When you live in a dry region, keeping cool can be difficult, and standard AC units may not cut it. The best evaporative cooler can solve that crisis as it does something an air conditioner can’t and are considerably cheaper to run.
- 20-Second Breakdown
- Evaporative Cooler Buying Guide
- The Top 6 Evaporative Coolers
Has the heat got you down, and you need quick relief? If so, here are some tips that will help you speed up the process and choose a top model with ease.
Consider the size of the room you need to cool and use the square footage as a guideline. Think about how often you’ll use the evaporative cooler as well along with outdoor usage. Some machines can work in either location, but an outdoor model may not blend in as well indoors.
Last but not least, look at the tank size compared to the power of the machine. Unless the evaporator has a garden hose hookup, you’ll have to refill the tank manually.
Evaporative Cooler Buying Guide
If you’ve found yourself reading our guide, you’re planning on buying an evaporative cooler. Also known as swamp coolers, these machines lower temperatures by pulling in warm air and moisturizing it. As air is pulled into the unit, it passes across pads soaked with water, which cools it before it’s blown back out by a fan. This can drop the temperature in a room considerably depending on the size of the system and a few other important factors.
Is it comparable to an AC unit?
No, not by a longshot and it’s where consumers tend to make their biggest mistake. These machines are designed to work in a natural fashion, just like a breeze blowing across a lake on a hot summer day. In short, an evaporative cooler isn’t comparable to an portable air conditioner and won’t keep things a cozy 68 degrees at home regardless of the climate outside.
On a positive note, there are no coolants or compressors to deal with, so evaporative coolers are more eco-friendly and cheaper to run than air conditioners. Some also serve as true 2-in-1 machines with a humidifier or fan function although that’s something you’ll want to take lightly in most cases. While every evaporative cooler acts as a humidifier or fan to a degree, that’s not it’s main purpose.
The area where you’ll use your swamp cooler is also critical as they work better in dry, hot conditions. If you live in the desert or parts of the western United States, they are definitely useful. On the flipside, running an evaporative cooler in a humid location is not ideal unless you enjoy a muggy home.
CFM and Square Footage
If you’re shopping around for an evaporative cooler, the two most significant stats by far are CFM and square footage. While there are other areas of importance, these two specifications give you a starting point.
CFM stands for cubic feet per minute which tells you how much air a machine can move. Every manufacturer with an AC unit, fan or evaporative cooler will list this statistic, but it won’t do you any good unless you know the square footage of the room or area you plan to cool. Thankfully figuring out the square footage of a room is easier than you think.
You simply need to measure the length and width of a room and multiply those numbers to get your square footage. From there, you can check the products square footage ratings to ensure it will cover the area you want to cool.
Types of Evaporative Coolers
You can find a cooler that can handle a room of any size, but our picks will fall into one of two categories with indoor or outdoor evaporative coolers. Some can be used in either location as long as you keep safety and a few other things in mind. That said, there are some key differences between the two.
Coolers built for home use are usually smaller and easy to tote although most still have caster wheels like larger models. They are ideal for cooling small to medium-sized rooms in your home along with spaces like garages. Most are easy to use with consumer-friendly settings, remotes and features like oscillation as well. Personal evaporative coolers also fall into this category with ratings under 100 CFM.
When it comes to outdoor models, things open up considerably, and your budget is the only limitation. Again, some are small and quiet enough to use indoors or hang from a window, but most of these models are geared to deal with things like UV rays and have large water reservoirs. They also have connections for a water hose and features to ensure the tank never runs dry. If you need to cool off a large patio, workshop or just want to cool the family when you fire up the grill, this style is your best bet.
There are whole house evaporative coolers as well, but that’s not something we’re going to touch on this time around. You’ll generally need a professional to install these units when roofs or ductwork is involved.
The More You Know….
Knowing your square footage and the CFM rating you need is only half the battle if you want the best evaporative cooler. Here are a few other areas that will narrow the field and may help make your buying decision easier.
- Water Tank - Whether you’re buying an evaporative cooler built for your living room or a barn, it’s going to need water, and every machine has a tank. With indoor units, it’s also an area where refilling comes into play as you’ll need to top off that tank eventually. Outdoor models will have hose attachments and can generally take care of themselves.
- Cooling Pads – Some companies refer to these as “media” pads, but a cooling pad is what adds moisture to the mix. Larger pads are nice, but what they’re made from is more important with cellulose and wood being the top options. You also have to consider how often they need to be replaced as some of the more exotic options are quite pricey.
- Decibel Level – If running your evaporative cooler outdoors, this rating shouldn’t matter but don’t overlook it if you’re purchasing a smaller unit. The dBA rating can be difficult to find on some products, but lets you know how loud the cooler will be. As an example, an average vacuum cleaner is around 70dBA while a fridge can clock in at 50dBA.
Evaporative Cooler Features
By design, evaporative coolers are simple considering they use nature’s natural cooling process with a little tech thrown in to move things along. That means there aren’t many features you’ll need to consider aside from a few basics. You’ll also find more creature comforts on indoor models than you will on evaporators built for decks or warehouses.
When you’re looking through tech specs, keep in mind that the CFM rating is for full speed and most evaporators have multiple settings. Three are common with low, medium and high although a few household models have some unique options as well. Oscillation is another feature that’s standard on indoor units, but you may have to manually move those louvers on coolers geared towards the outdoors.
Water level indicators are something you’ll always want to keep an eye out for but are usually standard. Lights and alarms are ideal, but a simple gauge can do the trick just as well. Remote controls aren’t nearly as prevalent as they should be and we feel the same way about ice compartments.
If you’re running a machine that uses water and electricity for hours on end, it’s good to think about the warranty beforehand. Unfortunately, most evaporative coolers have short guarantees, and there’s not a huge gap between brands like you’ll find with other products. It’s a “niche” area, which makes a good warranty all the more important.
With an evaporative cooler, there aren’t many moving parts, but there are several things that can break, leak or rust. If an extended warranty is an option, it is something you should consider as even the smaller coolers aren’t exactly cheap.
The Top 6 Evaporative Coolers
- 3,100-5,300 CFM
- 2 fan speeds
- With UV Protection
- 9700 CFM
- UV resistant housing
- For up to 3600 sq. ft
Honeywell CO30XE Portable
- 525-1,540 CFM
- Adjustable humidification knob
- Weather resistant for outdoor use
Luma EC110S Portable
- 500 CFM
- 3 Cooling Speeds
- Oscillates for Widespread Coverage
- 1,500-5,000 CFM
- 10 Years Warranty
- For 45 sq.ft.
- Cools the area in front of the device
- easy to transport around
#1 Hessaire MC37M Portable Evaporative Air Cooler
The Best All-Around Evaporative Cooler
It’s safe to say that evaporative coolers aren’t as prevalent as other devices made to bring temperatures down. That’s why it pays to go with a company that specializes in cooling like Hessaire. While they have several top-tier products, we went with the MC37V and its ability to cool a large area with ease.
The Hessaire MC37M was designed to be efficient and produce a lot of air without taking up much space. To pull this off, the company increased the overall size of the air intake area and used their patented axial prop. The 250w system produces 3,100 cubic feet of air per minute, but only measures 25”L x 17”W x 37”H with a weight of 40 pounds. It’s rated for areas up to 750 sq. ft. or smaller.
This evaporative cooler is not designed for indoor use in enclosed areas and wouldn’t necessarily blend in with your décor if you do take it inside. It’s built for outdoor use with a sturdy polypropylene housing that’s UV resistant. The Hessaire MC37M also has a direct connect hose feature complete with a float valve so you won’t need to fill the tank. We also like the sturdy caster wheels and powder coating on the hardware.
Another perk of this system are the media panels. The company uses three Xel50 cooling pads which provide 80% more evaporation than other forms of media. It also has a large 10.3-gallon tank which is capable of running 3-4 hours before going dry when filled manually. Consumers found the MC37M extremely easy to use as well with a dial for the speeds and a handful of buttons for the pump, oscillation, and power.
This cooler is energy efficient and while not ideal for enclosed spaces, is perfect for the outdoors, workshops or any area with enough ventilation. It has all the bells & whistles you’d expect from a cooler in this class, and the build quality is top-notch. If you like the design and features but need more power, the MC61M is an option as well.
#2 Cool-Space AVALANCHE 36-VD Evaporative Cooler
A Powerful Cooler Built to Last
While we didn’t delve into whole house evaporative coolers this time around this beast produces more air than the rest of our picks combined. It’s the AVALANCHE 36-VD from Cool-Space, and it’s capable of cooling 3600 sq. ft.
Industrial is the first word to come to mind when you set eyes on this behemoth, and it’s just as well-built as you’d expect. The 36-VD is 62”W x 30”D x 70”H with a weight of 270 pounds. Needless to say, you’ll be thankful for those sturdy locking caster wheels when you’re pushing this one around. The thick UV resistant housing is roto-molded polyethylene and has a lifetime guarantee.
This 36-inch variable speed fan is fully enclosed and capable of cranking out 9700 CFM on high. It uses a standard electrical outlet and can cool a 3,600 sq. ft. area which is close to the size of a basketball court. It works off a regular power outlet but comes with a 10-foot long ground fault cord for safety. You’ll also get low water shut-off in case the tank runs dry although that’s highly unlikely for a couple of reasons.
The AVALANCHE 36-VD has a large water reservoir that can hold 46 gallons of water. Thankfully, you won’t have to fill it manually as there’s a hose connection with an in-line pressure regulator. This ensures the machine can get a steady flow of water during extended use, and it has a drain plug and flush valve to boot. Media comes in the form of 8-inch thick cross-corrugated cellulose treated with a special resin to prevent algae growth.
Obviously, this evaporative cooler isn’t meant for your family room as its massive and as expensive as an nice central unit. With that in mind, there’s not a better option for outdoor areas, warehouses and other locations that would cost a small fortune to cool with a compressor-based system. The Cool-Space AVALANCHE is available in six hues including Safety Yellow to Dolphin Blue. It comes with a 2-year warranty on parts, 3 years on the motor and a lifetime on the housing.
#3 Honeywell CO30XE Portable Evaporative Cooler
An Excellent Mid-Range Cooler
Honeywell is one of the oldest HVAC companies around, and they’ve been making products since the early 1900s. They have several evaporative coolers in their arsenal including the CO30XE, an excellent machine that’s suitable indoors or outside.
We’re always fans of products that provide a lot of bang for your buck, and the CO30XE does not disappoint. It’s not the most stylish evaporator on the market, but will blend in nicely in most homes and is weather-resistant as well. The machine has four plastic caster wheels on the bottom along with handles on the side. It’s a little large at 18”D x 33.8”H x 13.8”W, but not heavy which puts it among the best portable evaporative coolers.
One reason for the size is the fact this cooler has a large water tank. It’s 7.8 gallons, and while there’s no hose hookup, it is easy to fill. Other features to note include a low water alarm, a programmable 7.5-hour timer, the usual speed settings, and oscillating louvers. Another feature consumers enjoy is the “natural” setting which mimics the wind by moving between the three speeds.
As for the power, the Honeywell CO30XE produces 530 CFM with a cooling area of 320 sq. ft. It’s rated at 288w, so it’s efficient although it doesn’t use as many cooling pads as models of a similar size. The humidification knob is a nice touch, but our favorite feature would be the ice bin. It’s located at the top, so you don’t have to strain or take unnecessary steps to load this one up.
Honeywell’s evaporative cooler is solid, and while the media is also a pain to access, it performs admirably and circulates a lot of air. Consumers like the fact it was easy to fill, and we think the remote control is a nice touch as well. The CO30XE comes with a 1-year warranty against defects.
#4 Luma Comfort EC110S Portable Evaporative Cooler
The Best Choice for Small Rooms
Our top portable option comes from Luma Comfort and is the most stylish evaporative cooler on our list. The EC110S is compact with a modern design and comes with a few features you won’t find on more expensive models.
If you want an evaporative cooler that looks good in any room, the Luma Comfort EC110S could be your best option. It resembles a small tower fan considering it measures 12.75”L x 11.25”W x 34.5”H and is definitely easy to move about at 16 pounds. The wheels on the bottom feel a little cheap, but serve their purpose and roll freely.
Using this cooler is simple, and there are many controls to deal with. A small panel has all the buttons you’ll need while a digital display in the middle of the fan lets you know what’s happening. A rigid cooling pad is on the back of the EC100S with a 1.76-gallon holding tank underneath. The machine produces 500 CFM and is suitable for rooms up to 250 square feet.
The company used cyclonic cooling tech to maximize the power of the EC100S, but that’s not the only trick up its sleeve. It has 3 speeds, oscillation, and automatic louvers. There’s a small fill gauge on the front that allows you to check the water level along with a timer you can set and forget. While the company rates the product as “whisper quiet” you’re looking at around 66 dBA according to the tech specs.
The Luma Comfort EC100S isn’t an AC unit, so you can’t expect it to perform like one. As long as you keep that in mind, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what it can do. The digital display is a nice perk, and while a larger tank would be nice, it has more style than those large, boxy models. This evaporative cooler comes with a couple of ice packs, a remote control, and a 1-year warranty.
#5 Phoenix Manufacturing WH2906 Evaporative Window Cooler
A Cooler with a Classic Design
If you are of a certain age, you probably remember the days when window air conditioners were the most popular choice. While central systems rule the roost today, there’s still a place for window-based coolers including ones that do things naturally like the WH2906.
This design may seem familiar as it’s used on several machines, some of which are rebranded with slightly different specifications. In this case, you’re looking at a tan window cooler with an industrial style and thick steel housing. As it will hang outside your home, it has PEBLAR XT powder coating for protection against the elements so rust should never be an issue on that front.
Inside the evaporator, you’ll find a 115v direct drive motor at 1/8HP. It has two speeds with a rating of 2800 CFM on the top end and a cooling capacity of around 500 square feet. The blower wheel is 8 inches, and the system is more efficient than others thanks to MIRRORSCOPIC polishing on the blower shaft. The shaft is built to outlast the competition and is said to decrease the decibel level as well.
We couldn’t dig up much information on the media, but it does use an Aspen pad which is a bonus. As it’s technically an outdoor unit, you’ll also get a connection for a ¼” water line. There’s a float valve to keep things in check, and the water reservoir is around 3 gallons. We don’t have a total weight for this unit when full and properly installed, but the dimensions for the opening is 13-1/4"H x 20-3/4"W x 10-1/4"D.
The WH2906 has a slim design, so it’s not as bulky as a traditional AC unit, but you’ll still need some assistance setting this one up. While not powerful enough to provide cooling for larger areas, it’s a great choice for greenhouses, trailers, and large to medium-sized rooms. It’s also ideal when you don’t have the floor space for a boxy 2800 CFM cooler. This one comes with a 1-year warranty on the parts and 10 years against leaks due to rust.
#6 Evapolar Portable Evaporative Air Cooler
A Personal Evaporative Cooler
Have you ever longed for your own microclimate or have a hard time getting the right temperature in your work area? Most evaporative coolers are overkill for small areas, but nobody told Evapolar that as they have produced a personal cooling system.
Whereas most of our options take up a fair amount of space, you can set this small evaporative cooler on the corner of a desk. It’s only 8”L x 8”H x 10”D and easy to take on the road at 2 pounds. Despite its size, it can cool a small area of around 40 sq. ft. and is rated at 50 CFM. It’s the quietest cooler on our list as well at 34 dBA.
The diminutive stature of this one makes it an option for the best portable evaporative cooler although it comes with a few drawbacks as you’d expect. The tank is 750ml, so you’ll need to fill it frequently depending on your usage. The media is small, and not quite up to the standards of larger models, but treated with a patented nano-material which prevents bacteria.
Like other evaporators, this one doubles as a humidifier although that’s not the only thing it can do. This stylish cube has built-in LED lights which you can cycle through on a small LED display. It’s a feature that helps this cooler set itself apart from other tiny evaporators, and so does the way you power it. You also won’t need a wall outlet to run this machine, just a USB port which adds to the portability factor.
The Evapolar Personal Evaporative Cooler won’t use juice at 10w, but you’ll need to keep that tiny tank topped off if you plan to use it regularly. That’s simple to do although it can leak jostled around or not placed on a flat surface. The filters are also expensive, but you won’t find another small evaporative cooler this size that actually works… and this one has plenty of style. It’s available in a few colors with a 1-year warranty, and there’s a smart version with Alexa compatibility as well.
Q: How often do I need to replace the media pads?
A: Great question, but one that’s difficult to answer. It varies depending on how frequently you use the machine along with the model and type of media used.
Q: Do you need to leave a door or window open when using an evaporative cooler indoors?
A: Yes. To get the full effect, you’ll want a fresh supply of air coming into the area you need to be cooled, or humidity will increase.
Q: Are evaporative coolers hard to maintain?
A: Maintenance is low with these types of machines unless you have a whole house evaporative cooler. Aside from changing media pads, you will need to drain the tank and clean the reservoir regularly to prevent bacteria.
As you can see, the best evaporative coolers all work in the same fashion, so things like power and reliability are more important than brand names. If you keep your expectations in check and consider your needs, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how effective a swamp cooler can be!