How Does a Portable Air Conditioner Work? A Quick Guide


The list of reasons you might want to buy a portable air conditioner is endless. You live in an apartment without central air. You’re traveling in an RV with weak AC. You’re camping in an area that’s hot even at night and want at least a little respite from the heat.

Portable air conditioners are miraculous little devices. Something the size of a mini fridge can cool down an entire tent/RV/room/apartment? Learning how portable ACs work and the different features available will help you choose the perfect one for you.

Whether the space you’re trying to cool is small, big, has many windows, very few, you live in a smoggy area or a clean one, there is a portable AC out there that is perfect for you. 

How Do Portable Air Conditioners Work?

Portable ACs work in much the same way as any other AC, whether a fully installed central AC system in a large building or a small window unit installed to cool a single apartment. 

A portable AC has the same inner workings as those machines, only lodged in an upright, mobile body. Most of these units are on wheels and come with a detachable hose so you can easily transport them. 

Most portable ACs have a dehumidifier feature built in for humid areas. If this is the case, the unit will feature a drip tray accessible from the bottom or a spigot that can be undone and drained when the “water full” light goes on. They also have a control panel and sometimes a remote controller.

Portable ACs can either be a single hose or double hose. The hose is how the unit expels hot air from the room. There are advantages and disadvantages to both models.

These kinds of ACs work by pulling in a room’s hot air. It expels some of the hot air via the release valve and hose. 

The rest goes through the unit’s conditioning mechanism until it cools to the user’s desired temperature and blows the cold air back into the room. Hot air is pulled in by the fan, ice-cold coils within the unit cool down the air and extract water in the process, and the cooled air gets discharged back into the room. Refrigerant is what absorbs the heat from the air by literally compressing the heat out of it. 

When it comes to removing heat and replacing it with cool air, it’s as easy as that. 

The EcoFlow Wave

The EcoFlow Wave Portable Air Conditioner takes the traditional air conditioner and makes it more powerful and efficient. The result is a long-lasting AC unit that keeps you cool all day and all night. 

The EcoFlow WAVE is a single hose unit that can run continuously for 3-12 hours, depending on which EcoFlow battery you use.

With the addition of EcoFlow solar panels, you can use solar energy for air conditioning that is less environmentally damaging than a traditional AC. Or you can charge the AC battery from a standard wall outlet.

Most portable ACs require mounting, drilling, sawing, hammer and nailing, and other grueling physical labor. In contrast, the EcoFlow Wave is a dream to set up. This compact, powerful AC can cool down a medium-sized room within minutes. 

Take it in an RV, or a camper, bring it into a tent and direct the exhaust outside—you can “install” the EcoFlow Wave wherever cold air is needed.

The EcoFlow Wave has a 4,000 BTU cooling capacity, which means it can cool down an 86ft² (8m²) space within 8 minutes. That’s right — the EcoFlow Wave can cool an average-sized bedroom in under ten minutes! 

That’s serious cooling power. 

And if you can’t wait for the whole room to cool down, or if you need a direct blast of cold air, you can attach the hose to the front and aim it at yourself.

The EcoFlow Wave is unique because it can run on a charge without being plugged in. Most portable ACs require continuous charge from a wall outlet to run. You can imagine what an impact that has on the electricity bill. The Department of Energy finds that homeowners spend about $29 billion annually on air conditioning alone.

The EcoFlow Wave can be plugged into a wall outlet and reach full charge in two hours. It can be plugged into a car outlet and reach full charge within five hours. 

It can also run off the EcoFlow DELTA Max or EcoFlow DELTA Pro Solar Generators and store enough power to run for 6-12 hours! 

Swap in EcoFlow sustainable solar charging panels, and you have an entirely green way to cool down. Considering that air conditioning contributes to global warming and blackouts are becoming increasingly common, solar-powered air conditioners are the future. 

The EcoFlow WAVE is one solution that will allow us to enjoy cool environments sustainably.

Comparing Portable Air Conditioners: Single Hose vs Dual Hose

When comparing portable air conditioners, it’s important to understand the difference between a single hose and a dual hose system. 

Single-hose portable air conditioners pull stagnant air from inside, and then the motor within the unit cools the air to circulate it back into space. The unit also removes excess moisture and warm air from the room and sends it out the window through the hose. Compared to a dual hose system, these tend to consume less energy. 

In contrast, dual-hose portable air conditioners use one hose to bring in fresh air from outside and then circulate cool air in your space. Excess moisture and warm air are pulled through the unit and expelled using the other hose. These tend to achieve a cooler space faster than a single hose unit. 

Portable Air Conditioner Features

Most ACs come with the same set of features. These features let users adjust the temperature to create their ideal conditions:

  • Timer: You can set the AC to turn off within set hours if you’re going to sleep or leave the house. 
  • Auto Shut-Off: Once the AC reaches the desired temperature, the unit will shut off automatically. You can run the AC continuously without worrying about blowing out the fuse.
  • Dehumidifier: This is a must if you live in a humid area.
  • Oscillation: Not all portable air conditioners can oscillate, but those that do can spread the cool air more quickly and evenly by distributing it around the room.
  • Auto Temperature Sensing: Cools the room to a set temperature and automatically maintains it.
  • Fan: This option is if you want airflow but don’t want to alter the temperature.
  • Smart Control: With the EcoFlow WAVE, you can pair it with the EcoFlow app and customize your air conditioning controls from your phone. Whether you want to set run times or maximum cooling bursts, you can do it all, even when you’re not home!

How Do You Vent Portable Air Conditioners? 

Want to know why you need to vent your unit in the first place? 

Without venting, the portable AC will have difficulty removing the heat from your home. This is why having a place to expel this heat to remove it from the room is essential; otherwise, if that heat is just released back into the room, you could make things even hotter. 

It’s extremely common to vent portable ACs using a window. In fact, many units might come with a window kit that fits standard-size windows to make the process of venting your portable air conditioner through a window extremely simple. Installation methods may vary depending on your window vent kit.

There are other ways to vent your unit without a window, but if a window is a viable option, this is likely your best bet. 

Can Portable Air Conditioners Work Without Windows

While it’s very common to vent a portable air conditioner using a window, this isn’t always an option for everyone. If that’s the case, you might be wondering if you can vent a portable air conditioning unit at all. 

The good news is there are other methods available that you can use. Consider venting the hose through a drop ceiling, through a hole in your wall leading outside, up a chimney, or connecting it to an existing dryer vent flowing to an exterior wall. 

Of course, a window is a much simpler option, but if that isn’t something you have available, it’s good to know that there are still some modifications that you can make for your unit to operate efficiently and keep your space cool.

Keeping It Cool

Summer is hot, but you don’t have to be. Whether you’re motoring around in a camper, lounging in a tent in a national park, or chilling at home watching movies, keep it cool with a portable air conditioner. They’re easy to set up, easy to put back away when colder seasons roll around, and a breeze to clean. There’s no downside! And when you invest in the EcoFlow WAVE portable air conditioner, you can enjoy the cool air and lower energy bills. Keep it cool the smart way.

Maintaining Your Portable Air Conditioner

Like all appliances, your portable air conditioner needs cleaning and maintenance. Routine maintenance will prolong its lifespan.

The main thing you have to be concerned with is the water deposited inside as a result of condensing hot air into cool air. Be sure to clean the drip tray thoroughly and drain it every time you bring the AC out for the season or put it away. 

If you use your portable AC year-round, you’ll know when to empty the drip tray based on a sensor that lights up when the tray is full.

You also need to be mindful of the air filters, which clean the air pulled in by the unit. Clean these at least every two weeks to remove dust, hair, and other particles. If you live in a smoggy area or somewhere natural disasters like wildfires are common, you may want to clean them more often.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Have To Put Water in a Portable Air Conditioner? 

It’s not necessary to put water into a typical portable air conditioner that uses an exhaust hose. There’s a different type of unit called a ventless air conditioner. These work differently than typical air conditioning units and do require water to work most efficiently. 

How Does a Portable AC Cool a Room? 

Portable air conditioners cool down a room by intaking hot air from a room, cooling the air with condenser coils and an internal motor, and recirculating the air back into the space. This process separates the moisture from the air, pushing the extra warm air and humidity back outside through a hose. 

Final Thoughts

Looking for a way to beat the heat? Portable AC units are a great way to help you stay comfortable in a wide range of environments when the temperatures start to rise. Understanding the different types and how to use them most efficiently is key to choosing the right model for your needs. 

The EcoFlow Wave Portable Air Conditioner from EcoFlow is designed to efficiently keep any space at a comfortable temperature and even comes with other exciting features, including a long run time, sustainable charging, and options for smart controls and customization. Find out what makes The EcoFlow Wave your ideal companion when the temperatures start to rise.

EcoFlow is a portable power and renewable energy solutions company. Since its founding in 2017, EcoFlow has provided peace-of-mind power to customers in over 85 markets through its DELTA and RIVER product lines of portable power stations and eco-friendly accessories.

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