How do you survive a brutal heat wave when you don’t have air conditioning? I’m walking proof that it can be done! Read on for my top tips on staying moderately cool without central AC!
If you haven’t heard, a good chunk of the US (including my home in the Poconos) is getting ready to deal with some brutal heat this weekend. I can’t imagine that this will be our only major “heat event” of the summer. Our home doesn’t have central AC. We do have one small window unit in one bedroom but it doesn’t reach the downstairs and we don’t run it at night (it’s ancient and not very energy efficient), so we have to find other ways to cool down, especially now that we’re spending A LOT more time at home!
All of these tips assume that you can’t do just go and install AC (you wouldn’t be looking for tips on staying cool with air conditioning if that was an option, after all). I’ve also left off the oh-so-helpful (sarcasm) tips like “plant shady trees,” because I’m assuming you want to cool down in your lifetime rather than wait a few decades for them to grow!
Last note: this post does use some affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I earn a small commission at no extra charge to you. Thanks!
How to Stay Cool Without Air Conditioning
Staying cool without AC is definitely a trial-and-error challenge. While very few of these tips on their own will cool you down enough to make the heat bearable, if you combine as many as possible you just might survive this heat wave with your sanity in check!
Windows & Door Smarts
Start but cutting off the heat at the source: your windows and doors.
1. Close your blinds when it’s sunny out
First things first, go close those blinds or curtains! You don’t want the sun pouring in and heating up your already sweltering home. Bonus points if you have blackout curtains, as they’ll help keep even more sunlight out. If a house full of closed curtains makes you feel claustrophobic, go ahead and open them up once the sun sets.
Want to make your own blackout curtains? Check out this video tutorial:
2. Open & close windows at the right times
Along with closing the curtains, you’ll also want to close your window during the height of the heat. We open ours in the morning and night when it’s cooler outside than it is inside. Then, before the heat really kicks up mid-morning, I close them all again. This helps trap some of that cooler air inside while stopping some of the hot air from creeping in. Some. Not all, but it’s better than nothing!
3. Get creative with sun shades for cars
If you don’t want to drop a small fortune on curtains (why are they so freaking expensive???), buy a few cheap car sun shades or covers instead and use them to block the sun from coming in through your windows. Sure, they’re not exactly pretty, but hey, we’re trying to stay cool without AC here, not increase our curb appeal.
Something like these below can easily be cut up into multiple window coverings:
4. Go the super cheap yet super ugly route!
If you’re totally broke or don’t feel like running out and buying shades, try this cheap (but ugly) hack instead: flatten cardboard boxes and tape enough together so that you have one panel large enough to cover your window. Now, cover that cardboard with aluminum foil and place it against your window, foil side facing out.
Yep, it’s totally ugly and does absolutely nothing for your curb appeal, but the foil will reflect sunlight and heat. Of course, you could get fancy and make them pretty, like this tutorial:
5. Open the right doors
While you may want to close off unused rooms to keep them from stealing what little cool air you have, it’s also a good idea to open up rooms to naturally cooler areas. Our garage and basement, for example, stays cool almost year-round. We can’t leave the doors to them wide-open because of the cats and dog, but we can open them a crack and let some of that cool air up. If you don’t have pets, go ahead and swing them wide open.
6. Move your shades to the outside of your window
I can’t recall where I read this, but it made a lot of sense. By the time the sun & heat hits your shades, it’s already made its way inside your house. Installing blinds on the outside help prevent it from ever penetrating your windows in the first place. You can do the same with #3 & 4 if you don’t have shades.
7. Use a wet sheet as a window covering
This trick only works at night when you open those windows again. You’ll want to take down any fancy curtains first and make sure you have a good strong curtain rod.
Now, run a sheet under cold water and wring it out (or toss it in the cold rinse & spin cycles of your washing machine), then hang it over your open window for a no-tech evaporative cooling system.
Creative Ice & Freezer Tricks for Staying Cool without AC
These tricks need nothing more than a freezer, an ice tray and maybe a few extra normal household supplies!
8. Make giant ice packs
Right now, go fill a huge Ziplock bag full of cold water and seal it up. Now stick it in another Ziplock bag, squeeze out all of the air, and toss the whole shebang in your freezer. Repeat until you have about three or so.
Tonight, while you’re sitting on your couch reading or watching TV in the dark (because light makes heat, see below), wrap one in a lightweight towel and stick it behind your back. When it melts, throw it back in the freezer and swap it out for another. The giant blocks of ice take a lot longer to melt than smaller ice packs.
I actually have multiple ice packs surrounding me on my couch and they’ve made a huge difference. I also bought a set of these to fill up with ice and rotate out with my Ziplock bags:
- THREE SIZES DESIGN: [Large (11"), Medium (9"), Small (6")] - The small ice pack is perfect for children, or smaller aches and pains, while the two larger ones are great for teenagers and adults.
- LEAK-RESISTANT LARGE OPENING CAP: The cap opening is large to allow for easy filling of ice cubes or crushed ice.
- FAST RELIEF: Ideal for application of cold therapy to help reduce pain and swelling from minor scrapes, bruises, muscle aches, sprains and strains. Recommended to help relieve pain, reduce swelling, and speed recovery. Stays cold much longer than gel packs or other cold packs. Suitable for sport injury and first aid.
- HOT & COLD THERAPY: For cold therapy, simply fill the ice bag two third full with ice and water to relieve discomfort from headaches, bruises, migraines, muscle aches and swelling. For heat therapy, add hot water (not boiling, Notice: The temperature for hot water therapy is 50-60℃/122℉-140℉.) to help soothe an upset stomach, migraine, sinus and joint pain.
- A MUST-HAVE AT HOME: Keeps a handy ice bag in your work desk, car and home for grab-and-go comfort from pain. Whether you are experiencing the weekend hangover, headache or aching and soreness from a recent visit to your chiropractor, get the soothing relief from hot or cold therapy right away.
9. Freeze your clothes
I am a total freak who has to wear knee socks and long pajama pants to bed even when it’s 100+ degrees outside. I think it has to do with helping me feel more secure. Anyway, needless to say it’s not the best way to stay cool. Last night, I tried throwing my socks in the freezer for an hour or so before bedtime and it worked great!
So, it made me think, what else can I freeze? Shirts? Check! Shorts? Check! Pretty much anything that goes on your body can go in the freezer! Just put it in a baggie so you don’t gross your family out when they see your socks sitting on top of the pizza. Cotton works best because it retains some of the cold for a while and doesn’t get all crispy when cold.
10. Your sheets & pillow cases, too!
While you’re at it, toss your sheets and pillow cases in the freezer about an hour before bedtime, then take them out right before you go to sleep. I don’t have enough room in my freezer for my sheets but it worked great for my pillow case!
11. Chill your pulse points
This super simple trick requires nothing more than a single ice cube, and you can even get away with just using cold water. Rub that cube (or run very cold water) over your wrists for about a minute, then revel in the cool down. Repeat as needed throughout the day. You can also chill your underarms and the back of your neck for quick relief.
The Right Way to Use Fans to Stay Cool
I’ve never had central AC in my entire life (except when visiting family or staying at a hotel) so I’ve learned to be super creative with fans.
12. Turn them around
When it’s hot outside, you want those window fans to blow out your window instead of sucking more hot air in. Window fans that change directions are great but you can also just use a plain old box fan and turn it around to face out during the day, then in at night.
The trick, though, is to just turn one around. Basically, close all other windows in the room except the one with the fan.
13. Create a cross breeze
One fan isn’t really enough to cool you down, especially when it’s super hot outside. Really, all it does is just move hot air around the room. Instead, using multiple fans set up around the room to create a cross breeze. I have one set up right next to me on my nightstand then another larger one on the other side of my bed. Together, they nestle me inside a nice little wind vortex at night!
14. Rotate up when it’s hot, down when it’s cool
You probably already know this but I mention it just in case. If you have a ceiling fan, switch it to rotate upward when it’s hot and downward when it’s cool. Heat rises, so by having it spin downward you’re just sucking hot hair from your ceiling area and sending it down onto you. Rotating it up prevents this from happening and helps draw hot air away from you.
15. Stick ice in front of them
This trick works best if you have a box fan and/or a table that you can put in front of it. Fill a bowl with ice cubes and stick it in front of your fan at an angle so that the fan hits the ice and kind of whisks the coolness up and into the air.
16. Strategically position them to move cool air through your house
If you happen to have a single AC unit in a window or a room that stays relatively cool, take advantage of it by strategically staggering multiple fans throughout the house. We have a small window unit in one room, so we put a fan in the doorway of that room to blow the air into the hall, then a box fan on a table outside the room to pick up that cool air and blow it towards my son’s room (the hottest in the house) and downstairs. Another fan at the base of the steps blows cool(ish) air into the dining room (my office), and so on.
With enough fans, one tiny window unit cools down almost the whole house by a few degrees. It’s not as good as central air, of course, but every little bit helps! If you don’t have a window AC unit, use this trick to pull cool air from your basement or other cooler rooms. The key is to keep all of your windows closed so that none of that cool air finds its way outside (or hot air finds its way inside).
Skin Care Tricks That Will Cool You Down Fast
Aside from the obvious tips, like taking a cool shower and wetting your hair with cold water, there are other little skin care tricks that will help keep you cool.
17. Soak your feet in a Listerine bath
A few years ago, my aunt told me about this trick she saw for removing calluses from your feet. Basically, you stick about 1/4 cup of Listerine in a big bowl of cold water (big enough for your feet), then soak your feet in it for about ten minutes. Supposedly, the dry skin just peels right off. Well, that didn’t work for me. However, I did notice that the Listerine soak really helped cool me down! So, there you go! Give it a try!
Don’t have Listerine? Throw a few drops of peppermint, eucalyptus, or tea tree essential oils into the water and soak in that instead.
You may also like these other uses for Listerine aside from the obvious!
18. Make a DIY cooling spray
On my agenda for today: make this easy DIY peppermint cooling spray. If you don’t have peppermint on hand, any of the cooling essential oils will work, including eucalyptus, tea tree, or rosemary. Heck, get crazy and combine a few of them if you want!
19. Don’t block your perspiration
When you’re out about in public the last thing you want is to walk around with giant pit stains or sweat pouring down your arms. Gross, right? So, of course you should use antiperspirant in those situations. However, if you’re just hanging out at home, skip the antiperspirant and just stick with regular deodorant. Antiperspirant blocks your sweat glands, which is an awful idea when it’s roasting outside. See, your body sweats for a very good reason: to help keep you cooler, so by blocking it you’re basically turning off your body’s own AC.
20. Slather on the aloe
You know about using aloe vera for a sunburn, right? Well, the same reason that it helps soothe burns makes it great for just cooling down hot skin in general. While straight-from-the-plant gel is best the cheap stuff that they sell in the dollar store works just as well in a pinch. Just make sure it’s pure aloe.
21. Cool down your head (and maybe help hair grow faster, too!)
Make a super simple DIY cooling hair oil with almond oil, peppermint and rosemary Mix a few (2-3) drops of each EO in to a small bottle (about 2 ounces) of almond oil, coconut oil, or any other carrier oil you choose. Rub it into your scalp for a cooling effect.
You can also add the essential oils to your favorite shampoo or conditioner for an amazingly cooling aromatherapy experience in the shower.
FYI, these same ingredients are often found in DIY “grow thicker hair faster” oils. Not so good for me since my hair is already crazy thick, but hey, you may like that added benefit!
22. Get cool as a cucumber
Kick back in front of the fan with slices of cucumber over your eyes and on your cheeks. Cucumber isn’t just great for your skin but it’s also a cooling veggie. There’s a reason why they say, “cool as a cucumber!”
23. Refrigerate all of your skin care products
From lotion to lip balm to body butter, toss it all in the fridge when it’s hot outside! Body butter is divine straight from the fridge. I even throw my leave-in conditioner in there.
Other cooling tips
These don’t really fit into any category but they’re all useful!
24. Eat cooling foods
Cool down from the inside out with these “chilling” foods:
- Melon (watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe)
- Berries (try these blueberry recipes to help you stay cool!)
- Coconut (or coconut water but make sure it’s the real stuff and not just flavoring)
- Mint (add it to your water or tea, or use it on top of salads)
- Lemons (again, add it to your water or tea unless you like eating them straight!)
- Spicy foods (sounds strange but spicy foods heat you up, so your body kicks in its own AC to cool you back down)
It goes without staying that you’ll also want to get plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. If you can’t stand plain water, try these 100+ summer drink recipes (skip the cocktails, though, alcohol is among the worst things to drink when it’s hot)
25. Turn off the lights
While your average energy-saving LED bulb doesn’t really give off enough heat to make a huge difference incandescent bulbs are another story, so turn them all off unless you really need them. Even if you’re using LED bulbs, try keeping the room as dark as possible. Doing so may not physically cool you down much but it may help trick your brain into thinking it’s cooler than it actually is.
26. Unplug unused electronics
Again, although electronics that are turned off but still plugged in give off a fairly negligible amount of heat, when it’s sweltering outside every little bit helps. Unplugging unused electronics also helps you save on your electric bill!
27. Get low
I’ve seen a lot of people talking about how they sleep on their floor in the summer (and one guy who said that he actually slept in his basement!). I can’t do this because it would kill my back (and my basement is gross) but if you’re desperate it’s worth a shot.
28. Sprawl out
Forget all the etiquette rules about crossing your legs or sitting like a “lady” (or gentleman). Spread those limbs and fly, baby. Seriously, the more you can avoid having body parts touching each other, the cooler you’ll be.
29. Sleep like you’re mad at each other
As a single mom who always sleeps alone I don’t really have to worry about this one. For all you couples out there, though, forget the cuddling! Sleep like you just had a big fight, preferably in separate beds entirely.
30. Whatever you do, don’t turn on the oven!
This last one is pretty obvious but I needed one more for an even 30. 😀 Forget about cooking a big meal. Instead, order out, grill out, or just eat cold food. Sandwiches and salads (fruit for me because I hate most veggies) are our go-to meals for hot days.
3 Things to Buy Now to Prepare for the Next Heat Wave
Get ready for the next heat wave by grabbing one or more of these great cool-down products!
1. Personal Space Cooler
Small personal air conditioners aren’t going to cool down your entire room but they’re good to place next to your bed at night. Skip the “as seen on TV” Arctic Air fan, though. My son has one and it doesn’t work for squat. I am looking at this one by Fannel because it has a lot of great reviews. It does also humidify, which isn’t great when you live in a super humid area, but the cooling effect is worth it.
2. High Velocity Blowing Fan
I’ve had an older model of this Stanley fan for about a decade now and it still works great (although it makes a weird rattling noise now so I’m not sure how much life it has left in it). It’s made for job sites and other industrial applications and it even has outlets on the side of it. All of these years I’ve had it, I JUST noticed that the other night.
- 3 High Velocity Speeds - makes this small but powerful blower fan ideal for a range of applications. Perfect for a job site, garage, around the shop, and around the house. The powerful blower provides a cooling breeze wherever you need it.
- Pivoting Head to Direct Air Flow & Circulation - allows you to direct the high velocity air where you need it. A wide pivot angle lets you aim the air towards the floor, ceiling, or anywhere in between.
- Twin 120-Volt Accessory Outlets & Built-in Circuit Breaker - means no more reaching for extension cords while you're working. With 2 industrial outlets located on the side, you'll be able to plug in power tools and charge your phone within reach. Built-in circuit breaker protects against overloading.
- Cool, Ventilate, Exhaust, & Dry - with this versatile blower fan. The high velocity power provides concentrated air to cool you down on a hot day and is also great for providing ventilation, or even acting as a dryer for wet areas.
- Fully Assembled - and ready to use right out of the box. Simply plug the cord into an electric outlet and you're ready to go. This portable utility fan is perfect for the home or the job site.CFM:289
3. Cooling Towels
I bought something like this on clearance last year at CVS and it works pretty well as long as you continually wet it and/or put it in the freeze. I need another one so I can alternate them and always keep one in the freezer. This one has good reviews and is reasonably priced.
- SUFFICIENT SIZE, 40" long by 13" wide, WIDER than competing products. It is easy to tie if you will be moving around a lot. Works like a charm as golf club head cover, cooling bandana or neck wrap. The towel is perfect for athletes, runners, sports fans into workout, gym and fitness, females suffering with side effects of heat stress, hot flashes; patients who need cold therapy after operations, surgeries; gardeners doing yard work, mowing the lawn and workers working out in summer heat
- CHILLS INSTANTLY, Unlike PVA material that drys to cardboard, it is silky soft, pliable, easily folds up & fits into a gym bag. The towel stays chilled for up to 3 hours and it reduces body temperature up to 30 degrees. The fabric is pleasant to touch, rather than annoyingly dripping wet. It also provides UPF 50 sunscreen protection
- PIONEERING & UNIQUE, As the first adopter of flat plastic ziplock bag with carabiner clip back in year 2015, Alfamo has seen many followers thereafter. You have many choices in the first and only cooling towels come with four sizes and multiple eye catching fun colors. The color edge-stitching towels are unique gears for fitness & sports fans in style. Get much more relief from heat with body size extra large towels. Alfamo, More Than the First!
- BONUS CARRYING POUCH WITH CARABINER CLIP, With the waterproof plastic case, it’s easy to carry the chilly towel on a rock climb, golf trip, corssfit training, etc. The reusable pouch is friendly to earth and saves more space than a bottle. The storage case comes with carabiner clips of vibrant colors that match the towel, making it a great gift for all ages. The clip makes it convenient to attach the cooling towel to the belt of sports bag, camping hammock and traveling backpack
- SATISFACTION GUARANTEED! This will be your best cooling towel ever. Amazon's guarantee is great, but ours is even better! We are so confident that you will love Alfamo Cooling Towels that we have a "Lifetime Money Back Guarantee". If at any time you aren't completely happy with your purchase, just let us know and we will refund you in full. Even if its 6 months from now! Enjoy our limited time offer sale right now! What are you waiting for, Click the ADD TO CART Button now
I think that about covers it! I’m also looking into a dehumidifier that will help suck some of the moisture out of the air and make me feel less gross. Once I decide on one, I’ll let you know my recommendation.
How do you stay cool without AC? If you have any other tips that I missed, share below!
Last update on 2022-01-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API