Should I buy an air circulator fan or a box fan?

Heating, Cooling & Air Quality

Whether you choose an air circulator fan or a box fan, it’s necessary to regularly clean the unit. Operating a dirty, dusty fan not only decreases the air quality in your home, it can reduce the life of your fan.

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Best air circulator fans and box fans

Whether it’s an air circulator fan or a box fan, these units are designed to perform the same task: move air. The critical difference between the two, however, is penetration.

If you take a tall glass of water and blow on the top of that glass, you create a few surface ripples, but not much else. That’s how a box fan works. If you take a long straw, insert it into the glass and blow, you agitate all the water in that glass because the straw allows the air to penetrate deeper into the water. That’s how an air circulator fan works.

Air circulator fans

An air circulator fan is a special fan that’s designed to create a more focused current of air that helps regulate the overall temperature of a room. There are a number of different designs, ranging from desktop models to floor models that allow you to place an air circulator fan wherever you need it most.

To be effective, an air circulator fan needs to be sized to the room it will be placed in — if it’s too small, it won’t function as an air circulator fan, it’s merely a fan. Also, an air circulator fan needs to be positioned correctly. Since this position changes depending on the time of year, buy a model that can be tilted to create the proper airflow.

What you’ll love about air circulator fans

  • Eliminates hot and cold spots: An air circulator fan is designed to mix the air in a room so it’s one temperature, with no hot or cold spots.
  • Year-round usage: An air circulator fan is effective at all times of the year — it can help regulate heat as well as cold.
  • Save on energy bills: By turning on your air circulator fan instead of adjusting the thermostat, you can save on energy bills.

What you should consider about air circulator fans

  • It’s not designed to cool: Though an air circulator fan can definitely make you feel cooler when you sit in front of it, that is not its main purpose.
  • To be effective, it must remain on: Since an air circulator fan is designed to keep the air circulating, as soon as you shut it off, it’s no longer effective.
  • Cost can be significantly more: A quality air circulator fan typically costs $50-$150 or more.

Top air circulator fans

Vornado 630 Whole Room Air Circulator Fan

Vornado 630 Whole Room Air Circulator Fan

The Vornado 630 is designed for the individual who is looking for an air circulator fan for a small to midsize room. This compact model has three speeds, a pivoting head and a removable grill for ease of cleaning.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Lasko 3300 Wind Machine Air Circulator Fan

Lasko 3300 Wind Machine Air Circulator Fan

This ruggedly designed machine is for the user seeking value. The fan is sized to handle larger rooms but is priced less than even smaller models. It features a built-in handle, a pivoting head and three speeds.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Honeywell QuietSet Whole Room Tower Fan

Honeywell QuietSet Whole Room Tower Fan

A feature-packed option that offers remote control operation, dimming and oscillation. It operates quietly, has a built-in timer and eight speed options.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon, Best Buy and Kohl’s

Box fans

While many people use a box fan to blow air directly on their skin to help keep them cool, that’s not the best use for it. Ideally, a box fan should be placed in — or at least near — a window.

The purpose of a box fan is to encourage airflow through a room or the entire house. If it’s cooler outside than it is inside, use a box fan to draw air in on the ground floor, preferably on the shady side of your home, and push it out through a window on an upper floor. If it’s hotter outside than it is inside, you don’t want to pull that hot air into your home. 

Alternatively, you can use two box fans in the same room for more localized cooling — one facing in and one facing out on opposite ends of a room.

What you’ll love about box fans

  • Can cost significantly less: The average box fan only costs $20-$50.
  • Allows you to stop depending on air conditioning: When used properly, box fans can reduce your reliance on air conditioning units during warmer months.
  • Save on energy bills: Because they can help cool the air more affordably than an air conditioner, a box fan can help you lower your energy bill.

What you should consider about box fans

  • It takes two: Since a box fan doesn’t have the same penetration as an air circulator fan, for best results, you need at least two models, though one can provide some relief.
  • Best for warmer months: While box fans can provide some circulation during colder months, an air circulator fan is better designed for that task.

Top box fans

Hurricane Box Fan

Hurricane Box Fan

Offering superb value, this 20-inch box fan is quiet and features a lightweight design, has adjustable feet and a power cord compartment. The slim design allows it to fit easily in compact spaces such as a window.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

PELONIS 3-Speed Box Fan

PELONIS 3-Speed Box Fan

The feet on this model make it best suited for use on a floor or a tabletop. There’s no assembly needed, it has three speeds and a built-in handle.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Air King 3-Speed Box Fan

Air King 3-Speed Box Fan

For a more durable option, this model features a steel body with impact-resistant plastic grills and polypropylene blades. The permanently lubricated motor is designed for quiet performance and it has an 8-foot power cord.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon 

Should you get an air circulator fan or a box fan?

If you’re looking for a way to regulate air temperature all year long, eliminating both hot and cold spots, an air circulator fan is the way to go. If staying cool is your primary objective, box fans are better suited for that purpose.

Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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