimum and/or maximum noise pressure levels listed in the manufacturer’s specification. Watch out for sleep modes, too. These power down the compressor and reduce the speed of any fans to make the PAC’s hum a little easier to sleep through. If you really struggle with the noise, though, think about cooling the room before you go to sleep, or try using a desktop or pedestal fan instead.
As for running costs, a higher BTU rating generally means the PAC will be doing more work and consuming more energy, but not all units are created equal. Your air conditioner should have an energy efficiency class, from A++ down to G, just like your fridge or cooker. The higher the class, the more efficient the unit will be.
Are there any other features I should look out for?
Like most big appliances, PACs come with an environmental cost. You can help cut that down by picking an energy-efficient A++ model, but some manufacturers are also boosting their green credentials by using refrigerant gases, such as R290, that have a lower environmental impact and don’t create greenhouse gases during the product lifecycle.
PACs should really be emptied and cleaned at the end of every summer season, and easily accessible fans and filters make that job a whole lot easier. Make sure you clear out any pipes or drains as well; they can get pretty stinky if left alone over a long winter.
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How we test portable air conditioners
We review portable air conditioners by installing and running them over a period of at least three days. During that period we test their ability to cool the room from a temperature of at least 24 degrees, measuring the temperature when testing starts, after half an hour, and again after a full hour. We also track the temperature for a further hour to see whether the air conditioner can maintain a consistent level. We also test each PAC for noise levels at full power and in fan mode at the lowest setting, and measure power consumption at these settings to provide an idea of long-term running costs. Finally, we’ll test any additional features, including smart features and partner apps, and look at how easy the PAC is to use, and at the design and usability of the remote control.
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The best portable air conditioners you can buy in 2023
1. Amcor SF8000E: Best low-cost portable air conditioner
Price when reviewed: £300 | Check price at Amazon Looking to cool a small living room, home office or bedroom? The Amcor SF8000E is one of the smallest and cheapest PACs around. At 34.5 x 37.8cm it has a tiny footprint and stands less than a metre high, yet it can still dish out 7,000BTU of cooling, bringing down the temperatures in small-sized rooms of up to 18m². At 21kg, it’s just about movable on its caster wheels, although you’re restricted by the 1.5m hose and sliding window kit.
Obviously, the relatively low BTU rating puts it out of contention for larger rooms, let alone open-plan living spaces, but for the average UK living room or bedroom it should be fine. You can control it using the top-mounted touch controls or bundled remote, and there’s a 24-hour stop/start timer to cool your bedroom before you go to sleep. The only problem is that most users describe it as “pretty noisy”. You might not want to leave this one running overnight.
Key specs – BTU rating: 7,000; Functions: AC, dehumidifier, fan; Energy rating: A; Max noise: 64dB; Extra features: Remote control, timer, two-speed fan; Hose length: 1.5m; Dimensions: 345 x 870 x 378mm; Weight: 21kg
2. AEG ChillFlex Pro AXP26U339CW: A premium portable air conditioner for larger rooms
Price when reviewed: £510 | Check price at John Lewis AEG’s compact PAC combines streamlined looks and top build quality with effective, energy-efficient cooling, creating one of the best PACs out there. With a 9,000BTU cooling capacity, it can handle rooms of up to 18m³ and it still has an A energy rating. It’s relatively loud on the highest of the three fan settings but quiet when on the lowest, and it does a great job of getting the temperature down quickly. What’s more, it uses R290 as a refrigerant, making it a more eco-friendly option than some low-cost conditioners. It also functions as a fan, heater and dehumidifier, collecting 1.2 litres of water per hour into the tank or, in fan and heater modes, a separate outlet hose.
It’s easy to use, either via the top-mounted controls or the bundled remote, and you can quickly set the desired temperature or timers for start-up and shutdown. Any issues it has are mostly practical – the hose is short and AEG doesn’t supply a window kit – making this a cool, compact PAC with a smidgeon of style and a luxury feel.
Key specs – BTU rating: 9,000; Functions: AC, dehumidifier, heater, fan; Energy rating: A; Noise: 64dB; Features: Remote control, timer, three-speed fan, heat pump; Hose length: 1.5m; Dimensions: 705 x 472 x 383mm; Weight: 31kg to 34kg
3. DeLonghi Pinguino PAC EL112: Best portable air conditioner for features
Price when reviewed: £950 | Check price at AmazonIt’s a big step up from the smaller units when it comes to price, but the Pinguino PAC EL112 is a feature-packed PAC that’s ideal for a slightly larger room. While standing 75cm tall, the tapered design makes it look fairly unobtrusive, helped by the minimalist touch-sensitive controls. At 33kg you won’t want to heft it around much, and the supplied window kit, with an extending panel to cover smaller or larger windows, is best suited to near-permanent fitting, at least during the summer months.
As an air conditioner, the EL112 is easy to use; just set your desired temperature and let it do its stuff. However, DeLonghi also provides one of its CST remote controls, including sensors, to help it monitor and regulate the temperature and humidity, and you can also connect it to your Wi-Fi network and use DeLonghi’s Comfort app. We had a few problems setting this up, since it refused to find or connect to a Mesh Wi-Fi network, but it would talk directly to an 802.11ac router. Once hooked up, it mirrors the controls on the remote but also adds a useful scheduling function, where you can set exactly when you want the PAC to turn on and off, along with the mode and fan speed.
It’s an effective cooler, taking a 25°C room to 21°C within half an hour, and to 20°C over a further 30 minutes, after which it kept the temperature steady for another hour. Testing in the middle of a heatwave, this was sweet relief. However, take any claims of silent running with a pinch of salt; noise levels hit 52dB at full tilt, falling to 46dB once the temperature had stabilised. Power consumption can also reach 620 to 820W when the unit is working hard. It isn’t the cheapest PAC to buy or run, but if you need some serious cooling, it’s exactly what you need.
Key specs – BTU rating: 11,000; Functions: AC, dehumidifier, fan; Energy rating: A+; Max noise: 63dB; Features: Remote control, timer, three-speed fan, myEcoReal mode, Wi-Fi and DeLonghi Comfort app; Hose length: 1.2m; Dimensions: 450 x 410 x 750mm; Weight: 33kg
4. DeLonghi Pinguino PAC EX130CST: Best portable air conditioner for mid-sized rooms
Price when reviewed: £730 | Check price at Amazon
With a higher BTU rating than its stablemate, the Pinguino PAC EL112, the PAC EX130CST is equipped to handle rooms of up to 120m³ in size, and we suspect it could go larger. There’s a lot of cooling power on offer here. It effortlessly reduced the temperature of our test room from 25°C to 20.5°C in half an hour, then dropped down to a steady 20°C for the rest of our two-hour test period. We had no problem throughout testing keeping the temperature at about that level, although attempts to push it down to 18°C weren’t so successful; it’s within the range of the thermostat, but seems to be outside the EX130 CST’s comfort zone.
While it has a different layout of touch-sensitive controls to the smaller Pinguino, we found the EX130CST every bit as easy to use. It comes with the same CST remote control, which support’s DeLonghi’s myEcoReal technology to keep temperature and humidity at a comfortable level, while reducing energy consumption and noise. This is still a fairly noisy unit, though, putting out around 52dB while cooling, and over 46dB just while running the fan at its lowest setting. You probably won’t want it on while you’re trying to get to sleep at night.
Throw in the same smart features as the smaller model, and you have a fully featured PAC that can keep you chilled out in the middle of a scorching day. Just be aware that it’s a chunky unit and, at 32kg, a bit too heavy to be lugged around the house.
Key specs – BTU rating: 13,000; Functions: AC, dehumidifier, fan; Energy rating: A++; Max noise: 64dB; Features: Remote control, timer, three-speed fan, myEcoReal mode, Wi-Fi and DeLonghi Comfort app; Hose length: 1.2m; Dimensions: 445 x 390 x 805mm; Weight: 32kg
5. MeacoCool MC Series 7000: A highly effective air conditioner for smaller spaces
Price when reviewed: £300 | Check price at Meaco
Air-conditioning units don’t get much more reasonably priced than the MeacoCool MC 7000. Suitable for rooms up to 22m² thanks to its 7,000 BTU rating, the unit includes two fan speeds, as well as dehumidifier and fan functions. It’s reasonably compact, too, measuring less than a metre tall and 35cm square. At 21kg, it’s also more realistically portable than some PACs; you can just about lug it from room to room without risking a hernia.
As with all true air conditioners, the MC Series 7000 needs to be vented out of a window, but it’s supplied with a 1.8m window hose and a sash window/sliding door kit so you can do that straight out of the box. For other types of windows, you will need the “flexible” window kit, which now comes bundled with MC-series PACs. If you’re planning to use the dehumidifier function, you will also need to connect the supplied outlet hose and keep a bucket or container for drainage; there’s no internal tank.
Once set up, it’s a highly effective unit that’s able to effortlessly keep your average UK living or bedroom cool down to temperatures of 16˚C. In tests, we managed to cool our mid-sized living room from 24˚C to 20˚C within an hour. We also like that the unit uses a more environmentally friendly R290 refrigerant.
The only major downsides are noise and power consumption. The MC Series 7000 outputs around 58dBA in typical use, and is only a few decibels quieter with the fan on its lower setting. And while it uses around 104W while cooling, we saw that rise to peaks of 641W during dehumidification – although the way the dry mode works means that this isn’t constant, by any means. Still, you’ll hear the same complaints of most PACs, but you can easily live with such issues when the price is so low and the performance so impressive.
Read our full MeacoCool MC 7000 review
Key specs – BTU rating: 7,000; Functions: AC, dehumidifier, fan; Energy rating: A; Max noise: 65dB; Extra features: Remote control, timer, two-speed fan; Hose length: 1.8m; Dimensions: 348 x 335 x 740mm; Weight: 21kg