We use cookies to allow us and selected partners to improve your experience and our advertising. By continuing to browse you consent to our use of cookies. You can understand more and change your cookies preferences here.


When you click on a retailer link on our site, we may earn affiliate commission to help fund our not-for-profit mission.Find out more.

16 Jul 2021

Should you buy an air conditioner or an electric fan this summer?

Being at home in unbearable heat is no fun at all - find out if an electric fan will help you keep your cool or if it's worth investing in a more powerful air conditioner

When we're lucky enough to get some sun shining through the window, you may find the temperature in your home can rise to an uncomfortable level. Investing in an electric fan or air conditioner can help you beat the heat, but which product is right for you?

In most cases, a cheap and reliable electric fan will get the job done. The best electric fans we've tested are a breeze to use, you can easily chuck them in the cupboard once the dreary weather returns and they use less electricity than an air conditioner.

However, if your home gets ridiculously hot, a fan just might not be enough. Our expert lab tests prove that the right air conditioner will cool an entire room in no time.

Below, we've compared electric fans and portable air conditioners on a range of important categories to help you choose which is right for you. Before you part with your money, consult our reviews to make sure you bag a Best Buy.

Already know you want to buy a fan? Make sure you pick one that's worth your money - see our electric fan reviews

Air cons vs electric fans: how do they work?

You might assume that air conditioners and electric fans do the same exact job. But actually, there are some differences in how they work.

An electric fan doesn't cool the air in your home: it moves air around, allowing your sweat to evaporate faster and leaving you feeling cooler. Air conditioners, however, will physically lower the temperature of a room. Both will work wonders on a hot day, but a portable air conditioner will have a more powerful impact.

So, if you're using a fan, you'll need to be close to it to feel the benefit. Whereas, if you walk into a room that contains a Which? Best Buy portable air conditioner, you should feel the effects from wherever you're stood.

Because of the different way these devices work, a portable air conditioner will use much more energy than an electric fan. If your portable air con doesn't come with a window sealing kit - as you'll need to dangle the hose out of an open window - it will be even less energy-efficient, as more warm air will be gushing in for the portable air conditioner to tackle.

The bottom line

If you buy a portable air conditioner, make sure you use our reviews to buy one of the most energy-efficient.

Find out more - how to buy the best air conditioner.

Air cons vs electric fans: size and storage

Portable air conditioners are bulky. If you're short on space at home, an electric fan seems like the obvious choice.

A compact desk fan, designed to sit by your side as you work from home, could be the way to go if you're powering through emails. Desk fans are generally cheaper than tower fans, too, making them ideal if you live alone.

Pedestal and tower fans are bigger than desk fans (and worth considering if you want to make the whole room feel cooler), but are still smaller and easier to move around than an air conditioner.

Some fans are designed so they can can extend into a pedestal fan or be collapsed into a desk fan.

The bottom line

Go for a fan if you're short on space, and a desk fan if it's just for you. A tower or pedestal fan, or multiple desk fans, if you share your home with others. A portable air conditioner will be a squeeze if you have a small home.

Find out more about which sort of fan to choose - go to how to buy the best electric fan.

Air cons vs electric fans: weight

Considering their size, you won't be surprised to hear that portable air conditioners can be rather heavy.

In fact, at the time of writing, the most lightweight air conditioner we've tested still weighs in at nearly 19kg. The heaviest is around 34kg - more than five times heavier than the heaviest fan. So you may well need some help positioning it or getting it back into storage at the end of the summer.

Desk fans aren't particularly heavy. Although pedestal and tower fans are taller and have a weighted base, they're easy to move around. We're yet to test a pedestal or tower fan that weighs more than 6kg, so bear that in mind if you're looking for something lightweight.

The bottom line

An air conditioner is bulky, so you may need help to move it once the hot weather's passed. Go for an electric fan if you need something lightweight.

Air cons vs electric fans: ease of use

When installing a portable air conditioner, you'll need to run through a series of steps before you can start using it. Some models come with a window sealing kit, usually only suited to sliding, sash or French windows.

Don't expect to start using your air conditioner straightaway, either. We've tested some models that need to be left alone upright for as long as six hours before being used.

When dealing with an air conditioner, you'll need to attach the connectors to the hose - it requires some patience, so be prepared. Internet-enabled air conditioners will also need adding to your wi-fi network.

You'll need to regularly clean the dust filters and fans to keep your portable air conditioner in good condition.

The bottom line

Picking the right air conditioner will circulate cool air around an entire room, but they can take some time to set up correctly. If you want something that's ready to go right out of the box, an electric fan will be better.

Air cons vs electric fans: extra features

Some air conditioners double up as dehumidifiers, which you might consider a handy bonus if you have a damp problem. But we've found that standalone dehumidifiers are usually easier to use - use our dehumidifier reviews to pick the right one for your budget.

More advanced air conditioners can be controlled through your smartphone, so you don't necessarily need to fumble around looking for the remote that came with the product. Some air conditioners also have a sleep or night mode, which reduces the noise of the machine so you can keep snoozing.

And many have a fan-only mode - although, if you plan on using that feature a lot, you might as well just buy a fan.

Electric fans aren't quite as exciting when it comes to extra features. Some give you the option to dim any lights at night, while others have built-in timers to help you save on energy bills.

The bottom line

Compared with electric fans, air conditioners usually have more features for you to experiment with.

If you're going to splash out on an air conditioner, see our Best Buy air conditioners.

Tried and tested: air cons and electric fans in the Which? lab

We've crunched the numbers and identified the most popular electric fans and air conditioners on the Which? website for 2021. Below, you'll find two of each to get you started.

Meaco Fan 1056, £99

  • Type of electric fanDesk
  • Number of fan speeds12
  • TimerYes

This desk fan from Meaco has 12 different speeds for you to choose from. It has a 12-hour timer, which means you can program it to turn off automatically. The digital display on the front lets you know the current room temperature.

It can be operated using digital touch controls or the bundled remote control. Both let you play around with the built-in fan light and you can also tilt the fan up or down, so you're guaranteed a cooling blast of air from where you're sitting.

Should you really spend £100 on a desk fan when there are cheaper alternatives battling for your attention? See how this one fared in our test lab with our full Meaco Fan 1056 review

Electriq DCF16P, £70

  • Type of electric fanPedestal
  • Number of fan speeds12
  • TimerYes

This model can be used as a pedestal fan, sitting on the floor and cooling an entire room, or as a table fan, by adding or removing poles from the base.

The Electriq DCF16P is made of white plastic and has 12 fan speeds to choose from.

If you'd like the air to waft around the room, you can try using the oscillate mode. Tilting the head up or down also lets you direct the breeze more effectively. This electric fan stands at 1.3-metres tall and weighs in at 6kg, making it the heaviest we've tested.

Will this model blow you away? Discover how this electric fan compares with its key rivals with our Electriq DCF16P review

DeLonghi Pinguino PAC N90ECO Silent, £744

  • Number of fan speedsThree
  • Dehumidifying featureYes
  • Air purification featureNo

This air conditioner doesn't come cheap, so what sort of features are you getting for your money? The DeLonghi Pinguino PAC N90ECO Silent can be installed semi-permanently (you'll need to drill through an outside wall, though) or simply by hanging the hose out an open window.

It weighs just over 27kg and has an air-conditioning mode, fan-only mode or dehumidifying mode.

You have three different fan speeds to pick from: minimum (designed to be as quiet as possible), medium and maximum (designed to reach the temperature you've selected as quickly as possible).

Does this air conditioner have what it takes to be a Which? Best Buy? Our DeLonghi Pinguino PAC N90ECO Silent review reveals all

AEG Chillflex Pro AXP26U338CW, £449

  • Number of fan speedsThree
  • Dehumidifying featureYes
  • Air purification featureNo

This AEG air conditioner weighs a hefty 32kg, but it has two carrying handles and castors that make it easier to move around the room.

It can be installed semi-permanently or permanently and can be set to air-conditioning mode, fan-only mode or dehumidifying mode. If you go with the latter, you'll need to attach a hose to the machine so condensed water can flow into a drip tray.

The AEG Chillflex Pro AXP26U338CW has three fan speeds: maximum, medium and minimum. An auto mode will select the best speed based on the temperature you've selected and the conditions in the room.

To find out if this is one of the best air conditioners to return from the Which? test lab, see our AEG Chillflex Pro AXP26U338CW review

Read next: air con and electric fan reviews

Every electric fan and air conditioner that reaches the Which? test lab is scored on the features that matter the most.

For air conditioners, we test noise levels on various cooling settings, along with ease of use and the time taken to cool a room by 10°C. Electric fans are scored on a range of criteria including performance, quietness, ease of use and energy use.

To get started, select one of the links below: