Household Cleaning: How To Prevent Bad Smells In A Swamp Or Evaporative Cooler

Evaporative (or "swamp") coolers are a part of everyday life in the southwestern United States, and require regular maintenance to prevent bad smells.

In order to keep a swamp cooler maintained properly, it's best to know its parts and how it works. The cooler is basically a big box, with four vented, removable panels. Each panel holds a pad that absorbs moisture from a water line and a pump that resides near the bottom of the box. There is also a motor and a fan, which serve to push the air inside the box, which has been cooled as much as 20 degrees by the pads, into the house. This is the basic concept of evaporative cooling. It is a very cost-effective way to keep a home cool in low humidity climates, such as New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and parts of southern California.

The first step to keeping evaporatively cooled air fresh is to keep the panels clean. The water in the southwestern US tends to be very hard and full of minerals. This causes the panels on the cooler to become encrusted and plugged with calcium deposits as they are exposed to the constant moisture of the pads. At the beginning of the cooling season, clean each panel inside and out with a long-handled, stiff wire brush. These brushes can be purchased at any home improvement store and are often found amongst swamp cooler parts and accessories. Make sure each vent is completely clear of deposits, as this will allow for better air draw.

The next step is cooler pads. There are two basic types: straw pads and synthetic pads (often referred to as "green" pads). They can come pre-cut or in rolls. The rolled type is better because cooler panels can vary in size and rolled pads can be cut to an exact size to fit. Better-fitting pads will allow the cooler to work more efficiently. Straw pads are less expensive, but they have their drawbacks. They are more prone to mold and mildew and therefore odors, and must often be changed two to three times during the cooling season. Straw pads can also contribute to allergy symptoms in sensitive individuals. Green pads, although more costly, are a better option as they last through a whole season, do not promote mildew or odors and are hypoallergenic. One thing to note: if the cooler is turned off for maintenance or because it is not needed, the pads will dry out and will create an unpleasant odor once the cooler is operating again. This is temporary and will go away once the pads are completely moistened. Also, the pads should be removed at the end of the cooling season, or they will dry out and attach themselves firmly to the panels, making them very hard to remove the following year.

While the above-mentioned maintenance is the key, there are products on the market that can be added to the sump water at the bottom of the cooler to prevent bad odors. Some people even add ordinary fabric softener to combat odor, but this is not a good idea, as it tends to clog the pads and water pump, and can lead to a very strong, cloying fragrance in the home that is difficult to eradicate.

With a little time and basic maintenance, a swamp cooler will run smoothly and odor-free.

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