If your home doesn’t have central air and installing a window unit isn’t feasible, there are a variety of other ways to stay cool and comfortable. The best air conditioner alternatives include evaporative coolers, powerful fans, and even UV-reflective window film. Each option offers unique benefits, including cost-effectiveness to temperature-lowering power.
Glenn Wiseman is a Residential Air System Design Technician (RASDT) with 13 years of experience. He works as a technician and sales manager at Top Hat Home Comfort Services, a company that specializes in air conditioner maintenance and repair, as well as indoor air quality, duct cleaning, furnace repair, and more.
What Are My Alternatives?
You’ll have a small handful of options, and before choosing, you’ll want to consider how much cooling power you want, cost, and the climate where you live. Here’s how the choices stack up:
Unlike air conditioners that use refrigerants, evaporative coolers work by drawing air through a wet filter that’s chilled by either water or ice, and then pushing it out to cool and humidify the space. Wiseman notes that they can bring down temperatures by as much as 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit but since they circulate moist air, they’re most effective in climates that are “hot, dry, and windy, with low amounts of humidity.”
They do provide some cooling in humid climates, but Wiseman notes they may make you feel “clammy and wet.” For that reason, he recommends evaporative coolers in humid climates only if you spend most of your time in one room of your home — like a bedroom or living room.
Even when the outdoor temperature drops at night, some buildings can trap hot air. In this case, a window fan with a reversible exhaust system is a great option, as it draws in cool outdoor air and removes hot, stagnant indoor air. If you want something more straightforward, you can opt for a simple table or floor fan — just look for a model with a high-velocity output to efficiently circulate the air. Note, however, that standard fans won’t bring down the temperature as efficiently as evaporative coolers, but they’re generally cheaper upfront.
Heat-Reflective Window Film
Sun streaming through windows can heat interior spaces quickly, so another option Wiseman recommends is heat-reflective window film. “This is a thin plastic film that goes over the glass portion of your window, deflecting the sun's rays and keeping rooms cooler during the day,” Mr. Wiseman shares. He adds that, while a window film is “not as effective as having an AC unit or cooler installed, it can be a quick alternative that provides some level of cooling from the sun, whatever climate you live in.”
Cooling Systems For Beds
These unique gadgets work similarly to a fan, but rather than an open grate, ambient air is forced through a tube that can be positioned between your bottom and top sheet to cool your body while you sleep. While they don’t actually “cool” the air, they offer relief while sleeping, and some systems also have heating capabilities to keep you warm in cold temperatures.
Shop The Best Air Conditioner Alternatives
In a hurry? These are the best air conditioner alternatives:
- The Best Evaporative Cooler: Hessaire Evaporative Cooler
- The Best Portable Evaporative Cooler: SUPALAK Portable Cooler
- The Best Window Fan With Reversible Airflow: Vornado TRANSOM Window Fan
- The Best Whole-Room Fan: Vornado Whole-Room Air Circulator Fan
- The Best Sun-Reflective Window Film: KESPEN UV-Reflective Film
- The Best Bed-Cooling System: BedJet 3 Climate Comfort For Beds
1. The Best Evaporative Cooler
- Cools more efficiently than a fan
- May lower ambient temperature by up to 20 degrees
- Can also be used without water as a fan
- Won’t work as well in humid climates
- High upfront cost
Best for those who live in dry climates, this evaporative cooler from Hessaire draws air through three water-saturated pads, releasing cool, damp air at a rate of up to 100 cubic feet per minute. The cooler has a 10.3-gallon water tank that provides up to four hours of operation before needing to be refilled, or it can be run continuously by attaching it to a household hose with the included adapter and float valve.
The cooler has three speeds and oscillating blades that distribute air for wide and even coverage. A simple control panel on the top of the cooler allows you to set the fan speed, engage or disengage oscillation, or turn off the water pump if you want to use it as a simple fan, but note that there’s no remote control included. The rolling casters on the bottom of the cooler allow for easy transport across floors, and they can be locked into position.
A reviewer wrote: “I'm currently staying in the high desert above Los Angeles where the temperature will soon rise to over 105-110 daily. The Hessaire MC 37M I purchased two weeks ago has been a godsend for the heat now and to come later this summer. It's simple and easy to use and...is the best purchase I've made...in a long time! And my two dogs heartily second my satisfaction.”
Dimensions: 38 x 24 x 16 inches | Speeds: 3 | Additional specs: oscillation, 4-hour run time on one fill, can be attached to hose for continuous use
2. The Best Portable Evaporative Cooler
- Compact footprint and portable design
- Option to set timers
- Can also be used without water as a fan
- Won’t cool larger spaces as effectively as the first pick
One of the best portable air conditioning alternatives, this evaporative cooler has an integrated carrying handle and a compact footprint that takes up minimal space on any flat surface. The cooler’s 400-milliliter tank can supply between six to eight hours of continuous operation before needing a refill, and it has a transparent design that lets you see when the water level is running low.
In addition to water, ice cubes can be added to the tank to provide extra cooling in especially hot conditions, but if you’d rather forego moisture altogether, the cooler can also be operated as a straightforward fan. A simple control panel lets you adjust the speed, set optional two- and four-hour timers, and turn on the colored LEDs, which can serve as a nightlight or as ambient lighting (but there’s no remote control).
A reviewer wrote: “This portable air conditioner is easy to set up and use, and is definitely effective. My room gets very hot in the summer and using this next to my bed or computer cools me down quite a bit. The misting feature is a plus for extra cooling, and the timer allows you to set it before you sleep so it can turn on at night. Overall, this is a great product for a great price.”
Dimensions: 11 x 5.9 x 5.9 inches | Speeds: 3 | Additional specs: 6- to 8-hour run time on one fill, optional timer functions
3. The Best Window Fan With Reversible Airflow
- Reversible system pushes out hot air and pulls in cool air
- Thermostat offers some temperature control
- Not compatible with vertical windows
- Best for nighttime cooling
Vornado’s Transom reversible window fan has an exhaust function that pushes out hot, stale air, then — with the press of a button — you can transition the direction of airflow to pull in fresh, cool air from outdoors, which effectively lowers interior temperatures once the sun goes down. There are four speed settings and a digital thermostat option that prompts the fan to turn on once the ambient air reaches a set temperature. When the fan is powered off, it closes to prevent air from escaping or entering.
The fan has a low-profile design that occupies minimal vertical space, plus a foam block system that gives it a snug fit in vertical windows ranging from 26 to 40 inches wide — but note that the unit is not compatible with horizontal windows (i.e. those that close by sliding sideways). In addition to manual controls, the fan comes with a remote for easy adjustments.
A reviewer wrote: “It was super easy to assemble and it fit perfectly in my window. I love that it reads the temperature in the room and I can set a desired temperature. It's not an A/C, but it definitely felt like it at night. I had to turn it off bc it was too cold! It works best at night to cool the room because the temperature is colder. Otherwise, during the day, it is able to cool the room a few degrees. I highly recommend this fan!”
Dimensions: 26 x 5.7 x 7.2 inches | Speeds: 4 | Additional specs: integrated thermostat, included remote control, fits a variety of window widths
4. The Best Whole-Room Fan
- Relatively budget-friendly
- Compact footprint
- Highly rated
- Won’t lower temperature as effectively as an evaporative cooler or reversible window fan
- Larger fan options from this line are more expensive
Boasting an impressive 4.7-star overall rating on Amazon after 12,000 reviews, this whole-room air circulator fan uses powerful vortex airflow, deep-pitched blades, and an inlet air accelerator that work together to move hot, stagnant air in interior spaces. It comes in three sizes, with the smallest moving air up to 70 feet away and the largest up to 100 feet away— but note that the larger fans are considerably more expensive.
If cost is a concern, the portability of this pick will work in your favor, as you can opt for the smaller (and cheaper) size and place it nearby for close-up cooling. The tilting head lets you change the direction of airflow (but note that there’s no oscillation), and there are four speeds that can be controlled using buttons on the top of the fan. Keep in mind, however, that no remote control is included.
A reviewer wrote: “Bought this fan to help cool our second bedroom that serves as my office. The bedroom tends to get hotter because of my computer and being on the third level. This fan definitely does the job with moving the air to keep it cool. We even bought a second one for our bedroom since we loved it so much.”
Dimensions: 11.2 x 9.7 x 8.9 inches | Speeds: 3 | Additional specs: 3 size and coverage options, tilt-adjustable
5. The Best Sun-Reflective Window Film
- Static cling makes it easy to apply and remove
- Can be cut to size
- Won’t move air around
- Needs to be replaced every year or two
- Tints windows
Wiseman recommends sun-reflective window film as a cheap and easy air conditioner alternative that can help lower interior temperatures in any climate. When affixed to the insides of windows, the film blocks up to 82% of infrared rays and up to 80% of UV rays, while still letting some visible light in, which means you’ll be able to see outdoors (albeit through a tinted window).
Available in twelve sizes, the film uses static cling to affix to windows and can be trimmed for an exact fit. Be aware that it works best on smooth, clean glass and is not compatible with double-pane or frosted-glass windows. And while the PVC material is resistant to scratching and blistering, Wiseman notes that in general, you’ll have to replace and reapply window film every year or two, as sunlight inevitably leads to some breakdown.
Last but not least, the brand offers four tint shades: silver, black-silver, blue-silver, and tea-silver. Each one will color your view of the outdoors differently and offer a different level of UV blocking as well as visible light transmission (i.e., the amount of light that filters in through the window). (You can consult the chart on the product page for more details).
A reviewer wrote: “I live in Las Vegas and we are having one heck of a heatwave. The sun in Las Vegas is intense [...] I put this on the windows and the room temp dropped 15 degrees in about 15 minutes. That change has sustained over the past month cutting the use of [...] power consumption.”
Dimensions: varies and can be trimmed to size | Speeds: n/a | Additional specs: 4 tint options, 12 size options, static cling installation
6. The Best Bed-Cooling System
- Targeted cooling for sleep
- Also works as a heater for cold nights
- Not helpful for daytime cooling
If you struggle to sleep when it’s hot, this ventilation system from BedJet is a unique, effective pick that offers targeted nighttime relief by circulating air between your bedsheets. The BedJet’s motor unit fits under most beds and has a fan that blows ambient air through a flexible, length-adjustable hose that can be positioned between your sheets or under a comforter. Flowing air will help keep your body cool on hot nights, and the BedJet also has a warming mode to make your bed cozy on chilly nights.
A compatible app lets you control the BedJet from your phone, but it also comes with a remote control that allows you to toggle between heating and cooling modes, activate a turbo setting, set timers, and adjust the temperature for a perfect feel.
A reviewer wrote: “One of the best purchases ever. Don’t even need to run the air conditioning with this baby on. Makes for a comfortable night sleep, every time. Buy one for every bed in your house.”
Dimensions: 15.5 x 10.5 x 5 inches (hose expands up to 4 feet) | Speeds: variable | Additional specs: timer function, heating option, turbo mode, thermostat