How to stay cool during a heatwave

20 Jul 2021
5 min read

Top tips for beating the heat.

The UK Met Office issued its first ever extreme heat warning this week amid a surging heatwave that has seen temperatures reach 33C in some areas of the country. And while this might be welcome news for sun worshippers, many will be struggling with the extreme temperatures – particularly as a lot of people continue to work from home and are unable to escape to air-conditioned office environments.

But heatwaves aren’t just uncomfortable, they can be dangerous. Last summer, for example, England saw a record-breaking number of heatwave-related deaths – a number that according to UK Climate Risk, is only going to grow as the effects of climate change take hold.

As the Met Office warning advises, people vulnerable to extreme heat are likely to experience “adverse health effects”, while the rest of the population could suffer heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses.

So it’s important to keep cool, and to learn how to keep cool for future heatwaves. And we need to do this without relying on energy and resource-intensive things like air-conditioning, which will only contribute to the climate crisis and make things worse.

Here are our top tips for keeping cool at home and while you’re out and about.

1.  Take it easy

The sunshine may well be beckoning you outside for all kinds of activities, but your body is going to be working overtime trying to keep you operational in the heat, so keep exertion to a minimum.

2.  Seek shade – but don’t rely on it

Finding a shady spot in a no-brainer when it comes to keeping cool, but in terms of atmospheric temperature, there’s actually no difference whether you’re in the sun or the shade. The difference is that you’re not being exposed to solar radiation, so you feel cooler and you’re less at risk from sun burn. Seek out the shade, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that it will protect you from heat exhaustion. And wear sunscreen no matter where you are!

3.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

We all know how important it is to drink the recommended two litres (at least!) of water every day, but during a heatwave we need to drink more than usual to maintain our bodily temperature and to replace the fluids lost by sweating. Experts suggest upping your water consumption to at least 2.5 litres of water every day – the cooler the better!

4.  Ditch the synthetic fabrics

What you wear on hot days will make a huge difference to your comfort. Forget clingy, synthetic fabrics that itch, stick and chafe, and instead choose loose-fitting, natural fibres such as cotton, linen and bamboo which are super breathable, absorbent and easy to care for.

5.  Embrace the cooling power of water

We sweat because it helps our bodies dissipate heat. Regular plain water applied to the skin works in the same way, so submerging your feet in a bowl of water under the desk or misting your face and neck with water will help to bring your temperature down. But keep it tepid. While it might be tempting to blast yourself with ice-cold water this can actually make you feel warmer afterwards as your body works harder to balance your core temperature with your skin temperature. Read more about the science of this here.

6.  Keep your house cool

There are lots of things you can do to keep your house cool without investing in air-conditioning. Check out our guide to keeping your house cool in a heatwave and learn how simple tricks with curtains, appliances and windows can bring your home’s temperature way down.

7.  Hack your bedtime routine

Trying to sleep is one of the most unpleasant parts of life during a heatwave, but there are ways you can make it a bit more bearable.

  • Choose light bed linens in natural fabrics.
  • Take a lukewarm shower just before bed.
  • Don’t sleep naked! Wearing natural fabrics like cotton will keep you feeling cooler during the night as they’ll wick the sweat away from your skin. But definitely avoid synthetic materials.
  • Put your PJs in the freezer half an hour before you put them on.
  • Pop an ice pack under your pillow as you get ready for bed – when you get in flip it over and voila! A lovely cool spot for your hot head.
  • Freeze a hot water bottle and place it under the covers about 10 minutes before you go to bed – but be sure to remove it when you get in as bare skin contact with a frozen hot water bottle could cause ice burn.
  • Open your windows once the sun has gone down to let some fresh external air in. Leaving your bedroom door slightly ajar and keeping another window open elsewhere on the same floor will help to create much-needed air circulation, too.

8.  Don’t forget your pets

If you’re struggling, then your furry friends are definitely struggling. Keep them in the coolest part of the house with a cool wet towel, plenty of ventilation and lots of fresh water. If the temperature is very high you’re better off forgoing your daily walk, but if they really want to get out then only walk them during the coolest parts of the day: dawn and dusk. And keep your vet’s phone number to hand. If you spot any signs of heatstroke in your pet – rapid panting, drooling, twitching muscles, vomiting or disorientation – call your vet right away.

The bottom line

Summers in the UK are set to become increasingly vicious, and while that might sound like good news, the consequences can be serious – and even the most ardent sun worshippers can only cope with extreme temperatures for so long. These tips will help keep you cool when the sun strikes, but a better, longer-term approach is to take action on the climate crisis now so that extreme heatwaves don’t end up becoming the norm.


The information in this article was correct at the time of writing and is provided for guidance only. Please see the full disclaimer in our terms and conditions.

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