Portable Air Conditioner vs Air Cooler: Which One Should You Choose?

Last Updated

Portable Air Conditioner vs Air Cooler: Which One Should You Choose?

Last year we saw temperatures creep above 40°C in the UK! Keeping our homes cool during a British summer is now on everyone’s mind. Being prepared for those scorching days and uncomfortable nights is no longer a luxury. So, when a fan simply won’t cut it, which option is the best at keeping us cool at home? Let’s find out…

How we've rated each one

To ensure a fair comparison, we have used 5 judging criteria for scoring. These are:

Or for a quick view, take a look at our handy guide comparison chart:

Running Costs

When it comes to choosing between an air conditioner and an air cooler, one factor that plays an important role is the cost of the unit and the ongoing running costs.

In a nutshell, air coolers are cheaper compared to portable air conditioners. This is because air coolers require less energy to operate and have fewer components. However, it's important to note that air coolers are not as effective at cooling compared to air conditioners. You might need to purchase and run multiple air coolers, which could end up costing you more in the long run.

Costs of a portable air conditioning unit range from £300–£1000, and air coolers from as little as £90–£400 or more if it's for a very large area such as a warehouse.

The running costs of the units vary according to their size and power:

Air Conditioners

A 9,000 BTU unit costs on average 30–40p per hour and is used on average for 8–9 hours per day.

This equates to £2.40–£3.20 per day, totalling £70–£100 per month.

Air Coolers

Cost on average 2–5p per hour and is used on average for 8–9 hours per day.

This equates to 18–45p per day, totalling £10–£15 per month.

All the above figures are approximate and subject to unit wattage and energy prices.

The energy price cap is changing on 1st April 2024 however our calculations above are still correct.

Cooling Ability

Choosing the right cooling device for your room is crucial. Whether it's a portable air conditioner or an air cooler, matching the device's power rating to the room size is key.

Air conditioners are the powerhouse of cooling, being able to lower temperatures drastically with just the push of a button. On the other hand, air coolers operate on the principle of forcing hot air through a moist medium, which can provide some respite, but is limited by the humidity level of the area. While air coolers are cheaper to operate than air conditioners, they are not suitable for extremely humid environments or areas with temperatures that exceed 30°C.

Regardless, an air cooler can lower your room's temperature by a maximum of a few degrees. So, to achieve maximum cooling effectiveness, the go-to-choice is an air conditioner.


Some air coolers can humidify and clean the air, which can help alleviate dry skin, respiratory problems and reduce allergens and dust in your room. Certain units come with a continuous water supply connector that eliminates the need to refill the water tank frequently. And additionally, the sleep timer function with noise reduction mode is helpful during hot nights when it's difficult to sleep.

Air conditioners have several amazing features that will improve your day-to-day life.

They have advanced filtration systems that can greatly improve air quality and help prevent allergies. One of the greatest features of an air conditioner is the programmable thermostat. This thermostat allows you to set different temperatures at different times of the day to save energy and money.

Not only can these units cool your room, but some units can heat it up as well, making them more useful all year round! Moreover, a smart air conditioner can be controlled remotely through a mobile app, allowing you to adjust the temperature and other settings from anywhere.

They also have a dehumidifying feature that helps remove excess humidity from your space!


Air coolers are not limited to indoor settings, unlike air conditioners. Their portability makes them suitable for outdoor pursuits such as camping and fishing. Air coolers are also commonly used in places where air conditioning is not available, such as garages and loft spaces.

Apart from being a cooling device, air conditioners also double up as dehumidifiers and some even as heaters and air purifiers. This means that they can be used year-round, providing a comfortable and healthy living environment. On the other hand, air coolers only come with features such as humidifying and air purifying.

If you're renting a property, portable air conditioners are the perfect choice. Unlike wall split air conditioning units, they don't require installation that could potentially damage the property.

Long-term Use

In terms of long-term use, portable air conditioners have their distinct advantages.

Firstly, with proper maintenance such as regular filter cleaning and ensuring proper venting of the exhaust hose, they can operate efficiently for many years.

Secondly, the ability to move these units from room to room adds to their longevity as they can be used only when required, thereby reducing wear and tear.

Lastly, certain models come with a heating feature that can be utilised during colder months, making them a year-round appliance. However, like any electronic appliance, the lifespan of a portable air conditioner heavily relies on the quality of the product, how often it's used, and the care taken in its maintenance.

Long term use of air coolers is a bit more complicated. As they rely mostly on water to cool the air, if not properly maintained, the cooling pads may become clogged or damaged. This can reduce their efficiency and require regular replacement of parts. Additionally, air coolers must be refilled every one or two days depending on usage and heat levels for them to continue providing cooled air.

Lastly, air coolers are unable to provide the same levels of cooling as an air conditioner, so they may not be sufficient for sustained hot climates. Despite this, air coolers can be a great long-term option for those looking for cost savings and energy efficiency.

Our verdict

Both air coolers and portable air conditioners offer a great way to keep your home comfortable while saving energy. Both are versatile, easily moved from room to room and have features such as humidifiers and filters that promote healthy indoor air quality. However, depending on the climate and usage level, one may be more beneficial than the other.

If the temperature increases over 25°C, it's probably best to invest in an air conditioner. However, not every room or home is suited for the hose ducting required to vent the hot air and moisture outside. If that is your situation, an air cooler may be your best option.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to one's lifestyle and personal preferences. No matter which option you choose, you'll be sure to enjoy the comfortable cooling relief that both appliances offer.

Want to learn more about how an air conditioner or air cooler works? See our in-depth buyers' guides: