This is Why Your Swamp Cooler Smells Like Smoke

When you are enjoying a nice breeze in your home, courtesy of your swamp cooler, the last thing you want to smell is smoke. Smoke is not only an unpleasant smell, but it is also a sign of possible danger. Thankfully, when it comes to your swamp cooler, finding out the cause behind the smoke smell is fairly easy.

There can be multiple reasons why your swamp cooler is smelling like smoke. The seven most common reasons are:

  1. There is smoke outside that is blowing into the home.
  2. Your water pump needs to be replaced.
  3. The pads are dry or need to be replaced. 
  4. Your fan motor is improperly installed.
  5. The belt is too tight or too loose.
  6. The electrical wiring is not connected properly.
  7. There is too much voltage.

As you can see, there are several reasons why your swamp cooler could be smelling like smoke. In this article, the possible reasons behind the smoky smell and how to fix them will be discussed. Remember: It’s imperative to fix any of these problems immediately to avoid a potential fire hazard.

The 7 Reasons Why Your Swamp Cooler Smells Like Smoke

While a smoke smell is never a good thing, the good news is that most of the time finding and fixing a swamp cooler problem after smelling smoke is easy. First, you should take the steps needed to inspect your swamp cooler to find the problem. Once you find the issue, there should be no problems finding a solution and getting rid of that horrible smoke smell.

The article “How to Prevent a Swamp Cooler Motor from Overheating” from the doityourself website lists the steps you should take to inspect your swamp cooler properly, which are:

  • Take off the cover on the side wall.
  • Check the belt tension.
  • Inspect the shaft bearings.
  • Look over the electrical connections.
  • Ensure the cooler has the proper voltage.

After you have completed these steps, you should be able to identify which of the following seven issues is causing the smoke smell in your swamp cooler.

  1. There is Smoke Outside that is Blowing into the Home.
    • The first thing to check is if there is smoke blowing into the home from an outside source. Perhaps there is a fire burning nearby, or someone is smoking a cigarette or cigar right by your swamp cooler. Whatever the reason behind the smoke outside, if you think that is what is contributing to the smoke smell, then turn the swamp cooler off. 
    • For the most part, any smoke smell that was being generated from the outdoors should dissipate fairly quickly. Keep checking outside to see if this is the solution to the smell. Once you no longer smell a smoky odor outside, you can start up the swamp cooler again and be smoke-free.
  2. Your Water Pump Needs to be Replaced.
    • The water pump in your cooler is exactly that: the piece of equipment that is designed to pump water over the filter pads of the swamp cooler, resulting in the refreshing, cool air circulating throughout your home. However, if your water pump isn’t working properly, then it won’t be pushing water through the swamp cooler to the pads, which is essential for the cooler’s functionality.
    • A broken or old water pump can cause a smoke smell in your swamp cooler. In addition to the fact that it’s producing a smoky odor, it’s also not allowing the swamp cooler to do its job. With a lack of water, the fan motor and pads will begin to overheat, which can also make the swamp cooler smell like smoke.
    • A basic rule of thumb is to replace the water pump once a year. Following this rule will reduce the risk of a damaged water pump, which can cause problems to your cooler. However, if you notice a problem with your water pump before the year mark, replace it immediately.
  3. The Pads are Dry or Need to be Replaced.
    • Dried out pads are a fire waiting to happen. Suleika Acosta, a reporter for KOLD News 13, described just how hazardous swamp coolers could be when she reported on a roof fire in Tuscon, Arizona, that was started by a swamp cooler installed into a roof. 
    • The pads of your swamp cooler need to be wet to operate properly. If they aren’t, then they will overheat very quickly. When the heat begins to spread from the dried out pads, your cooler is in danger of catching on fire.
    • So, how can you avoid this potential disaster? The best thing to do is to replace your pads every year and inspect them regularly. Think about replacing the pads at the same time as you replace the water pump. This will reduce any potential problems that can occur. 
    • You should always make sure that you inspect your pads regularly, at least once a week. If you smell smoke, then the pads should be one of the first things you check.
  4. Your Fan Motor is Improperly Installed.
    • Your swamp cooler fan can give you some issues. If it is not installed properly, it has a high risk of overheating and giving off a smoky odor. Make sure that your swamp cooler fan is installed properly. Double-check with the user manual to make sure it is in the right spot, installed correctly, and can handle its workload without overheating.
    • Keep in mind that an old fan motor can also overheat, so it’s important to replace them regularly, too. You can wait a bit over a year before replacing the fan motor. However, it’s a good idea to replace the fan motor with the water pump and pads for convenience and peace of mind. 
  5. The Belt is Too Tight or Too Loose.
    • A belt that is too loose will start slipping and not work properly, and a belt that is far too tight won’t be able to function at all. It is important to be sure that your swamp cooler belt has the correct tension. The correct tension should leave around one inch of slack 
    • If you notice that there is anything wrong with the belt, such as cracks or tears, then you will need to replace it immediately. 
  6. The Electrical Wiring is not Connected Properly.
    • The electrical wiring of your swamp cooler is a critical part of the overall functionality. If there is anything wrong with the electrical wiring or connections, you are setting yourself up for overheating. Think about it this way: Your swamp cooler runs on water and electricity, and if they cross paths, the results can be devastating.
    • Before running your swamp cooler, always make sure that the connections and wires are correctly installed. You should also pay attention to the switches because a bad switch can end up causing the motor to overheat and turn off altogether. 
  7. There is Too Much Voltage.
    • Every motor on swamp coolers will require a different voltage setting. It is crucial to know the correct voltage for your swamp cooler. If there is too much voltage in your cooler, the motor is going to overheat. At this point, you can expect a smoky smell as well as a swamp cooler that doesn’t work at all.
    • To know how much voltage your swamp cooler is designed to have, you can look on the side of your swamp cooler’s motor. It will say how much voltage is necessary for operation. However, remember that you should only run around 60% of the voltage capacity to avoid damage. 
    • Too much voltage can cause a lot of trouble for your swamp cooler. Not only do you risk an overheated motor, but you can also cause a great deal of damage to the overall wiring of the device. 


A smoke smell coming from your swamp cooler can be alarming, but most of the time, it’s an easy fix. For the most part, dried out pads are a major concern as well as an old water pump. Always inspect your swamp cooler before using it, taking extra care to check the installation of the fan motor, the belt, and the electrical wiring.

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