Difference between an Evaporative Cooler and an Air Conditioner
By Theydiffer - July 24, 2018

An evaporative cooler (also called “swamp cooler”) and an air conditioner have varying working mechanisms, making them ideal for different settings. Learning to distinguish between the two will help the buyer make a decision based on their specific needs and preferences.

Summary Table

Evaporative CoolerAir Conditioner
Costs between $400 to $1000Costs over $1000
Uses wet cooling pads to convert warm air to cool airUses refrigerants to absorb heat from the air
Mainly functions to regulate air temperatureMainly functions to regulate air temperature, humidity, and overall air quality
Lower operational costHigher operational cost
Requires seasonal maintenanceRequires more frequent maintenance
More eco-friendlyNot as eco-friendly as an evaporative cooler
Works best in dry, arid conditionsWorks best in any climate
Increases air moistureDecreases air moisture


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An evaporative cooler goes by several names: “swamp cooler,” “wet air cooler,” and “desert cooler.” As one of the oldest technological device used for heat reduction, an evaporative cooler regulates room temperature by the process of evaporation.

Getty Images/Moment/Grace Cary

An air conditioner is a device used to dehumidify or control the temperature in an enclosed space. Also called “A/C” or “AC,” an air conditioner can maintain ideal ventilation, humidity, and temperature by using refrigerants.

Evaporative Cooler vs Air Conditioner

Although the two are designed for temperature control, there is a big difference between an evaporative cooler (swamp cooler) and an air conditioner.


An evaporative cooler is much cheaper than an air conditioner. Its cost ranges from $400 to $1000, while an air conditioning unit typically costs over $1000, although this depends on the type of unit.

Working Mechanism

Designed to regulate temperature by the process of evaporation, an evaporative cooler uses a fan to collect warm air from the room. Once air is drawn into the unit, it passes through wet cooling pads, where it is converted into cool air. The regulated air is then released into the room.

An air conditioner, on the other hand, has four main components: a compressor, an evaporator, an expansion device and a condenser. It controls temperature by using evaporator coils that are filled with refrigerants – a dense fluid that is also used as a cooling agent in refrigerators. As air passes through the coil, the refrigerant absorbs heat and changes it into gas before being compressed back to its original state. The warm, compressed air is released out the back of the unit while the cool, humidified air is sent back to the room.


If there’s a thin line that separates the two cooling units, it’s their functionality. Unlike an evaporative cooler that mainly functions to regulate air temperature, an air conditioner is fully equipped to control other air properties, including temperature, humidity, and overall air quality. Its air filtration system can also remove unnecessary air particulates and improve overall air quality by eliminating insects and odor-causing germs and bacteria.

Operational Cost

Since it is energy efficient and it does not need installation services, an evaporative cooler has lower upfront and operational costs as compared to an air conditioner, which needs to be installed by a professional. In a like manner, an evaporative cooler only needs seasonal maintenance, while an air conditioner needs more frequent inspection for possible dirt or mold buildup.

Environmental Impact

An evaporative cooler takes home the trophy when it comes to minimizing carbon footprint and noise pollution, making it the more eco-friendly cooling option.

Ideal Cooling Conditions

An evaporative cooler works best at dry, arid conditions since it was mainly designed to increase air moisture. To further improve air quality and maintain optimal air moisture levels, the doors and windows of the room should remain open to allow the circulation of fresh air inside the area. An air conditioner, by contrast, does not have geographical limitations since it can work well regardless of climatic conditions. An air conditioner, however, can greatly decrease air moisture.