Portable air conditioner or air cooler: which is right for you?

Portable air conditioner or air cooler: which is right for you?

Sylvie, Ecrivain & journaliste brico/déco, Essonne

Guide written by:

Sylvie, Ecrivain & journaliste brico/déco, Essonne

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Not sure whether to purchase a portable air conditioner or an air cooler? We've rounded up all you need to know from how they work to various features and the pros and cons of each device. Follow our guide to find the right portable air conditioner or air cooler for your needs!

Important features

  • Cooling performance
  • Sound level
  • Power consumption
  • Installation
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Portable air conditioner or air cooler: the essentials

Air conditioners do not produce cold air but rather extract heat from the air. They contain a refrigerant fluid which captures the warm air before condensing it or releasing it outdoors via a hose (depending on the model).

Portable air conditioners


Portable air conditioners are divided into two types: monoblock or split units. Monoblock systems are contained within a single unit. They are the least expensive air conditioners available and are ideal for auxiliary use. Portable split air conditioners are made up of two units that are linked by hoses: the outdoor unit contains the compressor and condenser while the indoor unit contains the ventilation system.
Although they are more expensive, split air conditioners are also quieter as the motor is kept outside the property.

Air coolers


Air coolersdo not 'condition' the air but rather cool it down (as their name suggests). Featuring the same basic design as a fan, these compact systems are equipped with a water tank (and sometimes ice) to draw in the hot air which then passes through a cooling pad, evaporates, and comes out as cool air.
Less expensive than portable air conditioners, these devices are not as efficient but can lower the room temperature by a few degrees.

Portable air conditioners vs. air coolers

Price and performance


Air coolers offer the least expensive option. They do not use any harmful gases and require little upkeep. However, they will not allow you to adjust the temperature of the room with any precision and do not work in rooms with a surface area greater than 30 m 2 (or even less, depending on the model). What's more, their efficiency depends on the capacity of their water tank.

Portable air conditioners are a little more expensive and less environmentally friendly. However, they are more efficient and allow you to set precise temperatures. For large rooms, split portable air conditioners are the best option.
It's also worth noting that some portable air conditioners offer a reverse cycle meaning that they can also be used as an additional heating system over the winter.

Air coolers and monoblock portable air conditioners can only lower the temperature in one room, while split portable air conditioners offer the option to combine a number of indoor units.

Energy consumption 


In terms of energy consumption, air coolers do not use a lot of electricity. They generally consume less than 100 watts and this number can be as low as 50 watts for the most efficient models. Portable air conditioners are more energy intensive so it's best to choose models rated A++ or A+++.



Air coolers are very easy to install and use: you simply need to fill the water tank and plug them in. The same goes for monoblock portable air conditioners: simply pass the hose through a window or link it up to an air vent. It is a little more tricky to install split air conditioners.

Choosing a portable air conditioner or air cooler

There are a number of considerations to help you to choose between portable air conditioners and air coolers and find a specific model to suit your needs.

Cooling power


Whether you go for a portable air conditioner or an air cooler, the power rating of the device must be suited to the surface area of the room.

Portable air conditioners consume around 100 watts per m2. For air coolers, you simply have to follow the manufacturer's guidelines noting the surface area the device is designed for.

Sound level and noise

The sound emitted by the device is another important factor. This is given in dB (decibels). For daytime use, opt for a system with a sound level of around 50 dB.For night time use, this level should ideally be under 40 dB, or even as low as 20 dB for models featuring a night mode (may also be called silence or sleep mode). Bear in mind that when it comes to monoblock and split air conditioners, the former will always be noisier.

Air treatment


Some devices featureadditional humidifying modes (for air coolers) or settings designed to dehumidifyambient air (for portable air conditioners). You can also find models fitted with filters (or additional filters in the case of air conditioners) to purify the air released by the device. Active charcoal filters are particularly efficient at eliminating odours while electrostatic filters help to fight bacteria and dust.

Portable air conditioners may also feature a fan mode allowing your model to function as a fan without cooling down the air. Another option for both devices: an ionising mode, which uses negative ions to purify the air.

Additional options


Air coolers can be fitted with a timerto program stop and start times.

A remote control will allow you to control your air conditioner or air cooler without having to get up.

Caring for a portable air conditioner or air cooler


While the process is straightforward, it is important to clean certain parts of your air cooler on a regular basis. The cooling pad must be cleaned around once a month, depending on the hardness of your water. The air filter must be regularly dusted and changed as required. The water tank should also be cleaned on a regular basis.

Portable air conditioners also require regular care. It is essential to clean the air filters and change them as needed. The water collection tray should be emptied regularly and the fan should be dusted.
Please note that split portable air conditioners will require you to clean both the indoor and outdoor units, which can prove more complicated.

More information

For more information on heating and cooling devices, check out the following guides:

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Guide written by:

Sylvie, Ecrivain & journaliste brico/déco, Essonne, 276 guides

Sylvie, Ecrivain & journaliste brico/déco, Essonne

Après avoir travaillé au service de presse de France 2 et de la Cinq, j’ai choisi de laisser parler ma plume en m’orientant vers le journalisme et l’édition. Aussi éclectique dans mes goûts que dans mes écrits, passionnée de décoration et de bricolage comme d’histoire et de sciences, j’écris depuis plus de vingt ans sur ces thématiques. À mon actif : des ouvrages didactiques, romans et nouvelles, et de très nombreux articles brico déco regorgeant de conseils et d’astuces, expérimentés dans la vieille maison que je rénove peu à peu.

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