Swamp Cooler Vs Air Conditioner: Pros & Cons Guide

swamp cooler vs air conditioner

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Here at Know the Flo we have recommended a lot of really excellent air conditioners, and a lot of great swamp coolers as well, but we realize that not everybody actually knows or understands the difference between the two.

So if you’re wondering if it is better to get a swamp cooler or an air conditioner, read on – in this article we’ll get into the differences, and the advantages and disadvantages of each type, and hopefully help you decide which is best for you and your needs.

What’s The Difference Between an Air Conditioner vs Swamp Cooler?

Both air conditioners and swamp coolers are used to make the air cooler, but they go about this task in very different ways. To understand the difference in how they work helps us understand their advantages and disadvantages.

How Does an Air Conditioner Work?

An air conditioner uses coolant to make air cooler, blowing the air from inside your home across the coolant and then distributing that cooler air into your room. In the past, Freon was the most widely used coolant, but because of environmental damage it caused it has now been replaced by much more environmentally friendly coolants – most notably Puron.

Because this coolant has cooled the air, it has gotten warmer, and so the air conditioner uses a compressor to move that warmed coolant to the back of the AC unit. The process of compression itself makes the coolant even much warmer, and air is again moved across it, but this time is warmed by it. This warmed air is pushed outdoors, into the outside air, and the coolant is reduced in temperature, moved back to the front of the AC unit and ready for more cooling.

This process has some inherent qualities, both good and bad, which are well worth detailing:

  • The air conditioning cycle is very, very effective in cooling air, and can make your room or your whole home downright cold.
  • The compressor, especially, uses a lot of electricity, and an air conditioner is quite expensive to run – especially on a continuous basis.
  • The process not only drastically cools the air, it dehumidifies it as well, making the air inside your home much drier.
Swamp Cooler Vs Air Conditioner: Pros & Cons Guide

How Does a Swamp Cooler Work?

A swamp cooler, also known as an evaporative air cooler, or just evaporative cooler, uses a much simpler process for cooling the air.

Instead of a complex cycle of compression and expansion, heating and cooling, the swamp cooler uses an electric fan to move air across water, and the water cools the air.

Really, it is as simple as that! 

There can be a few variations or improvements to the process, which can make it even more effective.

Many swamp coolers add a “wick” type of air filter, which is saturated with and holds the water, and the fan has a much larger wet surface area to blow across, increasing the water’s cooling effectiveness.

People also add ice to the water, which – at least until it melts and warms – can make a huge difference to the air temperature.

Some basic qualities and considerations of swamp coolers are:

  • They are not nearly as effective in cooling the air as an air conditioner.
  • Because of the use of water, the swamp cooler humidifies the air – as opposed to the dehumidification caused by an air conditioner – and can make the air in your home much more humid.
  • Swamp coolers, which don’t have or use compressors, use a lot (really, a lot!) less electricity, and so are much cheaper to run. 
  • Swamp coolers are also, as a rule, also less expensive to purchase.

Ok, So, Which is Better – a Swamp Cooler or an Air Conditioner?

From the above descriptions, you might already be getting some idea of which type of cooler is better for you – an evaporative cooler or an air conditioner – but let’s spell it out more clearly with a list of the pros and cons of each – swamp cooler vs air conditioner.

Evaporative Cooler (Swamp Cooler) Pros and Cons

✅ Pros❌ Cons
Inexpensive to BuyDon’t Cool as Much as an Air Conditioner
Inexpensive to RunHumidify your Air – a disadvantage if your area is already quite humid
Mechanically Very Simple and Reliable
Humidify your Air – an advantage for dry climates (and, by many accounts, an advantage for your skin as well)

Air Conditioner Pros and Cons

✅ Pros❌ Cons
Offer the Strongest and Most Effective Cooling – making your air much, much coolerGenerally More Expensive that Swamp Coolers
Usually Have More Range in Settings – precise and highly adjustable temperature control, more sophisticated timers and programmingMuch More Expensive to Run
Dehumidify your Air – an advantage for overly moist and humid climatesMore Complex – though they can last a lifetime (especially the best air conditioners) they can be more prone to both problems and expensive repairs
Dehumidify your Air – a disadvantage if you are already in a very dry climate

So we can say that if budget is a big concern, an evaporative cooler, or swamp cooler, may be your best bet.

This may be especially true if you live in a place that is not too hot – so the stronger cooling effect of an air conditioner is not that crucial to you –  and/or a place which is pretty dry – so that the humidifying effect of a swamp cooler is welcome.

On the other hand, if you live in a place that’s really hot, or you simply want the most cooling and the iciest air possible, you probably want and need an air conditioner.

This may be especially true if your area is pretty humid as well, and the drying effect of air conditioning is a good thing, but many people who don’t actually want drier air – or even see it as a disadvantage – still want, get and use an air conditioner over a swamp cooler, just because they are that much more effective at really cooling the air.

Conclusion: Swamp Cooler vs AC – Which is Better for You?

Air conditioners and swamp coolers (or evaporative air coolers) are both excellent and effective products and – especially if you get a good unit from a good company – either one can really cool your space well. So in the question of AC vs swamp cooler, who ultimately wins?

If you want the strongest cooling capability, and the coolest air, an air conditioner is definitely the way to go. Even the least expensive true air conditioners will make a huge difference in the temperature of a room or an entire house.

But air conditioners are also very expensive to run – they require a lot more electricity – and they tend to make the air very dry. If either of these are important factors or deal-breakers for you, you might want to consider a swamp cooler instead.

A swamp cooler can also very effectively cool your room or space, although they will never give you the really cold and crisp air you would get from an air conditioner. 

That said, a swamp cooler is much cheaper to run, and can save you big money on utility bills – and not just over the long term. They are also much simpler units, which can be more reliable, and generally repairs are also much less expensive.

Still, if you get one of the best air conditioners – a well made product from a great company – you will have a cooler that is also extremely reliable and should provide years and years of trouble-free service.

Who Makes the Best Air Conditioners?

This isn’t a buyer’s guide – more of an informational article – but still it might be helpful if I list a few of the air conditioners I find to be really excellent units and great choices.

I won’t get into any detailed descriptions or reviews here, just the makes and models of half a dozen air conditioners that I would consider the best choices in their respective class, with links to the best prices currently available.

Frigidaire Window-Mounted Room Air Conditioner, 5,000 BTU, in White – one of the most popular and highly rated window-mount air conditioners for rooms up to 150 square feet. Very inexpensive, easy to install and easy to use, and a very well made machine.

Sale
Frigidaire Window-Mounted Room Air Conditioner, 5,000 BTU, in White
  • Effortless Temperature Control: Our air...
  • Easy-to-Clean Washable Filter: Capture dust...
  • SpaceWise Adjustable Design Optional Side...
  • Power Cord: Comes with an extra long...
  • Effortless Restart: Automatically resumes...

Midea 8,000 BTU U-Shaped Smart Inverter Window Air Conditioner – for rooms up to 350 square feet, the Midea is an extremely quiet and very strong AC that has smart features and is compatible with Google Assistant and Alexa – and at a very low price!

Midea 8,000 BTU U-Shaped Smart Inverter Window Air Conditioner–Cools up to 350 Sq. Ft., Ultra Quiet with Open Window Flexibility, Works with Alexa/Google Assistant, 35% Energy Savings, Remote Control
  • ULTRA QUIET - The Midea U Smart Inverter AC...
  • MORE THAN 35% ENERGY SAVINGS - With the...
  • FLEXIBLE WINDOW OPENING - Midea U-shaped...
  • SMART CONTROL - The Midea U Smart Inverter...
  • ROBUST INSTALLATION - Install the included...

Amana White 12,000 BTU Window-Mounted Air Conditioner with Remote Control – a great value in a larger unit – for rooms up to 550 square feet – the Amana is exceptionally well made, quiet and very effective.

Amana White 12,000 BTU 115V Window-Mounted Air Conditioner with Remote Control | AC for Rooms up to 550 Sq.Ft | 24H Timer | 3-Speed | Auto-Restart | Digital Display AMAP121BW, 12000
  • POWERFUL COOLING CAPACITY: The 12,000 BTU...
  • FUNCTIONALITY: Electronic control panel with...
  • ENERGY STAR RATED COOLING: Energy Star...
  • EASY TO INSTALL: Comes with a quick and...
  • REPLACEABLE FILTER: Clean Alert indicates...

Koldfront 18,500 BTU Window Air Conditioner with Supplemental Heater – just as an air conditioner for large spaces (up to 1,000 square feet) the Koldfront is an amazing value, and amazingly energy efficient – and it also has a built-in electric heater!

Sale
Koldfront WAC18001W 18,500 BTU 208/230V Heat/Cool Window Air Conditioner
  • 18500 BTU cooling 7.7A; 16000 BTU heating...
  • 700- 1,000 sq. ft. coverage area; remote...
  • 2 year warranty; energy saver mode; EER 10.7;...
  • Please note: This model requires a 30 Amp 230...
  • PLEASE NOTE: Delivery will be curbside,...

Black+Decker 10,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner with Remote Control – a portable air conditioner – as opposed to the window mounts above – this Black and Decker is much more flexible in placement and can even be moved around – a very powerful and effective unit at a great price.

Sale
BLACK+DECKER BPACT10WT AC with Remote Control Portable Air Conditioner, 10,000 BTU, White
  • QUIET & POWERFUL - Our 5,500 BTU DOE (10,000...
  • PERFECT FOR SMALL ROOMS - This floor-standing...
  • SIMPLE & QUICK TO INSTALL – Just wheel this...
  • EASY TO USE & CLEAN – The simple remote...
  • 3-in-1 FUNCTIONALITY - Combines 3 energy...

DeLonghi Portable Air Conditioner 14,000 BTU with Remote – a big, powerful, premium portable air conditioner that can be placed in lots of different spots and cool even larger spaces – up to 700 square feet.

DeLonghi Portable Air Conditioner 14,000 BTU,cool extra large rooms up to 700 sqft,remote,energy saving mode,extremely quiet,dehumidifier,fan,programmable,window venting kit,AC Unit for room,EX390LVYN
  • SPECS: Hose length: 51 inches | Hose...
  • SUPER QUIET: Stay cool, don’t hear it. With...
  • POWERFUL COOLING: This powerful machine can...
  • ECO REAL FEEL: Saving up to 30% in energy...
  • ENERGY EFFICIENCY: With features like Eco...

Who Makes the Best Swamp Coolers?

Again, I don’t want to get into any detailed descriptions here, but for ease in selecting and purchasing your next new evaporative cooler I will list a few of my own favorites.

Ankuwa Portable Air Conditioner Fan 3 Speed USB Evaporative Air Cooler – a small, portable personal cooler, the Ankuwa won’t cool your room, but it will cool your personal space quite nicely. USB powered, this is a great desk cooler, but also good for bedside tables, camping and more.

Sale
Portable Air Conditioner Fan, 4 in 1 USB Evaporative Air Cooler 3 Speeds 7 Colors Light, 70°Oscillation Personal Mini Air Cooler with 700ml Water Tank, Desktop Cooling Fan for Room, Car, and Camping
  • ❄️❄️【4 in 1 Mini Air Cooler】Our...
  • ❄️❄️【2 S Rapid Temperature...
  • ❄️❄️【Large Water Tank】The 700ML...
  • ❄️❄️【Suitable For Much...
  • ❄️❄️【 7 Colors Light】: Small...

Efast 4-in-1 Portable Evaporative Air Cooler with Timer and Remote – a remarkably inexpensive and yet highly sophisticated portable air cooler, the Efast is easy to use, very effective and quite attractive as well.

Evaporative Air Cooler, 4-in-1 Portable Air Conditioner, 4 Modes Cooling Fan, Tower Fan Cooling & Humidification, 26Ft Remote & 12H Timer, 3 Wind Speeds, 40°Oscillation Air Cooler for Room Home Office
  • ❄【Energy Saving & Eco- Friendly 】The...
  • ❄【Humanized Double Water tank, Ultimate...
  • ❆【12-Hour Timer & Less Noise】With a...
  • ❆【Bladeless & Space Save Design】If you...
  • ❆【A/C &Tower fan & Humidifier】...

Hessaire MC18M Portable Evaporative Cooler 1300 CFM, Cools 500 Square Feet – a much larger swamp cooler, good for up to 500 square feet, the Hessaire is very well built , affordable and amazingly effective.

HESSAIRE MC18M Portable Evaporative Cooler – Color May Vary, 1300 CFM, Cools 500 Square Feet
  • OUTDOOR COOLING: Designed to cool outdoor...
  • PORTABLE HUMIDIFIER: 4 heavy-duty locking...
  • MANUAL AND CONTINUOUS FILL: Continuous fill...
  • ELECTRONIC HUMIDITY CONTROL: With the...
  • MONITOR WATER LEVELS: Uses water evaporation...

Hessaire MC37M Portable Evaporative Cooler, 3,100 CFM Gray – another great swamp cooler from one of our favorite companies, this larger Hessaire is rated for up to 950 square feet – an extremely high quality unit and a great value.

Hessaire MC37M Evaporative Cooler, 3,100 CFM, Gray
3,599 Reviews
Hessaire MC37M Evaporative Cooler, 3,100 CFM, Gray
  • PORTABLE - 4 heavy duty locking casters for...
  • COMPACT YET POWERFUL – 37x17x24 inches; 3,...
  • EASY TO OPERATE & SIMPLE TO MAINTAIN – 3...
  • MANUAL & CONTINUOUS FILL – Utilize the...
  • SUPERCHARGED, ECONOMICAL COOLING – 3-sided...

Portacool Jetstream 230 Portable Evaporative Cooler – from the makers of some of the biggest, most powerful industrial swamp coolers available, a (slightly) toned-down version that is great for even large outdoor areas, and can cool large rooms and indoor spaces better than many air conditioners.

Portacool PACJS2301A1 Jetstream 230 Portable Evaporative Cooler, Black
  • Air delivery - 3,600 CFM / 6,116 m3/hr
  • Cooling Capacity: 900 s.f. / 84 m2
  • Velocity: 27 mph / 43 kph
  • Speeds: Variable
  • Made in the USA with domestic and global...