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Do fans help in a heatwave? When you should and shouldn't use one

If the thought of a heatwave this summer makes you break a sweat, you may be reaching for an electric fan to cool down. But do they actually work to keep you cool or do they just circulate hot air? We take a look at the best time to use a fan, and when you should leave it off.

By Natasha Gregson | Last updated Apr 27, 2023

Fan on a desk

With summer just around the corner, we're all eagerly awaiting those sunny days and warm temperatures. But let's be honest: when a heatwave hits, it can sometimes feel like we're melting away. That's when many Mumsnet users turn to their trusty fans to keep them cool and comfortable. But have you ever wondered if these whirring wonders really make a difference in beating the heat?

When the mercury rises, it's natural to look for ways to cool down, and electric fans seem like an obvious choice. These nifty devices work by circulating the air, creating a refreshing breeze that can provide instant relief. Plus, they're usually super easy to use -  just plug it in, adjust the settings to your liking, and let the cooling commence. They also tend to be cheaper than the best air conditioners, although admittedly they are less effective as an AC unit will actively cool warm air, whereas a fan just moves air around the room.

While a fan can help you feel cooler, they ultimately don't bring down the room temperature, and when things really heat up, they might even make it feel warmer if the air they're circulating is already hot. However, don't despair just yet. Fans can still be a game changer during hot weather, especially when paired with a few clever tried-and-tested cooling strategies. Here's when to use a fan to create a breezy paradise, plus the times when it's best to leave it alone.

Plus, for more hot weather hacks this summer, we've also rounded-up the best cooling boxes for family trips and the top ice cube trays for perfectly chilled drinks, so you can keep your cool whatever the weather.

Should I use a fan?

Fan in a living room

The short answer is, well, it depends. Current guidance from Public Health England suggests that you shouldn't use an electric fan when temperatures reach over 35°C as this can actually make you feel hotter by blowing warm air around the room. If the temperature is below this, it should be fine to use one to help increase heat loss, not to mention for some sweet relief from the scorching weather.

Whether you're opting for the best tower fan, a pedestal fan or a desk fan, the type of heat can also impact its effectiveness too. A recent study in Australia found that using a fan can help to improve comfort in humid heat, whereas they can be detrimental in a room with dry heat. 

Another thing to consider is that some find the constant blowing of air can dry out their skin and eyes, leaving them feeling a bit parched. Not something you want to contend with when you're already uncomfortable from the sweltering heat.

The verdict

So, should you buy a fan? Despite the odd heatwave, temperatures in the UK tend to stay under 35°C for most of spring and summer, so you may find a fan a worthwhile investment for warm weather. There's no denying that air conditioners are so much more effective at cooling the air than a fan, but let's face it, in a cost of living crisis, not many people have a couple of hundred quid to splash out on a seasonal buy. A fan, on the other hand, will be much cheaper depending on the model you opt for, and you can even get handheld fans to take with you on the go so that summer commute is a little more bearable.

What type of fan is best?

Selection of the best fans

Choosing the right fan for your home really depends on several factors, including the size of your rooms and your budget. Here are the different types of fan you can buy, plus the pros and cons of each one:

Tower fans

If you're all about style and saving space, then a tower fan might just be your perfect match. These tall and slender fans fit seamlessly into most rooms without taking up much space. They are designed to distribute air in a vertical column, providing a widespread breeze that can cool down a whole room. The blades are hidden on most models, which can make them a little tricky to clean, however. They also tend to be a bit more expensive than other fans.

  • Best overall: Dyson AM07 Cool Tower Fan, £348 | Buy now
  • Best budget: Igenix DF0030 Oscillating Tower Fan, £33 | Buy now

Pedestal fans

When it comes to adjustable airflow and versatility, a pedestal fan takes the crown. Their customisable height and tilt options let you direct the breeze exactly where you want it. However, pedestal fans can be a bit bulkier compared to their tower counterparts, so make sure you have enough floor space to accommodate them. On the plus side, they tend to be more affordable than tower fans.

  • Best overall: Meacofan 1056P Pedestal Fan, £150 | Buy now
  • Best budget: Igenix DF1655 Pedestal Fan, £24 | Buy now

Handheld fans

When you're facing a sticky, sweaty commute, a handheld fan is a handy piece of kit to have in your arsenal. These pint-sized powerhouses fit right into your bag or even your pocket, ready to provide instant relief whenever you need it. Due to their size, they won't provide the power of a pedestal or tower fan but they're a game-changer for life on the go. Keep in mind that handheld fans are usually rechargeable or battery-operated, so make sure it's fully charged before you head out.

  • Best overall: VersionTech Handheld Fan, £16 | Buy now
  • Best budget: Halfords’ Simply Motorised Handheld Fan, £2 | Buy now

Desk fans

When you're slogging away at your desk, whether in the office or at home, a desk fan can be a trusty sidekick for warm days. They're small, portable, and often come with adjustable angles, so you can position them just right to suit your needs. However, bear in mind that desk fans are not the most powerful of the bunch, so don't expect them to provide breeze for a large space - tower or pedestal fans are your best bet for that.

  • Best overall: MeacoFan 650 Desk Fan, £90 | Buy now
  • Best budget: Challenge White Oscillating Desk Fan, £18 | Buy now

What else can I do to keep cool?

Woman drinking water

Whether you choose to use a fan or not, there are plenty of Mumsnetter-approved tips and tricks you can try to cool down. Not only will keeping your temperature down during a heatwave make you much more comfortable, but it's also essential for your health too so you can prevent heat-related illnesses. Here are the hot weather hacks Mumsnet users swear by: 

  • "Keep the blinds and curtains shut to keep the sun out during the day." - RandomMess
  • "A hot water bottle filled with cold water in bed helps. Put it in before you get in so the sheets and mattress cool down nicely first." - TorysSuckRevokeArticle50
  • "Dampen a cotton sheet in cold water and lie it on top of you when you go to bed." - Bluewavecrashing
  • "I have a cool bath/shower before bed." - BlackCatsRule88
  • "Spray bottles full of water - spray them on yourself and let it evaporate, preferably with a fan nearby." - undercoveraessedai
  • "Make sure everyone drinks water, stay off the alcohol." - Shehasadiamondinthesky
  • "Stay out of direct sun, wear loose clothing, stay hydrated, keep cool using water or go somewhere air conditioned." - BertieBotts
  • "I have put my sheets and duvet covers in the freezer before in hot weather. Works brilliantly." - GiselleRose

Read next: The best cooling pillows for heatwaves and hot flashes