5 Strange Ways to Stay Cool Without Air Conditioning

Spending the summer without A/C can be miserable. But these five somewhat bizarre strategies actually keep you cool.

With the exception of one glorious summer of apartment dwelling, I’ve never lived anyplace with central air.

In fact, it wasn’t even until after I was married that I had a window air-conditioning unit.

My childhood summers were spent sweltering in our home, where the downstairs windows didn’t open and my second-story bedroom was cooled by one small fan.

I remember sneaking down to the freezer at night for ice cubes to run across my forehead in hopes I would cool off enough to fall asleep.

The heat can make you resort to all sorts of tactics to keep cool. If you’re feeling desperate, try one of these rather strange methods to find relief from the heat.

1. Take an icy foot bath

The fastest way to start shivering in 90-degree heat is to dip your toes into freezing cold water. Fill a bowl with cool water, and dip your little piggies right in.

Add some ice if you’re brave, but don’t overdo it. Quickly immersing your feet in ice-cold water can be painful – although I suppose it would take your mind off the heat.

While you’re at it, try running cold water over your wrists or placing a cold, wet towel or an ice pack on the back of your neck or your forehead. Cooling down these pulse points can help your whole body feel more comfortable.

2. Wear some cooling clothes

To turn down the heat a notch and look fabulous at the same time, you could buy this stunning lime-green quilted vest from Amazon. Its evaporative cooling system is designed so that if you soak it in cold water for a few minutes, in theory, you can wear it and feel cool and comfortable for hours.

Actually, you can buy a whole range of such clothing products that claim to keep you cool in the heat of the day. There are cooling caps, cooling sleeves and cooling bandannas.

However, my favorite by far is the Flexi Freeze Ice Vest, which not only lets you wear ice packs on your body but also gives the illusion of six-pack abs. I’m so putting that on my birthday wish list.

3. Freeze your sheets

You don’t need specialized sheets to stay cool at night. Simply take the ones you have and throw them in the freezer for a couple of hours before bedtime. Then, pull them out, put them on the bed and enjoy the cool.

Just fall asleep quickly, because on an 80-degree night it won’t take long for them to lose their chill.

Of course, it might become a bit inconvenient to remake your whole bed each night. So maybe try this strategy with just your pillowcase and a top sheet.

4. Go underground

Head down to the basement on those scorching hot days. Ours stays so chilly that we sometimes use blankets down there in the summer.

Some people may balk at this idea if their basement is unfinished. However, don’t let that stop you. Simply clean out a corner and set up a chair or maybe a desk. Personally, I would rather smell musty and look at the furnace than melt into the floor upstairs.

If your house is built on a slab, well, I’m sorry: You’re plain out of luck.

5. Live underground

Are you ready to get extreme? Then consider buying or building your next home underground. Sure, you might not get too much sunlight, but that’s a small trade-off in order to have your very own naturally cool hobbit house.

Often called earth homes, underground living will give you the same cool air of the basement without making you feel banished from your main living quarters. If you’re ready to get drastic, you can look here for inspiration.

How will you stay cool this summer? Let us know below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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  • shondell mann

    we have always like the use of shade to stay cool, maybe by growing trees that will eventually block those UV rays from your home can be helpful. another method we could use; turn off your lights during the day time and use the light from your windows to do your reading or browsing on the internet.

  • LagunaLady27

    Most of these are just plain silly. How about some real suggestions, like planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of the house? Then there is changing the roof to a lighter color, when it is ready to be replaced. Or, how about having a yard sale and using the money to buy an air conditioner? They are not as expensive now as they were twenty years ago. There are plenty of ways to cool off, but freezing your clothes? I don’t think so.

  • I.Popoff

    I found this article to be entertaining. Thanks for the link to underground homes. I am interested in the topic.

  • Don Lowery

    Used to be a teacher in Arizona and found this rather funny. Back before AC…the pioneers used to soak their sheets at night and sleep on the porch which would be screened and run around the house. Now…I live on the Colorado front range and haven’t had AC for a long time. At night…it gets into the 50’s. With my window fan blowing onto my cat and me…I have to use at least one blanket year round.

  • Tom

    Living without AC in the mid Atlantic can be tough. Only one of these ideas I’ve tried is the first–cold water on wrists and other pulse points does indeed help for a little while. We have some strategically placed ancient maples that shade our 170 yr old house much of the day. In our mountain area, opening up windows with fans at night to flood house with cooler air, closing up in the morn before temps get too high, and using shades, keeping lights off, etc helps until late afternoon on all but the most sultry days or stretches when night temps stay in 70s. We have several small portable fans, easy to move and place where they’ll do the most good. Ceiling fans are great–a damp cloth on the face and neck and the stirring air provides relief. Oh, and if you have AC get some ceiling fans too–you can raise the thermostat a few degrees, save $ and energy, and be just as comfy. Last suggestion, save washing the car for one of those really miserable afternoons–spraying yourself and significant other can cool you off and heat things up all at once!

  • grandmaguest

    Designed and had an earth bermed home built 35 years ago. The entire south side of the house faces the south so that in the winter I have passive solar heat, and an overhang designed to prevent the sun from hitting the floor to ceiling windows in the summer. I also have (electronic) shutters that completely cover the windows. In the winter it holds the heat in the house and in the summer I can shut them however much I wish…or just leave them open. All electric…..and even without running the AC, it is usually 15 to 20 degrees cooler inside than outside with just a few fans. Open floor plan, the only rooms without natural light are the bathrooms and the pantry. I certainly don’t feel like I’m living in a cave by any means. I put in the most energy efficient appliances and lights at the time (35 yrs ago) and have updated in the last 5 years to even more energy efficient appliances and lights. My electric bill is amazingly low. It was the best thing I ever did.

    • A Lee Lowe

      Please post your address I am coming to stay during the summer!!! Lol. Was it expensive to build and how hard did permits hammer you to try to stop the build?

      • Jcatz4

        I love your kitty picture. I am a crazy cat lady and proud of it!!

        • A Lee Lowe

          Thank you. Both are gone now. One was a rescue and the other I took in and he was a Bengle cat.

      • grandmaguest

        LOL…sorry no posting address…but I do live in Kansas (if that helps) so we get some pretty good temp swings.
        The roof is a conventional roof, but has lots and lots of insulation. The house is 93 ft long with the entire north side wall approx. 8 ft below ground. All water lines are run along this wall and therefore never freeze as it never drops below 50 even in winter with no heat. I spent about 100K total (but did the painting and staining of woodwork ourselves (hubby was a painter by trade). At the time, earth bermed homes were quite rare, but if not built into the side of a hill, it would look like a conventional home. The only thing they required me to do was agree to put a heating/AC unit in. And all bedrooms had to have egress (they are all to the front south side of the house) but that was no problem. I probably could have gotten by without the AC. Put in a heat pump. The house is about 2200 sq ft. and there is a small 24 x 18″ completely air tight wood stove (with outside air intake) that sits in one corner of the great room. I can use it to easily heat the house and/or cook on if I lose power. A small 12″ table fan is used to circulate heat in and around and down a hallway to the far bedroom. And with the passive solar heat gain from the windows, I never turned on the heat or AC for the first 3 years. I burned approximately 1 1/2 cords of wood the entire winter each of the first 3 years. The overhang on the outside during the summer, prevents the sun from hitting the windows , and therefore no heat gain as is in the winter when the sun is lower in the sky. Although, the utilities around here have about doubled in the last 35 years in cost, I probably still use between 15 and 25 Killowatts per month on average. It used to cost me between 60-70 bucks a month (and that is running heat and AC and all my electrical gadgets…including well pump), but it is up around $100/ month now. And that’s year round…..all electric.
        Since I am out in the country on 80+ acres, no one tried to stop the building. And I had a banker, that I had bought a house from 8 years before, and then bought and paid for the land before I started building……she backed me 100%.
        When replacing appliances, I buy the most energy efficient ones I can afford…..and am currently, slowly replacing all the original fluorescent lighting throughout the house with LED’s. I was “green” before it was popular.

        • Dale

          What a young genius you were (and are)! I love this and am looking to retire into my own straw bale super-insulated tiny house as I type. Have been researching for years and gathering money for it. Congrats, Mrs. Smarty! ;-))

          • grandmaguest

            Thanks…I love my home and wouldn’t trade it for anything!

  • Full Name

    Saturate your clothes with water in the sink, then wring or use washer to spin out excess water. Put them on. Instant cooling that lasts!

  • Sandra Murphey

    There are products that you can put on your pillow called Chillow. It’s a gel pad that stays cool, and you never have to put it in the freezer.
    They come in several sizes. I just ordered an Extra Large to lay under my back. There are different brand names. Another one is Hugs Chilly Mat. They really help when it’s time for bed, and the temperature is still warm.

  • A Lee Lowe

    I had my roof coated with the white goop and it has paid off because it really keeps the cold out in winter and heat out in the summer. I keep my thermostat at 83 and it hardly runs. I turn it off at night after I crank it up to 80 and it lasts all night without running.

    • bigpinch

      The “goop” you refer to has several different manufacturers. I went with Kool Seal as it had been tested at the University of Florida with very good results. It isn’t an inexpensive roof coating but it is cheaper than other kinds of roofing. A bonding primer has to be applied, first, and then at least two coats of the product (ceramic beads in a white latex base). The difference it makes is nothing short of amazing. It lasts about eight years and extends the life of your roof.
      One of the best things is that it is homeowner friendly; you can apply it yourself and save a lot of money. You need to be fit enough to haul the 5-gallon buckets up on the roof and then be able to withstand some long hours in the heat while you apply the product with a roller brush. The heat diminishes dramatically after the first coat because the roof is reflecting the sun instead of absorbing the heat. Wear sun glasses.

      • A Lee Lowe

        Thank you for the info. I just know what ever I used works.

    • Jcatz4

      How does the “white goop” keep the cold out? I can understand how it would keep the heat out by reflecting the sun but how can it keep the cold out.

      • A Lee Lowe

        I expect that it keeps the heat in as well due to the sealing of the roof. I noticed reduction in the furnace running just as I did with the air conditioning.

      • bigpinch

        It keeps the cold out simply by impeding the migration of warm air out of the attic, through the roof decking, during the cold weather. You might suspect that if you have soffit and gable vents, this would be of negligible consideration, and you would be right. You still need as much attic insulation as you can muster, though.
        Moisture is a big issue and why you need adequate attic insulation. Kool Seal (and other related products), will keep rain from moisturizing your attic but you need constant air flow through the attic space in order to keep moisture from condensing on the roof framing members (the joists and the decking) from ambient humidity.
        Accumulated moisture attracts insects (like termites and carpenter ants) and also rats and squirrels that cause structural damage and bring in fleas and ticks.

  • drackip

    I had my roof replaced and had them put in 14 vents instead of the code minimum requirement of 7 – Just remember , you may have to add soffit / eaves vents to match the square footage . ( This will also help your roof last longer by keeping attic temps lower) I’ve always had a whole house fan in both of my houses – Run it first thing in the morning to cool the house down as far as possible – then close all the windows and doors and run the AC for about an hour – usually gets the house down to 72-73 and keeps it fairly cool until 5-6 using ceiling fans etc. . I’m on time of use for power , so I pay a higher rate between noon and 6 – and a lower rate the rest of the time and weekends – This is usually ok if the temp gets to 100-103 – Above that , I usually end up using the AC a little more .. This is Fresno after all….

    • A Lee Lowe

      Great glad and this sounds similar to some things I do too ie: Run ceiling fans most of the day to circulated the air when it comes on. We are starting monsoons and useage will be more as it gets very muggy. I do turn up the cooling in the am to about 80 or 81 and it lasts for hours unless the door gets opened too much. I am hoping to get off the grid for electric if at all possible. Seems the electric companies are having too many power outages every few days here, and upon investigation the lines really need replaced. You can bet the brown outs will get attention and the electric users will be

      on the hook for replacement electric equipment. They make the money, we pay for them to make money. Off the grid will end their deal to pass on the repairs to non customers. They bought up the solar and wind companies and or the technologies, suppressed their development and now want you to put them on your property for basically free while they reduce your bill??? They think we are stupid, and many are sorry they went that way. I guess they are now on the hook and won’t be able to change to off grid. God Bless the people. Amen

  • marketfog

    Take an icy foot bath. A lot of people will get the cramps. Almost as good is to soak your feet in a bucket of water, a pool, or a fountain. I cooled off on a 90+ degree day in Boston by wading in a public fountain. On a hot day, pavement will be over 100. If you are wearing shoes this will make them into ovens. So…wear sandals instead of shoes. This also works in reverse during colder weather: wearing socks with sandals is very comfortable. I also walk on the shady side of the street, and park in the shade if possible.

  • Shalar

    Some of these options are plain stupid…take a foot ice bath, freeze your sheets, live underground. This is just a ridiculously stupid article.

    • A Lee Lowe

      Do u have a contribution that is not negative or just like to see your own posts?

  • Shalar

    I’m lonely said by the crazy cat lady. Anyone who has cats as a pic truly is pathetic. This is your 2nd ridiculously stupid post. Gold star for you!

    • Shalar, you’re not welcome here. Troll elsewhere…you’re banned.

  • Kent

    Get skinny and you’ll take the heat much better. Also, ride your bike to work and anywhere and get in shape. The first few trips you might sweat a bit but you will soon notice that it takes more and more exertion to actually work up a sweat as you get fitter and fitter.

  • Dale

    I like the suggestions here but would suggest for the ‘get fit to stay cool’ advice this physiological fact: fat tissue is fairly inert and you don’t sweat as much as people stereotype you into believing you do. I lost 172 pounds over the last five years and I partially did that by lifting weights. As my muscles grew I noticed that the more metabolically active muscle tissue generated more heat and I sweated way more than 172 pounds ago.

    Here’s a cooling suggestion from my childhood: as a kid I took several showers a day because I hated that sticky feeling you get when ::everything:: is slightly moist. We didn’t have central air or even a window unit back then. You got a box fan and it became a permanent fixture in the summer. As a teen I discovered cross ventilation. Now combine all of those – at night, reverse one fan in one of the two windows across from each other. One will be blowing in cooling night air as the other sucks out the hot daytime air and pulls the cool air from the other fan into the room. Just before bed, take a COOL shower but DON’T dry off. For this part I’d usually put a very thin towel on the bed to absorb some of the water. Make sure one of the fans is blowing air over your bed. Sleep without a sheet over you and let the water from your shower evaporate from your body. I felt deliciously cool all night and slept really soundly. This worked wonders when I was traveling through Africa and South America and there might not be air conditioning in the tiny hotel I stayed in. Though box fans weren’t common, ceiling fans and desk fans made somewhat less effective substitutes.

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