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Air Conditioner Modes—Which Should You Use & Why?

We’ve come a long way when it comes to air conditioning and gone are the days when a simple ON/OFF would cut it. To help you navigate your unit, we’ve put together a quick breakdown of some of the most common air conditioner modes.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro, a new AC owner, or just never quite worked out the difference between the snowflake and the water droplet, we’ve got you covered!

Cool mode

For those of us living in Australia, cool mode is probably the setting you’re most familiar with. It’s indicated by the snowflake icon.

Air conditioners work by drawing warm air into the system and passing it over pipes filled with coolant. This coolant (or refrigerant) absorbs the heat from the warm air, causing it to evaporate. The coolant, now a gas, travels until it reaches a compressor unit and a condenser. The compressor puts the gas under huge pressure, increasing its heat further. That hot air moves onto the condenser, usually located outside the house. The outside air absorbs the heat from the refrigerant, lowering its temperature, and returning it to a liquid coolant. This ensures the hot air remains outdoors, leaving only cool air to be sent back into the house.

Cost-wise, you’ll find that other cooling devices such as fans are cheaper to buy and to use. But fans just move air around the space, rather than actively cooling it. And, as you’ll soon see, an AC unit can do so much more than that!

Heat mode

If you have a reverse cycle air conditioner, you might see a little sunshine icon on your unit. This means you have a heat mode – perfect if you live somewhere that bounces from a sweltering summer to an ice-cold winter.

To heat a room, the compressor in your AC unit heats the refrigerant, just as it does with when cooling. But, instead of sending that warm air outside, it is pushed back into the room to help heat the space.

While some people still rely on gas or electric heaters to warm their rooms, a reverse cycle air conditioner can actually work out to be much cheaper in the long run. Though it will have a bigger outlay, the running costs of heating a room can be substantially lower, plus you have the added advantage of cooling options later in the year.

If you’d like to know more, we do a full breakdown of heat mode right here!

Dry mode

Dry mode, indicated by a water droplet, is the perfect mode for more humid environments – Queensland, we’re looking at you! Dry mode is designed to remove excess moisture from the air, cooling the space as it does so.

It’s a rather more regulated cooling process than the simple cool mode and tries to keep the room at a comfortable level throughout. It won’t work the machine quite as hard as cool mode either, resulting in a more energy efficient process and a longer lasting unit. It should only be run for a couple of hours at a time at most, as fully removing the moisture from the room can be just as uncomfortable as sitting in a humid space for too long.

While it won’t fully replace a dehumidifier, running dry mode for a few hours can help cool a space and protect from mould and mildew. It can also be teamed with the cooling and heating modes during wet or stormy weather.

We’ve got more info on your AC’s dry mode right here.

Fan mode

Represented by a fan symbol, this one feels pretty self explanatory. Working in a similar way to a ceiling or pedestal fan, this is an AC unit’s most basic setting, using fans to move air around a space.

This will use considerably less energy than other cooling modes, but is less effective as a result. And when ceiling and pedestal fans use less energy again, and are generally better for ventilation and circulation anyway, turning them instead on might be a better option long term.

That said, if you have a louder unit or if you just want to cool the room enough to get to sleep on a hot summer night, timing the fan option to take over at some point could be helpful for you. Give the room time to cool on a traditional cooling mode, then switch to the fan to keep the air moving and to save a bit of energy overnight.

For more information on your air con’s fan mode, check out our guide to its benefits and when to use it.

Sleep mode

Speaking of sleeping with the air con on, if you see a moon symbol, you’ve got yourself a sleep mode.

If you set up sleep mode, your air conditioner will gradually raise the temperature throughout the night. Our bodies naturally cool overnight, and sleep mode is designed to balance that cooling without waking us up. Simply cool the room to the perfect temperature for you to comfortably drop asleep, activate sleep mode, and you’re good to go!

Sleep mode is great if you want to avoid piling on blankets when the temperature drops, or if you’re worried about rocketing bills from running the air con at 19˚ all night. Sleep mode also gives the system itself a bit of a break, meaning it can run more effectively and for much longer.

Auto mode

One final air conditioner mode to consider is auto mode. You might see this represented by an A symbol or simply by the word AUTO on your unit’s remote.

Auto mode can be a great way to manage your air conditioner’s energy usage. You can set a temperature, and the system will automatically meet that goal, by sensing the temperature in the room and using a combination of processes. By regulating parts such as the compressor or fans, auto mode can help save energy by only using what it needs at any given time.

As with sleep mode, this can also help keep your unit in good condition, balancing out how often the parts are used and how hard they’re worked.

These are just a few of the more common air conditioner modes you might come across in your quest for cooler (or perhaps warmer!) air. Newer units will, naturally, have a few more bells and whistles, but be sure to explore all the options open to you – it’s for your home, after all, and will have to work for you!