We’ve all noticed summers getting warmer, and suddenly, we’re waking up to the fact that fans sometimes aren’t powerful enough to cool us down during those warmer months. So that staple of holiday hotel rooms, offices, and US households is gaining popularity in the UK, too – air conditioners. The best portable air conditioners and air coolers can make all of the difference between sticky, humid days and nights and an airy oasis, no installation required.
This is especially important when many of us find ourselves working from home for the first time, suddenly missing the standard air conditioning installed in most offices. Thankfully there’s a solution, and both air conditioners and evaporative cooling systems are more affordable than in the past.
Many of these products also boast additional functions such as humidifying, dehumidifying, and even air-purifying (for more like this, check out our guide to the best air purifiers), so you’re getting more for your cash and something that you can use all year round.
Scroll down to see which products we rated as best.
The best portable air conditioners and air coolers in 2021
1. Russell Hobbs RHPAC4002 2 in 1 Portable Air Conditioner
Best portable air conditioner overall
Functions: air conditioner, dehumidifier
Reasons to buy: nice, sleek design; also works as a dehumidifier, window kit included
Reasons to avoid: small tank capacity, very heavy, noisy
The Russell Hobbs 2-in-1 portable air conditioner is a compact machine that makes quick work of warm, humid air in the home. A drainage hose and window kit are both included for super-easy installation, and integrated wheels mean you can move it around without lifting (which is difficult due to its heft).
We tested the portable air conditioner in a space of about 18.5m2 and can confirm that the machine made good on the promise to cool and dry the air. We were also pleasantly surprised at how quickly it made a difference to the overall air quality on a warm, late summer day. Be careful with dry mode, though, as the interior tank can only hold 1.1L of removed moisture.
The RHPAC4002 is slightly more attractive than many of its rivals, with the LED display positioned on the front a nice detail. This display shows temperature information and fan speed, as well as if the 24-hour timer has been set. You also get a remote control, which comes in handy.
Ideal Home rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Read next: the best fans to cool you down and look stylish at the same time
2. Logik LAC07C19 Portable Air Conditioner
Best portable air conditioner with timer
Functions: air conditioner, dehumidifier
Reasons to buy: also works as a dehumidifier, 24-hour timer, sleep mode
Reasons to avoid: noisy
A portable air conditioner that also works to remove excess humidity from your indoor air, this offering from Logik also offers a 24 hours timer that makes it easy to program your air cooling to suit your lifestyle and needs. Additional to this is a sleep mode, which cools the room down to the desired level before switching itself off – convenient and energy-efficient to boot!
There are 14 temperature settings in total for greater control, and both wheels and a carry handle make it slightly easier to move the machine around the home. There’s also a window kit included if you want a more fixed location.
3. Challenge 6 Litre Portable Air Cooler
Functions: Cooler, purifier and humidifier
Reasons to buy: also a purifier and humidifier, oscillation function
Reasons to avoid: just a cooler, some complained of limited reach for cool air
A cheaper air cooler, this machine from Challenge combines cooling, purifying and humidifying into one device. Though some reviewers complained that the reach of its cooled air was a little limited, this should suit those who want to bring down the temperature in their home office or bedroom as they sleep.
Place cold water or ice cubes into the 6L water tank and switch to one of the three-speed settings. There’s also an oscillation function that enhances the reach of its cool air output. The purifier and humidifier functions mean you shouldn’t suffer some of those unwanted side effects from sitting in dry air all day.
4. BLACK + DECKER BXAC65001GB Portable Air Purifier, Humidifier & Cooler
Best portable cooler with air purifier
Functions: air purifier, humidifier and cooler
Reasons to buy: purifies as it cools, overheating protection
Reasons to avoid: just a cooler, some reviews complained of noise
Another multi-function machine, the portable air purifier, humidifier and cooler from Black + Decker, will help solve all kinds of summer-related air quality problems. The humidifying function, for example, helps prevent dry air from damaging your skin and furniture, and the air purifier ensures that the cool air coming from the machine is top-notch.
The air cooler is pleasingly slim compared to many of its contemporaries, and it sits on wheels to make it easy to move around. The tank inside holds a substantial 7L, and there are three-speed settings to choose from. There’s also overheating protection for added safety.
5. SILENTNIGHT 39989 Portable Air Cooler
Best budget portable air cooler
Functions: Cooler and humidifier
Reasons to buy: 450-minute timer, three speed settings, also a humidifier
Reasons to avoid: just an air cooler
Another budget option, the Silent Night Portable Air Cooler, is – as the name suggests – a good choice for cooling down a bedroom. The timer function makes it easy to set the machine to operate just before bedtime or even as you’re falling asleep before switching itself off to spare you both the noise and the electricity bill.
There are three speed settings to choose from, and the cooler also works as a humidifier to reduce the dryness of the air. You can use the remote to control the cooler from your bed or the sofa, and the carry handle and wheels make it simple to move from the bedroom to another space during the day.
6. RUSSELLHOB RHPAC3001 3 in 1 Portable Air Conditioner
Functions: air conditioner, air cooler, dehumidifier
Cooling capacity: 7000BTU
Reasons to buy: also works as a dehumidifier, two-speed settings, oscillating fan
Reasons to avoid: noisy, small tank capacity
This portable air conditioner from Russell Hobbs is a one-stop-shop for effective climate control in the home, also acting as an air cooler and dehumidifier with an oscillating fan function and castors for easy movement around the house. A window kit is also supplied with a flexible 1.5m hose, making it easy to fix the air conditioner if portability isn’t your goal.
Able to cover an area of about 14m2, the machine has two-speed settings and promises to keep your home at a comfortable humidity level no matter the weather outside. This helps prevent mould, dust and condensation or dampness – helping to keep everyone healthy and your home clean of unnecessary bacteria.
What’s the difference between an air cooler and an air conditioner?
Both portable air conditioners and air coolers have been included on this list because of the similar functions they fulfil in the home, but there are, of course, a couple of differences.
An air conditioner traditionally works by circulating air around the room repeatedly using a refrigerant and thus significantly cooling down the air in a room. It also reduces the humidity in a space, so air conditioners are also listed as dehumidifiers.
On the other hand, air coolers work a little closer to the ways that fans do – but significantly more efficiently. By filling an air cooler with cold water, you can bring the temperature down and add moisture to the space for a more pleasant living environment. They also tend to use less electricity overall.