How to Decide Between a Portable Air Conditioner and an Evaporative Air Cooler

As you prepare for summer, you know that staying cool will be part of the planning process, whether it’s at home, at the office, or sitting in your backyard. As central air becomes less and less common, many people are turning to portable cooling alternatives. Portable air conditioners and portable evaporated air coolers both have their advantages, but deciding which one is right for you depends on your needs.


Hot weather behaves and feels differently depending on location. People in Arizona, for example, have to cope with dry desert heat, while Floridians suffer from high-humidity heat. (Are you familiar with the phrase, "Yes, but it's a dry heat"?) In both cases, air cooling is must. In hot, humid weather, the only way to beat the heat is with a unit that removes humidity and cools the room, which is the case with a portable air conditioner. You have to keep all windows closed so the unit can successfully remove all of the humidity, but it is quite effective.

In contrast to a portable air conditioner, an evaporative air cooler adds humidity to the air but provides a cool breeze, making it ideal for hot, dry climates. It is essential for a window or door to remain open when using an evaporative cooler to allow for the humid air that it creates to escape. At the same time, it draws in a constant supply of fresh air from the open window. An evaporative air cooler uses the natural cooling process of water evaporation to provide a refreshing cooling option.


A portable air conditioner is semi-portable, since the unit’s hose must be secured to a window or to a special wall opening, but it’s easy to remove and place in another room as required.

A portable evaporative air cooler is a free-standing cooler that works wherever there is an electrical outlet. Outdoor models are widespread and can be used to cool patios, backyards, balconies, and any outdoor events, as long as people are in close proximity to the unit. An indoor/outdoor evaporative cooler provides more options than a portable air conditioner, since air conditioners can only be used indoors.


Air conditioners are generally more expensive to purchase, are pricier to maintain, and require more energy than air coolers--which also results in higher electricity bills. Evaporative air coolers provide real savings across the board, so they provide a great economical solution for those who live in hot, dry climates.

Environmental Impact

Portable air conditioners are connected to a window by a hose that expels hot air outside. This can be a problem if your only choice is to place the hose in a window that is directly over your small patio or balcony, since the flow of hot air is quite strong. Air conditioners also use refrigerants that evaporative air coolers don’t require. One great advantage of having an air cooler is that it is a free-standing unit that requires ventilation but doesn't need to be placed in a window, and it works naturally with fresh air so it doesn’t pollute the environment.

Emptying Water vs. Filling with Water

Most portable air conditioners have attached reservoir trays that fill up with water as they remove humid air. This requires the reservoir tray to be emptied once or twice a day; otherwise, the unit will shut off automatically when the reservoir is completely full.

Conversely, air coolers require water in order to operate. The water within the unit is part of the evaporation and cooling process, which is vital for the unit to work.

Pros and Cons

Both portable air conditioners and portable evaporative air coolers are great options for cooling your space, and both are very effective. The choice really depends on climate, size of space, outdoor cooling needs, window options, and cost.

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