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Portable Air Conditioners vs. Swamp Coolers - Which is Right for You?


Portable Air Conditioner


Portable Swamp Cooler

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 ACs and portable swamp coolers in order to stave off the summer heat.

Although both types of appliances 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

Air Conditioners

Transportable air conditioners allow you to take control of your indoor temperature without having to deal with any type of permanent installation. Also perfect for providing supplemental cooling to existing central air conditioning units, portable air conditioning is great for apartment buildings that do not allow window units or homes with windows that cannot accommodate permanently-installed window units. Furthermore, these types of room air conditioners are compact in size, equipped with casters, and assembly usually only consists of running an exhaust hose to the outside.

How They Work?

In terms of how they work, ACs have the cold and hot sides of the conditioning cycle contained within one box-like unit. A condenser coil is cooled from the air in a room and the exhaust hose expels heat. Finally, due to this cooling cycle, water is condensed out of the air and collected in an internal drain bucket.


  icon_bulb-blue-1 Portable Air Conditioner Buying Tip:

Although they are truly portable in that they can be moved from room to room, they must be vented and therefore should be placed near a window. 

Evaporative Coolers

Cooling and heating systems can account for over half of a household's energy bill, and as the numbers on your thermostat rise, so can the costs of keeping your home cool and comfortable. Studies have shown that energy consumption for home air conditioning can account for up to 5% of electricity produced by the United States and at a cost to homeowners of over 15 billion dollars. Thus, finding a cost-effective way to stay cool is something to consider, and if you live in the right climate, a portable swamp cooler may be just the answer.

How They Work?

Home evaporative coolers use the simple process of evaporation to provide cooling. Consisting of a box-like frame containing a walled-fan and water-soaked pads, a their fan takes in hot air, sends it through the water-cooled pads, and lowers the temperature by up to 20 degrees. This process can be likened to splashing water on your skin on a hot day and feeling the coolness on your skin. Because they use evaporation to cool the air, they use as much as 75% less electricity than air conditioner units.

Furthermore, versatility is another key benefit to owning a portable swamp cooler. Personal air coolers are great for cooling down a room or parts of a home, while commercial swamp coolers are specially designed to cool warehouses, stadiums, and entertainment venues.

  icon_bulb-blue-1 Evaporative Swamp Cooler Buying Tip:

Because they add moisture to the air, they are only suitable for dry climates where the air is hot and the humidity levels are low. 

Portable ACs and Swamp Coolers - A Side-by-Side Comparison


Portable ACs

Swamp Coolers


  • Easy to maneuver - can be moved from room to room

  • Ideal for areas that can't accommodate permanent installation

  • Can be up to 50% more energy efficient than some central air conditioning systems due to the fact that only certain rooms are cooled

  • Great for humid climates - they also dehumidify the air


  • Must be vented

  • Can be slightly more expensive than a central or mini-split systems with similar cooling capacity


  • Portable, compact, and can be easily moved from area to the next with ease

  • Use significantly less electricity than an AC for the same sized room (sometimes up to 75% less)

  • Inexpensive to purchase, install, and maintain

  • Adds moisture to the air in dry climates and prevents fabrics and furniture from warping or drying out


  • Can use a large amount of water to provide cooling

  • Best suited for dry climates; high humidity levels can cause condensation and accelerate corrosion

Shop Our Selection of Portable Air Conditioners

Shop Our Selection of Evaporative Swamp Coolers

Portable Cooling Guide Main Page

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