How Does A Portable Air Cooler Work?

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Updated September 17, 2022

If you are new to the world of air conditioning, you may wonder how portable air coolers work. Some of the best air conditioners, after all, feature portable designs. So how do portable air coolers work, what makes them efficient, and are they a good choice for you? Keep reading to find out.


  • Portable air coolers, otherwise known as evaporative coolers or evaporative air coolers, work by pulling in air, running it through cooling pads, and then spitting the air back out via an integrated fan.
  • These portable units are easy to use, with a simple and flexible design that works just about anywhere, especially in dry climates and humid climates.
  • Portable air coolers also naturally humidify the air as they work, which is a boon for those with allergies.

What is an Air Cooler?

Air coolers, otherwise known as evaporative coolers or swamp coolers, are interesting. Many people ask “how does an air cooler work,” despite the technology being relatively simple. Basically, a fan pulls in air, runs it over cooling pads, and spits the newly cooled air back out. This is not dissimilar to how a portable air conditioner works, but without any chemicals like freon. Modern portable air coolers are great for tight spaces if you are wondering how to use an air conditioner in a tent.

Insider Tip

Be sure to give your portable air cooler a bit of time to work its magic, as these devices take longer to cool a room than a traditional air conditioning unit.

Benefits of Using a Portable Air Cooler

There are many benefits to choosing a portable air cooler over a traditional appliance, such as not having to learn how an air conditioner works. Here are a few so you can decide if a portable air cooler is for you.

Simple Design

Portable air coolers are extremely simple and efficient designs, so you’ll never really have to wonder why your air conditioner fan is not blowing, among other common maintenance issues. To that end, this simple design makes them really easy to clean, if you are learning how to clean a portable air conditioner. Simply put, portable air coolers are easy to use, easy to install, and easy to clean.

Natural Humidification

Portable air coolers naturally humidify the air as they work, and keeping your home properly humidified is key to reducing the severity of health issues like dry skin, itchy eyes, and sore throats. Plus, this tendency to naturally humidify the area helps save you some money, as you won’t have to purchase a standalone humidifier (unless you want to.)


As the name suggests, portable air coolers are, well, portable. They are small, lightweight, and easy to place just about anywhere. This makes them extremely practical with a flexible workflow. Portable air coolers are great for garages, tents, roofs, RV campers, and anywhere else where space is at a premium. They are also budget-friendly when compared to standalone and dedicated air conditioning units.


Are portable evaporative coolers effective?

They are certainly effective, considering their cost and power demands, though they might be slightly less effective when compared to standalone portable air conditioners or your average traditional air conditioner.

Do portable evaporative coolers need to be vented?

No, they do not need to be vented, though might have an exhaust hose leading to a water tank that will need occasional emptying. Read the instructions on your individual unit for more information.

Do I live in the right climate for an evaporative cooler?

It depends. A portable evaporative cooler does increase humidity levels, which could lead to mildew growth, but as long as you change out the air filters consistently, you should be fine.

STAT: Compared to air conditioning systems, evaporative coolers use no chemical refrigerants and can use up to 75 percent less energy. (source)

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