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What is a Portable Fan?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 16, 2024
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A portable fan is simply a fan that is not permanently affixed to the wall or ceiling. Portable fans come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny battery-powered fans that can be held in the hand, to large box fans meant to ventilate a whole room. Using a portable fan can be a great way to keep the air moving, moderate the temperature of a room, and supplement the use of an air conditioner to save power.

There are a few different types of portable fans. These include personal fans, box fans, window fans, pedestal fans, and floor fans, among others. Personal fans may be the small, battery-powered handheld ones mentioned above, or they may simply be a small electric fan designed to sit on a desk, table, countertop, or dresser. Handheld personal fans sometimes offer a water misting feature as well, so as the fan spins, a light spray of water will help to cool the user. Electric personal fans often oscillate, but not always.

Box fans and floor fans are similar types of portable fans. A box fan is a large, square fan, generally about two feet (.6 meters) across, whereas a floor fan is often a round fan of a similar diameter. These fans are typically not capable of oscillating, but are more powerful than a personal fan and may be used to assist in cooling an entire room. A pedestal fan, conversely, is often a large portable fan on top of a height-adjustable pedestal. These fans are slightly smaller than floor fans, between one and two feet (.3 and .6 meters) in diameter, but usually oscillate and tilt, and are also capable of cooling a whole room.

Window fans are a type of long, narrow portable fan designed to fit inside a window. A window fan typically includes two smaller fans. The two fans are often capable of being reversed to spin in opposite directions. This means that during the day, a fan can be blowing outside, pulling the warm air inside the house back out of doors. At night, however, the fan direction can be reversed, and the fan can pull the cooler night air inside. The fans inside a window fan unit are frequently capable of operating independently of each other, so one can be pulling air in while the other pushes air out simultaneously; this is helpful to circulate fresh air into a room.

A commercial fan is a type of high-powered floor fan, sometimes also referred to as a barrel fan. This type of portable fan is often very loud, and may be used in garages or workshops to help clear fumes or sawdust. In addition, commercial fans like these are often placed around homes to help paint dry. One would not use a commercial fan on an everyday basis for cooling purposes, however, as it would likely blow dust, papers, and even lightweight objects around the room as well.

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Discussion Comments
By Feryll — On Aug 06, 2014

We bought an old house and discovered that the cooling system needs to be replaced. Since we couldn't afford to buy a new system, we went out and bought portable fans. They are cheap, and there are so many sizes and styles.

Our house is well shaded by trees. With the trees, three ceiling fans and the portable fans the house is bearable when the temperatures get really air and comfortable when the temperatures are normal. I still want to get the AC running, but this will work until we can afford something better.

By Laotionne — On Aug 06, 2014

A portable fan on a pedestal can be positioned so that air is drawn in from the outside or so that hot air is removed from the house. I do this all the time with my portable fan. I can't say for certain that this works as well as a fan actually positioned in the window, but this does work. And unlike a fan that is actually fitted in a window, I can move my fan from room to room depending on where I need the extra air.

By Drentel — On Aug 05, 2014

Long before anybody in my community had air conditioned houses, my grandparents had a portable fan mounted in their living room window. Back then that was the closest thing we had to AC and we thought it was great.

The fan had three speeds and as the article mentions, the fan could pull fresh air into the house or pull hot air out of the room. The negative side of the window fan is that it blocks your view, so you can't see out of the window where the fan is mounted.

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