Does This DIY Swamp Cooler TikTok Hack Work?
Summer temps are heating up. We tested this TikTok swamp cooler hack that claims to cool you down. Did it work? Let's find out.
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A swamp cooler, aka evaporative cooler, reduces air temperatures by up to 40 degrees via water evaporation instead of refrigerant. Cheaper and better for the environment than traditional air conditioners, they’re a popular way to cool homes all over the Western U.S. and dry climates around the world.
But can you make your own? This TikTok hack says yes.
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It’s 108 degrees in Dallas as I write this. I’m in my uninsulated garage. Most people would avoid this sweltering hotbox, but with two people working from home, two dogs, a cat and an adventurous new kitten on my hands, sometimes a gal needs a break.
Enter the swamp cooler hack. It looks easy, and the idea of blowing air over ice or water has been around forever. Will this hack — combining a styrofoam cooler, a fan and some ice — work to cool my garage? I’m going to try it.
How It Works
The concept is simple. A small fan pulls air into a styrofoam cooler filled with ice. The air travels over the ice before exiting outside via two PVC elbow exhaust vents.
I like this TikTok video. It’s fun and well-edited. But I’ve got one concern with the design: The fan goes in the side of the cooler instead of the top. Ice melts. If it’s not contained, water will spill into the fan (dangerous) and out the side (messy).
The hack offers a workaround: Put the ice in plastic zipper bags. This is a good solution, but I think frozen gallon jugs of water work better. (In my experience, plastic bags always leak.)
I found the necessary materials easily. I bought two 1-1/4-in. PVC street elbows and a small desk fan at Lowe’s, and the cooler at Kroger. Just like in the video, the cooler I found had an oddly shaped lid that would not fit my fan. Next time I will search for a better style cooler or a much smaller fan.
I cut out holes in the lid for the elbows, making sure not to cut too big. You want everything snug. Cutting in and fitting the fan was difficult because my fan had a smooth, rounded cover that didn’t easily come off. I took a small screwdriver and popped it off, but it took some doing.
The rounded edges of the fan, even with the cover off, made it hard to get the fan to stay in the hole. So I caulked it in with some silicone I had lying around. Then it was time for the ice.
Did It Work?
Yes! I put my gallon jugs in the cooler and hit the switch. Cold air started blowing out of the elbows almost immediately. I put the swamp cooler on my workbench and worked for about an hour next to it.
It was a pleasant breeze, although not quite like the chilly blast from an air conditioner. But it’s a hack, not an HVAC installation, right? I was pleasantly surprised with the results.
One thing to note: Swamp coolers are popular in the Western U.S. because of the dry air. Swamp coolers humidify the air. So if you live in a humid climate, they won’t make you feel cooler, just wetter.
Dallas is humid, and again, it’s 108 degrees. This little hack can’t replace my central air conditioner. But it did make my stifling garage more liveable as long as I stood near the cooler. My sense is, this hack will work best in more moderate climates and indoor rooms that need an extra boost.
Tips To Build a DIY Swamp Cooler
This hack worked pretty well. If you’d like to make one yourself, follow these tips for best results:
- Buy the smallest, simplest fan you can find.
- Find a cooler that lets you to put the fan in the lid, not the side.
- 1-1/4-in. elbows were a little small. Go bigger for more airflow.
- Seal in the fan with silicone or glue.
- Use frozen bottles of water, not loose ice or zipper bags.
- Use indoors in small rooms, or when working near the cooler.