If you’re not lucky enough to have air conditioning, the next best thing to reach for in the hottest months is an electric fan. But what type of cooling fan is best for you and what are the features we should be looking for?

Electric fans do not actually cool air they simply move it around within a home; mixing it with surrounding cooler air, perhaps through a window from the world outside. Any direct effect on the user’s temperature comes from the increased evaporative cooling effect of sweat. In addition to cooling, an electric fan can help create a better smelling, cleaner-air environment and, placed to move stale air from a bedroom, a fan may promote a better night’s sleep.

There are three basic types of fan, and several features that some of them share:

Desk Fans

As their name implies, these fans are small enough to be placed on a desk, but a particular advantage is that they are small enough to be put almost anywhere: on the floor; on a desktop, or wall-mounted – wherever the user feels the most benefit. The blades usually have a diameter between 10- and 12-inches, which limits their air-moving capacity but means they’re economical to use. They are usually less noisy than pedestal or tower fans and are ideal for smaller spaces.

Pedestal Fans

Pedestal fans are stand-mounted to move large volumes of air; typical fans can move over 500 cubic feet of air per minute (for comparison, a 12 foot square room with an 8 ½ foot ceiling contains about 1,200 cu/ft). Their disadvantages can be their size (the fan itself and the stand’s footprint), their noise, and possibly their instability (their design makes them vulnerable to being knocked over if the stand is not wide or well-weighted). Their bigger size – fans typically have a diameter of 16 inches or more – means they use more power than table fans, but they are recommended for larger rooms.

Tower Fans

Tower fans use one or more fans mounted on a vertical axis inside a rounded tower. Air is directed out from the tower through vanes running up one side of the tower. Tower fans are less noisy than pedestal fans and take up less space, although they may not have the same air-moving capacity. Their disadvantage is that they need to be set on the floor and so, unlike table or pedestal fans, are not suitable for drawing air into a room through a window. Nevertheless, because of their relative quietness, they will always be the best choice for keeping air circulating at night in a bedroom.

Electric fans of all types are sold with a variety of features and functions such as remote controls; variable fan-speed; oscillation (side-to-side movement that widens the spread of a fan’s effect) and adjustable vertical angle (to direct a fan upwards or toward the floor). All our picks are mains-powered; battery-powered fans are also available but are not considered here due to their limited power and battery-life concerns.

In narrowing your choice, you will need to consider how and where you hope to use the fan; its power rating (which correlates with its capacity to move air but also your electricity bill); its durability; whether you want to pay extra for features; if it can be disassembled for storage, and if the safety guard is adequate to protect children and pets from injury.

Best desktop fan

Honeywell HT 900 Turbo Fan

Honeywell HT900E Turbo desk fanNot surprisingly, the Honeywell HT 900 is a best-seller. This fan is designed for stability, sturdiness and quiet operation. It features a 3-speed fan that can be tilted through 90 degrees and has a 40-watt power rating. It is conveniently compact and portable, measuring 11 inches in height with a footprint measuring approximately 11” x 6”, and is fitted with a longish 6 foot cord. A solid product from a well-known brand that is highly recommended.

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Best pedestal fans

Futura 16″ Electric Fan

Futura pedestal fanThe Futura is a solid pedestal fan with a well-weighted base; the construction is of chrome-finish steel rather than plastic. The tilt-adjustable head oscillates through 85 degrees for a wide spread of air movement and the 50w motor ensures a powerful breeze. The 16-inch fan has 3 speed settings, and its overall height can be adjusted between three and four-and-a-half feet. It is delivered in need of some (easy) assembly. Reviews are positive on the fan’s overall quality and performance and it deserves our recommendation.

Best Tower Fans

Igenix DF0030 Oscillating Tower Fan

Igenix DF0030 Oscillating Tower FanThis 30-inch tower fan provides simple, decent performance at a very reasonable price. It has 3 speed settings, an easy to use twist dial to set the timer for up to 120 minutes at a time and is rated at 45W so will put out a decent amount of airflow. It comes in either black or white and while quite plasticky, it is at least subtly designed enough to fade into the background.

Users seem pleased with the air output and don’t complain about it being especially loud. The small base can be a little unstable but, on a secure flat surface, it should be fine. It’s not the most powerful tower fan on our list and it doesn’t have any whizzy features like a remote or more complicated timer, but if you just want a basic fan it does the job.

Mylek Tower Fan

Mytyek tower fanThis tower fan from Mylek incorporates an ionizer that helps “freshen” the air. It is fairly tall at 37 inches and push-button controls and led indicators are set in the top surface. Three fan speed settings are available. The remote control has five buttons for power; speed; oscillation on/off; timer (up to seven hours) and ionizer. The tower is made of white plastic with black plastic panels for the vanes and controls. Users report low noise levels and effective performance. This is a very good fan at a feasible price.

Honeywell HO-5500 RE

Honeywell tower fanThe HO-5500 RE seeks greater stability by moving the vane-panel from side-to-side, rather than oscillating the entire tower. The vane-panel transits through 110 Degrees, giving a very wide area of air flow. This tower fan is unusually tall at 40” but is power-rated at 40W and has the usual three speeds. A 4-hour timer and three ‘wind-modes’ are also available: Normal; Natural Breeze; and Sleeping. The operating functions are controlled via five buttons across the top of the tower or by using the remote control pad (that can be stowed under the top of the tower when not in use). The remote control uses 2 AAA batteries that are supplied with the fan.

The fan’s casing is black plastic but the structure incorporates an aluminum sidebar for greater strength. Reviewers describe ‘a good breeze’ and low to ‘acceptable’ noise levels. Not the cheapest tower fan, but not the most expensive either: the HO-5500 RE is produced by a well-known manufacturer with a good reputation and has all the features most users will need to maintain comfort in a bedroom on a hot summer night.