photo of electric fan to be used with ice

Does putting ice in front of a fan really work? – I put it to the test

By Jason Wooden, PhD | Updated for 2022

I did a simple test with ice in front of a fan on a hot day and found that the right setup could create a stream of air 10°F cooler than room temperature.

However, the cooling was limited by the power of the fan, the type of ice, how quickly it melted, and how far away you were from the setup.

If you’re looking for other ways to cool down, you can try cold compresses, ice packs, frozen wash clothes, cooling mattress pads, DIY homemade ACs, and various other remedies.

Why we’re curious whether putting ice in front of a fan works

Nothing is worse than being uncomfortably hot and nothing you do seems to cool you down.  Whether it’s a blistering hot summer day or a warm night during a heatwave, we’ve all been there.

Too hot to get anything done by day and too hot to sleep at night.

So, I get why people are curious online whether putting ice in front of a fan actually works.

Maybe you’re strapped for cash or can’t get your hands on an AC unit because they’ve sold out…

Or maybe you live in an area where AC is not usually needed…

Regardless, it’s all the same – miserable days and miserable nights.

Yes, it would be great if you had air conditioning but what if all you have is a household fan and it’s not getting the job done?

Out of desperation, you’re willing to try anything to cool down including something as crazy as putting ice in front of a fan.

Will it really do anything?

Is it worth the time?

I was curious myself so I put it to the test.

The science behind using a fan with ice for cooling

Okay, the basic idea is pretty simple – ice absorbs heat as it melts.

If you blow warm air across ice with a fan, the air will be cooled as the ice melts.  So, warm air goes in and out the other end you get cool air.

That’s how things should work in theory.  However, there are of course some obvious limitations to keep in mind.

First, the warmer the room is, the less cooling you’ll get and the more quickly the ice will melt.  Secondly, the bigger the room you’re in the less cooling you’ll get for that space.

That means you’ll get less cooling in a big room on a very hot day.

And it also won’t last as long as it would in a smaller space that isn’t as hot.

My simple cooling test with a house fan and ice

To test whether putting ice in front of a fan works, there are lots of different ways I could do it.

Basically, what you want is to move warm air so it comes into contact with something cold. 

You could use ice in various forms, a bottle with frozen water, or cold packs.

For simplicity, I decided to give ice cubes and a solid block of ice a try.

If you’re wondering why, it’s because with ice cubes you get lots of surface area and spaces for the air to flow across.

With a solid block of ice, I could see how well things work with something that has less surface area but will take longer to melt.

So, my basic set up was:

  • a household fan
  • ice cubes in a basket or block ice in a pan

On a hot day, I bought a 10 pound bag of ice and a block of ice.

First, I tried setting it up with a smaller fan:

I started with a desktop fan I thought would do the job.  I checked for air flow using a piece of bath tissue and quickly realized it was too wimpy even at the highest speed setting.

It wouldn’t be strong ice to move air through my setup.  I needed to go bigger.

More power, more air flow.

So, I tried a bigger and more powerful fan:

It past the air flow check, so I went ahead and added the ice.  The cool air it created was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the room!

photo of cubed ice in a basket in front of a fan with a thermometer

However, the air wasn’t as cold farther away from the ice.

The other thing is that the ice melted pretty quickly.  More than half the ice was gone within 15 minutes! 

I also had to add a pan to collect the water.

Next, I tried it with a big block of ice:

While it didn’t melt as quickly as the ice cubes, the air was only about a degree or two cooler than the room.

That wasn’t too surprising since there’s less ice surface area for the air to run across.

photo of block ice in front of a fan with a thermometer

The Verdict: Does ice in front of a fan really work?

I think you can see from my simple test that I was able to create a nice stream of cool air.

I got the best results with a more powerful fan and ice cubes.

However, it only works so well because:

  • the ice cubes melts pretty fast
  • if it’s really hot, it will melt even faster
  • you need lots of ice on hand to keep if going
  • it wouldn’t be able to cool a room

It can give you some relief as long as you keep it close to you.  For me, I think this might work as a desperation measure if I used it at my desk or on the night stand next to the bed.

So, yes, putting ice in front of a fan can give you some cool air, but not for long.

I suppose if I had a bigger fan and unlimited ice it might do more, but then you run into other issues.

You can decide whether it’s worth your time.

If you seriously want to give this a try, make sure you:

  • keep in mind it’s a short-term remedy
  • use it for personal cooling, not a room
  • have plenty of ice on hand
  • use a strong enough fan

Meanwhile, let’s look at what else you can do to stay cool.

I decided to give water in front of a fan a try…

Here’s a simple a twist on the ice in front of a fan idea.

It actually goes back as far as the ancient Egyptians who would have slaves fan water-filled pots to cool the royals.  Similar to the cooling breeze you can get off of a lake, the way it works is that hot dry air cools off as it passes over water.

This is the idea behind modern day evaporative coolers.

I decided to see what would happen if a placed a roasting pan of water in front of a regular size house fan.

photo of pan of water in front of a fan instead of ice

While it was nowhere as cool as putting ice in front of a fan, the air did feel a BIT cooler and was pleasant. 

Nothing to knock your socks off, but definitely worth a try.  Plus, it’s easier to setup and maintain than ice.

I’m currently using it for personal cooling in a small room.  If you decide to give this a try, keep in mind evaporative cooling doesn’t work as well in high humidity.

Other tricks worth a try to stay cool when it’s hot

The good news is that putting ice in front of a fan isn’t the only trick that may help you cool down.  Depending on your situation, there are plenty of things worth a try on hot days and nights that can help you stay cooler.

Some are easy to try and will give you a bit of short-term relief.  Others will require an investment of time or money.

photo of glass of water

1) Stay hydrated

Drinking adequate amounts of water can help you stay cooler.  Without adequate moisture, the body’s natural sweating and cooling mechanism doesn’t work as well.

For extra hydration, you can eat water rich foods such as watermelon.

2) Avoid alcohol

Consuming alcohol on a hot day can come back to bite you in more than one way.  First, it can dehydrate you.  Secondly, alcohol increases blood flow to the skin which can make you feel warmer.

3) Eat smart

During digestion, your body temperature may rise slightly as your metabolic rate increases to process food.  Avoid eating heavy meals which can make the body work extra hard and generate extra heat on a hot day.

Instead, stick to lighter meals with lots of fruits and vegetables.

photo of water spray bottle for cooking instead of ice in front of a fan

4) Mist yourself

A convenient way to get a bit of cooling relief, you can start with a simple spray bottle.

cartoon drawing of a bucket of cold water to use instead of ice in front of a fan

5) Dip your feet in cold water

Quick, simple, and may just do the trick for you.

photo of shower to be used instead of ice in front of a fan

6) Take a cool shower

Another quick and time tested remedy.

photo of swimming pool

7) Take a quick swim

If you have access to a pool, a quick gentle dip can help cool you down and feel refreshing.

8) Try a cold compress

You can place it on your neck or forehead.

photo of ice for use in an ice pack instead of in front of a fan

9) Try an ice pack

If you don’t have a store bought one, you can make your own ice pack with ice cubes in a Ziploc bag.  You can also try a plastic bottle filled with frozen water.

Be careful how long you use it so you don’t get an ice burn or frostbite.  To be safe, you can wrap it in a towel.

10) Try a pre-chilled towel

You can place a bunch of wash clothes or towels in your freezer so you can rotate through them.

11) Wet sheet or curtain

This trick goes back to the ancient Egyptians.  If you’re getting a breeze through a room, try hanging a wet sheet in front of an open window.

12) Double up on the fans

Place one in the window to move out hot air, place another inward to move air around the room.

photo of basement in house

13) Relocate to a cooler spot

Try sleeping downstairs or in a basement. 

14) DIY homemade AC

Depending on how comfortable you are with home projects, you can make your own AC unit!

Some ideas:
Homemade DIY Air Conditioner with a styrofoam cooler (YouTube)
Homemade DIY Air Conditioner with a Coleman cooler (YouTube)
How To Turn Your Fan Into AC (YouTube)

15) Temporarily relocate

If all else fails, temporary relocate to somewhere that has AC whether it’s a relative, friend, or hotel.  If it’s a coming heatwave, be sure to make your hotel reservation early.

Bedtime cooling remedies to help you get to sleep

Getting sleep in hot weather can be almost impossible on a bad night.  Running a fan with ice and the various remedies I’ve already listed may help.

Other tricks you can add to the mix include:

Try a slimmer pillow

Instead of sweating it out with a fluffy head-engulfing pillow, switch to one that’s slimmer.  You’ll get better cooling and ventilation around your head.

Freezing your bed sheets

Simple enough…

Switch to cooling sheets

Made from materials like cotton, bamboo, and linen, they’re engineered to help you stay cooler.

Try a cooling mattress pad

Some are designed with materials to draw away heat, others are more sophisticated and are powered for temperature control.

Try sleeping on the floor

I’ve already mentioned relocating to a basement.  However, what if that’s not an option for you?

Sometimes, even sleeping on the floor can make a difference.  For a more comfortable night, you can temporarily move your mattress to the floor.

Sources:

1. How Swamp Coolers Work, HowStuffWorks

2. How does alcohol affect your body temperature?, 2021, Patient.info

3. How is Body Temperature Affected by Eating?, FITDAY

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