We’re, quite literally, in the heat of the summer at the moment. June gloom has burned off, the rainy season is still months away and all over the U.S states are experiencing record heat waves. We’re all trying to stay cool by any means necessary, whether that means 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 conditioning. 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, a.k.a 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 while they lower the temperature in your house or apartment. 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, 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.
How Does a Swamp Cooler Work?
Essentially, a swamp cooler works just like one of the oldest, most basic cooling processes known to man: sweating. When you sweat, your body produces liquid that, when evaporated, cools down the surface of your skin. A swamp cooler works in a similar way, 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 needs to be regularly refilled, but there are also options that can connect directly to a water hose or other liquid source.
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 tend to use more energy, more 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 actually 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 most likely use less energy and spend less money than you would with a standard air conditioner or even portable air conditioner unit. Some estimates point towards savings up to 90% on monthly energy costs when 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 basically a glorified fan, whereas an AC is most effective inside. They’re also very easy to install and don’t require much upkeep beyond refilling it with water.
However, swamp coolers are not as powerful or as effective as air conditioners, and they contribute humidity to a space. If you live in a dry climate that doesn’t need a ton of temperature regulation they’re a great, cheaper alternative. 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.
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.
Frigidaire 2-in-1 Evaporative Cooler
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, and can cool up to 1,300 cubic feet per minute, and weighs only 16 pounds. It’s got a very basic, rustic design that’s not as fancy but will get the job done. It comes with a motor speed dial with five settings, two cooling modes and two fan-only modes as well. You can manually fill it or attach a hose for a continuous fill option. It also comes in three different colors.
Hessaire Portable Evaporative Cooler
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 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, and it’s got three different high-density cooling pads inside for a larger evaporative surface area, and more effective temperature regulation.
Hessaire MC37M Portable Evaporative Cooler
4. Frigidaire 620 CFM 2-in-1 Evaporative Cooler
This is another top model from Frigidaire that’s designed with an extra large, 5-gallon water tank that needs fewer refills and can cover up to 250 square feet of space. It’s got a tower fan built in with four different fan speeds that can provide up to 600 CFM of power total. It comes with a silent setting that’s perfect for light sleepers or small children, and can be used as just a fan if you want to be energy-efficient.
Frigidaire 620 CFM 2-in-1 Evaporative Cooler
5. BREEZEWELL 3-Speed Swamp Cooler
This evaporative cooler from BREEZEWELL has a 2-in-1 design with a fan and swamp cooler built in, three different wind speeds, four modes for cooling and an 8-hour timer that’s perfect for night time temperature regulation. It’s got a remote that works from up to 20 feet away, and it’s got a bladeless design that’s safer for children and pets. It comes with a 1-gallon water tank that’s easy to refill and a noise level of 38 db, just above a whisper.
BREEZEWELL 3-Speed Swamp Cooler
6. Champion Cooler 3300 CFM Window Evaporative Cooler
BEST FOR WINDOWS
If you’re looking to install your evaporative cooler in a window, rather than use a freestanding one, this is a worthwhile splurge. It’s small and 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 sq. ft. if necessary. It comes with a 2-speed, 120-volt motor with an installation kit and 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.
Champion Cooler 3300 CFM Evaporative Cooler
7. 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 in total, 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 so you can set the time, temperature and swing direction of the fans, and a low-water indicator so you know when it needs attending to. It also has a nylon air filter built in for improving the air quality in your living space.