The Un-Blanket, or How to Stay Cool Without AC

It has been stupidly hot around here lately. Maybe you’ve heard? Even for those of us without fires in our front yards, the heat has been rough. Monday broke a few records, and even after dark it was still 100+ and 5% humidity in some places.

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My poor azaleas got fried after two days of insane heat 😦

I don’t know about you, but that’s not my definition of fun. Fire is essentially a season here, so much so that it’s somewhat concerning when we have a summer where half the state doesn’t go up in flames. Why? Because the less things burn now, the more fuel there is for next time. The worst wildfires are almost always in places that haven’t burned for a long time.

So knowing that this is not just the beginning of an insanely hot time of year, but also a season where things literally catch fire, it seems to be a good time to talk about ways to escape the heat.

The general rule you’ll hear in the green living circles is “cool the person, not the room.” That’s all well and good to a point, but when it’s 100+ outside and nearly 90 inside, some of that energy sucking air conditioning sounds mighty appealing. Heat and I have never gotten along very well, so it’s perhaps lucky for Mother Earth that AC is simply not something I have access to. Less lucky for me, however.

Thankfully, I stumbled across this little trick, which I am hereby dubbing the “un-blanket.” It uses no electricity, is surprisingly effective, and the only materials you need are a towel and some water.

How to make an “un-blanket”

Before we start, it should be noted that this may not work in extremely humid heat. It might even make things worse, though I can’t say I’ve tested it. But if you’re in a hot, dry, literally on fire kind of heatwave, this might be your savior. If you’re worried about the humidity issue, see how you feel after taking a shower. If that cools you off, bingo! But if it’s humid enough that showers just make you feel more sticky and gross, you might want to stay away.

Step 1: Moisten your towel

It doesn’t need to be sopping wet, but decently damp across the whole surface and on both sides. There are several ways you can achieve this; I tend to give it a quick spritz with cold water in my shower, though it’s easy to go overboard this way. You can also fill a squirt bottle with water and squirt down the whole thing on both sides. This takes longer, but offers more precision.

Step 2: Drape the towel across yourself

Wearing as little clothing as possible, drape the towel across yourself, making sure it’s touching your skin. It should feel cooling very quickly. I usually do this lying on a flat surface (usually I do it at night, when the thermometer just won’t drop even after the sun goes down).

That’s it! You can keep it on you as long as you need to, and if it starts to dry out you can give it another quick spritz if you need more cooling power. More water tends to mean it cools you off more, so try to get a feel for how much water you like before you go overboard.

So, why does this work?

We have all likely felt at times that water has the capacity to cool things down. This relates to some simple principles of thermodynamics. For starters, scientifically speaking “cold” doesn’t actually exist. There is only heat or the absence of heat. Things can be exothermic (emitting heat) or endothermic (absorbing heat). When you touch an ice cube, it feels cold because you are emitting more heat than it is, and the ice is absorbing some of that heat from you.

The same principle applies here, except with the added benefit of evaporation. The water takes away heat from your body, and then evaporates into the air, cooling you more completely. This is the same idea behind sweating, and it’s also why this may not work in situations with high humidity. The water can still absorb the heat, but if the air is already too saturated for it to evaporate it will just… stay there. It may feel good for the first few minutes, but after a time you’ll end up covered with water that’s just as overheated as you are.

Is this a perfect cure all? No. For one thing, it really only works when you can afford to lie around and get nothing done. (Or are willing to get things done while wrapped in a damp towel.) But I will say this has been pretty much the only reason I’ve been able to sleep the last few nights, and it helps mitigate that horrible feeling of waking up to find you’re already sweating.

Ah, summer. Why do people think you’re so glamorous again?

 

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