Swamp Cooler Vs Air Conditioner (Key Differences Explained)

These days, there are a lot of different ways to get cool. Not only do you have the option for a variety of air conditioner types, like window units, portable units, thru-the-wall ACs, and central cooling, but you also have the option to cool down with something called a swamp cooler.

Many people have never even heard of “swamp” coolers before, so once you do, it’s extremely normal to feel confused about which type of cooling solution is right for you. In this guide, we’ll be clearing up that confusion by covering the key differences between a swamp cooler vs. air conditioner.

Swamp Cooler Vs AC – Major Functional Differences

The main difference between swamp coolers (also called evaporative coolers) and air conditioners has to do with how they function. Both work to cool down a space, but they each do so in their own unique way. First, let’s discuss how a swamp cooler works to cool things down.

A swamp cooler is a type of evaporative cooling system that utilizes water to lower the temperature of the surrounding space. It works by moving warm outside air through wet evaporative cooler pads, cooling the air in the process. The cold air is then blown into the surrounding space through a vent by a blower motor.

The way that a portable air conditioner works is a bit more complex than that, on the other hand.

Newair explains the complicated process of how portable ACs work in a simple way: “Chemical refrigerant flows through a series of coiled tubes and absorbs the heat from indoors. The heat is then released outside through an exhaust hose.”

So while a swamp cooler uses the simple process of cooling air down with cold water, an air conditioner has a lot more moving parts involved. This is definitely the biggest difference between an evaporative cooler vs. AC.

Swamp Cooler Vs AC

Pros and Cons of Swamp Coolers

A swamp cooler is an effective way to lower temperatures, but using one isn’t for everyone. The biggest benefit of swamp coolers is their low energy consumption. However, the limited amount of energy used means that a swamp cooler cannot handle high heat environments.

Here are a few more pros and cons of swamp coolers:

What We Like
  • Low energy consumption – #1 pro!
  • Ability to reduce temperatures by ~20 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Easy maintenance
  • Great for cooling down in dry climates by adding moisture to the air
  • No chemicals, very environmentally friendly
What We Don’t Like
  • Struggle to cool down high heat areas above 90 degrees – #1 con!
  • Aren’t ideal for high humidity environments since they add moisture to the air
  • Prone to leaking, especially if there is a problem with the float mechanism
  • Large swamp coolers require a lot of water to operate

Pros and Cons of Air Conditioners

The air conditioner was invented in 1902, and by 2011, an EIA survey reported that nearly 100 million US homes utilize AC. This number continues to grow, which shows that there are a lot of benefits to using air conditioning in the home.

Pros and Cons of AC

When comparing an evaporative cooler vs. portable AC, there’s no doubt about the fact that portable AC units can handle higher temperatures. However, nothing is perfect, and there are some pros and cons to ACs:

What We Like
  • Can prevent heatstroke and other heat-related issues
  • Can improve indoor air quality
  • Is able to maintain a consistent temperature in a range of room sizes
  • Many different types of ACs to choose from based on your specific cooling needs
  • Easy installation and maintenance
What We Don’t Like
  • Can lead to skin dryness, especially when running large AC units on full blast
  • Can lead to higher energy bills, especially in the summer months
  • Requires some regular maintenance

Swamp Coolers Vs Air Conditioners – Key Differences Compared

The main difference between a swamp cooler vs AC is how each one functions. The differences go deeper than that, though, so it’s important to compare and contrast each of these considerations:

  • Cooling Capacity
    In general, an AC can handle much larger areas compared to a swamp cooler. However, it is possible to find a large swamp cooler if you’re trying to cool down more extensive square footage.
  • Power Consumption & Operational Costs
    Overall, ACs consume more energy than swamp coolers, which means they cost more to operate. The good news is that it’s easy to find efficient air conditioner units that won’t drive up your utility costs.
  • Moisture Levels
    Moisture is a significant consideration when deciding between a swamp cooler vs. air conditioner. A swamp cooler evaporates cold water to bring down temperatures. Since that water is released into the air, this isn’t a suitable choice if the humidity levels are already high.
  • Design Aspects
    ACs, especially portable units, are designed with sleek lines and high-tech features. In general, swamp coolers aren’t as nice to look at, so if design and aesthetics are what you’re after, small, compact air conditioners win.
  • Environmental Concerns
    ACs use more energy and release more emissions than swamp coolers, which means that swamp coolers win this round.
  • Health Concerns
    There aren’t any major health concerns for either one, but regular use of an air conditioner can potentially dry out your skin.
  • Installation & Warranties
    Air conditioners typically require more installation steps than swamp coolers, but once installed, they’re extremely easy to maintain. In terms of warranties, the specific policy for both ACs and swamp coolers depends on the product and manufacturer.

Which One Do I Need? (How To Decide)

As you’re wrapping up to make your final decision, there’s a lot to think about. However, the 3 main things to keep in mind are:

How to Decide Between Swamp Cooler and AC

  • The Climate in Your Region
    If the climate is overly humid or you expect high humidity levels in the future, an AC is the better choice.
  • Desired Home Temperature
    An AC is by far the better performer when it comes to cooling performance, especially in high-temperature settings.
  • Energy Consumption & Operational Costs
    Swamp coolers win when it comes to energy consumption. They use very little energy to operate, which means they don’t cost much to run. However, just remember that some swamp coolers require a large volume of water.

How Does Cool, Dry & Fan Mode for AC Units Work?

If you’ve decided that an air conditioner is the better option for you after comparing it with a swamp cooler, the next step is to figure out exactly how your AC works. Many ACs these days come with multiple modes – like cool, dry, and fan – and choosing the right mode based on the current temperature isn’t always easy.So what’s the difference between AC cool vs fan and cool mode vs auto mode in AC? Here’s a quick guide to using different AC modes and how each one works:

  • Cool Mode: This is the standard operating mode of an AC. When the unit is switched to cool mode, it will continuously pump cool air into the room until it is manually turned off (or switched to another mode).
  • Dry Mode: The main purpose of dry mode is to remove moisture from the air and lower humidity levels. ACs are notorious for drying out the air, especially when set to dry mode. If you want to dehumidify your home, switch the unit to dry mode.
  • Fan Mode: When an AC is set to fan mode, only the fan is operating. No cool air is being delivered; instead, the unit’s fan simply circulates air around the space. Fan mode is great if you just want to circulate the air and don’t necessarily need to cool it down.

People Also Ask (FAQ)

Where does the name ‘swamp cooler’ come from?

While the technical term is ‘evaporative cooler,’ it’s often referred to as a swamp cooler because it uses pads and moisture to cool the surrounding area. The use of moisture is the main reason for the swamp cooler name.

Do you need to have a window open with evaporative cooling?

Achieving the proper balance of airflow to maintain humidity levels is important when using a swamp cooler, and opening a window can certainly help. An open window allows the room to maintain the right level of air pressure, even if the window is just cracked slightly. If you don’t have a window to open, at least leave the door to the room open.

Can you leave evaporative cooling on overnight?

When it comes to the best time to run an evaporative cooler, TLC Plumbing says to “try running your cooler at night to maximize cooling power. Running your cooler at night ensures that the air delivered will be colder and have less pollen.”

The only time it’s not recommended to run a swamp cooler overnight is if the humidity levels are high. This can end up adding too much moisture to the air, which can lead to mold problems as well as health issues.

How cold do evaporative coolers get?

A standard swamp cooler can lower the temperature of outdoor air by 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they struggle in overly hot temperatures, specifically above 90-95 degrees. If that’s what you’re dealing with, then an AC is probably the better choice for you.


Now that you know the key differences between a swamp cooler vs air conditioner, you’ll be able to buy your next cooling solution with confidence.

Josh Mitchell

Josh Mitchell

My name is Josh and I am obsessed with DIY and improving my family home. HVAC topics can be tricky for homeowners so I decided to share my knowledge on the subject. When I am not working on DIY projects, you can find me at the beach or my local coffee shop.