How to keep cool in summer without air conditioning

Global cooling without the global warming.
Global cooling without the global warming.
Image: Reuters/Anuwar Hazarika
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If you’ve ever felt the sweet, cold blast of air conditioning on a sweltering hot day, it can be hard to imagine how you ever lived without it. Yet live without it people do, and have, for most of history.

Today, AC is still an out-of-reach luxury for many, even as the world is growing increasingly reliant on it, increasing its contribution to global warming. As record-high temperatures continue to be registered around the world, we asked Quartz staff with experience in blazing climates for their advice on staying cool in ways that are  kinder to the environment—and to your wallet.

One suggestion, from a staffer who spent time with the US military in Iraq, may not be operational for all: Stash a frozen water bottle in your bra. Here are some other tips and tricks, most of which will be more universally applicable:

India: Water, cold and hot

A boy jumps into a pond to cool off on a hot summer day in Agartala, India.
A boy jumps into a pond to cool off on a hot summer day in Agartala, India.
Image: Reuters/Jayanta Dey

Before air-conditioning units started being installed in India at a rapid clip, the country perfected a range of traditional techniques for beating the heat, says Quartz India co-editor Harish Chander. They range from home-made air conditioners and man-made ponds for swimming, to wrapping wet towels around the shoulders and wearing a traditional pugri or turban to protect oneself from the heat.

It’s also popular to use earthen pots to store and cool water, and to wet blinds—or tie wet bedsheets to windows—to cool the breeze as it comes in, says Quartz India co-editor Itika Sharma Punit.

Kerala, in the tropical southwest, has a unique tradition: drinking hot water. “Everywhere you go in the state—homes, restaurants—you will be offered drinking water hot or boiled with herbs or fennel/cumin seeds,” Chander explains. “This, besides being healthy organically, adjusts the body heat, making one feel better off in sultry conditions.” (Popsicles and fruit peppered with chili powder are popular in Mexico for similar reasons, says Quartz reporter Ana Campoy.)

There are also Indian yoga breathing techniques designed to cool the body down. One cooling pranayama (breathing) exercise called sheetali involves rolling the tongue and breathing in through the mouth, and out through the nose.

Hong Kong: Embrace the ice

Reporter Mary Hui is based in Hong Kong, where trail running is popular. She suggests doing what trail runners and hikers do in Hong Kong’s intense humidity: embracing ice. She’s stuffed frozen blocks of water into compression sleeves and other items of clothing to help keep running teammates cool. She also recommends fashioning your own ice-packed bandana, which rests the ice against the neck, an important spot for temperature regulation. (From Spain comes the suggestion of icing or splashing cool water on your forearms, another quick cooling spot, while walking around.)

Quartz Asia editor Tripti Lahiri, who is based in Hong Kong and also has spent many years being hot in India, says she has beat the heat by sleeping on a tiled floor or with wet hair under a fan, spraying water into the breeze from a fan, wearing light clothing, and eating light meals and “cooling” foods like cucumbers and yogurt. Frozen grapes can also do the trick.

Nigeria: Rechargeable fans

Options for cooling down without air conditioning or multiple showers a day are limited in Nigeria, where blackouts are frequent, says reporter Yomi Kazeem. However, one popular accessory is rechargeable fans, which workers charge at the office for later use.  “There’s usually electricity in offices, can’t guarantee that at home,” Kazeem says.

People cool off in the Trocadero fountains across from the Eiffel Tower during a heatwave.
People cool off in the Trocadero fountains across from the Eiffel Tower during a heatwave.
Image: Reuters/Charles Platiau

France: Close that window

If you’re home and wilting, don’t make the mistake of opening the windows in an attempt to let air in, says Annabelle Timsit, who is French-American and recently returned from a heatwave-sizzled Paris. Rather, she says “keeping your windows closed during the day, turning all the lights off, and unplugging all electrical equipments can help keep your house cool, as can hanging wet laundry inside.” Bonus: it creates a very nice, moody French atmosphere. Voila!

Cambodia: Mind the sun

Quartz IT manager Jordan Scoggins, who worked in Cambodia as an English teacher, advises arranging your schedule around the hottest parts of the day if you can manage it. “You simply can’t work normally during the heat of the day. You have to start early and take a break in the middle of the day,” Scoggins says.

Enforced rest that’s environmentally friendly? Sounds pretty cool.