How to Stay Cool in a Heat Wave

by LizM

Tips and Ideas to help you stay cool during a heat wave, even if you don't have an air conditioner

Summer brings high temperatures but when a heat wave hits with high temperatures for long periods it is especially rough. For those in areas not used to the heat, it can be very dangerous. These tips and ideas are meant to help you stay cool during a heat wave, even if you don't live in an air conditioned building.

This article is NOT intended to treat or diagnose any illness. Please seek the help of a medical professional with health questions and concerns. Know the symptoms of heat illness, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Even someone used to the heat can be quickly overcome when the conditions are right.

Be Early or Be Late

Those who grew up in the Southern U.S. are well used to this routine.  Anything that has to be done outside needs to be done at first light or last light.  In a heat wave it is usually hot around the clock but the coolest times are still right at sunrise and just after sunset.  Do any outdoor activities early or late to avoid the worst of the day's heat.


Sweat is a good thing in hot weather, no matter how awful it feels.  The evaporating moisture is the body's way of attempting to cool down.  The problem is that as you sweat you loose more than just water.  You loose salt and other minerals.  To stay well hydrated in a heat wave, you need to drink more than just water.  Supplement your water with sports drinks such as Powerade to help maintain your body's natural balance.

Also, when dealing with a heat wave you need to AVOID alcoholic drinks as they actually speed up the dehydration process.  Sodas should be avoided as well when possible.

Keep the Air Moving

If you don't have air conditioning, fans are great at helping you keep cool.  If the air is moving, any sweat evaporates very quickly and increases how well your body can cool itself.  Ceiling fans are wonderful but if you don't have a ceiling fan, any fan will help.  Using multiple small fans throughout your home can help keep airflow circulating through the entire area.

Dress the Part

Dress as coolly as possible during a heat wave.  Shorts and short sleeves may seem like obvious choices but don't forget that fabric type matters as well.  Fabrics that breathe (let air flow) and ones that wick moisture away from your body are preferred.

Cotton, linen, and some silks are very cool.

Symptoms of Heat Illness



Source: National Institutes of Health,

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

 Source: National Institutes of Health,

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

Source: National Institutes of Health,

Create a Cave

Sunshine provides a lot of wonderful benefits to health but during a heat wave it is your enemy.  Use dark curtains and keep them closed during the day.  Only open windows at night when the air is coolest.  The goal is to trap that slightly cooler air and keep it there through the hotter daytime.


Of course, please have a thermometer in your home and monitor the temperature.  If the temperature starts climbing dangerously with the windows and curtains shut, find somewhere to go or open the windows for airflow if you need to do so.

Get Wet

If you need to cool down fast, a cold shower works wonders to lower your body temperature.  If you can not take a full shower, wash your feet in cold water for a quick burst of cool.

Eat Cold

Most of our staying cool tips deal with your external body temperature.  Remember that if your internal body temp starts rising that it takes much longer to drop it through external means.  During a heat wave, up your intake of cold.

Drink plenty of cold liquids, eat cold foods like egg salad or sandwiches, and don't forget ice.  Popsicles, ice pops, and snow cones are a great way to introduce some cold into your system quickly.

Updated: 07/17/2013, LizM
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Thamisgith on 07/18/2013

Summer has finally arrived here in Scotland. Probably not too hot by US standards, but we are all suffering. Good advice wherever you are.

EliasZanetti on 07/18/2013

Here in Greece, on the other hand, it is one of the coolest Julys ever! As I don't like using the air condition unless it is absolutely necessary, these are quite useful tips and advice.

dustytoes on 07/18/2013

When it gets unbearable I place a bag of frozen peas or corn (or both) on my head and neck.

JoHarrington on 07/17/2013

Thank you for this. It's unnaturally hot here in Britain at the moment. We're not used to it, so we're all floundering a lot. I took notes here. :)

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