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Difference Between Air Circulator and Fan

Air circulators produce a vortex of air that cools the occupants of a room and provides effective air circulation without buffeting airflow. Fans produce columns of air that blows relatively strongly over occupants directly before/below them. For both, cooling is via convection and evaporative cooling.

Difference Between Air Circulators and Fans: Overview

Both air circulators and fans utilize evaporative and convective cooling to provide a cooling sensation.

A normal fan exerts its cooling influence on anyone directly in the fan’s path. An air circulator does this too, but its air distribution capabilities make it better able to eliminate stale air and hot and cold air pockets in the room in general.

In other words, a fan prioritizes directed airflow while an air circulator prioritizes widespread distribution of airflow.

What is an Air Circulator?

An air circulator is a device that moves the air around in a room so that the hot and cold layers of air can mix. 

How Does It Work

An air circulator looks very similar to a box or pedestal fan. Their structure includes blades, a base, a cage around the base, as well as inner mechanical and wired components. Because of their similarities in design, you may not be able to distinguish between a fan and an air circulator. 

The difference between the two lies in how they push air through the device and through the room they are in.

Fan airflow compared to air circulator airflow

In an air circulator, the air is taken into the circulator through a small inlet at the back of the device. Then, the air is forced through the device by a variable-speed motor and fan and is then dispelled as a rotating and widening stream of fast-moving air, creating a breeze that spreads through the whole room. 

This mixing and circulation mean that warm air that has risen and cool air that has sunk to the bottom of a room are mixed together. This eliminates hot and cold pockets of air in the room and also combats stale and stagnant air.

Cooling Mechanism and Effectiveness

The cooling mechanism of an air circulator is facilitated by the breeze created by the air circulator. This breeze promotes evaporative (reliant on sweat) and convective cooling.

When air is blown onto the skin, it accelerates the evaporation of moisture from the skin. With more moisture being evaporated, more heat is lost from the body because evaporation is endothermic, meaning heat is used up in the process. In this case, the body loses heat, and the water gains it.

Faster evaporative cooling leads to more body heat loss, which leads to a cooling sensation. 

Convective cooling is not reliant on the presence of sweat. Our bodies have a thin layer of trapped air on the surface of the skin, which is heated. The air moving over skin as a result of the air circulator’s action carries the heat held against the skin away. It is then replaced by more body heat, which lowers our internal temperatures.

So, air circulators can cool people, but can they actually cool a room? Technically, the answer is that they cannot.

Cooling a room would mean a decrease in temperature, which an air circulator cannot achieve. 

Even though hot and cold air pockets are redistributed, the overall air temperature or the amount of heat energy present in the room does not change. It’s just that this heat energy is more evenly distributed and can be perceived as being cooler, irrespective of where you are in the room.

This perception in addition to the cooling effect described above, makes the air circulator quite effective at its job.

Most customers that use air circulators are happy with their cooling capacity. Companies even claim that you can turn your thermostats up 5 ℉ in the summer and achieve the same comfortable environment in your home without relying on your dollar-guzzling air conditioner.

Noise Level

Customer reports of noise levels can depend on the product as well as the customer’s sensitivity to sound. 

Air circulators with adjustable speed settings are good for managing noise levels, but if the one you buy is not adjustable, you may be stuck with the single noise level you have.

As far as personal sensitivity, for some, an air circulator’s noise level can be pleasant white noise and for others, this sound can be irritating and loud.

The general consensus around air circulators is that they are quieter than fans but this can vary by speed, model, and brand.


Although air circulators are certainly not impossible to find, they are overall less widely used and available than fans. The brands, size, shape, and color are also more limited.

Cost and Running Cost

Most air circulators cost anywhere from $17 to $100 to purchase and they cost very little to run, using only 30-50 Watts of power on average. For 9 hours a day for a month, the cost is approximately $1.35 for an air circulator.

Vornado 630 Mid-Size Whole Room Air Circulator Fan

What is a Fan?

A fan is a device that creates a breeze with its spinning blades. This breeze is meant to cool those who stand where it is blowing.

How Does It Work

Because there are a variety of kinds of fans, including ceiling, standing, box, and more, the mechanics of fans can vary by type.

For each type of fan, though, there are blades that facilitate air movement. These blades are angled or pitched so that they can create a concentrated column of air that is pushed downward when the fan is in summer modeMore blades do not necessarily mean more air movement but larger blades do (this doesn’t mean that larger blades are more efficient, though).

A traditional fan’s airflow is mostly unidirectional. Even if the fan rotates back and forth with a range of about 180°, the fan would not have the range that an air circulator does. 

Basically, you must be in front of or below the fan to feel its cooling effects.

Cooling Mechanism and Effectiveness

Fans utilize the same cooling mechanisms that air circulators do. 

Evaporative cooling is sped up by the airflow from a fan and as moisture is removed, warmth is too, producing a cooling effect. Convective cooling is also sped up as warm air adjacent to your skin is replaced more rapidly by the fan’s airflow. 

man drinking lemonade juice while sitting in a sofa in front of a fan

However, fans do not circulate the air in the room (not very effectively anyway). This means that there may still be hot and cold pockets of air in the room that are not be eliminated by the fan. 

Similar to air circulators, though, fans do not actually lower temperatures in a room.

Although the breeze of a fan will not be felt around the whole room, the direct breeze felt when you’re right in front of a fan can provide great relief on hot days. The fact that fans have been around for so long, is testament to their effectiveness.

Noise Level

Most users of both fans and air circulators agree that air circulators tend to be quieter than fans. 

This may have to do with the fact that fans typically have a higher energy requirement than air circulators do. More energy with fans often means bigger motors and faster fan blades, which translate into higher noise levels. 


Fans have been around for several decades and the number of options you have are nigh on limitless. You can find hundreds of models in a single online store and even your local convenience store may have a few to choose from.

They vary in color, size, shape, type (which we get to later in the article), design, blade number, and more.

Cost and Running Cost

A traditional fan can cost from $20 to $200 to purchase. These prices also range by the type of fan. 

Lasko Elegance & Performance Pedestal Fan, 18 Inch, Black 1827

The cost of running is lower than an AC, but higher than an air circulator since they use about 100 Watts on average. For 9 hours a day for a month, the cost is approximately $2.70 for a fan (basically double the cost of running an air circulator).

Table of Differences Between Air Circulators and Fans

Air CirculatorsFans
Produce a rotating and widening stream of fast-moving airProduce a unidirectional column of fast-moving air
Doesn’t produce such a strong “blowing” air currentAir current blows over you quite noticeably
Airflow reaches all areas of the room and mixes and redistributes airAirflow reaches what is in front of the fan
Eliminate hot and cold pockets of airNot efficient at eliminating hot and cold pockets of air
Most likely quieter fan noiseMost likely louder fan noise
Less availability, less of a range of types, colors, and sizesMore availability, more of a range of types, colors, and sizes
Cost less to run (more energy-efficient)Cost more to run (less energy-efficient)
More ideal for indoor spacesMore ideal for outdoor spaces

Types of Air Circulators

There is typically only one type of air circulator, although there are different sizes. There are portable models designed to sit on the floor or another flat surface. They can typically be pivoted up and down to direct the airflow in the best way possible.

Types of Fans

Types of fans include ceiling fans, table fans, tower fans, pedestal fans, wall-mounted fans, misting fans, and floor fans. You can read about several types of fans and their running costs in my article comparing 11 different fans.

Should I Get an Air Circulator or a Fan?

Depending on the size of the room that is being cooled, your budget, your sensitivity to sound, as well as the goal you wish to achieve, an air circulator or a fan may be the right fit for you. 

A smaller room may be a better fit for a fan since it will have a smaller volume of air to cool and it will not benefit as much as a larger room would from air circulation. 

A larger room would benefit more from an air circulator because a fan would simply not be enough to cool the entire room. 

fan in a smaller room and air circulator in a larger room

While the prices for air circulators versus fans do not vary much, the electrical cost can. Since fans have a higher electrical demand on average, if you want to limit your electric bills, an air circulator might be a better fit for you. 

If fan noise is good white noise for you, the loud noises of a fan might be fine. If you would like to limit noise, though, an air circulator may be a better fit. 

People who really like to feel the wind blowing over them should opt for a fan. You might have a similar level of effectiveness with an air circulator, but you won’t feel it manifested as a strong airflow. Those who absolutely hate the wind will likely do better with an air circulator.

If you would like to have a method of cooling outdoors, a fan would work well. An air circulator, though, would not. 

This is because the outdoors is like a very large room to an air circulator. It prioritizes air circulation in the room it’s placed in and this “room” is far too large. The air circulation would not be efficient and there would be a limited cooling effect.


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