Instructions for Making an Iceless Refrigerator
In the past these types of coolers were common in parts of the United States. I have seen them still in use in the American Southwest. They work best in a hot dry climate, since they depend on evaporation for cooling.
Make a wooden or PVC pipe frame approximately 48 -58 inches high by 12 -18 inches wide and deep. Cover the outside with a wire screen or hardware cloth. The covering should be something that preferably will not rust and will keep insects out. The top should be screen and the bottom solid. Make a door for one side and hang it on hinges or leather straps. Use a hook or a button for a latch.
The inside shelves can be fixed or adjustable and should be made of a frame covered with wire fencing such as chicken wire or hardware cloth. This will allow airflow.
Paint the wooden frames with whatever type of paint you have available. If you do not have paint, use linseed or cooking oil and give it time to dry.
Next, make a cover of burlap, flannel, or any heavy, coarse, water-absorbent cloth. Put the smooth side of the material on the outside. Attach the cover around the top of the frame with nails, buttons, etc. Leave a flap for the door to open.
Place a 2-4 inch deep pan on top of the frame. Sew strips of cloth to the top of the cover and extend them into the top pan. They will act as a wick to draw water into the cover.
Place a second pan under the bottom of the frame and make sure the bottom of the cover reaches into it.
Stand the refrigerator in a shady place where there is good airflow. The refrigerator works when you fill both pans with water. The water wicks into the cover and saturates it. The airflow causes an evaporative action similar to a swamp cooler. You can jump-start the refrigerator by first pouring water over the cover. The faster the rate of evaporation gets, the cooler the temperature.
A collapsible variation of this refrigerator was often used at campsites. It was hung from a tree branch out of the reach of animals.
These will by no means equal a modern refrigerator, but one that is working well reportedly can cool down into the 50’s F.
See the drawing below.