An evaporative cooler is a device that cools air through the simple evaporation of water. Evaporative cooling differs from air conditioning by refrigeration and absorptive refrigeration, which use vapor-compression or absorption refrigeration cycles.

Evaporative cooling is a physical phenomenon in which evaporation of a liquid, typically into surrounding air, cools an object or a liquid in contact with it. Latent heat describes the amount of heat that is needed to evaporate the liquid; this heat comes from the liquid itself and the surrounding gas and surfaces. When considering water evaporating into air, the wet-bulb temperature, as compared to the air's dry-bulb temperature, is a measure of the potential for evaporative cooling. The greater the difference between the two temperatures, the greater the evaporative cooling effect. When the temperatures are the same, no net evaporation of water in air occurs, thus there is no cooling effect.

A simple example of natural evaporative cooling is perspiration, or sweat, which the body secretes in order to cool itself. The amount of heat transfer depends on the evaporation rate, which in turn depends on the humidity of the air and its temperature, which is why one's sweat accumulates more on hot, humid days; the perspiration cannot evaporate.

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