Table Fan Buying Guide

There are a surprisingly large number of options to consider when choosing a table fan. Here are some tips to help you decide. Even in today’s air-conditioned age, the simple electric fan can save money, maximize heating and air-conditioning, and even save the environment.


  • Cheap
  • Portable
  • Require no installation
  • Environment friendly
  • Uses a fraction of the power of air conditioners
  • Maximizes air conditioner effectiveness by mixing and distributing air evenly
  • Maximizes heater effectiveness by blowing the hot air near the ceiling (hot air rises) to floor level
  • Maximizes natural cooling by blowing in cool air from the outside, in the evening


12, 16 and 20 inch diameter fans are popular. The larger the fan, the quieter for a given amount of air flow. A large fan turned on low, is quieter than a small fan on high when moving the same amount of air.


Some people may prefer a noisy (but still pleasant-sounding) fan as a white-noise generator. A small fan is good for this. It can be placed further away to allow the narrow air stream to spread out.


Plastic fans can look cheap but can be more practical. They don’t rust. Stainless steel will still rust (most steel fans are only coated or chromed anyway), and even brass fans can oxidize and require polishing.

Metal fans are tougher and will stand up to being knocked over while plastic can crack.


Fans will collect dust after a few months of use. An easily removable grill is convenient. Unfortunately some fans need to be unscrewed and disassembled to reach the fan blades. Others may not be designed to be opened at all.

For safety, the fan should be unplugged before any cleaning.

Oscillating, Rotating Grill or Fixed

Classic oscillating fans turn from side to side to cover a wide area.

Some designs (especially box fans) have a rotating front grill with angled slats to divert the wind into a large cone. These take up less space and are visually less distracting. However, there will be no direct wind in front of the fan as the wind is deflected either up or down in that position.

Oscillating and rotating fans can develop irritating rattles and vibration noises, if not immediately then possibly in a few months. One alternative is to use two or more fans. Oscillating fans can be used with the oscillation switched off, leaving the oscillating feature as a “just in case” for some occasions.


Industrial fans are rated by the amount of air they move: Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM). Consumer fans are rarely rated this way.

The input power rating (watts) of the fan is an imperfect but usable indication of the wind power of a consumer fan.

40 to 50 watts is average 80 to 100 watts is about the maximum practical for home use If not specified in documents, the fan’s wattage should be labeled at the back or bottom of the fan.


Box fans (window fans) are slim and can be placed on window sills to bring in fresh outside air. Their slim design does make them less stable and easier to knock over.

Classic desktop fans are still good designs but can be bulky. Antique designs can be dangerous if the grill is too widely spaced and allows fingers to enter and touch the blades.

The squat, fat designs (floor models, but can be placed on tables) are stable and good for homes with small children or pets.

Tiltable models are useful for mixing air, especially bringing down heated air from the ceiling in winter.

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