After last summer, I swore I was done living life without air conditioning in Los Angeles. It was the hottest summer I've experienced here; no joke, a plastic nailbrush I kept on a top bathroom cabinet completely disintegrated at the height of the heat. Living in a rental, my husband and I begged our landlord to install some type of A/C (our circa 1928 apartment has ALL casement windows), but we couldn't come to an agreement that didn't leave us with most of the financial burden. We decided: Let's move before next summer. Well, thanks to L.A.'s impossible housing market, that didn't happen, and here we are, still trapped in an oven. Determined to make our home more tolerable this season, I set out to test products that promise to make summer easier.
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The Sleep Aids
The most major pain point of living through a heat wave without A/C is the sleep deprivation, so my first line of attack was to make my bed as cool as possible.
Since our mattress becomes a hot brick in summer, my first thought was to get far away from it with a mattress topper. In my research, I found that Allswell's memory foam topper with graphite and copper gel was engineered just for that. Indeed, its cooling qualities are emphasized on the website: "Cooling graphite transfers excess heat away from the body," while, "Open cell memory foam promotes air flow and moisture wicking." When I unboxed the topper, it certainly was cool to the touch, and a quick hop onto it without sheets or a mattress pad felt cooler than my mattress would normally.
Unfortunately, my husband and I discovered that we are not memory foam people; we just felt it was too soft for our comfort. In terms of cooling, the foam does feel cool when you first get into bed. But after a while, it starts warming to the temperature of your body. One night I felt the temperature was about comparable to our normal mattress, another, it felt slightly hotter. I think the takeaway here is that if you love sleeping on memory foam — and you know that most types retain heat — Allswell's product will at least negate the effects of normal memory foam.
I couldn't ignore the marketing of My Sheets Rock's cooling sheets: "These are grown man, pro-level performance, keep you cool when you're at your hottest sheets." Made from bamboo rayon, they're incredibly silky to the touch (like, almost disturbingly so — if you normally sleep on cotton sheets, it will feel like a marked change). In the week that I tried them out, I found them to be noticeably cool when getting into bed. On a hot night, they do make a difference. One night, I'd kicked the top sheet down to the bottom of the bed and when I woke to straighten it out, it was so delightfully cool as it draped over my body. My only qualm is with the color selection, which is lacking and quite bro-ish. I got the cream hue, which is really more like a buttercream yellow. I'd stick with white.
Thanks to the creepiness of Google, once I started researching cooling products, it was impossible to ignore the ads Buffy started serving me for its "Breeze" comforter, which "keeps you cool and comfy all night." Guess what: That's pretty much truth. This is a game-changer. Thanks to the magic of the Breeze's eucalyptus fiber makeup, you put it on, and somehow you don't feel hot or warm, just "covered." This is pretty major for me because I'm one of those people who have a hard time sleeping without some type of weight. Granted, I'm probably going to kick off the Buffy on a 100-degree night, but I'm otherwise obsessed. Nice work, people of Buffy.
Brooklyn Bedding's mattress protector claims it has a "super conductive material" that "draws heat out and away from your body, creating a cooler sleep environment." I wish they'd say a bit more about what that material is! Like the Allswell mattress topper, this feels cool to the touch, and when you get into bed on a warm night, your mattress at least doesn't feel hot. This pad seems to keep things at a neutral temperature for a certain amount of time, but ultimately, it will absorb some of your body heat and the difference feels negligible. (The cooling sheets seemed to do more for keeping me cool, or at least they trick your brain into thinking you're experiencing pockets of coolness.)
So, if you're looking for a more high-tech solution to your night sweats, the chiliPAD may be of interest to you. It looks like a normal mattress pad, except there's a large plastic tube at one end, which you can position at either the foot or the head of your bed. The tube then hooks up to a cube, which sits on the floor and will need to plug into an electrical outlet. You fill the cube up with water, press the on button, and then press the buttons for heat or cool to adjust to a specific temperature — it ranges from a low of 55 degrees to a high of 110 degrees. (There's also a remote control.)
I set up the chiliPAD, switched it on, and expected to feel a cold bed. That wasn't exactly the case, so I left it for a while, thinking it might need some time to do its cooling work. I was a bit confused when I came back 15 minutes later and didn't feel like the bed was all that much cooler. Since it was time for bed, I decided to leave it running to see what happens. Turns out, it actually works better when you're on it and if you're using a top sheet or something on top of you — that seemed to create a type of insulating effect that allowed the cool to settle in. It definitely offered some relief; only thing is that you really only feel the cold if you're in direct contact with the pad; I'm a stomach sleeper, so I noticed my back starting to feel pretty warm and tossed and turned quite a bit because I just wanted to feel cool all over.
There are a few things that might make the chiliPAD a dealbreaker for some. One is the price. The second is that it does create a rather loud humming noise that has the effect of a white noise machine. I sleep with earplugs and go to bed crazy early, hours before my husband, so this didn't bother me at all. But if you can't sleep with that type of noise, or have a partner who doesn't like it, then it might cause some issues. (My husband said he had to turn it off when he came to bed.)
If you can't have A/C, then your only choice is a fan. My husband and I have gone years with crap box fans, so we finally decided to try some grown-up fans. I opted for a high-low route, testing one of Amazon's highest rated (but affordable) fans as well as one from the crème de la crème of technology companies, Dyson.
I'll get right to the point here: For the completely affordable price point, there's no reason you shouldn't buy this Lasko fan. We set it up in the corner of our living room, plopped on the couch with the fan's remote, clicked it on, and woooosh. Dang! It delivers a strong blast of air at a completely acceptable noise level (we turned on the TV and didn't need to increase the volume too much). The features are pretty standard: three speeds, oscillation, and a timer. The vertical structure makes it easy to tuck into a corner. My only gripe: The casing features a shiny faux wood that I can only describe as "Dad's Luxury Volvo Circa 1992."
I've been curious about Dyson fans for ages. They seem like part of some high-tech magic trick. ("Behold! The Streamlined Circle of Modernity that
mysteriously shoots out air seemingly out of nowhere!") This is an air purifier and a fan in one, and I'm a "fan" (ha ha) of anything that offers more bang for your buck. The setup is super easy and intuitive. When I turned on the Pure Cool, I was pleased by the cool breeze that washed over me. Since it has 10 speed settings, the stream of air can be quite subtle if you want it to be. The interesting thing about this fan is that you can switch the direction of the airflow (forward, backward) and the oscillating feature extends beyond the average 180 degrees, up to 350 degrees. The effect, if you're sitting far away from it, can be less obvious at first, but you'll quickly notice that actually the entire room begins to feel cool because of how the fan circulates the air — not just where you're sitting. Plus, it also has this pretty cool app that tells you about air quality levels.
The Weird & Wacky
When you're desperate, you'll try just about anything to escape the heat. Here are some of the weirder alternatives I tested.
I've been seeing these cheery pools all over the internet for some time, and after the inferno of last summer, I thought, "Screw it. I'm getting a kiddie pool." I set this up on my patio on a 90-ish-degree day and decided I didn't give a hoot what the neighbors might think. It will take a good minute to get it completely filled up with a garden hose, but man. There's pretty much nothing more effective than dipping into this cute little thing. It's way more fun than taking a cold shower or bath, and on a crazy hot day, I'd recommend just planning your afternoon around frozen beverages and getting in and out of your inflatable paradise. Pro tip: You'll want to make sure you have a mechanical inflator doodad (like the ones that come with an air mattress).
After being spoiled by the Dyson Pure Cool Purifying Fan, this little number had a lot to live up to. In theory, it's a good idea: It's small, it humidifies, it has three speeds, it even offers seven LED light colors (think blue, purple, green). Unfortunately, it's not exactly "ultra-quiet." It does blow a nice amount of cool air, but you pretty much need to be right next to it, like on a nightstand or desk. (Just aim it away from your face.) I can see a college student liking this for their dorm room because it's ideal for a small space and will definitely drown out the noises down the hall while giving a cool, late-night glow to the room.
This came up when I put the words "cooling soap" into Amazon. I think I somehow thought there would be something out there that could give you a type of protective, cooling residue. Um, yeah, no. This soap is very nice and very minty, but it doesn't make you feel cooler, nor, I realized, does it really claim to. If you were looking for a refreshing body wash, I'd actually recommend Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Castile Soap.