5 Best Portable Air Conditioners Under $525

Beat the summer heat with a portable AC unit. Check out these top-rated models with features like quiet operation for bedrooms and dehumidifiers for hot, humid spaces.

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May 13, 2021

Our Top Portable Air Conditioner Picks

When I moved to the Pacific Northwest from the Southeast, my mind was blown that many buildings don’t have air conditioning — like no HVACs and very few window units. It’s pretty mild up here until August, and then it’s hell for 31 days. I quickly bought a portable air conditioner from Costco, and it’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. (Just remember to keep your window open completely when the unit is on and pulling in air. I made the mistake of slightly closing the window once, and the unit nearly melted the window trim and overheated!) Portable AC units are great for rentals or rooms like a garage where you don’t have an HVAC or can’t install a more permanent window box. But not all portable AC units are the same.

There are two important things to know and consider when shopping for a unit: what size to buy and how to clean it. For size, look at the model’s British Thermal Unit or BTU, which refers to the amount of energy needed to cool a room and how quickly. Manufacturers will typically include a square footage number with the BTU listed to indicate if the model is good for cooling a big or small room. For example, you don’t want to buy a unit that is only meant for 250 square feet to cool a large living room. For cleaning, you want to look for a model that is self-cleaning or features an easy-to-remove, reusable filter because emptying a bucket of water is a pain and also becomes a hotspot for mold and mildew buildup. Units also vary dramatically in price from $150 to $1,000, so we’ve narrowed it down to the best, most affordable portable ACs on the market right now. Before you splurge on a machine, take a look at our handy shopping guide to find the right portable air conditioner for your home and your budget.

Best Overall Air Conditioner

If you need AC ASAP, check out the Black + Decker BPACT14WT. It doesn’t come with a fancy remote or WiFi functionality, but it gets the job done under $500. It also offers both a sleep mode and a dehumidify mode so it’s a great all-around unit. And it’s a breeze to install. One reviewer said, “We had it up and running within three minutes of receiving it in the mail.”

Best Air Conditioner for Sleep

One of the cons of buying a portable AC unit is the noise. Like fans, these machines can get pretty loud, especially when they initially turn on to cool down a room. But newer models are sticking to the 40-60 decibel range which is much healthier. This Frigidaire has a noise level of 53, which is pretty average, but what sets it apart and makes this model so popular is the shape. Typically, portable AC units are boxy and, with hose hookups, can easily block a whole window. As someone who literally has to climb over her portable AC to get into bed, I love this sleek, cylinder design. It keeps all the cooling power as other Frigidaire models, but it's more slender and can easily fit into a corner.

Best Air Conditioner for Air Quality

If you suffer from allergies or are sensitive to dust, you need this hOmeLabs unit. It comes with a removable, washable filter and it even alerts you to tell you when it’s time to take out the filter and clean it. That’s a game-changer and a great way to stay on top of your air quality at home.

Best Air Conditioner for Humidity

Most portable AC units feature some type of moisture control, but if you live in an extra hot and humid area, you may need a model with a built-in dehumidifier. Whynter’s Elite model features an AutoPump feature that can be activated to pump out excess condensation.

Best Air Conditioner for Budget

This compact Midea unit doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but at just under $275, it’s the right purchase if you’re on a strict budget. It even comes with a remote, sleep mode and a programmable timer. Several customer reviews have praised this model for being so powerful and fast despite its size. Though given its low BTUs and lack of dehumidifying features, this unit is not a good option for large living areas or super-humid regions.

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