The present study focuses on the thermodynamic analysis of zeolite–water and activated carbon–ethanol based adsorption cooling systems. The performance of the system depends critically on four operating temperatures namely maximum desorption temperature, minimum adsorption temperature, condensing temperature, and evaporating temperature and also on the ratio of specific heat of structural material and the specific heat of adsorbent. Dubinin–Astakhov equation is used to estimate the equilibrium uptake of working pairs. A comparative study is made between these working pairs for the air-conditioning applications. © 2020, Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.