If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, Rolling Stone may receive an affiliate commission.
With summers getting hotter, air conditioning is becoming a necessity. But they’re not always a good fit — both physically in your living space, or for your electric bill and power grid. Traditional A/C units may be way too bulky for small apartments, or not fit into slim odd-sized windows, or overwhelm an old building’s sensitive fuse box. They also might be too powerful for one room, making temperatures overly cold for comfort.
Luckily, there’s been an increasing number of alternate air-con options available in recent years, each with their own approach to cooling things down for different living situations.
What Are the Best Air Conditioner Alternatives?
Aside from, say, fans, the best air conditioner alternatives in this list work with what’s known as evaporative cooling, a process that can quickly bring down air temperatures in the right settings. They all require water, which is then converted into vapor when it meets the heat. It’s a similar process to how our bodies naturally sweat to cool us down in hot weather, absorbing the heat as it evaporates. An evaporative cooler brings the hot air in, cools it down by absorbing the cold water from the tank, running it through the evaporative pads (which can also clean and filter it), then sending it out with a powerful motorized blower fan.
Different devices have their own ways of providing relief from the heat, and depending on where you are (both in your house, area of the country, and the climate you live in), some work better than others. If you’re living in a desert setting with high temperatures but low humidity, an evaporative cooler might be the best option. They typically require a lot less maintenance than air conditioning units, with no spraying or misting of water, and can usually last for multiple hours on a single filled tank depending on the size. Smaller ones work well for bedrooms, while larger units can cool down kitchens and even outdoor spaces like porches.
These aren’t meant to totally replace the power and performance of a real air-conditioning unit, but they will help keep things more bearable in the heat.
1. Honeywell Indoor Outdoor Portable Cooler
This powerful Honeywell can cool down areas of up to 320 square feet, and works well for bedrooms, and even porches and patios (and is certified for outdoor use).
The compartment on top holds handfuls of ice, while a connection to a garden hose keeps the water coming. That’s when the temperature-cooling kicks in, evaporating the water and turning it into a nice breeze without any spraying or misting.
The unit is 24 pounds, but equipped with wheels for easy mobility. It also consumes a relatively low amount of power — about as much as a regular fan.
2. hOmeLabs Evaporative Cooler
This 18-pound beast cools rooms up to 200 square feet, thanks to a 10-liter tank that can also handle ice cubes. The LED display on the unit is clear and easy to operate (and requires two included AA batteries), as is the included remote, with settings for temperature, oscillation direction, speed and a sleep mode to automatically shut off. There’s a removable nylon air filter to catch things like dust and pet hair, and it’s easy to clean. This is awesome for RVs and small apartments, but just one isn’t enough to cool down a full-sized house.
3. Breezewell 2-in-1 Evaporative Air Cooler
The Breezewell’s fan inside is completely blade-less, and offers three wind speeds along with four different modes and an oscillation of 70 degrees. The cool blue display gives it a nice glow, and you’ll always know when the water’s running low (or at its maximum) thanks to a transparent water meter.
There’s a filter inside that needs occasional cleaning, but it’s simple to see how dirty it is without needing to remove it. This also includes a remote for operating it from across the room, and a timer countdown feature to shut off on its own. Two ice packs are included, but ice cubes can be put inside, along with up to a gallon of water.
4. Ontel Arctic Air Pure Chill Evaporative Cooler
This one’s small, simple, easy to use and portable. Simply pour cold water through the device’s top, add optional ice cubes, point the vent and pick from four speeds.
While it’s not very powerful, it’s lightweight at 2.1 pounds, and easy to take along with you around the house, into an RV or even outside. This not only blows cool air out, but also helps remove odors, running quietly up to 10 hours. There are also six different nighttime light settings, making it ideal for a kid’s bedroom.