21 Tips For Staying Cool When It’s Hotter Than Hell Outside

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Some of these tips for staying cool came from my book, Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family for Everyday Disasters and Worst Case Scenarios.

One of the most critical uses of electricity is helping us stay cool in the sweltering heat. Our bodies can become quickly overheated.

Growing up in Phoenix, you would think I would have become accustomed to that city’s God-awful heat, but the truth is, I never did. Instead, every single summer, I found myself hunkering down indoors and scurrying from one air-conditioned building to the next.

After I married and had kids, I noticed how quickly my kids over-heated when they played outdoors and began learning how to mitigate the effects of heat while enjoying school-free days.

A heat wave is about as predictable in the summer as the presence of watermelon at farmer’s markets. However, if you live in an area that doesn’t usually experience high temperatures, you may find yourself and your family in danger of heatstroke.

The Pacific Northwest, for example, experienced this in 2021 when a heat dome settled over the region and temperatures soared. Pavement buckled. Streetcar cables melted.

One town reached 117 degrees, tying Las Vegas’ all-time high and claiming the dubious honor of being the hottest city in the country that day, hotter even than Phoenix.

Imagine how the people felt, unused as they are to that extreme.

As a lifelong desert rat, here are a few tips for staying cool, or as cool as possible when summer heat soars, whatever region of the country or world you live in.

image: women in white tshirt with long dark hair standing in front of blowing fan

Tips for Staying Cool When the Temperature Soars

  1. Make ample use of every type of fan you own. Ceiling fans are a must. Just be sure the fan blades turn in the direction that blows the air downward. Most have a switch to flip to change oscillation direction if needed. Also, turn off your fans when you leave home. Circulating air is meant to help keep your body cool. When no one is in the room, electricity is being wasted. This is especially important if brownouts or blackouts are a concern.
  2. If your home or apartment doesn’t have air conditioning, keep spray bottles filled with water handy. It’s incredible how a spritz of water on your face and wrists help you feel cooler.
  3. If the mornings are cool and you don’t have humidity, open all your windows, let that cool airflow through your home, and then close them up as soon as the heat sets in. At that point, close your curtains, shades, or shutters. I love a bright, sunlit home, but this works for me in the summer.
  4. Here’s an old trick I learned when I lived on a kibbutz. Just before bedtime, spray bed sheets with plenty of water and aim a battery-powered fan toward your side of the bed. Then, jump in, and go to sleep quickly!
  5. Wear bathing suits around the house. Then, for extra cooling, get it wet.
  6. Wet a bandanna, place a few ice cubes down the center, diagonally roll it up, and tie it around your neck. Commercial products do the same job, like this one, if you don’t have ice or it gets too messy.
  7. Check doors and windows for incoming warm air and install weather-stripping if necessary. This does double duty in the winter when cold air is the enemy. Duct tape can substitute for weatherstripping if you’re desperate.
  8. Check the western exposure of your home. If you have windows that face west, check into inexpensive blinds from Home Depot or Lowe’s. Even aluminum foil taped over your windows (gasp!) can help keep your home cooler. Sheets of bubble wrap are another option.
  9. Perform outside chores in the morning when the sun rises or even earlier. Take frequent breaks, and drink plenty of water.
  10. If you must, douse your naked body with water and stand in front of a battery-operated fan. Stock up on these fans and make sure you have plenty of batteries—and please close the blinds!
  11. Take a slightly warm bath, as long as there is water in the water heater. It will lower your body temperature, making you feel cooler longer once you get out of the tub.
  12. Go barefoot.
  13. Drink those eight glasses of water daily, and ensure every family member remains hydrated. This is particularly important for babies, toddlers, the elderly, and anyone with chronic health issues. Because water is essential when it is hot, ensure you have plenty on hand. Please read about the various ways to store water.
  14. Plant fast-growing shade trees, particularly on the west side of your home. If they provide shade for outside windows, so much the better. Shade = cool. Ask a local nursery with well-trained employees what shade plants/trees grow the fastest in your region.
  15. Most of the hot air that enters your home comes through the windows. Thermal curtains may be the solution if your home has lots of windows. If that’s not an option, try using pushpins to hang blankets over each window.
  16. If you long to be outdoors, fill a kiddie pool with water, sit down, and relax. Be sure to wear sunscreen! When the water gets too warm to enjoy, use it to water the plants. No kiddie pool? See #18.
  17. Don’t overexert yourself. Avoid working up a sweat, if possible. Also, save physical labor for the cooler parts of the day. Take a lesson from desert animals: They rest in the shade or underground during the day and come out at night.
  18. Fill a pan or small tub with a few inches of water and dangle your feet in it while you read a book.
  19. Cover furniture with cool cotton sheets.
  20. Use other people’s air conditioning!  A few summers ago, when our house was being renovated, the kids and I spent dozens of hours at the library, Chick-fil-A, and Starbucks (they both have Wi-Fi!).  Sometimes we’d go to the mall, but that was too dangerous for our budget.  If you have friends and family who enjoy your company, pay them a visit.
  21. Watch the landscape workers in your town. You’ll find they always wear wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants. This is because they know what they’re doing. It sounds counter-intuitive, but that extra fabric protects your skin from the sun.

IMPORTANT: Young children and the elderly are more susceptible to heatstroke. Please pay careful attention to their needs. Teach children to be self-aware when it comes to overheating.

Also, check on elderly friends and relatives. In the great Chicago heatwave of 1995, more than 700 people died. Many were elderly.

Know the Signs of Heatstroke

  • Strong, rapid pulse
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Seizures

Video: The Survival Mom Talks Surviving Europe’s Summer Heat

Although the free printable mentioned is no longer available, Summer Survival School is! Find more information at this link.

Remember Your Food Storage!

One other important thing to consider when temperatures soar is your food storage. Learn what is too hot for food storage.


Now you’re armed with an arsenal of options for staying cool in overwhelming heat. Choose the ones that will work best for you and maybe try one or two new ones. Stay cool out there!

What are your best tips for staying cool in extreme heat?

Updated 6/18/22.

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I'm the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I've been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.

29 thoughts on “21 Tips For Staying Cool When It’s Hotter Than Hell Outside”

  1. When I lived in Wyoming, we had a basement in our home. A great place to retreat to when it gets too hot or too cold because it’s always comfortable underground. Out here in Central California, basements are very rare.

  2. We went to Home Depot and bought a roll of foil bubble insulation. At home, we measured and cut it into pieces that fit each window. We labeled each piece with which window it fit using permanent marker. Our windows mostly have venetian blinds which hold the foil in place when they are lowered. The bubble foil blocks the heat much better than plain aluminum foil and is not very expensive. It can be rolled up for storage over the winter without taking up much space.

    1. Cathie cooper

      You should leave it up -it will help hold the heat in in winter. Also, go to Home Depot and get a timer for the water heater, I only run mine 2 hours a day – one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. The water stays hot. You will cut the electric bill as much as $70 per month. This was passed on to me by a friend and it does not harm the water heater at all. But it will save you money!

  3. Back in Missouri we used rolls of plastic to cover our windows in the winter to keep the heat in, this works well for keeping it out also. Just gethin strips of cardboard to line the plastic edges as extra protection then use a staple gun and go crazy. you can tell its working when the plastic starts to puff from the air coming in around your windows. its not very pretty but works in a pinch.

  4. Stealth Spaniel

    Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, you expect temps in the 100+ every summer. My mom also made sure the house was opened up by 5am and closed up by 11am. Her trick was wet bed sheets. She would soak white flat sheets and hang them at the windows and doors. Yes, it was drip, drip, drip. But we always had tile floors and it kept the house in the low 70’s. By 5pm, which always seems to be the worst as heat builds up to the breaking point, our house was always cool.

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  6. I live in middle TN, it has been Tucson hot here this week. People do not understand how important drinking water is and keeping an eye on the kids. Also going from hot cold hot cold can make you sick. We have a water restriction and burn ban here also, things we did in Tucson but people here are not used to.

  7. Loose-fitting all-cotton sweatshirts with sleeves cut to elbow-length or less and(repetitively) wet to a little less than dripping work in a dry climate. I drove comfortably down NorCal I-5 one Sept with the windows open for the evaporative cooling.

    The same approach works in humid climates as well but air movement is even more important.

  8. I have found that putting blue ice packs or ice cubes in a rag is good to have with you to cool your neck and wrists. This is where you main arteries are that keep the rest of your body cool.

  9. jeffersonianideal

    I am surprised there is no mention of how food affects body temperature. During the warmer months of the year, one should refrain from eating animal protein and high sodium laced foods. Steer clear of meat, poultry, dairy products and processed foods containing high amounts of salt. Fried food should also be avoided. These foods will tend to make the body hotter. A diet comprised of whole grains, raw or steamed vegetables and legumes will produce much less heat. Flavor your entrees using salt free spices. To cool the body, eat seasonal fruits and pure, tropical fruit juices. Keep away from alcoholic beverages until the cooler weather arrives.

  10. One of the things I have discovered during heatwaves is that cool is relative. When the temp outside goes into to triple digits, we set the thermostat to 79 to 80+. At night when the temp outside drop, we lower the thermostat to keep down the humidity.

  11. Humidity stays at 90 – 99% in June, July, Aug. Perspiration won’t evaporate. Humidity holds heat close to the earth at night so it stays hot 24-7. Evaporative coolers don’t work, humidity is too high. Planted thick bushes all around the house and trees on East and West sides (5 years ago) – can be as much as 20 degrees cooler there on a hot day plus shade cools roof. Put box fan in window on cool side of the house blowing in – blow air out the sunny side with those windows open 3-4 inches (keep bubble foil wrap out of the way). Put 1-2 inches of water in the tub and indulge – gets the perspiration off and cools you down. Damp clean cloth hung near the fan will eventually cool then is used to refresh yourself from time to time. If it gets too hot, we put on movies that focus on cold winter scenes – silly as it seems it helps psychologically. There is a special fan made for hot weather that fits under your bed sheets at the foot end of the bed – draws air up from the floor and blows it right up your legs towards your head. Really helps

  12. Your tip about opening the windows for cool morning air is only true for drier climates. If you do that in any place with humidity, you’ll end up with more heat in the moist air, making it worse.

    1. True, but of course it depends on how bad the humidity is. Here in New Hampshire it usually cools down enough at night to hit the dewpoint and limit how much water the air can hold (100% humidity at 59F is 49% humidity at 80F *).

      Having said that, if you start out with humidity that’s “barely tolerable”, then deliberately adding moisture to it can push it up to “miserable”, making you less comfortable in spite of the temperature reduction.

      *For the super-nerdy, look at the partial pressure of water at different temperatures to calculate humidity changes (for my example, water is 0.247psi at 59F and 0.508psi at 80F): http://www.efunda.com/materials/water/steamtable_sat.cfm

      Heat index charts are useful for figuring out if temperature or humidity is your biggest problem: http://www.weatherimages.org/data/heatindex.html

      90 degrees at 90% humidity (119F heat index) actually feels worse than 100 degrees at 30% (104F heat index). “Dry heat” really is better.

      1. so true. i live on the gulf coast and it never gets above 95 because of the humidity….but it feels like 110. and that usually lasts at least 7-8 months of the year. last year it was still in the 90s in december. impossible without air conditioning anymore.

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  14. How do we tennis players and bicyclists (plus, runners/golfers/soccer players) play in 100 degree heat? Simple, we drink electrolytes and STAY IN SHAPE! We grandmother was in such bad shape, she could barely walk from the kitchen to the living room without panting–with air conditioning.

  15. I don’t understand why you prefer “battery-powered” fans. If you had said “rechargeable battery-powered” fans I would not have objected. But let’s remember that batteries have mercury in them – the mercury pollutes our lakes and waterways, making some of our fish unsafe to eat, a very serious problem.

  16. Along with opening windows early only, for cool air, open the basement door, put a fan there to draw the cool air into the house, really helps. Using exhaust fans when cooking really helps keep the kitchen cooler. Just running any fans to circulate the air also helps.

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  18. Another tip–don’t cook in the house. Get a toaster or other small oven and use it or a crock pot on the porch. We do that here in Georgia:).

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  20. Dechenne Cecil

    We had some help from window film: it was a type that reduces glare and reduces transmitted solar heat. Our west facing living room in Southern California used to actually get to 135 degrees F, or around 57 degrees C. After applying film to the large windows, it would stay under 105 degrees F. Still darned hot, but much safer and more bearable. It was pretty easy to apply by myself. (We moved before we could get
    blackout curtains installed.)

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