Making Your Own Inexpensive Swamp Cooler


Picture by _Marion – Pixabay

Why would anyone want to make a swamp cooler in the first place? There are many reasons, but expense often tops the list.

When the summer heat becomes nearly unbearable, people who are able to do so often turn on their air conditioners. The problem is that a huge number of people can’t afford the luxury of an air conditioner. Those that are well made are expensive, the maintenance is often expensive, parts are expensive and they usually take quite a bit of electricity to run. The total cost can be substantial and the keyword is “expensive”.

Conditions differ, depending on a person’s country, but in the United States, there are a huge number of people who frankly can’t afford air conditioning. It has been estimated that over 50 percent of Americans don’t even have enough in savings to pay for rent and utilities for an extra month, if anything was to happen to their source of income. The number of people who are in this situation has been growing over most of the past decade.

Considering that a good home air conditioner can cost anywhere from $300 to over $1,000, this means that most people in the US can’t even afford to buy one, unless they cut themselves short on other bills and obligations. The cost to run a unit and to pay for repairs can make it even harder for people to have and operate an air conditioner. Thankfully, there are alternatives.

One of the alternatives is a swamp cooler. Swamp coolers are cheaper because they don’t actually cool the air like an air conditioner, so they don’t require a refrigeration unit. They use the function of a fan, which is to move the air. In the process, they add moisture to the air. In most places in the US, humidity drops as temperatures increase. When temperatures get above 100 F (38 C), it isn’t uncommon for the humidity to drop to 15% or less. When the air is this dry, even sweating doesn’t help much because the sweat evaporates before it can cool a person down. That is really what we are talking about; an evaporative cooler.

By adding moisture along with airflow, a swamp cooler helps a person feel much cooler. Commercial swamp coolers work well, but they are often still in excess of $150, often more for well made ones. Though this is half the cost of an air conditioner, it still can’t be afforded by most people. Still, it is simple and quite inexpensive to make your own, as follows.

You will need a box fan (approximate cost: $20-$30), 2 5-gallon buckets (often free, if you look around or buy products that come in buckets) and a square yard of burlap or other coarse, loose knit fabric that absorbs water well (approximate cost: $3.) The cost will be even less if you already have a box fan for moving the air around and the fabric that you can use. The material simply needs to be able to absorb water and have a loose enough knit that air can easily pass through it.

Believe it or not, this is the homemade swamp cooler and the setup is extremely simple. Just fill the buckets 3/4 full of water and set them on either side of the fan. Drape the burlap over the fan so each end of the burlap is in the water. The only other thing you need to do is to turn on the fan.

What happens is this: The burlap absorbs water, becoming wet. The fan pushes air through the fabric and since the air is dry, this causes some of the water to evaporate, making the exiting air much moister. The air is still moving, so the moist air cools you down. It doesn’t get much simpler, yet you can even boost the effectiveness of the homemade swamp cooler by adding ice to the water. This way, the air blowing through the front of the fan will not only be moister, it will be many degrees cooler than the air flowing in through the back of the fan.

It doesn’t cost much to operate the swamp cooler and maintenance is cheap. If anything stops working, at worst you’d just need to replace the fan, a bucket or the burlap, none of which costs much. It also doesn’t require a repairman to set up the contraption or fix the swamp cooler if it breaks down.

If you have doubts about whether a swamp cooler works or not, there is an equally simple test you can perform. When the day is unbearably hot, step into the shower fully clothed and get yourself totally wet. Get out of the shower and see if you don’t feel cooler. The principle is a lot like using a swamp cooler because it relies on the evaporation of water from your clothing or skin to cool your body down.

The idea isn’t a revolutionary new one, either. God designed us with the ability to sweat, because this is the mechanism our bodies use to cool down naturally. Putting together a swamp cooler simply gives nature a boost, particularly if the air is dry. It is certainly less expensive than air conditioning.


  1. Andria Perry

    okay we have HIGH humidity. Walking outside for a few minutes you are soaking wet with sweat. Thank you though for telling me how to make a swamp cooler.

    I stumbled this article.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Yeah, it wouldn’t work in high humidity. On second though, just using a fan would probably have a very similar effect. Still, the air can only hold so much moisture and even sweating becomes ineffective when there is no evaporation.

  2. Kyla Matton Osborne

    We had the same problem in Montreal: too much humidity. A swamp cooler would have been counterproductive there, as we needed to dehydrate the air rather than to moisturize it.

    1. Rex Trulove Post author

      Yeah, a fan would have probably been a lot more helpful. Incidentally, in Hawaii, the humidity is so high all the time that computers frequently fail. They have to have special computers or put computers in rooms that are set with dehumidifiers, unless they want to keep buying new ones. Now, aren’t you glad that you only have to deal with the humidity there? LOL

    2. Kyla Matton Osborne

      Believe it or not, we had similar issues with the phones in one house in Montreal. The humidity on the lower level was so high that the wires were shorting out and the phone service for the entire house was affected!

    3. Rex Trulove Post author

      Thankfully, we’ve never lived anywhere like that. We did live for a time in an area in Oregon that got quite humid in the summer, but not to the point of causing issues with electronics. That said, even here, when it is really hot, my computer slows way down. When I can, I’m going to get a little fan just for the computer, though that will only help to a degree.

    4. Kyla Matton Osborne

      We had issues with the computer overheating too, but that was during the drought. The old house just wasn’t insulated nearly enough, and the temperatures were so high that the internal fans were overworked.

    5. Rex Trulove Post author

      Last year, my daughter had a time because her laptop kept shutting itself off. She needed it for her online courses. It didn’t take me long to figure out that it was overheating, something laptops are well known for. Until she could get one of the stands that has a fan built in, specifically for laptops, I blocked it up and used a regular fan to cool it. Since it was blowing directly at Cat, she got the benefit of feeling cooler while the laptop was kept from overheating, so it was a win-win. 🙂

    6. Kyla Matton Osborne

      Very cool idea! Hubby bought one of those laptop stands with the USB-operated cooling fan. It’s not a bad idea, either!

    7. Rex Trulove Post author

      Necessity is the mother of invention. LOL There have been many times when we didn’t have the money to get something, so I’ve been forced to improvise. It may not end up looking pretty, but it usually works. 😀

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