3 Best Portable Air Conditioners for Dorm Rooms (2021)


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You’ve tried everything like opening your window, lying perfectly still, or even eating your weight in freeze pops, but still feel like you’re roasting alive in your hot little dorm room. Maybe it’s time to consider a portable air conditioner. But the question is, which one is best?

The best portable air conditioner for dorm rooms is the Shinco 12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner. But the Black + Decker BPACT08WT Portable Air Conditioner and the Whynter ARC-14S 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner are great choices for smaller or larger than usual dorm rooms. 

Read about why each of these units is recommended below, and find out more about choosing a portable air conditioner unit. If you aren’t sure yet that you’re ready to buy, keep reading to find out why a portable air conditioner is a solid investment in your educational experience–and learn how to set up and maintain your new investment.

Best Portable Air Conditioners for Dorm Rooms

Best Overall: Shinco 12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner

The Shinco 12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner is an outstanding way to keep your dorm room comfortable. This quiet, efficient air conditioner can cool a room up to 400 square feet (37 square meters) down to 60°F (16°C). 

Just set the easy-to-use LED controls: the Shinco air conditioner will turn itself off when your desired temperature is reached. You can program the unit’s timer to cool on a schedule, as well. It even comes with a remote, so that you can adjust the temperature in your dorm room without getting up from your desk or bed.

In a climate with any humidity, you want an air conditioner that also dehumidifies the air. Otherwise, the unit will blow moist air and leave you feeling unpleasantly cold and damp. But one problem with many air conditioner dehumidifiers is dealing with the water that they collect. You constantly need to empty the water reservoir or have a drain hose that can leak into your room.

The Shinco 12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner includes the important feature of dehumidification. You can even run the dehumidifier all by itself if that’s all you need to do. But with this unit, you get all of the benefits of dehumidification without the drawbacks.

The Shinco air conditioner cleverly reuses collected moisture in its cooling technology. This means that it’s more efficient at removing moisture from the air, making the unit a dehumidifying powerhouse. It can collect an impressive 46 quarts (43.2 liters) of water daily. However, under most circumstances, it will use up water in the process of cooling, so you can dispense with emptying a reservoir or fiddling with a drain hose.

Like most reputable manufacturers of portable air conditioners, Shinco includes window brackets for installing its exhaust hose. They also go the extra step of offering a quick installation guide and a 12-month warranty on their product.With everything included in one package and quick installation guide in hand, your new air conditioner should be making dorm life more liveable in no time.

Best for Smaller Dorm Rooms: Black + Decker BPACT08WT Portable Air Conditioner

The Black + Decker BPACT08WT Portable Air Conditioner is perfect for the smaller dorm room. With the ability to cool up to 150 square feet (14 square meters), this reliable unit will lower the air temperature to 65° F (18°C) at its coldest setting. 

One of its best attributes is its size. At 16.5” x 11.5” x 26” (42 cm x 29 cm x 66 cm) and just 52.9 lbs (24 kg), it’s one of the most compact units available. Since it comes with casters and an integrated handle, it can be easily moved from place to place.

This Black + Decker may be on the smaller side, but it comes with plenty of desirable features. It has three fan speeds, a dehumidifier, and an environmentally safe refrigerant. 

But don’t worry that the dehumidifier means fussing with a water collection tank or a drain hose. As moisture collects, this air conditioning unit vents it through an exhaust hose, so there’s no constant emptying of a water reservoir to worry about, and no pesky drain hose. It includes a window installation adapter for the exhaust hose, as well.

The top-facing LED control panel on the Black + Decker unit is conveniently located. It includes a 24-hr timer to help avoid wasted electricity and has a sleep mode that controls air temperature and keeps the unit extra quiet while you sleep. It will also automatically restart itself after a power outage. 

The Black + Decker BPACT08WT Portable Air Conditioner is warrantied for parts and labor for a full year, and Black + Decker will replace a faulty or worn-out compressor for up to five years, making this unit’s warranty one of the best available.

Best for Larger Dorm Rooms: Whynter ARC-14S

If your dorm room is on the larger side, you’ll want to check out the Whynter ARC-14S. This feature-packed, powerful unit cools up to 500 square feet of space (46 square meters). It cools the air in your room, dehumidifies, and comes with a built-in fan.

The built-in fan is only one of four possible settings for this air conditioner: auto, fan, dehumidify, and cool. The Whynter ARC-14S will remove up to 36 quarts (34 liters) of water from the air each day, using evaporative technology to employ this water as a boost to its cooling power instead of collecting the water in a tank.

You’ll seldom have to worry about emptying a water reservoir or hooking up a drain hose because of this excellent design feature.

The programmable electronic controls of this unit are hard to beat. You can set this portable air conditioner to automatically cool to anywhere between 62° and 88°F (17° to 31°C). This unit also has a 24-hr timer to program to start and stop cooling at preset times. 

If your college is subject to frequent power outages, the Whynter ARC-14S will automatically restart itself when the power comes back on. It will even store the settings that you were using and automatically restore them. 

The Whynter ARC-14S will cool, dehumidify, and clean your air. The unit boasts a carbon filter and washable silver pre-filter. This commitment to keeping your air clean and fresh is part of Whynter’s overall environmental commitment. This portable air conditioner is Energy Star Rated, uses a CFC-free refrigerant, and uses all lead-free components.

Comparison

Shinco 12,000 BTUBlack + Decker BPACT08WT Whynter ARC-14S
Capacity400 sq ft (37 sq m)150 sq ft (13 sq m)500 sq ft (46 sq m)
Dehumidifierxxx
Fanxxx
Noise Levellow (<52dB)low (<53dB)low (<55 dBA)
Programmablexxx
Weight65.9 lb (29 kg)52.9 lb (24 kg)73 lb (33 kg)
Castersxxx
Washable Filterxxx
Size17.4” x 13.4” x 32.7”(44 cm x 34 cm x83 cm)16.5” x 11.5” x 26” (42 cm x 29 cm x 66 cm)18.5″ x 30.25″x 15.75″ (47 cm x 77 cm x  40 cm)
Warranty12 mo.12 mo. parts/5 yr. compressor12 mo.

How to Choose a Portable Air Conditioner

Choosing a portable air conditioner isn’t as simple as just finding the best-rated unit and clicking add to cart. Several factors will affect which air conditioner is right for you.

Room Size

The average college dorm room is 228 square feet (21 square meters). To find out how large your dorm room is, multiply the length times the width. Choose an air conditioner that is meant for the size of your room.

Too little cooling capacity will leave you sweating, and too much will make the room cold without removing humidity from the air. Cold, damp air is uncomfortable, which leaves you not much better off than having no air conditioner at all.

Dorm Regulations

Your college probably requires that any electrical appliances comply with the National Electrical Code and the standards of Underwriters Laboratories. As long as you’re purchasing a reputable brand, it should meet these standards.

Depending on when your dorm was built, the capacity of its electrical system may place a limit on the type of air conditioner you’re allowed to have. Check your campus’s housing regulations to find out the rules that apply.

Noise

When considering the pros and cons of various portable air conditioners, give serious consideration to the noise level. Even low-to-moderate background noise can negatively affect learning. Different air conditioning units can produce widely varying amounts of noise, so this is an important factor in your choice.

Warranty

You don’t want to finally get your dorm room to a liveable temperature only to have it break down and leave you sweltering again. Choose a reliable unit and if you can, choose one that offers a warranty. A warranty will protect you against factory defects for a certain length of time. Since different manufacturers offer warranties of differing lengths, you’ll want to look carefully for the longest warranty you can get on a unit that has the features you need.

Features

The most important features in a portable air conditioner are different for each person. But in general, you will want to think about how important each of the following is to you:

  • Cooling time: Air conditioners vary in the speed at which they cool air. When you’re comparing air conditioners, you’ll want to look for their airflow capacity, which will be listed in CFM, or cubic feet per minute. This will give you a way to judge cooling time because a higher CFM means faster cooling.
  • Controls: Do you want to be able to control the unit remotely? Would a programmable timer be useful? Some units have these features, but others are missing one or both.
  • Dehumidifier: If your college is in Arizona, maybe a dehumidifier isn’t your top priority. But in most locations, you’ll want your air conditioner to also remove moisture from the air.
  • Portability: Believe it or not, just because an air conditioner is called “portable” doesn’t mean it’s easy to move around. The weight and whether or not the unit is on casters (wheels) will make a difference in the convenience of moving it.
  • Filter replacement cost: Some air conditioner filters are washable, meaning you don’t need to buy new ones as often. And when you do need to buy a filter replacement, how much do they cost for the unit you’re considering?
  • Drain-type: Air conditioners with dehumidifiers collect moisture, and that liquid needs to go somewhere. Some air conditioners have a drainage hose, and others have a collection reservoir. Some drain automatically, and others need to be manually drained. 
  • Size: If your dorm room is already crowded enough, a very large unit will take up more space than you want it to, so before you buy, check the dimensions of the portable air conditioner you’re considering.

Why a Portable Air Conditioner Is a Good Investment

If your primary goal at college is to get the most out of your classes and have strong grades to show future employers, living in a traditional dorm is your best option. 

Off-campus students tend to have worse grades than those living on campus. If your college offers larger apartment-style dorms, it might be tempting to try to switch from your traditional dorm to one of these more spacious and often air-conditioned dorms. But students who live in traditional dorm rooms get better grades.

But research shows that you won’t learn in a hot dorm room as you will in a cooler one. And it’s not just your imagination telling you that your dorm gets unreasonably hot: one study found that room temperatures in dorms at the University of Maryland averaged “nearly 13 degrees higher than the average heat index outside.” The typical architecture of dorms can trap heat, making the temperature inside extremely uncomfortable during warmer weather.

Many students try to make do with fans, but they aren’t an effective solution. First of all, they don’t make the room cooler. If you point a fan directly at yourself, it can make you feel cooler, but it won’t be cooling the air in your room.

Fans work by evaporating sweat from your skin, slightly lowering your body temperature as they do so. In other words, you need to be already hot and sweaty before a fan can work.

How to Use Your Portable Air Conditioner

If you’ve decided that the time is right to invest in a portable air conditioner, you’ll need to know how to set it up and keep it running. Specific details will vary from model to model, but here are some general guidelines.

Set-Up

Fortunately, portable air conditioners are relatively simple to set up. You’ll need to find a spot for the air conditioning unit where its exhaust hose can reach a window. Generally, that means placing it within four or five feet of the window. Think about how the air will flow, and don’t put the unit where larger furniture will block airflow through your room.

The next consideration in placement is an electrical outlet. You’ll want the air conditioner to be within a few feet of an outlet. Otherwise, you’ll need an extension cord, and your college’s housing regulations may be very particular about what kind of cord you can use. They may even prohibit extension cords completely.

Once you have your new air conditioner in place, you’ll need to thread its exhaust hose out a window. You don’t want a bunch of bugs flying in, though, and you don’t want the exhaust hose to keep falling back out of the window. This is what the window adapter kits included with many portable air conditioners are for. 

After you’ve placed and secured the exhaust hose, as long as you’ve got one of the recommended models above, you’re all set. Plug the unit in and enjoy your cool and comfortable surroundings.

Maintenance

Maintaining your new air conditioner is really a matter of maintaining your filter or filters. Your air conditioner may have one or more of the following types of filters. Each of these has its own maintenance requirements.

  • Pre-filter: A prefilter is a reusable filter that cleans the largest kinds of contaminants from the air. This filter should last the life of your portable air conditioner as long as you periodically remove and wash it.
  • Silver ion filter: The silver ion filter catches smaller particles. It cannot be reused and should be replaced every 3-6 months.
  • 3M filter: This is another filter that catches smaller-sized contaminants, and it is also disposable. It should be replaced every 3 months.
  • Anti-microbial filter: Designed to clean small particles from the air and inhibit their further growth, this filter is disposable and should be replaced every 3 months.
  • Carbon filter: The carbon filter not only filters smaller particles but is specialized for cleaning odors from the air. It can’t be cleaned; it should be replaced every 3 months.

Conclusion

Portable air conditioners are a good investment. Students who live on campus in traditional dorm rooms have been shown to get better grades, and grades are positively impacted by comfort. Staying in a traditional dorm room and adding a portable air conditioner is the smart way to go.

For the standard dorm room of about 228 square feet (21 square meters), the Shinco 12,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner is the best choice. For a smaller room, the Black + Decker BPACT08WT Portable Air Conditioner is an excellent selection.

Finally, the Whynter ARC-14S 14,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner is more than up to the task of cooling larger than usual dorm rooms. You can’t go wrong with any of these three reliable, feature-packed, and easy to use portable air conditioners.

Vincent Steele

Vincent is a freelance writer based in Santa Ana, California. When he isn't writing articles for Temperature Master, he can be found biking or hanging out with his cat, Shelly.

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