Cooling Fan: What to Look for Before Buying One

Unless you live somewhere that’s moderate year round, chances are you’ve relied on a cooling fan to make an otherwise steamy room more bearable. While fans don’t always add cold air to the mix, they help circulate the air so that our bodies can better cool down. In some cases, though, air conditioning is a much better option. “If a person has allergies, asthma, or eczema that are exacerbated by pollen, then it’s best to use air conditioners, which filter out pollen and allow the windows to be closed,” says Hadley King, M.D., NYC-based dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. But the reality is that air conditioning isn’t always available—and in some cases, skin conditions like eczema can be triggered by heat. In these situations, a cooling fan can be helpful, says Hadley, as long as it’s used correctly.

If you’re using a fan, Hadley suggests positioning it so that it’s not blowing directly on you. “Air blowing over the skin can contribute to drying it out,” she explains. If you are allergic to pollen, avoid window fans, which can actually circulate more pollen into the air inside and make matters worse. Finally, be aware that fans are “dust collectors,” says Bruce Prenner, M.D., board-certified allergist at Allergy Associates Medical Group in San Diego, California. While they aren’t generally a source of dust mites (the little buggers prefer burrowing into soft things like blankets, pillows, and curtains) dust itself can still cause sneezing and other reactions in people who are sensitive to allergens. For this reason, it’s important to keep any portable fans clean and dust-free.

Fans don’t need to be fancy to work well, but there are a few other things (in addition to the best practices above) that our experts suggest considering when shopping for a portable fan. For SELF’s product reviews, where we rigorously test and evaluate all kinds of wellness products to help you decide what’s worth buying, we wanted to know exactly what those criteria were. Here’s what the experts suggest, and what we pay attention to when testing cooling fans for reviews.

Cooling Fan Evaluation and Testing Criteria

How Easy It Is to Clean

If dust accumulates on the blades of the fan, those particles will fly through the air every time you turn it on, says King. Dust can be irritating for both people with allergies and those without, says Prenner, which is why he recommends wiping down fan blades with a microfiber cloth every two to four weeks. When testing fans, we pay attention to how easy they are be to clean—specifically, how easy it is to reach and wipe down the blades regularly. If the fan is meant to be used with a reusable pollen filter, how easy is it to remove and clean the filter?

Noise Level

If you’re going to run a fan overnight, it’s important to make sure the noise level is bearable. To test for noise level, we run each fan overnight and note if it interrupts the tester’s ability to fall or stay asleep. We also compare the noise level to other common appliances to determine if it is relatively quiet or loud, to help advise people with different tolerances for ambient noise, and use a noise app to measure the fan’s noise output.

Tested for Safety

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), portable fans do not pose a significant fire hazard in the home, but it’s important to always look for fans that have been tested by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL). This certification means the appliance has undergone independent testing to ensure it meets safety standards and is free of recognized hazards that could cause injury or death, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). Underwriters Laboratories is recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as the standard certification for electric fans. When testing fans for review, we note whether or not a fan has been certified by UL or another NRTL.

Experts Consulted for These Guidelines

  • Hadley King, M.D., NYC-based dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University
  • Bruce Prenner, M.D., board-certified allergist at Allergy Associates Medical Group in San Diego, California

Reviews That Used These Guidelines

This is a buying and testing guide for SELF product reviews. See all our reviews here.

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