Anyone hoping for an economical way to beat the heat may wish to consider buying an evaporative air cooler. These devices are a type of air conditioner that employs a fan to pull hot, dry air in through a wet media pad. The hot air quickly warms the top layer of moisture on the pad, causing the water to evaporate and dropping the air temperature inside the unit by up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This cold air is then expelled by the same fan that draws the hot, dry air in, creating a constant airflow through the wet pad and into the cooling area.
These devices are also commonly referred to as swamp coolers because the evaporative process also increases the humidity in the air. Swamp coolers don’t consume as much energy as a traditional air conditioner because they only operate a fan. The water for the pad is provided by an internal tank that must be refilled when the level gets too low to properly cool the air. Cooling ability of these devices is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM); light-duty models are ideal for cooling small rooms while some units are capable of bringing refreshing comfort to spaces that measure thousands of square feet.
Keep in mind, however, that ventilation is important when using an evaporative cooler. Having a window or door open helps remove heat from the space and avoid excessive moisture from accumulating in the building.
If an evaporative air cooler seems like a smart, money-saving solution for your home, read on for important shopping considerations and to check out some of the best models on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Hessaire MC18M Portable Evaporative Cooler
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Evapolar evaCHILL Personal Air Cooler
- BEST FOR SMALL ROOMS: NewAir 470-CFM Portable Evaporative Cooler
- BEST FOR LARGE ROOMS: Hessaire MC61M 5,300-CFM Evaporative Cooler
- BEST TOWER: Big Ass Fans Cool Space 200 Evaporative Cooler
- BEST OSCILLATING: Dreo 40-Inch Personal Evaporative Air Cooler
- BEST WHOLE-HOUSE: Champion Cooler 4,900-CFM Evaporative Cooler
- BEST PORTABLE: Big Ass Fans Cool Space 400 Evaporative Cooler
How We Chose the Best Evaporative Air Coolers
Swamp coolers are an energy-efficient way to cool down in the summer, serving as an alternative to more expensive air conditioning. We looked at the most popular evaporative cooler brands on the market to curate our list of recommendations. We made sure to include options that span a range of design preferences, room sizes, and budgets.
Important factors in our research included portability, ease of use, cooling area, water-tank capacity, and additional features such as remote controls, reusable ice packs, and hose hookups for continuous use.
Our Top Picks
This list of top products was selected based on the important criteria mentioned above, including cooler type, water-tank capacity, cooling area, and overall quality to help you find the right device to keep your home cool in hot weather.
This compact Hessaire evaporative air cooler has a water-tank capacity of 4.8 gallons and an airflow output of about 1,300 CFM, making it an excellent option for rooms up to about 500 square feet. The evaporative air cooler sits on four wheels—two locking and two nonlocking—allowing it to be moved with ease and stay put when in place.
The direction of the airflow output can be changed with the adjustable vents, and the fan can be set to low or high. There’s also an internal water pump to move water from the tank to the top of the cooler, ensuring that the pad remains soaked through until the tank requires refilling. This evaporative air cooler operates for up to 4 hours with a full tank; alternatively, it can be connected to a garden hose for continuous use.
- Type: Portable
- CFM: 1,300
- Tank capacity: 4.8 gallons
- Cool up to 500 square feet with this portable evaporative cooler
- Built-in handle plus caster wheels that rotate 360 degrees for improved mobility
- A handy hose attachment is included for continuous use of the unit
- 4.8-gallon water-tank capacity; produces up to 1,300 CFM
- Evaporative cooler is not intended for use in totally enclosed spaces
Get the Hessaire MC18M evaporative air cooler at Amazon or Ace Hardware.
This Evapolar portable evaporative air cooler is a solid option for personal use on a budget. It’s small enough to be carried by its handle and sit on a desk or night table, and its 800-milliliter water tank can be filled with ice water for even colder air output. Note that the small tank size may not allow large ice cubes to fit inside without hampering water flow, so consider using crushed ice. Despite the compact size, the tank can deliver up to 9 hours of use before requiring a refill.
This evaporative air cooler is suitable for home office or bedside use. The device is powered via USB connection and consumes just 7.5 watts for an energy-efficient cooling device that can help you save on electricity bills.
- Type: Portable
- CFM: 49.1
- Tank capacity: 800 milliliters
- Low operating noise level of just 50 decibels won’t disturb sleep or concentration
- Compact size is ideal for personal use on a desk, table, or night table
- Evaporative cooling system can function with water or ice in the 800-milliliter tank
- Energy-efficient product is powered through a USB connection for convenient charging
- Small size and low cooling output; not intended for use in larger areas
Get the Evapolar evaporative air cooler at Amazon, Target, or Evapolar.
Window air conditioners use a lot of electricity and produce a loud droning noise that can disrupt productivity and interfere with sleep. The NewAir 470-CFM evaporative air cooler is a quiet, energy-efficient alternative with three different fan-speed settings. It operates at about 66 decibels on the maximum fan setting, producing an air volume of up to 470 CFM.
Use the included remote control to set the timer or switch the fan speed to the lowest setting to further reduce the noise of the evaporative cooler. This cooling appliance has a 2-gallon water tank, and it sits on a set of four swiveling caster wheels, making it easy to move around. However, this evaporative cooler is intended for small rooms up to 250 square feet in size, so it isn’t as effective when used in larger spaces.
- Type: Portable
- CFM: 470
- Tank capacity: 2 gallons
- 470-CFM output is ideal for small rooms measuring about 250 square feet
- Lightweight at 16.1 pounds, plus swiveling caster wheels for easy portability
- Comes with a handy remote control for enhanced user convenience
- A timer and adjustable fan settings allow for customizable cooling
- Light-duty evaporative cooler is not as effective in larger rooms or humid environments
Get the NewAir evaporative air cooler at Amazon, The Home Depot, or NewAir.
The popularity of residential open plans may call for a heavy-duty evaporative air cooler like this Hessaire model. It boasts a high airflow output of 5,300 CFM to cool up to 1,650 square feet. Alternatively, the cooler can be set up outside on a hot day to keep the patio or deck cooler—a big boon to folks using the grill!
The air conditioner sits on four locking wheels, making it easy to move it around, and it can be set to oscillate up to 40 degrees. It features three fan speeds and an internal pump that can be turned off for fan-only cooling. The 14.6-gallon water tank holds enough water to last for up to 4 hours, and the cooler can be connected directly to a garden hose for continuous use.
- Type: Portable
- CFM: 5,300
- Tank capacity: 14.6 gallons
- Impressive airflow capacity of 5,300 CFM is suitable for cooling large areas
- Cooler has 4 locking wheels and can oscillate up to 40 degrees
- 14.6-gallon water-tank capacity allows unit to run continuously for up to 4 hours
- 3 fan speeds allow for selecting the optimal air output for conditions
- Must be vented with an open window or door for use in enclosed spaces
Get the Hessaire MC61M evaporative air cooler at Amazon, Ace Hardware, or Target.
The stackable design of this tower evaporative cooler allows one unit to stand on top of the other to reduce the amount of space taken up by the appliances while rapidly cooling the surrounding area. Even without a second tower-style evaporative cooler, this model is suitable for a room or space up to 800 square feet in size.
The evaporative air cooler produces an airflow volume of 1,800 CFM, though you can adjust the fan speed with the simple dial on the back. The cooler can be directly connected to a garden hose to ensure the 8-gallon tank won’t run out of water. However, when moving the evaporative cooler, it’s important to rely on the caster wheels instead of trying to lift the 51-pound appliance.
- Type: Portable
- CFM: 1,800
- Tank capacity: 8 gallons
- Can be set between 11 different fan-speed settings for optimal airflow
- 1,800 CFM output is ideal for spaces up to 800 square feet
- Comes with a standard garden hose connection for continuous water supply
- Internal cooling media is chemically treated with a thermosetting resin to resist mold growth
- Evaporative cooler weighs 51 pounds, making it difficult to lift or carry
Get the Big Ass Fans Cool Space 200 evaporative air cooler at The Home Depot, Tractor Supply Co., or Big Ass Fans.
Oscillation is a great feature on an evaporative cooler, and this Dreo model rotates more than most models, at up to 80 degrees. This means cool air can flow out at a wider angle, speeding the feeling of relief and refreshment in the space.
To customize cooling, you can set the machine to one of three fan speeds. There are also three operating modes: Cool, Humidifying, and Sleep. In Sleep mode, this Dreo operates at a whisper-quiet level of just 35 decibels. This device comes with a remote control, reusable ice packs, and a water filter that can be removed for cleaning. While these are great features, this evaporative cooler has a small tank and low CFM, so it’s not a good choice for larger areas.
- Type: Portable
- CFM: 216
- Tank capacity: 1.08 gallons
- Evaporative cooler operates quietly at just 35 decibels so as not to disturb workers or sleepers
- Wide angle oscillation of up to 80 degrees improves airflow throughout the space
- Remote control sets fan speed, adjusts timer, and turns the cooler on or off
- Comes with a removable water tank, water filter, and reusable ice packs
- Low airflow output is not suitable for cooling larger spaces
Get the Dreo evaporative air cooler at Amazon or Sears.
A whole-house evaporative cooler, like this model by Champion Cooler, is designed for installation on the exterior wall or roof. The cooler works best in arid climates, decreasing the temperature inside the home, while increasing the ambient humidity levels. This whole-house appliance has a down-discharge system that blows air down into the home.
The evaporative cooler generates an airflow volume of up to 4,900 CFM, cooling a space that measures up to 1,800 square feet in size. This unit features a corrosion- and weather-resistant exterior casing to keep the evaporative cooler safe outdoors. Note that the motor for this appliance must be purchased separately from the manufacturer.
- Type: Down-discharge whole house
- CFM: 4,900
- Tank capacity: 9 gallons
- Whole-house device cools up to 1,800 square feet of space
- Evaporative cooler produces an airflow volume of up to 4,900 CFM
- Can be mounted to the wall, floor, or roof for optimal cooling
- Weather-resistant cabinet protects the evaporative cooler from wind, rain, and sleet
- Evaporative cooler motor is sold separately from the main appliance
Get the Champion Cooler evaporative air cooler at The Home Depot or PlumbersStock.com.
At 270 pounds, folks won’t want to try lifting this weighty appliance, but it’s still highly mobile across a flat surface thanks to its durable set of swiveling caster wheels. Its 46-gallon water tank allows the unit to function for up to 10 hours without refilling; plus, the evaporative cooler connects easily to a garden hose for a constant water supply.
This cooler can lower the temperature in spaces up to 3,600 square feet in size with the output airflow volume of 9,700 CFM. You can also adjust the airflow output with the variable-speed dial to select the optimal fan speed for the current environment.
- Type: Portable
- CFM: 9,700
- Tank capacity: 46 gallons
- Impressive airflow output of 9,700 CFM is suitable for cooling 3,600 square feet
- Can be moved around freely on flat surfaces via 4 swiveling caster wheels
- Set the fan speed between 11 different output options for optimal airflow
- Massive 46-gallon water-tank capacity lasts for up to 10 hours on a single fill
- Product is difficult to lift, pack, or unload at a weight of 270 pounds
Get the Big Ass Fans Cool Space 400 evaporative air cooler at The Home Depot, Tractor Supply Co., or Zoro.
What to Consider When Choosing an Evaporative Air Cooler
Before choosing an evaporative air cooler for the home, consider the various types available as well as the space that needs cooling, the tank capacity, and features such as wheels, a timer, and an air swing delivery system.
Types of Evaporative Coolers
Evaporative coolers differ based on size, mounting location, and the angle at which the cool air is released. Types include portable, window, down-discharge, side-discharge, and swamp coolers.
- Portable evaporative air coolers are the most common option for cooling the home. These units stand on a set of wheels and typically have top and side handles to help move the unit around.
- Window evaporative air coolers are designed to sit in an open window. They pull hot, dry air directly from the outside, rapidly cooling the inside of the home. Though these coolers are more effective than portable ones, they are pricier and less popular.
- Down-discharge evaporative air coolers are usually mounted on the roof, with air being blown down to cool the entire house. These units can make the home susceptible to roof leaks if they aren’t properly installed and sealed.
- Side-discharge evaporative air coolers are the most common type (for both portable and window coolers) that push air out horizontally. While they aren’t as effective as a whole-home solution, side-discharge coolers are easier to access and maintain and can prevent water damage from leaks that might go unnoticed with down-discharge models.
- Swamp cooler is a term often used interchangeably with evaporative air cooler. However, some manufacturers specifically reference large, whole-home units as swamp coolers, while smaller units are more commonly called evaporative air coolers. Regardless of the term used, be sure to check the product information to ascertain that you’re getting a product with the capacity you want.
Cooling Area and CFM
The size of the cooling area is an essential consideration when deciding on the best evaporative air cooler for your home. You’ll want to ensure that the unit you buy has appropriate air output to cool the intended room.
Typically, the cooling area of an evaporative air cooler is measured in CFM. Calculate the necessary CFM for the target room by multiplying the length, width, and height of the room to find the volume, and then dividing the total by two: CFM = (L × W × H) ÷ 2.
However, the cooling method evaporative air coolers use can affect these numbers—and the effectiveness of the machine. High-humidity locations won’t see the same cooling benefits as arid climates, which is why these coolers are more popular in the American Southwest, in states such as Arizona, rather than in hot, moist climates.
Evaporative air coolers operate by pulling hot, dry air through a wet media pad. The hot air causes the top layer of moisture on the pad to evaporate, which can lower the air temperature within the cooler by up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This cool air is then pushed out by the fan to cool the room. However, without a water source to keep the media pad wet, evaporative air coolers are nothing more than bulky fans.
The water for these machines is held in an internal tank, which ranges in size from as little as a 0.1-gallon water tank for small personal units to more than 10 gallons for whole-home models. The larger the tank, the longer the cooler can operate, so opt for a product with at least a 5-gallon tank if you want to run the cooler through the night.
Air Swing Delivery System
An air swing delivery system is the oscillation feature present in some evaporative air coolers and most fans. Oscillation louvers in the cooler control how far the cooler can oscillate, typically ranging from a fixed position (0 degrees) up to an arc of 120 degrees. Other common oscillation settings include 40 degrees and 70 degrees, allowing you to set the ideal range of motion for the cooler.
Adjustable vents are another convenient control feature. Changing the angle of the vent will alter the direction of the cool air flowing from the unit. This allows you to direct air to the ground, up into the air, or to the left or right, depending on where people are gathered.
Wheels make an evaporative air cooler easy to move from room to room, and they also lessen the risk of water in the tank shifting and spilling. Typically, these models have four wheels attached to the base and may have two locking wheels to keep the cooler stationary once it’s in place. However, even with a set of wheels, the water in the tank can still spill if the cooler is quickly jerked or pushed across the floor.
Timer functions let you set the cooler to operate based on personal preference and the water level in the tank. The unit can stay on until the appointed time without the risk of running out of water.
Typically, timers can be set for up to 15 hours of continuous runtime. Use 1-hour, 2-hour, 3-hour, and 4-hour switches to quickly set the cooler for the indicated duration instead of having to change a dial or select a custom amount of time. When time runs out, the unit shuts off automatically—an especially efficient function at night when household members are sleeping. The cooler will operate for a few hours and then stop after the scheduled time has elapsed.
Evaporative air coolers may have several additional features for improved quality and versatility. These include the following:
- Garden-hose adapters allow the cooler to be connected directly to a garden hose and obtain a constant supply of water. With this connection, the evaporative air cooler can be run continuously without stopping to refill the water tank.
- Water-level indicators help ensure that the tank has the appropriate amount of water for cooling the room. If the level gets too low, an audible alarm and a flashing or solid light will alert the user to add water.
- Fan-speed control is a common feature that usually includes low, medium, and high fan-speed settings.
- Air filtration can keep such allergens as pollen and dust from being pulled into the home. These coolers pull air through a filter before the air hits the media pads, removing airborne irritants. Some products also offer activated carbon filters and odor-blocking filters.
Evaporative air coolers are high-efficiency devices that can keep the home cool in warm weather while using less energy than a standard air conditioner. If you’d like more info on how to shop for, use, and maintain these machines, read on for answers to commonly asked questions.
Q. Do I live in the right climate for an evaporative air cooler?
Evaporative air coolers pull dry, warm air through a wet media pad, causing the top layer of water to evaporate and lower the temperature within the cooler by 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This process of evaporative cooling works best in hot, dry climates common in the American Southwest, including Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, the California desert, and parts of Texas and Colorado. These coolers can function outside of these regions, but the higher the ambient humidity, the lower the cooling efficiency.
Q. How often do I need to change the media pads for an evaporative air cooler?
The frequency with which the media pads need to be changed depends on the individual product and the frequency of use. Typically, the more often the cooler is used, the more frequently the media pads will need to be replaced. However, some media pads can be removed, washed with mild detergent, and reinstalled.
Q. Do I need to close all doors and windows when using an evaporative air cooler?
No—evaporative air coolers benefit from access to outdoor air because they require warm, dry air to produce cool, moist air. It’s advised to have a nearby window or door open to provide a constant source of warm, dry air to flow through the cooler.
Q. How do I maintain my evaporative air cooler?
Evaporative air coolers are relatively low maintenance. During operation throughout the hotter months, regularly replace the water and clean the media pad with water and a mild detergent to help avoid mold growth. Also, wipe down the outer housing of the cooler to remove dust and dirt.
When the temperatures get colder, drain the water tank and water line, and then run the fan-only feature for 30 minutes to 1 hour to dry out the machine and the pads. Then store the cooler in a protected place, like a garage, shed, or basement.
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