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Swamp Cooler or Evaporative Cooler: Are They the Same?

July 20, 2016 3 min read

Swamp Cooler or Evaporative Cooler: Are They the Same?

Why do some websites refer to “coolers” as swamp coolers, while others refer to them as evaporative coolers? How do they differ? What is their correct name?

The short answer is that they don’t differ at all. The long answer lies in the history and development of “coolers.”

The Olden Days

Long ago before air conditioning, before evaporative air coolers, people used fans. But since fans don’t cool a room, but rather circulate air around the room, people created the solution that in essence worked on the same principle as a modern evaporative cooler. It was quite common to sleep on a porch (or with an open window in the house), hang wet towels or sheets for comfortable sleeping conditions, then turn on a fan to circulate the air that would cool as it passed over the wet linens. This offered a natural, low energy solution that provided the required relief from the heat.

The Evolution of the Evaporative Cooler





What’s one important thing that people seek on a hot day? A cool breeze. This is essentially what an evaporative cooler mimics: a cool, refreshing breeze. But best of all, it easily works both indoors and outdoors if you have an indoor/outdoor model.

Portable evaporative air coolers offer a unique cooling solution that combine elegance and style with efficiency and reliability. They appear to be quite intricate and complex, but their effective cooling process couldn’t be any simpler.

The Answer is Pure Science

Air coolers work with the natural water evaporation process. They have absorbent honeycomb pads inside the units that soak up water. As warm air is drawn in from outside, the air cools as it passes through the wet filter pads and causes the water to evaporate.The cool air is then blown out through a powerful fan. This results in effective cooling in the immediate vicinity (indoors or outdoors.)This air, although cool, is humid air so it may add too much moisture to a humid environment like Florida, but would be a great option for those in drier climates.

In order for an evaporative cooler to work most efficiently, it depends on a constant supply of fresh air. This creates the airflow that is needed for the evaporated cooling process. In your home, the ideal place for an air cooler is near an open window or door. They may also be used outside (as long as it is an approved outdoor model).  Once you have found the right spot for your cooler, all you need to do is simply add water to the tank.

Water evaporates in the natural cycle of the evaporative cooler’s operation, so the water tray must never run empty, so maintaining the water supply is another crucial part of running an evaporative cooler.

How to Get The “Swamp” out of Your Cooler

When mechanical coolers were first created they used Aspen pads (made of wood), which were inferior pads to the honeycomb pads used today. Among other issues, they created a moldy smell.

This moldy, musty smell was more common with previous generations of evaporative coolers, which is why they were coined “swamp coolers.” The swampy characteristics were just as prominent as the cooling feature. With the developments in modern evaporative coolers, the term “swamp cooler” has lingered, but is becoming less and less popular. A neglected evaporative cooler that is not cleaned nor maintained (as in emptying the water when it’s not in use) can create a likelier environment for mold and bacteria to grow, but if you follow the suggested cleaning and deodorizing options as mentioned in your unit’s user manual, your evaporative cooler will run as intended, cooling efficiently without any swamp-like behavior.

Evaporative Coolers

The more fitting term for coolers that work by using the natural evaporative process are evaporative coolers, rather than swamp coolers, since evaporative coolers represent the current and future trend in the world of coolers.

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