6 Best Evaporative Coolers of 2023, Reviewed by Experts
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When the air becomes hot and stuffy, cool with these easy-to-use swamp coolers.
If your house always seems too hot, you might find that the best way to cool off a bit is with an evaporative cooler. Often mistaken for portable air conditioners, evaporative coolers — also known as swamp coolers — are actually a different type of appliance that creates cooler air without a compressor or a need for an exhaust vent. (Portable ACs require both.)
In the simplest terms, evaporative coolers take hot air in and use ice or water to cool that air down and then push it back out to circulate through a room. They don't have the power a portable AC or window unit might have, but they're an easy and affordable way to keep cool when you have a limited budget and limited space.
At the Good Housekeeping Institute, we test all types of heating and cooling equipment from the best fans to smart thermostats and space heaters. To make our picks for the best evaporative coolers, we consulted Home Improvement & Outdoor Lab Director Dan DiClerico and combed through in-depth customer reviews to keep you chiller than ever this summer.
Still have some questions? Scroll to the end of this guide to get the full breakdown of everything you need to know when picking out the evaporative cooler that's best for you.
When put to the test, this Honeywell Portable Evaporative Air Cooler earned high marks with our Lab experts. It earned the title of Best Portable Air Cooler Without a Hose in our roundup of the best portable air conditioners (even though it's actually an evaporative cooler and not a portable AC). This compact unit quietly cools rooms up to 426 sq. ft., a major perk compared to the noisy rumble that often comes from true portable ACs. Quiet operation is one of the major upsides of evaporative coolers.
Best used to help cool small to medium-sized rooms, the slim and lightweight design allows you to easily move the machine from room to room. Using oscillating air vents as part of its unique vertical tower design, the air is distributed more evenly throughout a room at a faster rate. It not only has a setting set for evaporative cooling but you can also opt for a gentle fan-only breeze and even use it as a humidifier in the colder months. All of these settings can be controlled with the included remote.
One reviewer wrote, "I'm extremely impressed. The unit blows very cold with just water! It's very quiet compared to a box fan." Another said called the unit "easy to set up," and said they were pleased with the "easy to understand directions [and] easy to follow recommendations in terms of room placement." They shared, "After the recent heat wave, this is a godsend. I can also say from owning other evaporative air coolers in the past that this unit is in a class all its own"
With a three-in-one smart evaporating and humidifying system, cool air is just a button away. This lightweight, portable and budget-friendly cooler has three fan speeds as well as different temperature settings labeled sleep, normal and cool mode to accommodate different types of spaces and preferences. The machine is quiet enough that you can sleep with it on, and the special sleep setting allows you to set a timer so it turns off on its own in the middle of the night.
The water tank is a bit small, but it can still run for almost eight full hours before it needs refilling. Users say the refilling process is simple, and thanks to its location on the top of the machine, you don't need to bend or crouch much to fill it.
"It’s fairly quiet so I completely forget that it’s there," one online reviewer said. "It’s cool with the added plus of the humidifying factor. "It’s a great buy all around for a small area that needs more breeze."
Weighing only 16 pounds and able to cool up to 500 square feet of space according to the brand, this sleek and stylish model from Hessaire is a great highly portable option. And it has over 2,000 five-star reviews on Amazon to back it up.
DiClerio says, "This is a great option for small to medium-sized spaces." Place it in a studio apartment, a single room in your home, a garage, a workspace or even a small patio. The small dial on the front of the cooler allows you to select one of five settings so you can adjust the airflow to your liking.
Online reviewers not only liked that it was affordable and easy to put together but also that you can manually refill the water reservoir with each use or hook it up to a hose for continuous water flow (no refill required!). If you do use the continuous option, just be aware that some reviews said the hookup may drip a bit. Even with that slight issue in mind, reviews showed that customers were very happy with it.
One user calls it, "one of the best purchases I’ve made." And another who works as a car technician says, "When the ambient shop temperature is in the 90s – 100s (outdoor garage), this thing is blowing a cool 71 – 73 degrees."
Whether you have a large garage or want a cool boost in the living room, this quiet cooler is pretty powerful. It's capable of covering up to 700 square feet, according to the brand, and it has three different fan speeds and an oscillating mode to better spread the cool air. A continuous water flow option lets it run uninterrupted, and the ice packs that come with it can be inserted into a special top lid compartment to add an extra chill to the air.
Other features include a timer, humidity sensor, remote control and wheels on the bottom, making it convenient to use and move. Although evaporative coolers are less effective if humidity levels are higher than 50%, some reviewers said that this specific machine worked quite well in areas with greater humidity. "This evaporative cooler does a great job blowing a lot of air while being very quiet," one reviewer said, sharing they often use it on their porch in Texas.
Reviewers also said the size could be a bit of a deterrent for some since it can be quite heavy and it can be a bit tricky to assemble, but overall reviewers had great things to say about it. One wrote, "It's pretty big for a bedroom and would work great on a patio or garage. It keeps the room very, very cool during the night."
When you want something that can go anywhere with you, the Evapolar personal air cooler is your best friend. In addition to being affordable, it easily plugs into a power source with a USB cable, weighs less than 2 pounds and has a built-in handle.
It's basically a 7-inch cube, so it's a great go-to when you have limited space, and it can sit on a desk or dresser and serve as a personal cooling device. The machine both cools and humidifies air, offering four different fan speeds at the press of a button. Its compact size does limit its airflow to within five feet of the unit so if you're looking to cool off a large space, better to look somewhere else. But it's portability is a huge boon for a camping trip, college dorms, the office or any place that needs a little extra cooling oomph.
"I love how portable it is. [I] can take it with me and turn it on in the car, office or at home," one reviewer says. "So much easier to maintain and clean, unlike those other bulky air coolers."
Weighing less than two pounds, this compact cooler, which can run via USB cord, uses dual cooling jets to cool and humidify air. It has four different settings and can for run up to 10 hours on one tank of water. Multi-directional air vents allow you to adjust the direction of the airflow, too. There's even a built-in LED nightlight with seven different color options, which makes it fun for kids who don't like to sleep in the dark. That being said, most reviews say this cooler is better used as a personal cooling device rather than a room cooling device, but still find it a must since it's affordable, lightweight and portable enough that you can take it with you anywhere.
One online reviewer wrote, "If you want to cool yourself down, this is a great product. It's like a personal desk fan, but quite a bit more effective."
Although the two phrases are occasionally used interchangeably, evaporative coolers and portable air conditions are actually two different appliances. Evaporative coolers use cold water and ice to cool the air and return it to the space using a fan.
A portable air conditioner pulls in hot air, cools it using a motor and then reintroduces that cooled air into the room. Because portable air conditioners use a motor, they have an exhaust that must be ventilated through a hose and out the window — which makes them less versatile and less portable but great for small homes with few people.
Because evaporative coolers rely on water or ice instead of a motor, they are simpler to maintain, use and move around, but they don't produce as much cold air as a portable AC does. Some can be hooked up directly to a hose or water source for continuous use, while others have a tank that must be manually refilled. They're a great solution for dorm rooms, outdoor areas like porches or sunrooms, garages and other smaller spaces.
In comparison to a window air conditioning unit, neither portable ACs nor evaporative coolers can produce the same amount of cooling power.
Evaporative coolers, also called swamp coolers, rely on water or ice to cool air. With the help of a water reservoir, which soaks pads inside the cooler, air is taken into the machine and passed over the pads, evaporating the water and cooling the air. The cooled air is then distributed back out of the cooler using a fan.
"Evaporative coolers are ideal in hot, dry climates where the relative humidity stays well below 50%," says DiClerico. They are less effective when humidity levels are high.
Because evaporative coolers don't have nearly the same cooling capacity as a traditional air conditioner (or portable air conditioner), they are better suited for areas where it's warm but not hitting hot temperatures on a consistent basis.
That said, if you live in muggy, warm and wet areas you would be better off opting for an AC window unit or portable air conditioner. DeClerico says, "The cooling power of an evaporative cooler is closer to that of a fan than a traditional room air conditioner, but they can improve comfort in the right conditions."
Although evaporative coolers should have at least two speeds and a "vent-only" option, they don't typically need to be vented with a hose — something that strongly distinguishes them from portable ACs. Because the hot air does need somewhere to go, it is suggested that they be placed near an open door or window so that the warm air can cycle out and so that the evaporative cooler can operate at its highest efficiency.
✔️ Geographical location: As mentioned above, evaporative coolers work better in certain climates, and it's important to know if one will work effectively where you live. Evaporative coolers work best in dry climates where the humidity stays well below 50%, like in the western and southernmost states. Those who live in other weather conditions, especially the Midwest or anywhere east of Kansas should consider a portable AC or window unit.
✔️ Location in the home: Although evaporative coolers don't need exhaust ventilation the way a portable AC does, they should ideally be used in certain areas of the home. "They’re often called swamp coolers because they can end up smelling like one, which is why we recommend using them in well-ventilated areas of the home, or even outdoors, like on a patio or porch," says DiClerico. "It’s also important to clean the coolers regularly to minimize the musty smell."
✔️ Cooling capacity: A larger area will require a larger cooler to cool it, and vice versa. Know the square footage of the room or area you want to cool and purchase a unit with a cooling capacity to match. Pay close attention to the physical size of the unit before purchasing, too. You'll want to have an idea of where and how you'll fit your evaporative cooler before you actually bring one home. Smaller units can also be stored away in closets between uses.
✔️ Water connection: Evaporative coolers use a water tank to cool hot air. A safe, sanitary water supply is essential, regardless of whether you have a tank you need to manually fill one that can be connected to a water supply for continuous use. If you opt for a cooler with a continuous-fill tank, you'll need to connect it to a waterline in your home. You may want to consult an HVAC professional to make sure your water cooler is properly set up.
For over three years, Assistant Editor Annie O'Sullivan has written about gifts, holidays, home and more for Good Housekeeping. For this story, she relied on her own in-depth research and insight from reviews to find the best evaporative coolers on the market.
For this story, she consulted with Dan DiClerico, the Home Improvement & Outdoor Lab director in the Good Housekeeping Institute. He has over 20 years of experience writing product reviews and how-to articles on all aspects of home ownership from routine maintenance to major renovations.
Annie O’Sullivan (she/her) covers holiday, gift guide, travel, and lifestyle content at Good Housekeeping. She has a degree in magazine journalism from Syracuse University and previously reported for Runner’s World, NBC New York/NY 4 and Woman’s Day. Annie also has experience writing entertainment news and celebrity-focused content.
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11 Best Shampoos for Colored Hair in 2023It not only has a setting set for evaporative cooling but you can also opt for a gentle fan-only breeze and even use it as a humidifier in the colder months.three fan speeds as well as different temperature settings labeled sleep, normal and cool mode to accommodate different types of spaces and preferencesyou can manually refill the water reservoir with each use or hook it up to a hose for continuous water flow (no refill required!)It's capable of covering up to 700 square feet, according to the brand, and it has three different fan speeds and an oscillating mode to better spread the cool air. it easily plugs into a power source with a USB cable, weighs less than 2 pounds and has a built-in handleMulti-directional air vents allow you to adjust the direction of the airflow, too. ✔️✔️ Geographical location✔️✔️Location in the home✔️✔️Cooling capacity✔️✔️Water connectionAnnie O'SullivanDan DiClerico