A cooling tower functions as a heat exchanger where water and air are placed in contact with each other to reduce the temperature of the water. As the cooling tower introduces the air to water, part of the water evaporates, which reduces its temperature as it circulates through the tower.

A cooling tower is typically used to cool down water that has been heated due to air-conditioning condensing or an industrial process. The water is moved towards the cooling tower through a series of pipes. The water is then sprayed into multiple material banks through nozzles. This slows down the water's flow as it moves through the cooling tower. The slowed movement maximizes the amount of the water's surface area that is exposed, giving it the highest possibility of air to water contact.

As water moves through a cooling water, the structure exposes it to air. The air is pulled into the cooling tower by fans that are designed to efficiently move large volumes of air with as little vibration as possible. Water that goes through a cooling tower will have its volume slightly diminished as some of it evaporates as it comes into contact with air. Once the water is cooled, the cooling tower pumps it back towards any connected industrial equipment or condenser.