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Air Conditioners, Air Coolers and Fans – What’s the Difference and How Do They Work?

man cooling down with a fan

May 9, 2018 by Chris Chapman

Stay Cool at Home or at Work with the Right Air Cooling Solution for You

If you’ve been researching ways to keep cool in summer, you’ve probably come across three different products over and over again. Those products are air conditioners, air coolers, and electric fans. You’d be forgiven for thinking that they’re all the same, but there are actually some very important differences between them. While it’s true that air con, air coolers and fans all keep you cool, they all work in very different ways. This means that understanding what each one does – and the pros and cons of each – can help you decide which one is right for you!

With that in mind, you should read our simple guide to the differences between air con, air coolers, and fans below. Once you know what each product does, it’ll be much easier for you to pin down the best one for you!

Air Con

Air con units always need somewhere to vent the warm air they produce

First up are air conditioners. These units use refrigerant gas to cool down warm air and then blow that cooled air around the room with fans. Air con units are very popular because they’re the best at actually cooling down warm air! They work in a similar way to the common fridge, except instead of keeping cool air locked inside, air con units blow that Baltic breeze around your room. An important technical detail is that, to cool the air that they then blow around the room, air con units have to transfer the heat from that air somewhere else. They do this by venting out any warm air through an exhaust hose, which is usually fed through a window or another passage, and to the great outdoors, so remembering to have somewhere to feed the exhaust is very important when looking at air con units.

However, this super-cool air comes at a price – literally! Air con units tend to be the most expensive cooling solution as they’re the most complex. As the machinery and gas inside is quite heavy, air con units are also much less portable, meaning they commonly require professional installation (although you can get smaller, lighter portable air conditioners that you can wheel around). All of this means that air con units are great and reliable ways to cool down large, open spaces like shop floors. However, if you only want to cool a small kitchen, you might not need to splash out on one!

Air Coolers

air cooler

Air coolers are often confused with air conditioners, but they’re actually quite different. There’s no gas or complex machinery inside an air cooler, meaning they’re much smaller, much more portable, and much cheaper than air con units. They’ll also cost you much less on your electricity bill! Air coolers suck in warm air, which passes through a damp pad on the inside of the unit. The pad is kept moist with a tank of cold water that sits inside the unit, and as the water evaporates from the pad, it sucks the heat out of the air! This freshly cooled air is then circulated around the room with a fan. Naturally, as the air has passed through a damp surface, it retains a lot of that moisture, meaning air coolers can also double up as a humidifier on dry days.

The evaporative cooling of air coolers is similar to the way the wind cools as it blows over a lake. This gives you a natural-feeling breeze which is great for well-ventilated living rooms, offices and boardrooms where you might not need the power of an air conditioner. However, air coolers are not air conditioners and you shouldn’t expect the same results from them. For best results, they need to be placed by an open door or window so they can circulate the breeze better, meaning for large or enclosed areas like warehouses, air coolers may be less effective.


Fans have come a long way in the last 5000 years, but the principle is the same as it ever was!

The trusty fan is thousands of years old now, and it’s still going strong! The earliest evidence of fans stretches back to over 5000 years ago, and while the fans of today are usually powered by electricity rather than our elbows, the principle is still the same! Fans don’t actually cool the air down, but what they do is blow warm air away from your body and replace it with cooler, drier air. The tried-and-true simplicity of fans makes them easily the most cost-effective way to keep cool in the heat.

This means small fans are perfect for cooling you off and if they’re big and powerful enough, fans can even be used to circulate cool air around a room of virtually any size. Fans come in all shapes and sizes – so many, in fact, we had to write a completely separate guide to fans in order to cover them all – but do bear in mind that fans don’t actually cool the air. They circulate it and replace warm air with cooler air, which in turn makes us feel cooler. If your room or workplace is stiflingly hot and stuffy, a fan might not be too effective, as all it’ll do is circulate the warm air and replace it with slightly less warm air!

Now that you know all about the differences between air con units, air coolers, and fans, you might be wondering what that means for you. If that’s the case, read our complete guide to staying cool to work out which cooling solution is right for you! Whether you’re looking to keep chilled in the bedroom or to take the heat off at work, don’t sweat! Just click the link above and if you’re still not sure, give our cool team of experts a call on 0800 091 3171 or use the live chat function on and we’ll give you more personal advice.


Air Cooling & Air Conditioning

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