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All over the U.S., states are experiencing record heat waves. We’re all trying to stay cool by any means necessary, whether swimming in your DIY backyard kiddie pool, running through a sprinkler or barreling down a water slide for adults. Staying cool during the workday typically means one thing: air conditioners. The problem with AC? It’ll cost you an arm and a leg per degree drop. Thankfully there are cheaper alternatives that work, otherwise known as swamp coolers.
Swamp coolers, aka evaporative coolers, are yet another method for keeping your home cool in the warmer months. They’re cooling home appliances designed to use less energy and power and not run up an insane electric bill. They’re more powerful than your standard cooling fans and less expensive than air conditioners and can be a great alternative to more costly appliances if used in the right environment.
In this piece, we’re going to break down what swamp coolers are, how they work and the pros and cons, and run through some of our top picks if you decide a swamp cooler is the right cooling mechanism for you.
Best Swamp Coolers at a Glance
1. Best Overall: Frigidaire 2-in-1 Evaporative Cooler — $144 at Home Depot
2. Runner Up: Hessaire MC18M Portable Evaporative Cooler — $189 at Amazon
3. Best for Large Spaces: Hessaire MC37M Portable Evaporative Cooler — $391 at Amazon
4. Best for Windows: Champion Cooler 3300 CFM Window Evaporative Cooler — $739 at Home Depot
5. Best Tower Swamp Cooler: Air Choice Oscillating Evaporative Cooler Tower — $144.49 at Amazon
6. Best for Small Spaces: Evapolar EvaCHILL Personal Evaporative Cooler — $99 at Walmart
7. Best Outdoor Pick: MASON & DECK 2100 CFM 3-Speed Outdoor Swamp Cooler — $410.27 at Home Depot
8. Best Portable Pick: GROMOO Evaporative Cooler with Handle — $69.99 at Amazon
9. Quietest Pick: Dreo Swamp Cooler — $152.99 at Walmart
10. Best Dual Use Heater/Cooler: KOTEK Evaporative Cooler — $169.99 at Amazon
11. Best Value: COSTWAY Evaporative Cooler — $119.99 at Amazon
12. Also Consider: hOmeLabs Evaporative Cooler — $99.97 at Amazon
How Does a Swamp Cooler Work?
Essentially, a swamp cooler works like one of man’s oldest, most basic cooling processes: sweating. When you sweat, your body produces liquid that, when evaporated, cools down the surface of your skin. A swamp cooler works similarly, by filtering the surrounding air in a room through a cool, wet pad and then blowing it out at a lower temperature. Most swamp coolers use water stored in a tank that must be regularly refilled, but some options can connect directly to a water hose or other liquid source.
Although swamp coolers are sometimes marketed as portable air conditioners, knowing information on your climate’s humidity levels is key when it comes to purchasing a cooling option for your home. Despite their confusing name, swamp coolers are better if you don’t live in a swamp. Given that they work on evaporation, they work better the lower the humidity level is, making it perfect for dryer environments (30% humidity or less). In contrast, anything over 70% might render even the best swamp coolers useless. In a high-humidity environment, they can even encourage the growth of mold. However, anyone who lives near a desert or in the western U.S. should consider this hie appliance a must-have.
CFM rating, or the amount of air passing from cooler to environment per minute, is also important. 750 CFM should work for small rooms with only a couple of people, while a higher CFM is necessary for larger rooms or areas exposed to direct sunlight.
How Is a Swamp Cooler Different From an AC Unit?
AC units and air conditioners also filter air, but they filter it through a chemical refrigerant to cool it down rather than water for a faster, more effective cooling. Air conditioners use more energy and power and are less gentle on the planet. They’re also more expensive to operate and will leave a larger footprint on your power bill, for the most part.
According to the Department of Energy, most evaporative or swamp coolers are designed to lower the temperature in a room by 5-15 degrees, but in the process may raise the humidity in the space by 2-3% for every 1 degree of temperature difference. This is why swamp coolers, for the most part, are best suited for areas that are the opposite of swamp-like, such as drier, more arid parts of the country.
Swamp Cooler Pros and Cons
With a swamp cooler, you’ll likely use less energy and spend less money than a standard air conditioner or even a portable air conditioner. Some estimates point towards savings of up to 90% on monthly energy costs compared to a traditional air conditioner, and they tend to cost less, to begin with.
You can also use a swamp cooler anywhere, including outside, because it’s a glorified fan, whereas an AC is most effective inside. They’re also straightforward to install and don’t require much upkeep beyond refilling it with water.
However, even the best swamp coolers are not as powerful or effective as air conditioners, which contribute humidity to a space. They’re a great, cheaper alternative if you live in a dry climate that doesn’t need a ton of temperature regulation. If you live in a hot, muggy place where AC becomes gospel four months out of the year, you’ll want to opt for a more powerful machine.
Still, there are lots of benefits to using a swamp cooler, including:
- Air Quality: Since they run on water, these appliances can be more energy-efficient than window ACs and personal ACs. Water also can grab onto dust, which can help purify the air.
- Bills: AC bills are no joke, and swamp coolers are a great way to save money – up to 90% on energy costs compared to air conditioners.
- Installation: Many of them are easier to install than an air conditioner. These swamp coolers only need a water connection. Just plug them in, and you’re good to go. They’re even more space-efficient than some portable ACs.
- Noise: A whisper-quiet alternative to noisy air conditioners, the only thing you’ll hear from this device is the sound of a fan blowing. It doesn’t have a compressor, which is the main source of the noise.
1. Frigidaire 2-in-1 Evaporative Cooler
This swamp cooler from Frigidaire costs less than $200 and is built to cool rooms up to 250 square feet in dry climates. It’s built with a tower fan with wide-angle oscillation for powerful cooling throughout a space and has a 1.8-gallon water tank that’s easy to refill when needed. It’s simple to set up and comes with a remote with intuitive controls and a timer so you can choose the exact setting that’s right for you. It’s got a digital display with easy-touch controls and is made to save energy. It also comes with a handle, is lightweight and easy to move when needed.
2. Hessaire MC18M Portable Evaporative Cooler
This evaporative cooler from Hessaire is designed for spaces up to 500 square feet and can be used indoors or outdoors, depending on your preference. It’s compact but powerful, can cool up to 1,300 cubic feet per minute, and weighs only 16 pounds. It’s a very basic, rustic design that’s not as fancy but will get the job done. It comes with a motor speed dial, five settings, two cooling modes, and two fan-only modes. You can manually fill it or attach a hose for a continuous fill option. It comes in three different colors.
3. Hessaire MC37M Portable Evaporative Cooler
BEST FOR LARGE SPACES
This heavy-duty swamp cooler from Hessaire is compact, at 37x17x24 inches total, but can cool down a room up to 950 square feet in size. It comes with three fan speeds and oscillating levers, so your cooling gets evenly distributed throughout the space, and it has four durable locking casters on the wheels for portability. You can manually fill it with water or attach a hose for a continuous fill. It has three different high-density cooling pads inside for a larger evaporative surface area and more effective temperature regulation.
4. Champion Cooler 3300 CFM Window Evaporative Cooler
BEST FOR WINDOWS
This is a worthwhile splurge if you’re looking to install your evaporative cooler in a window rather than a freestanding one. It’s small, compact, and designed to lower temperatures by 15-20°F while using 75% less electricity. It contains no ozone-damaging refrigerants and can cool down spaces as large as 500-900 square feet if necessary. It comes with a two-speed, 120-volt motor, an installation kit, and a leveling leg for a secure setup. It also has a remote control that’s easy to use and a permanently lubricated pump for years of stress-free use. All metal surfaces have been treated for corrosion, and it’s got a UV-stabilized polyester powder finish so years of sunlight won’t degrade its materials.
5. Air Choice Oscillating Evaporative Cooler Tower
BEST TOWER SWAMP COOLER
This bladeless swamp cooler comes in a space-saving tower fan format with a slim profile. It offers noiseless benefits with a built-in sleep mode and a 12-hour timer. Ideal for bedrooms, living rooms, or anywhere else where you need to tuck your fan away into an unassuming corner. It also oscillates, maximizing the spread of the cool air. Ideal for use on its own or in combination with an air conditioner, the dual water tank design on this tower makes it easier for pregnant women and seniors to use.
6. Evapolar EvaCHILL Personal Evaporative Cooler
BEST FOR SMALL SPACES
If you’re craving that ice-cold air but don’t have much space in your home, consider Evapolar’s evaporative cooler. It’s compact enough to fit on bookshelves or desks and has a sleek, modern look. Just press a button to activate air flow, which lasts up to six hours. As long as it’s connected to a power source, you can experience the benefits of this energy-efficient cooling method.
7. MASON & DECK 2100 CFM 3-Speed Outdoor Swamp Cooler
BEST OUTDOOR PICK
Unlike ACs, the best swamp coolers can be used indoors and outdoors. Perfect for use on a deck, workshop or garage, it has a powerful CFM level of 2100 and a continuous water hookup option with a 14-gallon water tank. Powered by durable metal fan blades, this machine provides crisp, cool air without misting your furniture and patio with water.
8. GROMOO Evaporative Cooler with Handle
BEST PORTABLE PICK
Looking for a desktop-friendly swamp cooler to help ward off the heat? This mini AC and evaporative cooler have four wind speeds and four mist levels, with a stronger wind than most portable AC and evaporative cooler units. It’s even US rechargeable and has a sleek design that’ll fit right in with the rest of your desk decor. The tank can hold up to 730 milliliters which should last up to eight hours when filled up. When that water runs out, it converts to pure wind, keeping you cool all night.
9. Dreo Swamp Cooler
Dreo’s evaporative air cooler is popular among the best swamp coolers with a slim, vertical profile. Complete with a removable water tank and ice packs, this oscillating fan with cooling pads infuses humidity into areas where you need it most. Their unique crossflow impeller wheel also allows for an ultra-quiet operation, letting you sleep through the night. The removable water tank and rear grill help make cleaning super easy.
10. KOTEK Evaporative Cooler
If you need humidifying benefits for every season, consider this air cooler and heater by KOTEK, which acts as a swamp cooler in the warmer months and provides warmth when it gets chilly out. It even has air purifying benefits thanks to the anion feature, which may help to improve lung function and prevent disease. This multi-functional device is one that you’ll get frequent use out of year-round, bringing you the benefits of a cooler, heater and humidifier all year long.
11. COSTWAY Evaporative Cooler
This powerful COSTWAY has an 8-liter tank and offers a competitive cooling experience to similar options, which are more than double the price. It also has four wheels, making it easy to move this fan wherever needed. One reviewer says that it saved his sleep quality, commenting, “Costway claims if your room is no larger than 400 sq. ft., the temperature of your room will drop by 10-15 degrees. The temp. in my room dropped 17 degrees.”
12. hOmeLabs Evaporative Cooler
This is another high-quality option you can order easily on Amazon to give the whole swamp cooler thing a try. It’s designed to cool a smaller room, up to 200 square feet, and has a removable 10-liter tank where you can add water and even a bag of ice for extra cooling. It’s got an LED display on the front with a control panel to set the fans’ time, temperature and swing direction, and a low-water indicator, so you know when it needs attending. It also has a nylon air filter to improve the air quality.