Portable air conditioners are incredibly useful appliances. Why? Because you can move them around! It’s a more practical solution than a buzzing AC unit that is permanently fixed to the wall or next to your window.
However, just like any AC unit, portable ones can be pretty loud. Plus, you’ll most definitely keep the unit inside your home. So the noise will be more apparent than it would be if the motor was fixed on an external wall.
The noise levels of each AC unit depend on three major factors:
STRUCTURE – I’m talking about the structure surrounding the motor. Thicker material is obviously better at blocking the buzzing and humming sound. For this reason, the noise can be reduced by adding an additional barrier of soundproofing material. But it’s best to get a quiet AC to begin with.
SIZE -Larger air conditioners produce more noise than smaller ones. However, if you’re trying to control temperature in a larger room, you obviously need a larger unit to do that successfully. But it’s advisable to get a unit that is adequately powerful so that it’s not unnecessarily loud.
MOTOR – If the two air conditioners are equal in size, the one with a better motor will produce less noise. Why is that? Mainly because it doesn’t have to work as hard to achieve the same temperature requirements placed upon it. The noise produced by the motor can also depend on the venting system. Dual-hose systems are usually quieter than single-hose systems.
How noisy are portable air conditioners?
They can produce anywhere between 50-70 decibels. This may seem like a big range. But it depends on the setting it’s working on. For example, lower fan setting produces less noise. The sound difference between lower and higher settings will also depend on each AC unit individually.
In comparison with other household appliances a portable air conditioner is a fairly loud machine. Refrigerators usually produce 50-60 dB. This is why if noise is one of your top concerns, you should get a portable AC that is designed to be quieter than usual. The first two AC units on this list produce less than 52 dBA, which is a remarkable improvement on older models that hummed and buzzed like crazy.
Luckily most of the noise produced by portable air conditioners nowadays is a consistent humming or buzzing white noise. White noise has a relaxing effect on most people. There are even sound dohms available for bedrooms and offices that produce it for relaxation and improved focus. Interesting, right? But still, it’s not for everyone and most people prefer a quiet environment in their homes.
A noise that is less pleasant is produced by the vibrations of the air conditioner on the floor. This can be mitigated by placing it on an anti-vibration mat or a thick rug. I suggest using a thick waterproof rubber mat just in case there’s any water drainage from the unit.
To recap, these are three main things that can make a portable air conditioner loud or quiet; size, quality of the motor and the soundproofing capabilities of the material that surrounds it.
Decibel level tests have already been conducted for the 50 most popular portable AC units of 2017 and 2018. In this article I’m sharing the top 5 quiet options from that list.
Some other factors that I’ve taken into consideration are: value for money, energy efficiency, ease of use, extra features, customer ratings and reported user experience. After reading these reviews you’ll be able to safely pick out your new favorite cool(ing) friend.
1. Whynter Elite 12 000 BTU, Dual Hose – THE QUIETEST OPTION
This is a solid AC unit with a cool, dehumidifier and fan option. It’s the quietest portable AC on the market by all accounts, producing less than 52 dBA. DBA stands for a-weighted decibels. In other words, the relative loudness of sound in the air for the human ear.
- 12 000 BTU
- maximum noise: less than 52 dBA
- dual hose system (intake and exhaust hose)
- 3 operational modes: cool, dehumidify and fan
- easy-install window kit
- rolling casters for moving around
- digital screen and remote control
- 24 hour programmable timer
- designed for 550 sq. ft. rooms or smaller
If you’re looking for a portable AC unit that gets the job done in a quiet fashion, this is the one. Works great for bedrooms, office spaces, server rooms and any other place where both cool air and dehumidifying option come in handy.
The dual hose system ranks Whynter Elite higher than single hose competitors by a margin. The intake and exhaust hose not only increase air intake and cooling power but they also increase the cooling rate.
By doing so the room gets cooled faster. And you know what this means right? Smaller energy bill at the end of the month. But if you’re not a 2-hose kinda guy or gal, it can also be used as a single hose AC unit.
The other noticeable feature is the programmable timer. By using the remote controller or the controls on the unit, you can program the Whynter Elite to work in periodic cycles and pick when it should turn on and off automatically.
As far as moving is concerned, it’s fairly easy to do with the rolling casters. The unit weighs 60 pounds, which is the standard weight for a portable AC that boasts this kind of power.
Overall, I personally like this AC unit. It’s practical and focuses on the important factors like fast cooling rate, easy moving, timer settings and durability.
Is it a good choice for you? Well, it depends on the size of the space. This is a 12 000 BTU air conditioner. It means that it can cool a 22′ x 25′ (550 sq. ft.) room well.
Some customers have commented that it’s not cooling their room well. It’s usually because the room is way too big for a single unit. Then they have to run it at the highest setting all the time which does lead to more noise than is typical. Anything over those dimensions and you might need a stronger air conditioner to cool the area properly.
So is it strong enough for your requirements? This air conditioner sizing guide provides the answer to that question.
Considering the quietness and general performance of this Whynter air conditioner, the price is actually below what I expected. It’s also on a big discount on Amazon at the moment I’m writing this. It may not be when you’re reading but it’s definitely worth checking out.
2. Emerson Quiet Kool, 8000 BTU – BEST OPTION FOR SMALL & MEDIUM SIZED ROOMS
Emerson is a direct competitor to Whynter and their Quiet Kool series is just as quiet, boasting a less than 52 dBA. It’s basically the same noise level on both units. But some differences are found in other areas, making Emerson a less powerful, but more affordable option.
- noise level: 52 dBA or less
- 8000 BTU, for cooling 150 sq. ft. rooms
- auto-evaporation technology (in other words, a dehumidifier)
- window kit and single hose exhaust system
- 24 hour programmable timer
- remote control
- long warranty (1 year labor, 2 year parts, 5 years (!) compressor)
This is a standard AC unit without too much fluff. It’s quiet and reliable. But whether it’s good enough for your requirements depends on the size of the rooms. 150 sq. ft. should be the norm if you plan on using it effectively. Although many users are happily claiming that it effectively cools rooms twice that size. Even rooms with many appliances working at the same time. Is it possible that a manufacturer would be this humble about their product? Well, it’s certainly refreshing and welcomed.
While there are other quiet conditioners I could put on this list, there’s one major reason why I decided to place this one; reliability. There’s very little complaints from customers either on Amazon or on forums about worn down or broken parts. Which is probably why there is such a long warranty. They’re confident that it’s durable.
Another complaint that people usually have with AC units is water leaks and drainage. However, this little unit is getting nothing but compliments in this case.
In case of noise, there seems to be very little vibrations or humming. The sound it produces is like blowing air, and nothing more.
I hate to just give compliments to a product. There must be something wrong that I can point my finger at! But I can’t seem to find anything in this case. This is a small and durable AC unit that works exactly as you’d expect. It just depends on whether it’s powerful enough for the size of your room or you may need to get a bigger unit like Wynther.
3. EMERSON 14 000 BTU – BIGGER, STRONGER, SLIGHTLY LOUDER
If you need to cool a bigger space, but still want to get an Emerson, there is a 14 000 BTU unit available from the same line. This unit is designed to easily cool rooms up to 350 sq. ft.
One user commented that it’s an “arctic blast” and another pointed out that it “runs quiet like a soft wind”. That’s interesting, considering the fact that it’s around 54 dBA, which is slightly louder than Wynther and the smaller Emerson unit. Others said that i’s too loud for their taste. Well, you can’t expect silence from a big AC unit. Some noise is inevitable.
The most severe complaint was put forth by a customer who said that it “leaks like a screen door on a submarine”. While the manufacturer claims that the unit is self-evaporating, it doesn’t seem to be the case when the unit is used for long time on a high setting. He claims that he took care of the drainage with a garden hose and a large bucket.
This is the most common complaint with portable air conditioners. While the ones fixed on an external wall drip water on the pavement, the drainage from portable ones has to be taken care of manually unless the dehumidifier is strong enough to take care of it completely, which is a rarity. It’s just the way it goes, especially with stronger units like this one.
4. Costway 10 000 BTU – BEST BUDGET OPTION
This portable air conditioner is less than half the price of the Whynter Elite, and it’s still quite impressive. Here are the important features:
- Boasts various operating modes. Main ones are cooling, dehumidification, fan and filtered air cycle.
- exhaust hose and a simple window kit
- 4 fan speed levels (low, middle, high, auto)
- 24 hour programmable timer
- 10 000 BTU, cools spaces up to 200 sq. ft.
- touch sensitive LCD display
- remote controller
- has 4 small wheels for easy movement
Weighing only 51 pounds, this portable air conditioner is small in size but packs a punch. With it’s dimensions of 18’’ (L) x 14’’ (W) x 21’’ (H) it saves a lot of space, making it a good option for smaller rooms.
It has an almost identical rating as the Whynter Elite unit. Some users however claim that it’s too loud for them. We don’t have the exact dB levels of this AC unit, but it’s probably louder than Whynter Elite and Emerson Quiet Kool. However, some users claim that they can sleep while it’s working just fine. As long as it doesn’t make any awkward sounds and just produces air blowing noise it’s not a major issue.
Some users who wanted to reduce the noise have done so successfully by placing this air conditioner on a step stool. Likely the unit was vibrating on the hardwood or concrete floor and these vibrations are actually the real source of the noise. Placing a soft rug or anti-vibration mat underneath it can mitigate this problem.
Another complaint some users had was that it lacks a drain hole plug for the top hole. It produced a lot of leaking water at first, so the user put a plastic tube to the hole and a bucket on the floor to drain the water while it was working. Other than that he claims that it cooled his place really well and had no other complaints.
I love these user reviews because you get to see the reality of using a product rather than just manufacturer’s information. It’s a great way to assess the whole story. Based on what I’ve read from customers on Amazon and on forums, this is an okay unit for the price.
COSTWAY portable air conditioner works fine and it’s almost half the price of the Whynter Elite, making it an appealing choice if you’re on a tight budget.
I’ve found a user video review of a slightly different COSTWAY 10 000 BTU unit belonging to the same line. Except for a different display screen and size, it has the same basic features so it’s worth observing in action:
5. Honeywell MN12CES, 12 000 BTU – IDEAL FOR MEDIUM TO LARGE ROOMS
The last member of this top 5 list is Honeywell’s quietest portable AC on the market. It’s been the #1 best selling portable AC on Amazon for a few months and receives constant positive ratings and comments from customers.
- 12 000 BTU
- cools a room up to 550 sq. ft.
- digital LED display
- remote controller
- operating modes: cooling, dehumidifier and 3 fan speeds
- dehumidification capacity is 69 pints per day
- 24 hours programmable timer
- exhaust hose and window kit
- 54 dBA MAXIMUM noise (as stated by manufacturer)
- it’s a beast on 4 wheels, easy to move around
- 5 year warranty
A great thing about the display is that it shows not only the target temperature but also the current temperature in the room. It’s also appreciated that they show 54 dBA as the maximum noise level, rather than giving us an “average” dBA, which can always go a few points lower or higher.
Another big plus in my book is the 5 year warranty. Honeywell is well respected for having fast customer support and they’re happy to fix or ship new parts without creating any fuss about it.
It’s also simple to set up. While there are multiple adjustments available, the display is straightforward and intuitive. There’s no confusion when it comes to setting up temperature and fan speed, but there are additional options available for the perfectionists among us.
I would get this portable air conditioner for a large living room, bedroom or a home gym. But if the area is 150-350 sq. ft., I’d rather choose Wynther Elite or Emerson Quite Kool because they are quieter. But regardless of that, if you have your sights set on this little 4 wheel beast (I got to stop saying that), here’s a video review from an honest user:
Buyer’s Guide & FAQ
Portable air conditioners are definitely an investment. An investment in levels of comfort that anyone sweating like crazy in an office chair would appreciate. However, they also cost a decent sum of money.
Since this is a long-term investment that can last you for years, it’s valuable to know exactly what to look for when buying one. So here are some basics about air conditioners that everyone should know:
What does BTU stand for?
BTU stands for British Thermal Unit. It’s the main measure of the power of an air conditioner. A scientific definition of the term is “the conversion efficiency of heat into electrical energy”.
Basically, it determines how effectively an AC can cool a set number of square feet. If it’s too powerful it will cool the room really fast, but it can also leave a lot of moisture in the air, which is not a good thing. But if it’s too weak, it won’t cool the area effectively at all.
So there should be a close match between BTU and the size of the room. But there are some other things to consider. Quality of insulation, sunlight exposure and high ceilings will all add more BTU requirements. If you have one or more of these additional “issues”, add 10-15% BTU to your air conditioning requirements.
If you plan on using the air conditioner in a room with a lot of appliances that produce heat, such as a server room or a kitchen, add 2000 to 4000 BTU extra. You can also use this BTU calculator to help you determine more precisely the amount of power you need.
How to know if a portable air conditioner is quiet?
The first thing to look for is average or maximum decibel level shared by the manufacturer. These are unfortunately not available for all air conditioners. Usually the ones who share them do so because their AC unit is quieter than the competitors. So it’s a great selling point for them.
But if an air conditioner has this piece of information available, chances are that it’s quieter than the competition. If it were not quieter the competitors would call them out on it very quickly for misinforming the customers.
As I’ve said in the introduction, the standard noise level for portable AC units is anywhere between 60 and 70 decibels. The quieter ones that I’ve reviewed in this article are in the 52-54 decibel range. These are the numbers to shoot for in order to have a pleasant sleeping and working environment.
That’s as far as the motor noise and air blowing noise is concerned. But some portable ACs also produce vibrational noise. This can happen if the model is poorly designed or if the structure is not strong enough to tolerate higher fan settings. In that case, the first solution is to place the AC on a soft and thick surface, like a thick rug or a anti-vibration mat like the one I mentioned before.
If the vibrations are still causing noise from other parts then it’s more about using the settings that are less demanding on the motor and therefore don’t produce as much of vibrations. Testing the settings and finding the quieter ones is the main way to mitigate the noise.
The other way to deal with this noise is to cover the air conditioner with soundproofing material. This will not only reduce vibrations from the structure, but also act as an additional sound barrier against the noise coming from inside the motor. Just make sure not to cover any vents. The main material that I suggest are thick moving blankets. Cover the air conditioner with one or multiple layers of thick moving blankets and you’ll definitely notice a reduction in noise.
If any rattling noise starts to occur AFTER you’ve been using the AC for some time, check for any loose parts. Usually tightening a few loose screws will get rid of the rattling sound.
Dual-hose or single hose – which is better?
Some portable AC units have a dual-hose system and others a single-hose system. Dual hose means that the air conditioner has an intake and an exhaust hose.
The air conditioner sucks in air from the environment to cool the working components so that they can run properly. When it has an intake hose, it can take the air from somewhere outside the room, and create less noise. It usually makes the unit more effective at using energy as well.
But most units have only an exhaust hose. The exhaust hose is also important to prevent overheating of components. Through it the air conditioner can blow out hot air that accumulates inside.
The benefits of a single-hose system is that it generally requires less energy and it’s cheaper. However, the dual system has the benefit of eliminating negative air pressure, which is the problem with single hose system as air is pushed out of the room. It’s also more powerful and cools more quickly.
Overall, the dual system is better, both from a practical and engineering point. of view. For more information here’s a good video comparison:
What you should know about water drainage..
The water drainage is the most annoying aspect of air conditioners. Luckily, most newer units self-evaporate the water that condenses while its working. Older models required placing buckets for drainage. This is no longer the case with better models. They evaporate the water through the exhaust hose.
However, in some situations on particularly humid days the drainage buckets may still have to be emptied. This may be required if the AC unit doesn’t have an exhaust hose and it claims to be self-evaporating. But then when you put it on a high setting it can sometimes drain a lot of water. I mentioned one user complaining about this with the Emerson Quiet Kool 14 000 BTU. But still it’s not an ordinary concern nowadays.
I’ve picked these 5 units because they cover a variety of room sizes. And of course, they’re some of the quietest ones on the market.
The Wynther Elite is without a doubt the quietest one at the moment, and it has a dual-hose system and a lot of power. So it’s pretty much the best solution as I pointed out. But if you want to save some money, it’s worth checking out the other models as well.
Either way I hope you’ll find an AC that matches your requirements. Because chilling in a cool room (pun intended) while others got sticky backs and bottoms stuck to the leather is a proven way to feel better about life.