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

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

Julie, Interior Designer, Manchester

Guide written by:

Julie, Interior Designer, Manchester

27 guides

Not sure whether to invest in a portable air conditioner or an air cooler? Don't worry! We've rounded up all you need to know about each device to make your decision a little easier. From operation and features to pros and cons, read on 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 basics

Contrary to popular belief, air conditioners do not produce cold air. Instead, they draw in heat from the air and process it before returning the cooled air into the room and sending excess heat and humidity outdoors. Air coolers, on the other hand, work to cool ambient air through a process of evaporation.

Portable air conditioners


Portable air conditioners are divided into two types: monoblock and split air conditioners. Monoblock systems house all parts within a single unit. They are the least expensive air conditioners available and are ideal for use alongside another cooling system. Portable split air conditioners are made up of two units: the outdoor unit contains the compressor and condenser while the indoor unit contains the ventilation system. The two units are linked by hoses. While split air conditioners are more expensive to purchase, they are quieter than monoblock models as the motor is kept outside the property.

Air coolers


Air coolers do not 'condition' the air so to speak but they do cool it down – as the name suggests! These devices are a bit like fans with the addition of a water tank which may also be filled with ice. Air coolers work by drawing in warm air and sending it through a cooling pad which is kept constantly damp. As the water evaporates, the air is cooled and sent back out into the room via an internal fan. While they are less expensive than portable air conditioners, these devices are much less efficient. However, they can lower the room temperature by a few degrees.

Portable air conditioners vs. air coolers

Price and performance


An air cooler will always be cheaper to buy than an air conditioning unit. These devices do not release any harmful gases and require little upkeep. However, an air cooler does not allow you to adjust the temperature of the room with any great precision. Furthermore, these machines simply won't work in rooms of over 30 m2 (or even less depending on the model). What's more, the efficiency of the device depends on the capacity of the water tank – choose a tank that's too small for your room and you'll barely notice a difference in temperature!

Portable air conditioners, on the other hand, are a little more expensive and they are less environmentally friendly. However, an air conditioner will almost always be more efficient than an air cooler and you will have more control over room temperature. Split portable air conditioners are best for larger spaces. 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 systems over the winter.

Finally, 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 – or as little 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 trickier to install split air conditioners as you will have to find a spot outdoors for the second unit.

How to choose a portable air conditioner or air cooler

Once you've settled on a device, you will have to think about which kind of model you want. Once again, there are a few important criteria to bear in mind.

Cooling power


Whether you go for a portable air conditioner or an air cooler, the power rating of the device must be matched to the size of the room you want to cool.

For a portable air conditioner, you'll need around 80 watts (or 286 BTU) per m2. For air coolers, you usually just have to take note of the manufacturer's specs which should indicate the room size the device is designed for.

Sound level

The noise emitted by the device is another important factor to consider. This is given in dB (decibels). For daytime use, opt for a system with a sound level of around 50 dB. For nighttime 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 air coolers feature a humidifying mode while air conditioners may offer a dehumidifying mode. You can also find models fitted with filters – or additional filters in the case of air conditioners – designed 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 which can allows your model to function as a fan without actually cooling down the air. Another option for both devices is an ionising mode which uses negative ions to purify the air.

Extra features


Air coolers can be fitted with a timer to 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 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:

Julie, Interior Designer, Manchester, 27 guides

Julie, Interior Designer, Manchester

After years of DIY, renovation, designing, I decided to turn my passion into my career. Starting in 2006, in the South-West, I helped people with renovation or contruction projects. My expertise and my curiosity led me to look further into innovative ideas for myself and my clients. Indeed, to live your passion is also to transform the space you live in and the objects you use daily. My family love my creations and ideas that I bring into their lives! My favourite thing to do: use colour to brighten up interior space. But also tips to hide away clutter. Your home is just never big enough, is it? It is thus a great pleasure to share my tips with you, so that you also can take as much pleasure as I do when starting up your next project!  

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