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What's the Difference Between Portable Air Conditioners & Swamp Coolers

When the temperature rises, many people look to the cooling comfort of indoor air conditioning, but in certain settings such as apartment buildings and server rooms, installing standard air conditioning units may be difficult, impractical, or even cost-prohibitive. It is for this reason that consumers often turn to portable Air Conditioners and portable swamp coolers in order to stave off the summer heat.

Although both Air Conditioners & Swamp Cooler serve to lower the ambient temperature in a given environment, they use different cooling techniques and the terms "portable air conditioner" and "swamp cooler" (also known as "evaporative cooler") may be mistakenly interchanged.

Home air conditioners essentially act as dehumidifiers and draw moisture out of the air, while swamp air coolers cool the environment by adding humidity

Moreover, air conditioners work best in closed environments where the air is continuously circulated, while evaporative coolers supply fresh air but only offer incremental cooling effects. As such, because of these distinct differences, choosing the right type of portable cooler for your given environment will depend on:

  • Climate
  • Cooling Needs
  • Energy Concerns

Portable Air Conditioners and Swamp Coolers Comparison

Portable Air Conditioners


  • Easy to move from room to room.
  • Ideal for areas that don't support permanent installation.
  • Can be up to 50% more energy efficient than some central ACs.
  • Great for humid climates as they can dehumidify the air.


  • Must be Vented
  • Can be slightly more expensive than a central or mini-split system with similar cooling capacity.
Swamp Coolers


  • Portable, compact and easy to move around.
  • Uses less electricity than an AC (up to 75% less).
  • Inexpensive to purchase, install & maintain.
  • Adds moisture to the air in dry climates.


  • Can use a large amount of water to provide cooling.
  • Best suited for dry climates; high humidity levels can cause condensation and accelerate corrosion.