How Portable AC Works

How Portable AC Works (Learn the Process in Easy Steps)

I was about to buy a new portable AC for the bedroom a few months ago. 

I was pretty confused about whether portable AC actually works. So, I asked some of my friends who are using it and learned how effective they are. The recommendations were wide!

It got me thinking. For a few months, I put a lot of effort into finding every single detail about the portable AC. I was tangled up with another question. 

How does portable AC work? Obviously, a portable air conditioner cools down a room. 

For that, it pulls in hot air from the space through an intake hose. The hot air is then passed over cooling coils that contain a refrigerant, which absorbs the heat from the air. Finally, the cooled air is then circulated back into the room, and the room environment gets cooler.

I need a few minutes to explain the entire process. Before that, let’s first learn whether a portable AC works or not. Let’s start it.

Do Portable Air Conditioners Actually Work?

Yes, portable air conditioners usually work to cool down the environment in your room. They are amazingly cool indoor spaces. 

You can move these standalone units from one room to another, and they don’t even require permanent installation like a traditional window or central air conditioning system.

Generally, a portable air conditioner works by pulling in warm air from the room and cooling it using a refrigeration cycle. 

Then it expels the cooled air back into the room while venting the hot air outside through a flexible exhaust hose. Usually, the unit comes with a built-in condensate collection system to collect and evaporate the moisture extracted from the air.

A portable air conditioner can effectively cool small to medium-sized rooms. Still, their cooling capacity is lower compared to larger fixed air conditioning systems. 

Therefore, for a larger area or room with high ceilings or extensive heat sources, a portable AC may not be sufficient.

We recommend choosing a portable air conditioner after considering factors like the unit’s cooling capacity, energy efficiency, noise level, and the size and layout of the room you intend to cool.

Learn About the Basic Components of a Portable AC

Learn About Basic Components Of A Portable AC

You must have questions regarding how it actually works.  The mechanism is pretty easy. However, you need to learn the parts of this unit system to get how it really works.

Here are the main 10 components you can find in a unit.

1. Control Panel

The control panel is a part that is placed on the front area of the unit. This panel lets you adjust settings like:

  • the temperature
  • fan speed
  • modes, and 
  • timer functions

Some portable AC units have a control panel with an LCD display for temperature and other status indicators.

2. Air Intake

The air intake is the opening or grille on the unit. Through this part, warm air from the room is drawn into the AC for cooling.

3. Air Filters

Portable air conditioners also come with air filters. They capture dust, allergens, and other particles from the air. The filters usually help maintain clean airflow and should be regularly cleaned or replaced.

4. Cooling Coils

The cooling coils are also called evaporator coils. They are located inside the unit and are responsible for cooling the air. 

The refrigerant of the AC flows through the coils and absorbs heat from the air to cool it down.

5. Refrigerant

Portable air conditioners use a refrigerant, like Freon or R-410A. It simply facilitates the heat transfer process. 

The refrigerant circulates through the cooling coils and gets transformed from a liquid to a gas. They come back again to the coil to absorb the released heat.

6. Compressor

The compressor is an essential component that simply pressurizes and circulates the refrigerant. It increases the temperature and pressure of the refrigerant gas which will release heat to the outside environment.

7. Condenser Coils

This part is located outside the unit, and it is responsible for releasing the heat that the unit absorbed from the room. The high-pressure refrigerant generally passes through the condenser coils. It condenses back into a liquid and dissipates the heat to the outside air.

8. Exhaust Hose

This air cooling unit also has an exhaust hose that expels hot air generated during the cooling process to the outside. The hose is usually flexible and connects to a window kit or vent panel.

9. Condensate Tray

It is also called the condensate tank. However, the AC unit usually dehumidifies the air as they cool. It happens because of condensation. 

Also, this tray collects moisture that is drained externally through a hose or automatically evaporated within the unit.

10. Wheels and Handles

As portable air conditioners are designed to be movable, they often have wheels and handles for easy transportation from one room to another. 

However, all the units don’t come with these features.

So, these are the primary components of portable air conditioners. But you may not find all of them together in one unit. Sometimes, low-quality units or the latest model can have different parts. 

How Do Portable Air Conditioners Work?

How Do Portable Air Conditioners Work

A movable AC usually works by processing a refrigeration cycle to cool the air in a room. 

Here’s a step-by-step process of how a portable air conditioner works.

Step 1: Air Intake

The AC unit draws warm air from the room through an intake vent. This warm air contains heat and moisture. This air will be removed to cool down the area.

Step 2: Cooling Process

In this step, the warm air enters the unit and goes through the cooling coils. As I mentioned earlier, the coil contains a refrigerant like Freon or R-410A that will help to cool down the air. The refrigerant is in a liquid state and has a low boiling point.

Step 3: Evaporation

When the warm air passes over the cooling coils, the refrigerant absorbs the heat from the air. As a result, the liquid state of the refrigerant transformed into gas.

Step 4: Air Compression and Condensation

The gaseous refrigerant is compressed by the compressor and its temperature and pressure increase. The hot, pressurized refrigerant then flows into a condenser. 

As the refrigerant reduces heat to the external environment, it condenses back into a liquid state.

Step 5: Heat Dissipation

The heat absorbed from the room is now released to the outside air through the condenser coils. It takes the heat outside the room through an exhaust hose or vent.

Step 6: Expansion

Now, the high-pressure liquid refrigerant passes through an expansion valve or capillary tube. Here, it undergoes a pressure drop and it decreases pressure to cool down the refrigerant.

Step 7: Repeat Cycle

The cooled refrigerant is now in a liquid state and it simply returns to the cooling coils inside the unit. Here, it gets ready to absorb more heat from the incoming warm air. 

This cycle continues as long as the portable air conditioner is running.

Step 8: Air Circulation

Simultaneously, the cooled air released from the refrigeration cycle is circulated back into the room through the front vents of the unit. This process reduces the overall temperature of the room. It also dehumidifies the air by collecting moisture from the room.

By extracting heat and moisture from the air while recirculating cooler air, a portable AC unit effectively cools down indoor spaces. So, this is how a portable AC unit works.

Differences Between Single-Hose vs. Dual-Hose Portable Air Conditioners

Portable AC comes in two categories. They are single and dual hose units.  Now the question is do they work in the same way? Definitely, no. 

Even though the mechanism is pretty similar, there are some internal differences. 

Here are five core differences between the single and dual-hose portable AC units.

Hose Configuration

A single-hose AC has only one hose that intakes and exhausts the vent. On the contrary, dual-hose portable air conditioners have two separate hoses.

Here, one is for intake and another is for exhaust. The intake hose draws in air from the outside, cools it, and then releases it into the room. And the exhaust hose expels the hot air outside.


Because of the combined intake and exhaust functions of a single hose, these units can be less efficient. They can create negative pressure in the room, which can affect the cooling process.

Dual-hose units, on the other hand, are considered more efficient. The separate intake and exhaust hoses simply prevent the creation of negative pressure and the infiltration of warm air from outside.

Cooling Performance

Single-hose portable air conditioners sometimes have to struggle to cool large spaces efficiently, especially in hot climates. But a dual-hose one is better suited for larger spaces and hot climates. They ensure a more efficient cooling process and bring fresh air from the outside to improve the cooling performance.

Moisture Control

Not just in the cooling process; a single-hose unit may have to struggle with humidity control. Since they use the same hose for intake and exhaust, some of the moisture extracted from the air during the cooling process can be expelled back into the room.

However, a dual-hose unit can offer better moisture control. The separate intake and exhaust hoses ensure more effective removal of excess moisture to enhance the dehumidification capabilities.


Because of the different mechanisms, the installation process is different for these two types of portable AC units. A single-hose portable air conditioner is easier to install and requires fewer components as it has only one hose to connect. 

However, a dual-hose unit requires slightly more complex installation because it connects both intake and exhaust hoses.

So, these are how these two different types of portable AC units are different from each other. The basic mechanism is almost the same except for the intake and exhaust way. However, the innovation of the dual hose makes this system more efficient and effective.

7 Portable AC Maintenance Tips You Must Follow

Portable AC Maintenance Tips You Must Follow

If it’s the very first time you are going to buy a portable AC, I have some tips to keep the unit safe, and effective, and also to improve its longevity. 

Let’s check them out.

  1. Clean the air filters every 1-2 weeks to ensure proper airflow and prevent dust and debris buildup.
  2. Check and clear any obstructions in the exhaust hose to ensure efficient airflow and proper venting of hot air.
  3. Empty the condensate collection tray or tank regularly to prevent overflow and potential water damage.
  4. Ensure that the portable air conditioner is placed on a level surface to prevent water leakage and maintain the proper functioning of the internal components.
  5. Examine the hoses, connections, and seals for any leaks or damage. Learn how to hide hose.
  6. Keep the area around the air conditioner clean and free from dust, dirt, and debris to prevent them from entering the unit and obstructing airflow.
  7. Try scheduling periodic professional maintenance to check for any issues, clean internal components, and ensure optimal performance.

These tips will help you prevent many different problems regarding a portable AC. Once you buy one and take good care of this unit, it can work efficiently for decades.

Wrapping Up

A portable AC is a convenient way to keep your room cooler in summer. It is movable and even more affordable than the regular air conditioning unit. 

That’s why people are getting interested in this air cooling system very often. Being acknowledged for how portable AC works can help them choose the right one for sure.

Hopefully, you’ve now a better idea of how this AC unit works. For further info, you can check the other article on this site. Have a nice day.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use a portable air conditioner without a window?

Portable air conditioners are designed to be used with a window or a similar option to exhaust the hot air outside. You need to connect the exhaust hose to the window installation kit or a suitable venting solution. That’s why you just need a window or a similar option to install your portable AC unit.

Do Portable Air Conditioners Require a Water Source to Function?

No, most portable air conditioners do not require a continuous water source to operate. They come with a built-in condensate collection tray or tank that collects the excess moisture extracted from the air during the cooling process.

Is It Safe to Operate a Portable AC When No One Is at Home?

It is generally not recommended to operate a portable air conditioner when no one is at home. It’s because of the safety concerns regarding potential electrical malfunctions or issues that could arise in your absence.

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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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