Top Ten Ways to Survive the Summer Without Air Conditioning

I don’t think of myself as a hero, but what you’ve heard is true: I work from home in a poorly insulated house and also have no air conditioning. I actually have never had air conditioning, not even a window unit. Someday, I’ll be able to buy a used one off Craigslist; until then, you can benefit from my experience.

This is what my house feels like but but with more humidity

This is what my house feels like but but with more humidity

1. Water

Duh. Drinking icewater will cool you down, and I personally feel like adding some lemon and/or mint to it makes it work even better. But even regardless of cold water’s cooling properties, it’s important to remember to be drinking a lot of it! You’re probably sweating like a closeted politician at a Pride afterparty, and it’s easy to get dehydrated. You’ll feel like the world is a more manageable temperature, but you also won’t feel like a garbage bag of sweaty death from dehydration.

2. Cold bag of rice

I have a laundry list of back problems and so I have a bunch of heat therapy bags full of rice that I usually put in the microwave to heat up, but in the summer they can be stored in the freezer and applied all over yourself. I like to wrap one around my neck like a scarf. Don’t have weird back problems? That’s fine, just put some rice in a sock and tie off the end. Make two so you can be chilling one while wearing the other and switch them out all day.

3. Close your windows

This sounds counterintuitive but HEAR ME OUT. When you open your windows during the day, you’re letting in a little bit of breeze, but mostly letting in sunshine and hot air that will make your house HOT. Do this instead: while the sun is out, close your windows and preferably blinds. Pretend you are Miss Havisham and rock slowly back and forth alone in the dark, muttering to yourself. Then, when the sun sets, open all those windows right up, and relish the refreshing night air. After a few days, this will keep your whole place’s baseline temperature lower. Congratulations, you have created your own ecosystem; you are mighty like a god.

This is lava, it is also very hot, like the inside of my house

This is lava, it is also very hot, like the inside of my house

4. Fans with a crossbreeze

You already have a fan; everyone has a fan. The secret is to get TWO fans and then place them in opposite parts of the room to get a crossbreeze going. This creates cool moving air throughout your apartment, and when times get really tough you can stand at the intersection of the two breezes in your underwear and spin around slowly. I’ve heard stories of placing bowls of ice in front of a fan to make the air even cooler; try it at your own risk.

5. Cold showers

I realize water is a precious resource, but when you consider how much energy people without central air and/or window units are saving, I think we’re entitled to at least 2-3 cold showers a day. And if you should happen to bring in a #showerbeer? There’s nothing I can do to stop you.

6. Canned beverages

Don’t drink them, or at least not all of them. Reserve at least one or two for emergency measures, specifically rubbing the can all over your body like you’re rolling out cookie dough. It’s a good way to cool down quickly, even if it’s not the most dignified thing you’ve ever done. More often than not, summer weeknights find my partner and I taking turns rolling cold cans of seltzer water up and down each other’s backs. It’s very romantic.

7. Dusting powder

Having all of your body parts stick to all of your other body parts isn’t exactly the same as being hot, but it definitely doesn’t help. I got this “dusting powder” from Lush without totally understanding what it was, but it turns out that what it does is keep your thighs from sticking together and also smell kind of good. Coating my body and my bedsheets with stuff like this makes me feel about 43% less gross. Also, if you don’t want to buy this in particular, the main ingredient seems to be just plain cornstarch; baby powder would probably be great as well.

Sometimes I feel sort of like this pizza but less delicious

Sometimes I feel sort of like this pizza but less delicious

8. Go outside

I know it seems like that’s where the sun and the heat are, and it will be the worst idea, but it’s not! Even though it is hot and gross outside, it is at least a different kind of hot and gross than your apartment. And even with fans, it’s likely that the air is moving more outside than it is inside. Look at the leaves move and have a glass of lemonade and put off going inside your swampy apartment for as long as possible.

9. Popsicles

Have you ever been drinking something cold, like just chock full of ice, and still felt like “this could be colder?” It can! That’s what a popsicle is. Anything you were already drinking this summer — iced tea, lemonade, iced coffee, a margarita — could just be TOTALLY FROZEN. Tell me an iced tea popsicle with mint leaves suspended in it doesn’t sound like the best thing that’s ever happened to you. I’ll wait.

10. Wet a hat and put it in the freezer

I am not proud of this one. I tried it in a moment of desperation, and it is something of a last resort. The summer nuclear option. I tend to only go for it when I have already tried items 1-9, which means you have given up all claim to dignity. At this point, you are in your underwear with a rice bag wrapped around your neck, rubbing a Coke can all over your body while spinning in circles in front of a fan. And somewhere inside, a voice asks “Is there anything else? What more can be done? What if — what if I soaked a baseball cap in water, and then put it in my freezer for ten minutes, and then wore it? Would that help?” Yes, it will. It will not do any favors for your self-esteem or your appeal to potential sexual partners, but it will make you like a half a degree cooler. Go with God.

Avatar of Rachel

Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 749 articles for us.

69 Comments

  1. Thumb up 9

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    1. Bowls/buckets of ice in front of the fan TOTALLY WORKS. Do it. Do it now. How have you not done this already?
    2. Wet frozen hankies. Wear around your neck. Feel better.
    3. Round plastic ice cubes. Find them. Freeze them. Put them in your bed. They will cool you down without making your bed all soggy.

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    Also counterintuitive, but if you have a second floor window, during the day, put a fan in it facing outwards. Hot air rises, which is why the upper floors are hotter than the basement. The fan blows this hot air back outside while also drawing air up from the lower levels and creating a cooling draft.

    I have never had air conditioning. I only recently sprang for a window unit to use during the hottest days of summer because the humidity was making my cat sick.

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    Confirming “baby powder would probably be great too.” BABY POWDER IS GREAT. All over your body. Also it’s like $3 for a giant bottle. Pro tip: check yourself in the mirror for visible powder on your skin before you go out wearing a cute sleeveless thing.

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    if you are worried that going to bed will accidentally result in your slow cooking without noticing, like a frog in boiling water, direct a fan at your bed, soak a towel, wring it out, and use it as a blanket.

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    this is the best and funniest thing that’s happened this summer.
    first of all, i died at #showerbeer bc i thought i was the only fool doing that AND THEN:
    At this point, you are in your underwear with a rice bag wrapped around your neck, rubbing a Coke can all over your body while spinning in circles in front of a fan. And somewhere inside, a voice asks “Is there anything else? What more can be done? What if — what if I soaked a baseball cap in water, and then put it in my freezer for ten minutes, and then wore it?

    killin it, me, the world. rice bags & showerbeers forever.

  6. Thumb up 9

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    My own personal summer trick:

    Take some scrubby shirt, run it under cold water, wring it out til it’s damp, put it on, then sit in front of a fan for 2-3 minutes. Cools down your entire core (and stays cool for a while).

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    I wish I had had this column two summers ago; it’s brilliant!

    I spent multiple days in a cold bath, full of water and an entire package of otter pops. They’re great because the plastic sleeves let you refreeze them, and also you can just grab one out of the bath and eat it.

  8. Thumb up 9

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    I just died laughing at this. The last part killed me, my boss was looking at me like “what can possibly be so funny”
    Also Pro Tip…move to England where air con only exists in Hotels, Malls, Supermarkets and Big office complexes… then when you get so insanely hot because it’s finally 19 degrees Celsius, run out to the nearest one of these buildings and go in for a bit…if it’s the supermarket double down and hang out in the freezer section, push a trolley (cart) around for verisimilitude and occasionally pick up bags of peas as though pricing them.

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    What we’re doing at my house is covering all the windows with sheets, and leaving them up even during the night so they’re up in the morning, and the house stays a little cooler during the day. Whoo! Also our ice machine stopped working for a while yesterday and I had a minor freak out. It’s okay now, thank god.

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    #showerbeer lifestyle is how i survived colorado w/o AC last summer. so necessary. and this is the third time this week i’ve read something recommending that dusting powder. guess i’ll have to drag my ass to a Lush

  11. Thumb up 5

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    11. Wear nothing but lacy undergarments around the house

    my roommate and i have chosen not to use our AC this summer to preserve energy and I’m pretty much doing all of these things…I haven’t tried putting my rice sock in the freezer yet though; that could be life changing. Also, one of my favorite things to do to stay hydrated on icy cold water is to fill one of my recycled juice bottles with water and keep that in the fridge, and then fill my nalgene with said water…that way I pretty much always have cold water (because for some reason I haven’t bought ice cube makers yet????) and I’m So Hydrated.

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    HAHA lol I live in IDAHO! I’m not even sure it’s been past 90 yet, this summer. Except for in my apartment, I’m pretty sure it’s like 5000 degrees in there. But seriously guys, no humidity. Actually, the air is quite dry, here. Better have a good moisturizer. Bahaha lol…. Sorry that you’re miserable, though. Lol.

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    Ok something I’ve tried: if you happen to have non carpeted floors, sprinkle the floor with some water. Brings the temperature down a bit. I totally agree with the window thing. Also for people who have long hair, tie it!! =)

    Such good writing!

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      Other long hair tip. Tie up whilst wet… Although it’s only made it to 19 degrees C here in the north of England, going to bed with tied up wet hair has made life better in humid nights. Hair looks awful the next day but damn at least I can sleep.

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        In longer hair times, if I tie up my hair while wet in hot, humid weather, then it starts to get a musty/moldy(!) smell very quickly. But I second the going to bed with wet hair — cold shower and then fan it out over the pillow. Keeps me cool at night, and I wake up with dry hair — so it won’t get musty when I tie it up the next day.

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          For real mold in hair is a real thing that happens. NOT GOOD.

          I’d recommend putting an ice pack (or more otter pops, seriously) in your pillowcase; same head-cooling effect!

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        oooohh…i cant tie my hair when it’s wet. IDK it’s one of those things. I always feel like I get a headache when I sleep with it damp/wet. And the musky thing I think. IDK. Haha. No one has been able to confirm this.

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    one of my jobs is at an ice cream shop. I wish I could take this thread there and be like FREE ICE CREAM FOR ALL THE QUEER BABES. I sometimes give gay discounts but folks regularly think I am hitting on them, and get nervous and stare at their shoes and talk about their girlfriends, and somehow it feels more awkward to be like “no, I am also shacked up, I just like giving queer people free ice cream, because gay mafia.”

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    Actually, if you want to cool off you should take a hot shower, because then when you get out the air temperature will feel cooler, rather than taking a cold shower and then getting out and turning into a humidity flesh-sack.

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    Hmm, one thing about the baby powder – most drugstore-type baby powder contains talc, which has been linked to ovarian cancer and lung cancer (http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/talcum-powder-and-cancer).

    If you want to make your own totally safe baby powder that works just as well, you can just put some corn starch in a shaker bottle, and add some essential oil if you want it to smell nice. Cheap as can be, and better for your bod. If you’re the super-paranoid sort (like, ahem, myself) you can even get organic corn starch without breaking the bank!

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      what about the hippie brands? I use baby carrot, and lush products sometimes…

      my honey has some she made herself, but she accidentally used brown rice (instead of white rice) flour and it is kinda nubbly in ways that are not the most pleasant.

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        I would think that the hippie brands would be corn starch based…

        And yes, if you don’t use talc near you genitals, or breathe it in, then it is probably fine – but as I mentioned, I am paranoid, and like to avoid things in the ‘may cause cancer’ category, so thought I would share an alternative for those who are interested.

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    The two most refreshing Jelly Belly jellybean flavors are pear and cantaloupe- from someone who is currently riding out and 8hour+ car trip with only a giant Costco jellybean jar and One Direction’s latest album to tide me over.

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    I’m in Phx Arizona, in a cheap-ass apartment so i use clear packing tape to seal the windows, since the ancient weatherstripping is expired and would otherwise let in so much hot air. Also, blackout curtains are spectacular. They sell them cheap at Target in a variety of colors. They are lined with light-blocking white plastic, but otherwise look just like regular curtains. They let in much less sunlight, which helps keep rooms cooler. I also hang shade cloth (sold at plant nurseries, cheap) in front of the porch so the porch doesn’t heat up as much; helps keep the living room cooler.
    I do drape a wet towel over the standing fan to cool the air; probs works better in dry climates. Yes to otter pops; gonna try the frozen rice bag!

  19. Thumb up 1

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    So many good ideas! Who would choose to build a house in a place with 90 degree heat and 90 percent humidity all summer without central air, I don’t know, but I’m the idiot who chose to rent it, so there is a lot of ice water in my life right now. Didn’t think of popsicles though, so thanks for that!

    For some reason, I only like #showerbeer when it’s cold weather so I’m taking a really hot shower…I feel like the contrast between the hot shower and the cold beer is what makes it so great? But really, I’m sure the #showerbeer lifestyle can be lived at any time of year.

  20. Thumb up 3

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    ALSO! ALSO! ALSO! Freeze grapes! I’ve done this in the past and it is a lifesaver! I would usually settle in somewhere in my apartment – less moving equals less sweating, ya’ll – and eat 1-2 handfuls of completely frozen grapes. By the end of it, I’m usually considerably cooler, or even freezing. Just make sure it isn’t so hot that the grapes are thawing before you can eat them. That would diminish the effect. Cheers!

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    Another suggestion or two for if you HAVE to be wearing clothing:
    -If your hair is long enough to hang, put it up!
    -Don’t wear socks. Like, at all.
    -If you must wear shoes, make sure they’re flippy-floppies.
    -Wear sleeveless, loose-fitting shirts.
    Basically, all these suggestions point to the fact that we lose a lot of body heat from places like our heads, feet, and underarms. These suggestions allow your body to lose as much heat as possible while still wearing clothes.

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    Also: switch all your lightbulbs to CFLs. If you must turn on a light at all (and I must, my attic apartment is secretly a dungeon), switching from regular bulbs to CFLs or other low-energy low-heat bulbs not only saves on your electric bill, it makes a HUGE difference.

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    Any tips to keeping cool in your car because your air conditioning is broken? (and you keep meaning to fix it and it’s now 3 years later?).

    I was looking to buying one of those expensive, portable air conditioning units but I think I’m gonna go buy yet another fan instead.

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    Rachel, you are a goddamn gift to the world. Everything about this and you is spot on perfect.

    I also feel compelled to disclose that I am writing this with a fan closer to me than my keyboard. I cannot remember a time when it wasn’t on. It is a part of me now. Where I go, it goes.

    #solardarity

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    I have to add to your number 1: while you’re drinking water, eat plenty of salty food and fresh fruit, especially if you’re sweating a lot! As you sweat you loose nutrients in addition to water, and the wrong water:sodium ratio in your body causes this awful headache-nausea-irritability feeling called hyponatremia that can be confused for dehydration. My job is literally to stand in the sun in Arizona for 10 hours at a time talking about invasive aquatic species to boaters, and I find that keeping an ice chest full of V8/virgin bloody mary mix is the most delicious way to stay hydrated.

    JP – I JUST got my AC fixed after 3 years of it not working. Whenever I leave home/work I would get one (or two or three, depending on drive time) wide-mouth bottles and fill them with ice and cold water and just suck on ice cubes the whole way. Also, if it’s a sunny day but the air isn’t that hot keeping the fan on without rolling down your windows will ultimately save you some gas.

  26. Thumb up 0

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    Sigh. I currently live in Nepal, and it’s summer monsoon season. 100% humidity, 100% of the time. Also, no freezer access, so all of the nice frozen things are out of the question. Sometimes I fantasize about popsicles…

    I’ve learned 2 stay-cool tricks from my Nepali friends that I thought I’d share:
    - Whenever you’re cutting vegetables, rub the cut-off end-bits of the vegetables on your face and neck. This is especially nice with cucumber; it’s surprisingly refreshing, and smells nice (bonus!)
    - If you have to walk outside, carry an open umbrella. This way, you don’t add the heat of the sun to the body heat that you’re already generating by walking. I used to feel weird about walking around with an umbrella in the sunshine, but now I do it all the time. Worth it.

    Also, for those of you who do have freezers, please enjoy my favorite summertime drink: frozen cubes of watermelon mixed with gin and Sprite/tonic/club soda, blended. Soooo perfect for a hot summer night.

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    I have had a window unit, sometimes, growing up, I just don’t like using them/the feel of air conditioning. However, I can tell Kitty isn’t happy at all in this heat. I have tried the windows shut, curtains shut route but she’s still not liking it, plus lack of sunshine makes ME sick, haha. Still, I’m really glad you wrote this, it’s a beautious piece of usefullness! The comments, too. Even though I’m joining team a/c these all sound wicked…cool. *chuckle*

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