The most effective fans for small spaces don't mimic a wind tunnel―you want a little comfort in your cubicle, not a mini cyclone of paper. To get good circulation from a desk fan, try an air circulator. Unlike fans that blow a stream of air in one direction or oscillate to move air back and forth, an air circulator has curved vents that create swirling currents.
Best for: Smaller rooms. They're also effective and energy-efficient spot coolers―for example, when you're reading in your favorite chair in a big living room.
Placement: A desk fan cools you best when set on a table or a countertop no more than a couple of feet away so the air blows directly on your skin. To relieve stuffiness in a room, place the fan on a flat surface at least four feet high and angle it so it blows up the wall to move stale air, suggests Benjamin Bodie, field-operations manager at the Patterson Fan Company, near Columbia, South Carolina.
Features to look for: Tilt adjustment, adjustable speeds, removable grille, weighted base (to prevent accidental tipping).
RS pick: Vornado Air Circulator #530 (12 3/4 inches high), $55, vornado.com.