Does Putting Ice in a Swamp Cooler Help?

On a sweltering afternoon, if it feels like your swamp cooler isn’t running coolly enough for your liking, you’ll do just about anything to make it colder. You heard from a neighbor that adding ice to your cooler can do the trick. Will this really help?

Putting ice in your swamp cooler is more a hindrance than it is helpful. Before the swamp cooler can use the cold water from the ice, the ice must melt, so you’re waiting even longer for relief. You’re better off pouring cold water into the swamp cooler’s water supply valve instead of ice.

In this article, we’ll discuss further whether putting ice or anything besides water will make your swamp cooler run colder faster. If you’re new to swamp coolers, you’re definitely going to want to keep reading!

Why Would You Put Ice in Your Swamp Cooler?

To understand the logic behind why some homeowners have come up with the trick of putting ice in a swamp cooler, you have to understand how the cooler works.

Swamp coolers or evaporative coolers are not like traditional air conditioners. Rather than use coolant, an evaporative cooler relies on water and a fan. The cooler has a water supply valve and water distribution lines. You pour water into the water supply valve. The water moistens the evaporative pads within the swamp cooler.

A blower motor sucks in warm air from outdoors, which passes through the evaporative pads. The pads serve two purposes: cleaning the air and making it colder. That cold air, which is now evaporatively cooled (hence the name evaporative cooler), blows out into your home.

Evaporative cooling is certainly more energy-efficient than running an air conditioner on a hot summer’s day, but it’s rarely faster. That brings us to the reason that adding ice to a swamp cooler has become so appealing.

Since swamp coolers need cold water to provide cool air, wouldn’t dumping in several handfuls of ice speed up the process? You can certainly see where the logic comes from!

Does Putting Ice in a Swamp Cooler Help?

When you think about it, using ice makes sense to you. Water is anywhere from 32 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit while ice is always at least 32 degrees but often lower. Since it’s colder than water, you expect that you’ll get colder air out of your swamp cooler.

Yet this doesn’t work in quite the way you’d imagine. The evaporative pads within your swamp cooler need to get saturated in water to provide cold air, which means the ice would have to melt first.

How long that takes varies based on how many ice cubes you add and what the temperature is like inside your home. If the temperature is 75 degrees, a single ice cube that’s an inch in size melts in about a minute and as fast as 45 seconds. One-inch ice cubes aren’t the norm though; one-ounce cubes are. Per one-ounce cube, still at 75 degrees, now it’s one to two minutes until the cube is fully melted.

Even if you put an ice cube in boiling hot water that’s 185 degrees, if the ice cube is still an ounce in size, it melts in about a minute. The ice cube could be fully submerged in hot water and still, it won’t melt immediately.

If you poured five ice cubes into your swamp cooler, then you’d wait at least five minutes before the cubes have melted. If it’s 10 cubes, then it’s 10 minutes, etc. Then the water from the ice cubes can be used by the evaporative pads to cool your home.

You can see now that by putting ice cubes in your swamp cooler, all you’re doing is delaying the process of cooling rather than speeding it up.

What about Dry Ice? Does That Help Make a Swamp Cooler Even Colder?

As solidified carbon dioxide, dry ice does have some advantages over regular ice. Its temperature is a lot lower than regular ice, as it takes being frozen at -109 degrees to produce dry ice. Dry ice is also residue-free and may provide twice the cooling compared to regular ice.

However, before you use dry ice in your swamp cooler, please think twice. We breathe out carbon dioxide each time we take a breath, but that doesn’t mean high concentrations of carbon dioxide can’t be toxic. If the indoor air comprises about 10 percent carbon dioxide, you could suffocate and die. That goes for adults, children, and pets.

Handling dry ice is also very risky. Remember what we said earlier in this section. To produce dry ice, it needs to be cooled to -109 degrees. You can suffer a frost burn if you get too close to the dry ice without the proper protective equipment. Frost burn is another word for frostbite, which can cause skin tingling, skin whitening, numbness, and pain.

In the most severe cases of frostbite, you can damage your skin down to the subcutaneous tissue, which is the third layer of skin under the dermis and epidermis. At that point, you might have to lose a digit or a limb through amputation.

Even if you somehow thought using dry ice was still worth the risk, it doesn’t make a swamp cooler run colder, as that’s not what it’s formulated to do. This doesn’t stop some people from trying, but it really should.

How to Make Your Swamp Cooler Run Colder

If you want your swamp cooler to run faster and produce colder air, you have plenty of safe ways to go about doing it. Try any of the following methods, as they’re all proven effective.

Prime the Pads

One of the solutions that produce the most dramatic cooling difference is also the easiest to do. When you prime the evaporative pads, all that means is you pre-soak them with water. Now, rather than waiting for the water you poured in to travel from the water supply valve to the bevy of water distribution lines throughout your swamp cooler and then finally reach the evaporative pads so the blower fan can start filtering out cool air, you cut out the middleman, so to speak.

As soon as you turn on your swamp cooler, the water from the soaked pads is distributed via the blower so you feel cooling relief instantly. Once the water from the water supply valve reaches the pads, that water will re-saturate the pads so the cooling will last longer.

Cool Overnight or Early in the Morning

Another mistake that many swamp cooler owners make is cooling their homes at the wrong time. If you’ve used an air conditioner your entire life as main your cooling solution, then you might not even realize that what you’re doing qualifies as a mistake.

You probably turn on your AC in the afternoon between noon and 2 p.m. when the day is hottest, right? Or perhaps you hold out and wait until a bit later in the afternoon when the sun is still high in the sky.

These are the worst times to run your swamp cooler. The cooler relies on a steady supply of outdoor air, but this air shouldn’t be boiling hot. It takes longer to cool hot air than it does lukewarm or somewhat cool air. Not only will your swamp cooler work harder, but you won’t really notice that your home is much colder. If anything, you’re only maintaining the temperature in the house rather than bringing it down.

Skip peak hours when using a swamp cooler. In the morning, anytime from sunup to 10 a.m. is a good time to turn the cooler on. By the time the hottest hours of the day come around, your home will have already been significantly cooled. Do keep in mind that the swamp cooler can suck in pollen and other outdoor allergens early in the day that can make your allergy symptoms flare up.

The second ideal time for running your swamp cooler is overnight. The air is usually colder so your swamp cooler can work efficiently. Allergy sufferers won’t have to worry about bringing pollen into the house either. When the morning comes, you can usually power off your swamp cooler since your home will be comfortable.

Use Cold Water

Cold water will do all the things for your swamp cooler that you had hoped ice would achieve, including cooling the evaporative pads quickly so you can get cold air from your swamp cooler. Even better is that regular tap water is usually cold enough to do this. The average temperature of tap water is 50 degrees, which is perfect for your swamp cooler.

Change the Evaporative Pads

The evaporative pads of your swamp cooler, while durable, might not last forever. Every few months–and especially if your swamp cooler has an offseason–you want to inspect the pads. If they’re cracked or damaged, then they have to go.

Otherwise, you might get three to five years out of a set of evaporative pads. If yours are in poor condition, continuing to use them will cause the swamp cooler to operate less efficiently, which is only to your detriment.

Try a Different Swamp Cooler Position

Did you know that where you put the swamp cooler in your home matters? Make sure you’re not overestimating the cooling capacity of the swamp cooler. Very rarely can one swamp cooler provide cooling for the entire home unless you have an industrial-level one that cools computer server rooms.

Your swamp cooler will run its best if it’s placed in a room that’s a reasonable square footage for its operating capacity. Angle the cooler so it’s aimed towards you just as you would an oscillating fan. You’ll feel the maximum coldness of the swamp cooler like this.

Prioritize Swamp Cooler Maintenance

The evaporative pads are but one part of your swamp cooler that needs maintenance from time to time. Keep the exterior of the unit clean. Clean the water tank, wiping it down with water and dish soap. Check the fans and air intake grilles, as these may need vacuuming. When dust, dirt, or other blockages impede any part of the evaporative cooling process, your swamp cooler won’t work as intended.

Final Thoughts

Putting ice in your swamp cooler will not deliver the results you were hoping for. First, the ice would have to melt, which takes over a minute per cube. Then the swamp cooler can send the water to the evaporative pads. Save your time and use cold water instead, as it doesn’t have to melt!


Geoff Southworth is the creator of, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.

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