What the best fan has

  • Good cooling performance. The volume of air your fan moves (measured in cubic feet per minute, or cfm) should be adequate for the size of your space, providing enough airflow to cool you down without bowling you over.
  • Easy-to-use controls. While convenience features such as remote controls and timers can be nice, it's most important that the controls are easy to reach and use.
  • A reasonable noise level. Most users prefer quieter fans because they don't interfere with conversation or other activities. However, some people like a louder fan in the bedroom to create a bit of white noise.
  • A sturdy design. Look for solid construction and a good repair record.
  • Safety features. Many users like bladeless fans, such as the Dyson line, because they pose no risk to kids and pets. On a traditional fan, blades should be enclosed behind a safety grille or grate. Also, the fan shouldn't overheat after running all day, and it should be easy to pick up and carry without dropping.
  • Cleanability. Another nice feature of bladeless fans is that it's very easy to wipe them clean of dust. If a fan has a grille, it should be easy to remove for cleaning.
  • A good warranty. Our top-rated fans offer warranties ranging from one to five years.
  • Nice looks. A fan can't do its job if it must be hidden in a closet any time visitors show up.

Know before you go

Where will you use the fan? The size and type of fan you choose depend on the size of the space it needs to cool. Large floor fans work best in larger rooms, while a tabletop fan can cool a work cubicle. Tower fans can cool a full-sized room yet fit into a narrow space. Also consider how the noise of the fan will affect your activities in that area. In a family room, you may need a quieter fan that won't drown out the TV. In a bedroom, a slightly louder fan may be desirable because it muffles other noises.

Will you use the fan in multiple rooms? If you plan to move the fan from room to room, it should be easy to lift. You'll also need to check the length of the cord to make sure it can always reach an outlet. Some small fans can fold up and be packed into a suitcase for traveling.

Do you have children? If so, make sure your fan blades are protected from tiny fingers. You might choose a bladeless fan or a tower fan, which has a fine-mesh grate rather than a grille. Some fans lack grilles because they have soft blades made of cloth or rubber, but that won't stop them from tangling in hair or poking the eyes of a toddler who decides to stick his face right in the fan.

Do you have pets? To keep Fluffy or Fido from knocking the fan over, choose one with a sturdy base. This is especially important with table and pedestal fans. If you choose a fan specifically to keep your pets cool, avoid noisy fans that animals might shy away from. Confirm that the fan is returnable, in case it makes a noise outside of your hearing range but that disturbs your pet.

Is it for day or night use? At night, a window fan can be a good choice because it brings in cooler air from outdoors. This means it can actually help lower the room temperature rather than just provide personal cooling. But it won't help at all during the day when outdoor temperatures are hot.

Which is more important: airflow or noise level? In general, there's a trade-off between the two: The more air a fan moves, the more noise it will make. However, some fans are particularly loud or quiet for their air moving capabilities. If possible, test out the fan in the store so you can both hear it and feel it in person.

What's to come

Portable fans are making big strides in energy efficiency. In early 2016, Vornado introduced its new "Energy Smart" line, which it describes as up to 80 percent more energy-efficient than conventional fans. Two Energy Smart air circulators, the 610DC and the larger 723DC, are already available, and two tower fans in the same line are scheduled to come out in the summer of 2016. Another manufacturer, Seville, has also introduced an energy-efficient tower fan, the UltraSlimline Energy-Saving Tilt Tower Fan, which uses only 25 watts on its highest speed setting. These super-efficient fans haven't received enough feedback yet to be covered in this report, but keep an eye out for them in future editions.