Test results for seven portable evaporative coolers, priced from $159 to $449
If you live in a region where the summers are hot and dry, such as inland Australia, a portable evaporative cooler can be a cheap and effective way to keep you cool over those long sunny days. However, if you live in a humid area, they won’t be the most effective option. You may want to consider a portable air conditioner instead, or perhaps a ceiling fan to circulate the air.
Evaporative coolers work by drawing hot, dry air across a wetting medium, typically made from a shredded wood composite or foam which is saturated with water from the unit’s inbuilt water tank. The water evaporates, absorbing heat from the air, and the cooler but moister air is blown into the room.
They’re simple to operate; you just fill the water tank (and ice tray, if there is one) and turn it on. Because evaporative coolers need a constant source of hot dry air to work effectively, you need to leave a door or window open and position the unit near it. The open door or window also helps keep down the overall humidity in the room — the more humid the room, the less effective the cooler.
Evaporative coolers work best in low-humidity areas (around 30% humidity or less), but they also work fairly well in moderate humidity (around 40–50%). In more humid climates, standard refrigerative air conditioners are more effective as they dehumidify the air, though they’re also more expensive and bigger consumers of electricity.
We bought all readily available portable evaporative coolers on the market — four Convair and three IXL models — and put them to the test. Our results show there can be big differences in performance; the recommended models are much better coolers than some of the others.
Please note: this information was current as of September 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
Convair Coolmaster 3000
Convair Magicool 004006
Convair Mastercool 850238-C
Convair Megacool 009438
IXL Blizzard 42056 (A)
IXL Compact 42055 (B)
IXL Icecap 2 42054
(A) Discontinued; replaced by model 42058.
(B) Exclusive to Betta Electrical; being discontinued but still available in some stores.