July 17, 2023

How to Optimize a Swamp Cooler: Maintenance Tips and Strategies

In low-humidity regions where temperatures often skyrocket, an evaporative cooler, commonly known as a swamp cooler, can be your lifeline during the scorching summer months. While not as consistent as an air conditioner, a swamp cooler uses less electricity and is a more environmentally sustainable means of cooling your home.

At Applewood Plumbing, we want to help you maintain a cool and comfortable indoor environment while optimizing your swamp cooler efficiency. We’ve assembled a detailed guide on swamp cooler maintenance and operation so you can extend your appliance’s longevity and maximize its cooling capability. 

How Does a Swamp Cooler Work?

Before delving into swamp cooler maintenance and optimization strategies, it’s helpful to understand what evaporative cooling is and how your swamp cooler works. Unlike conventional air conditioning systems that employ refrigerant to chill the air, swamp coolers leverage the natural evaporation process. They intake warm, dry air, filter it through moist cooling pads, and then distribute the cooled, humid air into your home. 

The process is similar to putting a wet bandana around your neck when you’re hot. Heat energy from your body gets redirected and used to evaporate the water in the bandana, leaving you feeling less hot. Similarly, a swamp cooler uses the heat energy in warm air to continually evaporate the water on its cooling pads. It then distributes the cooled air throughout your home via a blower. 

The Disadvantages of Evaporative Cooling

A woman tries to stay cool in front of an electric fan.

The biggest disadvantage of using a swamp cooler or similar evaporative cooling system is that they don’t work well in humidity. When the air is humid, it already is saturated with moisture. This makes evaporation less efficient and it’s why you feel warmer on humid days. Your body sweats but that sweat isn’t able to evaporate and create the cooling effect that provides relief. 

If you experience a relative humidity above 60%, your swamp cooler may not be able to provide the cooling relief you want. Fortunately, Colorado tends to be a dry climate with the average humidity in the Denver area between 30-42%. Properly maintaining your appliance will help it run more efficiently when the humidity creeps up.

Starting Up for the Season

Before the weather turns warm, there are few things you’ll want to do for your swamp cooler. Spring startup involves uncovering your unit, inspecting it, cleaning it and checking for rust, cracks or damage to the drive belt. You should lubricate the engine parts to maximize performance and if you didn’t replace the filter and the cooler pads last fall, now is a good time to start fresh. 

Connect your water supply hose securely and make sure the drain plug is in. As you fill your cooler, watch for signs of leaks in the supply line as well as the unit itself. Connect the power supply and make sure the water pump and blower are working. Ensure that the pads are being properly soaked and then set your thermostat. Your unit should be able to bring the temperature down within a few minutes. If it doesn’t it may be time for a service check. Having a professional start your swamp cooler each spring is a good way to ensure that it works properly all summer long. Your Applewood technician can save you the startup hassle and check for any problems.

Winterize Your Swamp Cooler

Similarly, you’ll want to shut down and store your swamp cooler properly in the fall so that it’s ready to go again next spring. It isn’t difficult to learn how to prepare your swamp cooler for winter, but it does take a little time. Your goal is to prevent water lines from freezing, rust from forming and cold weather from damaging your unit. 

To prep your swamp cooler for winter, unplug the power and disconnect the water line. Make sure you turn off the valve that controls the water supply before you disconnect the line. Ideally, you coil up the line and store it somewhere dry and warm. If you’re unable to detach it, make sure all the water is at least drained out. 

Next, drain all of the water out of the unit. You should be able to achieve this via the drain plug. If not, you can empty the pan and sponge the interior of your swamp cooler until it’s completely dry. This is a good time to clean off any dirt and mineral buildup that formed during the season and change the cooling pads. The goal is to store your swamp cooler completely dry.

Finally, if you own an exterior swamp cooler, cover it with a thick, secure cover to prevent snow and ice from getting in. You can also seal the vent between your swamp cooler and your home to prevent cold air from seeping in. 

5 Swamp Cooler Maintenance Tips

Just like any other appliance, routine maintenance of your swamp cooler can significantly increase its efficiency and lifespan. Here are some maintenance activities you should prioritize: 

1. Pre-Season Inspection: Prior to the onset of the summer season, conducting a thorough swamp cooler inspection is key to good performance. Look out for any corrosion, leaks, or signs of wear and tear. Verify that the water line is unobstructed and functional, and your swamp cooler pads are clean and in optimal condition. A professional can perform this task and catch issues homeowners might miss.

A homeowner replaces their swamp cooler pads for the season.

2. Replace Cooling Pads: Evaporative cooling pads play a pivotal role in your swamp cooler as they retain the water used to cool the air. Dirty, mildewy or impaired pads can drastically hinder the cooler’s performance. Depending on your usage and environmental conditions, you should change the pads at least once a year and keep a backup set handy. 

3. Clean the Water Tank: Over time, mineral deposits and algae can accumulate in the water tank. Regular cleaning of the tank (every 4-6 weeks) can prevent this buildup, ensuring optimal swamp cooler performance and hygiene.

4. Check Fan Belt: The belt connects the motor to the fan. If it becomes slack or worn out, it can impede the efficiency of your swamp cooler. Regular inspections and timely replacement can prevent unexpected malfunctions.

5. Lubricate the Motor and Bearings: Regular lubrication of the cooler’s motor and bearings ensures the machine operates smoothly and reduces noise.

7 Swamp Cooler Optimization Strategies

Here are some strategies to optimize your swamp cooler’s performance and keep your home cool when the mercury climbs up:

1. Size Appropriately: Make sure that your swamp cooler is the right size for the space you’re cooling. An undersized cooler will have trouble lowering temperatures, while an oversized one can lead to excessive moisture.

2. Ventilate: Though it may seem counterintuitive, you’ll want to open some windows when running your swamp cooler. While traditional air conditioners perform best in sealed environments, swamp coolers require fresh, dry air to feed the process. Leave a window or door slightly ajar in the areas being cooled to let the damp air out and the dry air in.

3. Use Cold Water: Experience has taught us that cold tap water in the water tank is more effective for cooling the air on especially hot days.

4. Operate Strategically: Swamp coolers function best in dry conditions. If the day is humid, it might be best to switch to an alternative cooling method, if available. Otherwise, use a dehumidifier in conjunction with your swamp cooler. 

5. Change Water Regularly: Changing the water in your cooler frequently can prevent unpleasant smells and encourage better cooling. 

6. Clean Periodically: Prevent lime and scale buildup by wiping down the tank. Use a wire brush to loosen any corrosion. Vacuum out air intakes to keep fans working well. Check and replace cracked or mildewed pads. In the fall, completely drain and dry out your unit in preparation for winter. 

7. Schedule Seasonal Maintenance: Having a professional check your swamp cooler every spring before the heat wave will ensure that it delivers when you need it to. An Applewood licensed technician can identify physical or mechanical issues before they become a bigger issue. 

Schedule Your Swamp Cooler Maintenance

A distressed woman fans herself on her couch during a heatwave.

A well-serviced swamp cooler can be the difference between a comfortable summer and an unbearable one. By adhering to the swamp cooler maintenance tips and optimization strategies we’ve outlined, your swamp cooler should perform well. 

However, if you ever feel unsure about conducting these swamp cooler maintenance tasks yourself or if your swamp cooler isn’t working properly, Applewood Plumbing is ready to help. It’s easy to schedule your maintenance online today.

Call  303-328-3060

Schedule Now