can you use portable ac when it's smoky outside

Can You Use Portable AC When It’s Smoky Outside?

As summer heats up and temperatures soar, finding relief in the cool air of an air-conditioned room is a luxury we can all appreciate. However, what happens when the great outdoors is engulfed in smoke and smog, either from wildfires or other sources? Can a portable AC still be your ally in beating the heat while ensuring you breathe clean, fresh air?

Let’s wait no longer and delve into the topic of using a portable AC when there is more smoke than clear air outside. We’ll uncover the tips and insights you need to stay cool and breathe easy when the world outside is not in the best state.

What Are Portable Air Conditioners?

A portable AC is a versatile cooling device that uses a refrigeration process, similar to that of traditional air conditioners. It consists of various components, including a compressor, condenser, evaporator, and refrigerant all packed in a smaller package. 


Portability and Flexibility: Portability allows for flexible placement within different rooms or areas, providing cooling precisely where needed. They are also relatively easy to install and require minimal modifications to the space. 

Easy Installation: Portable AC units are typically straightforward to install and set up. Unlike central AC systems that often require professional installation and modifications to the building, portable AC units can be quickly installed by the user. 

Cost Effective: Portable AC units are generally more cost-effective than central AC systems. They have a lower upfront cost since they don’t require expensive installation or ductwork. This makes them an attractive option, especially for those on a budget or for renters who can’t make permanent modifications to the property.

Energy Efficient: Portable AC units have made significant strides in energy efficiency in recent years. Many models now come with energy-saving features such as programmable timers and sleep modes that help optimize energy usage. 

Features To Look Out For

When choosing a portable AC unit, several key features should be considered. The BTU rating, which measures cooling capacity, determines the unit’s ability to cool a specific area effectively. Selecting an appropriate size and portability is essential for convenience and mobility. Noise levels should also be evaluated, as some units may produce more noise than desired. 

Energy efficiency is another vital consideration, indicated by the Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER), which measures cooling output relative to power consumption. Additional features like dehumidification capabilities, air filtration and purification options, remote control functionality, and maintenance requirements should also be taken into account, ensuring the chosen unit aligns with specific cooling needs and preferences.

Effects of Smoky Conditions on Indoor Air Quality

When smoky conditions arise, either from wildfires or other sources, the impact on indoor air quality can be significant. Smoke particles, which consist of fine harmful pollutants, can infiltrate indoor environments and have detrimental effects on your health. 

Health Risks

Fine smoke particles can irritate the respiratory system, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and throat irritation. Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), may experience exacerbated symptoms. 

Maintaining clean indoor air becomes crucial during smoky conditions to mitigate the adverse effects on health. While it may not be possible to completely eliminate smoke particles from entering indoor spaces, taking measures to minimize their presence and maintaining good indoor air quality is important. 

By using a portable air conditioner (AC) with proper filtration capabilities, you can help filter out some smoke particles, improving the air quality within the room. Portable AC units typically have built-in air filters designed to capture dust, allergens, and certain airborne particles, including smoke. 

Traditional AC vs Portable AC During Smoky Conditions

When faced with smoky conditions, the choice between a portable air conditioner (AC) and a traditional AC system becomes a relevant consideration. Both options have their advantages and limitations in dealing with smoky environments.

Portable AC units offer flexibility and mobility, allowing you to move them to different rooms or areas as needed. This can be beneficial during smoky conditions, as you can concentrate the cooling and filtration efforts in specific spaces where you spend the most time. 

Portable ACs typically come with built-in air filters that help capture airborne particles, including smoke, improving indoor air quality. However, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of these filters may vary, and they might not be able to filter out extremely fine smoke particles or strong odors.

On the other hand, traditional AC systems, particularly those with central air conditioning, are designed to cool larger areas or entire buildings. They often have more advanced filtration systems, including options for HEPA filters or electrostatic filters, which can be more effective in capturing finer smoke particles. 

Traditional AC systems are typically integrated into the building’s ventilation system, allowing for better distribution of cooled and filtered air throughout the entire space. However, they may require professional installation and are not as portable or flexible as their portable counterparts.

Limitations of a Portable AC 

While portable AC units have air filters that can help capture some smoke particles, it’s essential to understand their limitations. Fine smoke particles, especially those smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), can be challenging to filter effectively. 

Portable AC units typically utilize standard filters that may not be designed specifically for capturing such fine particles. Therefore, while they can help improve indoor air quality to some extent, they may not be as effective in removing all smoke particles, particularly the smallest ones.

Portable AC units can produce noise during operation. While efforts have been made to improve noise reduction, some models may still generate noticeable sound levels. This can be a concern, especially in bedrooms or quiet spaces where noise can disrupt sleep or concentration.

Portable AC units require proper venting to expel hot air generated during the cooling process. This typically involves connecting a venting hose to a window or vent. While the venting setup is usually straightforward, it may limit your flexibility in terms of unit placement and require access to a suitable window or vent for installation.

Additional Measures to Enhance Indoor Air Quality

To enhance indoor air quality further during smoky conditions, consider implementing additional measures alongside the use of a portable AC. 

Standalone Air Purifiers

One effective approach is to use standalone air purifiers equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. These filters are specifically designed to capture fine particles, including smoke particles, and can complement the filtration capabilities of the portable AC unit. Placing air purifiers strategically throughout the space can help improve overall air quality and reduce the concentration of smoke particles.


Maintaining good ventilation can be beneficial. If the outdoor air quality is not severely compromised, opening windows and using fans can help bring in fresh air and dilute indoor pollutants. However, exercise caution and monitor air quality conditions before doing so. If the outdoor air quality is significantly affected by smoke, it’s best to keep windows and doors closed to prevent further infiltration of smoke particles.

Minimizing Smoke Infiltration

One effective prerequisite is to seal off windows and doors to prevent smoke from entering indoor spaces. Use weather stripping or sealant to close any gaps or cracks that might allow smoke to infiltrate. 

Alternative Shelter

In severe cases of smoky conditions seeking alternative shelter in areas with cleaner air can be a viable solution. This could include staying with family or friends in a different location that is less affected by smoke.

Tips For Optimal Use

To make the most out of your portable air conditioner (AC) in smoky conditions and ensure its effectiveness, there are several key tips to keep in mind:


Proper placement of the portable AC unit is crucial for optimal cooling and filtration. Position the unit near the area where you spend the most time to ensure the cooled air is directed towards you. 

Keep the unit away from obstructions that might block airflow, such as furniture or curtains. Also, avoid placing the portable AC near sources of heat or smoke, as it can affect the unit’s performance and compromise air quality.

Regular Maintenance

The air filter in a portable AC plays a vital role in capturing dust, allergens, and smoke particles. Regularly cleaning and maintaining the filter is essential for optimal performance. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for guidance on how often to clean or replace the filter. 

Cleaning typically involves rinsing the filter with water or using a vacuum cleaner to remove accumulated debris. A clean filter ensures that the portable AC can effectively filter smoke particles and maintain good indoor air quality.

Monitoring Humidity Levels

Smoky conditions can sometimes be accompanied by increased humidity levels. Monitoring and adjusting the humidity in the room can help create a more comfortable and healthier environment. Portable AC units with built-in dehumidification functions can help reduce excess moisture in the air. 

Monitor the humidity levels using a hygrometer and adjust the portable AC’s settings accordingly to maintain optimal humidity levels. This can prevent the growth of mold and mildew, which can worsen respiratory conditions and affect indoor air quality.


It is important to take proactive steps to protect yourself and your loved ones during smoky conditions. Ensure that your portable AC is properly maintained and combined with other measures to maintain clean indoor air. 

Stay informed about air quality conditions and follow any advisories or guidelines provided by local authorities. Remember, your comfort and well-being are worth prioritizing. By taking necessary precautions, you can create a healthier and more comfortable living space, even in smoky conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does AC filter outside air?

No, air conditioners do not bring in fresh air from the outside. What actually happens is that your air conditioner uses a fan to draw air into the unit and disperse it through a structure. This results in recycled air.

Why does AC need outside air?

A portable air conditioner uses its vent hose to remove heat, so venting it outside makes the most sense in almost every case

Do portable ACs require professional installation? 

No, portable ACs do not require professional installation. They are designed for easy installation and setup by the user. Most models come with a window installation kit or a venting hose that can be easily connected to a window or a vent.

Are portable ACs noisy? 

Portable ACs can produce noise during operation. While efforts have been made to reduce noise levels, some models may still generate noticeable sound. Consider the unit’s noise level rating and look for features like “quiet mode” if noise is a concern.

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Behind Best Darn Product is Kevin Pena, a passionate blogger and e-commerce enthusiast based in Atlanta, Georgia. With his finger on the pulse of the ever-growing online marketplace, Kevin is dedicated to sharing his extensive knowledge and genuine enthusiasm for the products and services that shape our modern lives.

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