Six ways to cool down — without cranking the A/C, getting in the pool, or turning on a fan

July 25 |
By: Olgierd RudakCC BY 2.0

Iowa's been the center of the US heat wave this month, so I'm going to take this opportunity to moan a bit and plead for your sympathy. And gifts. And hugs. …But it's been hot everywhere. About this time your A/C is probably also crying out for a reprieve, but we've got a ways to go before we're clear of the heat.

Now's the time to employ strategy: outsmart the heat, stay cool, and save money. But what can you do other than sit in front of the fan and visualize snowy scenes?

Lots! If you're ready to get serious about your thermoregulation, here are six ways to be cool.

Spicy food

This one's my favorite because it involves eating tasty things. Capsaicin, the heat-maker in hot foods, triggers perspiration. Who wants to sweat, right? The trick is this: you're sweating but not actually raising your body temperature, as you would when you work out. Sure you're sweating, but your body jumps straight into cooling off.

If you don't have a go-to spicy recipe, I'll lend you mine:

Egg & Feta Burritos

  • Eggs
  • Feta
  • Corn tortillas
  • Salsa
  • Onions
  • Hot peppers (optional)
  1. Chop onions and saute in a frying pan with oil until translucent. Add chopped hot peppers if desired, and saute for an additional minute.
  2. Crack eggs in pan and scramble.
  3. When eggs are nearly done, crumble in feta cheese. Remove pan from heat.
  4. Layer corn tortillas in between two plates and microwave for 45 seconds.
  5. Add salsa to eggs, mix, and spoon into tortillas. Eat up and sweat away!

Rubbing alcohol

One day in elementary school I stayed home sick with a high fever. My grandmother took care of me, and brought me all the string cheese and jelly beans my heart desired, but my fever wasn't breaking — it kept rising. When it registered 104, I panicked; we'd just learned in science class that a human's max temperature is 106 degrees Fahrenheit. I told my grandmother we needed to go to the doctor.

But grams was stubborn. She'd raised eight younger siblings and five kids and none of them had died — why start worrying about me? She whipped out the alcohol, rubbed me down, and within minutes my fever was a cool 100.

So if you're hot, dab a bit of alcohol on your wrists, ankles, neck and forehead, and you'll shed a few degrees fast. Do use caution, however: there is some danger to using rubbing alcohol in this manner, especially on kiddos. Personally, I don't care — I've used it before and I'll use it again; but I'll do it in moderation and keep it away from children.

Make tea

Молочный шар
Hey! I very clearly said tea bags…but flowering teas are just too pretty. Photo by mckros. Used under Creative Commons license.

And save the tea bags. Wrap the bags in a towel or seal them in tupperware to keep moisture in and chill them in the fridge for a bit, then wrap them around your wrists. Why do I keep advising you to do things to your wrists? Mighty big veins run close to the skin through our wrists and it's a primo place to cool the blood.

The tea bag trick works even better if you have a peppermint tea. The menthol gives an extra evaporatory jolt.

Chill the sheets

Heat is the worst when it's too hot to sleep. Here's a fix.

  1. Find a gym sock
  2. Fill sock with rice
  3. Tie off the end of the sock
  4. Throw the whole thing in the freezer
  5. At bedtime, slip the sock under your sheets at the foot of the bed. The rice holds cold for a long time because it's dense and starchy, and it'll help you cool off enough to fall asleep.

Ice your lotions

I learned this trick as a lifeguard: if you pop your sunscreen in the refrigerator it feels amaaaaaaaazing. Plus, the cold helps the active ingredients stay active for longer. If you don't use sunscreen, switch this up for your regular moisturizer.

Allow yourself to acclimate

If you allow your body to get used to a temperature that isn't 72 degrees with 35% humidity, you'll fare better. If you have A/C, bump the thermostat up a bit. If you have A/C and a basement, bump it up even more and rely on the basement to be your haven in the heat. When you're used to the inside of your house being 75-80, a walk outside on a 90 degree day won't seem nearly as bad.

Cat Conspiracy
Photo by Craig Elliot. Used under Creative Commons license.

What's your non-A/C secret for beating the heat? Share it in the comments, so we can all lounge together.

  1. Ah, Iowa summers. I don't miss those hot sticky nights one bit. My mom never turned on the AC and my bedroom was on the second floor above the kitchen. All that hot air rose right into my little bedroom.

    My favorite trick was sticking my bedsheets in the freezer. They'd usually stay cool long enough to let me go to sleep. A cold washcloth on the forehead does wonders, too.

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  2. I've used the rice bag trick so much this summer. I've sewn a ton of bags with scrap and filled them with rice. I use them in winter to keep warm too. We've made pureed fruit popsicles, we freeze our yogurt, we stick clean t-shirts in the freezer too. I mean, the freezer is on anyway, might as well use it!

    1 agrees
  3. Another way to keep cool while sleeping (though it does require a fan): get your sheets or pajamas moist with water. Aim a fan right at your bed; the evaporation feels cool even if you're unpleasantly damp. Keep a spray bottle of water handy in case you wake up. It may not feel awesomely comfortable, but this trick works better than you'd expect.

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    • I did this a LOT the summer I spent in a stifling Fargo apartment with no AC and no cross-ventilation. Ugh. But it helped me get to sleep. I also do the rice trick but I put the rice bags on my neck and on the inside of my thighs with the idea that I might be able to cool down my blood by aiming the cold at the major arteries. (I don't know if this actually works in the way I think it does, but it sure does help me cool down and sleep, so I don't really care.)

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    • I've used a damp to wet facecloth on my forehead and over my eyes in a similar way. Also helps with headaches!

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    • Like like like! It's winter in Australia now, but 6 months ago this was exactly my strategy every single night.

      Oh also!! MY FAVOURITEST THING EVER!!:
      My house doesn't have a/c, or even insulation (which is nuts!), so after we got tired of the house hoarding heat and our doors-and-windows-open technique not actually cooling down the house overnight, we set up our tent in the backyard without the fly over the top. So it was just a big mosquito net. It was AMAZING! I actually slept through the night and only woke up once in the wee-hours of morning to pull the blanket over me. I actually got cold!! AMAZING!! So yes, if you have a backyard and a tent, go for it!

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      • That is a great idea! It would be fun as well as cooling!

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        • it was quite the novelty! We set the tent up under a tree to shade us from the early morning sun. The coolest bit for me was seeing birds sleep in the branches (not directly) above and hear them quietly warble/chirp in the middle of the night. And seeing the stars as we went to sleep.

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  4. At night I soak a washcloth in cold water and keep it by the bed. We have a fan trained right on the bed, and when I get hot I swipe the damp washcloth across my limbs – the water cools you as it evaporates in the breeze. You can also just use aloe, especially if you have sunburn. This summer, we've had some success with freezing a plastic jug of water and placing it in front of a fan set on high. As air blows past the icy jug, it cools a bit. We just need to find the best jug-shape for this purpose. Speaking of fans, don't underestimate the power of using a fan to exhaust hot air from your house. If it's going to be hotter outdoors than in, turn those puppies around and force warm air outside, while keeping the hot air ALSO outside!

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  5. I like peppermint essential oil diluted in water as a spray, or a few drops mixed in with lotion. Ahhh.

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    • I've also used peppermint oil (diluted) on my wrists, and the back of my neck. Lovely!!

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  6. Someone told me this trick: the tongue is the body's thermostat – if it feels cool, the body will think it is cool. When you are warm, breath cooler air in through the mouth, to allow the air to cool the tongue, and breath out the moist hot air through the nose, bypassing the tongue. Do the reverse when you are cold.

    I can't speak to the cooling off technique, but the warming-up one helped this past winter!

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    • There is actually an Ayurvedic/yogic technique to cool one down that uses this trick. Roll the tongue and then breathe in through your mouth. It makes the air you take in feel even cooler.

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  7. I'm also known to sit around the house in a swimsuit. Like, 3-4 days of the week I've been wearing my one piece and nothing else.

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  8. Just be sure your pets are okay with the house temperature if you decide to keep it warmer in the house, particularly if you're gone for the day and aren't there to monitor them.

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    • I set up a big box fan to blow air from the coolest part of the house across the hard wood floor. You can put a frozen jug of water in front of the fan to make the breeze cooler. My dog and cat both knew how to find the cool spot! If your pet can move around, they can find the coolest part of the house. And if you crate your dog, make sure they have ice water in their crate and an oscillating fan. Or if you can air condition even one room with a window unit, put their crate in that room for the day.

      I also opened up all the windows as night and then shut them up during the day, covering as many windows that get sun as possible. I made makeshift curtains for the windows that don't normally have curtains to block out as much sun as possible.

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  9. One thing that helps quite a bit is to keep the sun out – if you have a window, or series of windows, that the sun shines in/on/through at any point during the day, keep that window covered during that part of the day. It might mean that your house isn't very well lit during the day, but it is worth it. And of course leave your doors and windows closed as long as it's warmer outside than it is inside.

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    • This. When my family lived on the 2nd floor, it was basically an oven during the summer. My dad got the idea to cover all the windows in tin foil, he said to block out the UV rays which are what causes rooms to heat up. Not only was it nice and dark for me to sleep, it felt a bit cooler.

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    • That one is super useful. I also used to use reflective car shades in my windows when I lived in Iowa with minimal AC. It reflected the sunlight back out and kept the house cooler and shady. It's a trick I still use with AC living in Virginia. Helps with the electric bill, if nothing else.

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  10. A spray bottle of water and a little peppermint oil – just spritz all over bare skin. :)

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    • A shower with peppermint dr bronners keeps you way cool. Or anything involving getting peppermint essential oil on your skin.

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  11. This past week has been death. My city was registered as the hottest city in Canada, and we broke temp. records. I am a lifeguard at a very busy outdoor pool, and while I truly love my job, it was tortuous. You are watching everyone cool down and escape the heat, while you are standing on a hot cement pool deck in 120 degrees+ heat, no shade, for an hour or more. We totally jump in the pool after our bump rotations, but you cant until your on your break. My supervisor actually suffered from heat exhaustion.

    You bet that these tips are getting used. Anything to beat the disgusting heat.

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    • I hear you. Every summer I miss lifeguarding…until it gets to be the warmest week of the year. And then I remember how awful it can be. Good luck and stay cool!

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  12. I found a bottle of aloe vera spray-on lotion that I keep in the fridge throughout summer. Heaven after spending a couple of hours in the sun.
    And if you're camping, chuck a light scarf in the ice-water of your esky. Wring it out and wear around your shoulders for instant cooling… I could not survive Australian bush doofs without doing this!

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  13. I've heard that filling the bathtub with cold water can help cool a house. Its supposed to create a heat sink. I don't know if it actually works, but it sounds like it should.

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    • Yup. I've done this for years now, and I definitely notice the difference. The smaller the place you live in, the more effective it is. It's not going to make it nice and cold, but I've seen it drop the temps by a couple of degrees, at least.

      As a bonus, it also means you have a built-in wading pool in your house! (I may have tossed in an ice cube tray's worth of ice into mine last Friday when the temperatures here…I live a little northwest of Boston…hit 103. My cat thought I was nuts, but I was much happier with my feet in the nice, cold water!)

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  14. I wanted to buy blackout curtains for our bedroom, but they are a wee bit out of our price range at the moment. Fortunately, we had a set of very thick, black towels hanging around, so we covered the bedroom windows with those, and they did the trick. It helped to lower the temp in our bedroom by a few degrees, and also made the room dark enough for afternoon naps! Other people in our building seem to be doing the same, using towels, winter blankets, poster board, or tinfoil on their windows to keep the light out. This might not fly depending on your landlord or housing community, but it's worth a shot if proper blackout curtains or shades aren't possible.

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    • If you know a friend with a sewing machine, it's absolutely worth it to pick up some heavy and/or dark fabric at the fabric store and make some. We made two curtains for our bedroom and then hung them with fabric cord and wall hooks (cheaper than buying curtain rod kits!).

      I think the total cash cost was around $30 for materials and it took me half an hour to hem the bottom and sew a thing (hole? tunnel?) for the cord on top. I got a really nice fabric that holds together well so I didn't need to hem the sides!

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      • Ooh, I just had a great experience with Liquid Stitch — an acrylic glue for fabrics. You could make new panels with that in a snap.

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      • You also want white facing the outside of the building, so the dark fabric doesn't attract heat! ;D

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  15. I sleep with an ice pack (wrapped of course) stuck between my boobs or shoved in my pillow. Its a amazing! My 1930s house has no a/c and 8 total outlets for fans and such and is always hotter than it is out side

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    • Cold things in the cleavage is amazing. AMAZING.

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  16. I grew up in a house without A/C, and our middle-of-the-summer sleeping trick was very simple: Don't sleep on the bed. We'd all camp out in the (finished) basement, with thin camping mattresses on the floor. It was the coolest place in the house, and the ground didn't hold heat like a mattress-and-sheet would.

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  17. One summer night, when I was living with my dad and we had no a/c or fan, it felt like it had hit 100 degrees and the air was completely still, so I soaked a towel in cold water and slept on it. It was the only way I could fall asleep… If that hadn't worked, my plan was to sleep in a bathtub of cold water…

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    • We did this every summer as kids! Mama'd soak a towel in cool water, wring it out over our heads and we'd go to bed with a cool towel and wet hair–cooled us as it evaporated, dried as we slept! My dad thought we were all mad ;)

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  18. An email group I'm part of shared a lot of tricks last summer. The one I remember is to buy a set of beech rayon sheets (Bed Bath and Beyond has them). They're not cheap, but rayon is cooler-feeling than cotton. Then, take a lukewarm shower before bed and don't dry off–just wrap the sheet around your wet self and go to bed like that. Cool rayon + cool water + evaporation, and you stay cool enough to sleep.

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  19. When our air conditioner died last month we spent a week in the 100* heat (I'm in Kansas City). To help keep heat out, we put foil over several windows (the part that doesn't open, anyway), had fans going, and stuck our heads in the freezer occasionally. At night, which was the worst, I kept a wet washcloth on my face and neck so I could sleep.

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  20. these are all great ideas, but remember in that heat you need to stay hydrated. Especially if you're relying on sweat to cool you off. Keep that water cup full! Cooling off your insides will cool off your outsides and keep you healthy.

    that being said…My trick? In the morning I make double the amount of coffee I'm planning on having with breakfast. Then in the afternoon when its too hot to think, I pour the leftovers into a cup of ice. Ahhh

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    • I was gonna say–stay hydrated! STAY HYDRATED. Never ever underestimate the benefits of staying hydrated. If you're also sweating a ton, make sure you get some electrolytes–salt, sugar, potassium. (If you're eating regularly, you probably don't need to worry about electrolytes, just if you're not eating AND drinking lots of water.) And cool water is better for your insides than ice water.

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  21. Ahhhh… I love you! On the last stretch of pregnant and during this time of year it is all I can do but turn on the AC. Thank you so much for the tips!

    I have another recommendation. Rinse off in the shower and make sure to get your entire head wet. This especially helps when you have a mop of thick hair; towel dry so you don't drip. Then turn on a fan and sit in front of it. Make sure socks and shoes are off and if still hot dampen a washcloth and wrap around your wrists. So lovely.

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  22. Ayurveda recommends keep your internal body temperature perception lower in the summer by eating watery cooling foods like watermelon, cucumber, sweet fruits and vegetables, etc. Also the bitter taste has a cooling after effect – I swear by grapefruit seed extract in the summer. 5-10 drops in my juice a few times a day helps a lot.

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  23. It's so funny to think that 100 is hot for some people…I realize the humidity plays a huge role in the ickiness factor of heat, but we regularly get up to 110 here, and I'm still out riding my bike in 116.

    That said, I have tips! Get a hat/scarf sopping wet, possibly full of ice cubes or an ice pack, and wear it. I worked outside during the summer a few years ago, and this kept me from collapsing.

    Ice your wrists, inner thighs, balls of your feet and back of the neck. If you are a girl, sleep with something absorbent and/or cold in your cleavage.

    Carry water with you at all times, particularly a water bottle left in the freezer overnight. Cold water, and ice pack, all the time.

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  24. A couple years ago, I was in the desert & had to work outside. I soaked a long-sleeve fitted shirt in ice-cold cooler water, wrung it out, and wore it–instantly I felt awake instead of sleepy from the heat! Worked wonders. Been using similar idea on the neck for years, too–there are cooling products with some kind of gel bead inside that are made especially for that.

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  25. I fill my CamelBak with ice and then top it off with water before walking to the bus, then I have a nice cool back and cold water to suck on on the hot, crowded bus. Who cares if I look like a little kid with my hot pink mini mule? I've got ice on my back!

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    • Not having AC works for us about 49 weeks of the year. The worst is when the heatwaves come on the weekends and the library is closed and its not worth the walk into town for AC.

      Avoid cold showers and wrapping yourself or pets in cold towels. Cool is great, but if it's cold enough, the blood vessels with constrict, as a way to warm the body. Not what you're looking for!

      1 agrees
      • Cool water works wonders. I used to use ice water on my feet, but I swear it made me hotter 10 minutes later than I was before. Then I looked it up and found that cool water is the way to go!

        The best place to cool your body is on your neck where you can feel your pulse. LOTS of blood goes through there, so put that cool towel on your neck!

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