Air Conditioners VS Evaporative Coolers: The Differences

We all know how effective an air conditioner can be in cleaning indoor air. It is literally everywhere from home, office, shopping mall, to hospital. However, there are a few types of air conditioners that many people are confused about which one to get. The most common question we received would be asking the difference between air conditioners and evaporative coolers. So to answer all at once, this post will explain the differences between them in functionality, cooling efficiency, running cost, and selling price. We will also recommend which type of AC is better for you.


What Is The Difference Between An Air Conditioner And An Evaporative Cooler?

The main difference between the 2 is the cooling technology. An evaporative cooling system uses water evaporation to cool air, while an air conditioner uses a vapor-compression or absorption refrigeration cycle to cool the air.

If you came across a cooling device called swamp coolers, it refers to evaporative coolers. “Evaporative cooler” is the technical name for a device that uses evaporation technology to cool the air. “Swamp coolers” is the slang term that describes a poorly maintained evaporative cooler. There is no difference between these two terms.

Cooling Efficiency: Air Conditioners VS Evaporative Coolers

Without a doubt, AC can cool the air more effectively than an evaporative cooler. Even if you go for the most efficient inverter model that uses up to 50% less energy, it can reduce room temperature far lower than any swamp coolers. Air conditioners will also work on both wet and dry humidity, unlike evaporative coolers that only work in low humidity areas. According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), an evaporative cooler can reduce the ambient temperature of a room limited to 5 to 15 degrees.

Air Quality: Air Conditioners VS Evaporative Coolers

Through refrigerant technology, conventional air conditioners recirculate cool air within the room. Efficient, but the air might feel stale, and you will need an air purifier to ensure the indoor air quality is healthy. AC works best in an enclosed area. You will need to keep windows and doors closed to optimize the AC cooling efficiency. On the contrary, evaporative coolers will work with windows and doors open. As long as outdoor air quality is healthy, the circulated cool air will remain fresh and safe to inhale.

Moisture levels: Air Conditioners VS Evaporative Coolers

The polar opposite in humidification. Air conditioners cool and absorb moisture from the air. Ideal for a wet and damp environment with a relative humidity level of over 50%. AC can also help with mold issues by creating an inhabitable condition. Evaporative coolers cool and add moisture back to the air through evaporation. Ideal for a dry environment with a relative humidity level under 30%. Great for people with dry eyes, chapped lips, and dry skin.

Operational Costs: Air Conditioners VS Evaporative Coolers

Is no secret that air conditioners cool better, but the extra power increases the operational cost. It drains more energy wattage and will be reflected on your monthly electric bill. Conventional air conditioners also require installation and maintenance like gas fillings/ cleaning, further adding to the cost. Evaporative coolers are more economical and energy-efficient; it uses 50% less energy than a conventional AC. Evaporative coolers will be cheaper to run, and you can see the differences in your electric bill when operating for long hours. It also does not require expensive installation and maintenance. Instead of hiring an expert, you can move it around and perform cleaning yourself.

Eco-friendly: Air Conditioners VS Evaporative Coolers

Albeit better cooling, air conditioners require more energy to run and thus have a higher carbon dioxide (CO2) emission than evaporative coolers. It is also noisier but not completely unbearable. Evaporative coolers are more environmentally friendly that use less power to cool the air. It emits less carbon footprint and can be beneficial in the long run. Evaporative coolers also run silently, thereby generating less noise pollution. Keep in mind that you might need more than 1 unit to cool the air, which can be counterproductive.

To conclude, air conditioners and evaporative coolers can provide you with a comfortable, cooling temperature to work and sleep comfortably. Both devices use different cooling technology with their own pros and cons. To help you identify which one is best suited for you to reap the most benefits, here are the breakdowns between the two.

Air Conditioners VS Evaporative Coolers: The Breakdowns

TypeAir ConditionersEvaporative Coolers
Cooling efficiencyBestGreat
Energy consumptionHigherLower
Carbon dioxide emissionHigherLower
Upfront installation costYesNo
Works with open windows/ doorsNoYes
Humidity levelDecreaseIncrease
Noise levelHighLow
Best used inHot, wet climatesHot, dry climates

Which One Should I Go With? Air Conditioner Or Evaporative Coolers?

It depends, as the type of cooling system you choose would vary based on your budget, when, and where you plan to use it. Evaporative coolers are better for hot, dry environments and smaller areas like a studio, dorm, or bedroom. It is also great for those on a budget that only needs temporary cooling, like during the hot summer. Air conditioners are great at cooling large areas like living rooms, offices, lounges, basements, or garages. It can also help remove moisture in the air, but you will have to fork up some cash for the device and installation. At the end of the day, both will help cool the air, so there is no wrong answer to either one.

Max Fernandez

A loving father and a dedicated reviewer for airfuji.com with more than 1000 air purifiers under his belt. Max Fernandez is also one of the million patients currently suffering from asthma. Feel free to nudge him if you have any questions.