How to stay safe and keep cool during a heatwave

family cooling in front of fan


Posted February 12, 2024

As the mercury soars, here's everything you need to know to stay safe and keep cool before the reprieve of a cool change.

Australia is synonymous with sunshine, beaches and summer. But we’re also known for prolonged periods of high temperatures, which can be a health hazard - particularly for the very young and elderly.

Heatwaves also pose a significant risk to the health of our pets and property, including our vehicles, gardens and electricity bills.

Here’s some simple tips to keep you and your family cool, calm and safe during hot weather.

Beating the heat and staying safe

Beware the temperature inside your car

If you and your precious cargo (children, family, pets) need to hit the road during a heatwave, there is one golden rule to follow: never leave your loved ones in a locked car.

Temperatures in a parked car, even on a mildly warm day, can rise between 20 to 40 degrees hotter than the outside temperature. Leaving a window cracked doesn’t help, as kids and pets warm at a faster rate than grown-ups.

While it’s hard enough to wrangle kids on a normal everyday grocery run, when it comes to kids and cars on a hot day, taking them into the store with you is the only option.

For pets, take a leash with you on your travels so you can tie them up to an outside post, preferably in the shade. Keep a portable drinking bowl in your vehicle so that you can keep your pets hydrated while they wait for you to run your errands.

Heatwave safety starts the moment you hit the road. If you’ve got air-conditioning, take a moment to cool the car down - especially if it’s been parked outside in direct sunlight.

If it’s not possible to park out of the sun, invest in a sun protector to help keep your car cool.

More: How to keep your car cool in summer


dog in car

Never leave your children or pets unattended inside a hot car, even with a window open. Image: Getty


Stay sun smart

If you are planning to spend some time in the sun, try to avoid going out in the middle of the day when it’s the hottest, and remember - Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek, Slide.

First launched in 1981 by the Cancer Council, this campaign is a classic fall-back when it comes to summer sun protection for a reason - it’s easy to follow and hard to forget. But the older generations may be unaware of the updated guidelines since the 80’s jingle.

  • Slip-on a shirt (and any protective clothing)
  • Slop on some sunscreen
  • Slap on a hat

And its two latest editions:

  • Seek shade
  • Slide on some sunnies (sunglasses)

Stay hydrated

One of the best ways to avoid overheating on hot days is simply to drink water. Think about adding slices of lemon, lime or even oranges to add flavour too.

It’s always handy to have some electrolytes around to restore any minerals lost through sweating it out. It’s best to avoid alcoholic or caffeinated beverages as they can speed up the process of dehydration.

Keep an eye on your pets

Just like us, pets are affected by prolonged bouts of heat, but unlike us, they can’t be relied on to cool themselves down. As pet owners, we have to be on top of that.

Ensure your pets are kept in a cool place in the home. Relocate them to cool tiled surfaces if needed (dogs and cats are a big fan of this), darkened rooms or where you’ve got air conditioning and fans.

If possible, don’t keep them outside, as even shade and a full water bowl might not be enough during a heatwave. Keep your pets hydrated by checking that their water supply is plentiful.

Drape damp, cool cloths over them for a bit of relief, and it’s worth keeping that ice tray stocked as they make a welcome edition in a water bowl on a hot summer's day.

Finally, keep an eye out for signs of heatstroke in your animals. Symptoms include:

  • Rapid panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Twitching muscles

Call your vet right away if your animal is displaying any of these symptoms.


sunsmart family on beach

Make sure you and the family Slip, Slop Slap, Seek and Slide. Image: Getty


Keep cool indoors

Keep your blinds down, airconditioning on, and limit movement (a heatwave is not the time for an indoor dance party). Blocking out windows, whether it be with blinds or a makeshift set-up (towels or sheets, will do), will ensure your house stays cool and tolerable.

If you don’t have air conditioning, fans are a great alternative. To cool a room or space fast, you can even put some ice on a tray in front of the fan for some temporary relief. Fill up and keep spray bottles in the fridge so that you can stay cool with a spray or squirt when needed - great for kids. And if it gets too much at home, head to the local library or shopping centre - havens in hot weather.

More: How to lower your energy bill during hot weather

Look after your garden

Prepare for and look after your plants during a heatwave with a few simple steps:

  • Heavy watering before the heatwave hits (try the night before or the cool of morning).
  • Putting mulch around your plants to retain as much moisture in the soil as possible.
  • Moving potted plants indoors or under some shade.

If your garden can’t be moved into shade, think about moving shade into your garden. Erecting temporary shade doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive - a large beach or smaller rain umbrella usually does the trick in small gardens.

Heatwaves are a reality of our summers, so if you have a large back and front garden, it’s worthwhile investing in some shade cloth from a nursery or hardware store that you can put up quickly, then dismantle and tuck away in a box when it cools down!

Be prepared and help others

The best way to endure a grueling heatwave is to be prepared for one. Here are just some of the steps to consider:

It might seem obvious, but checking in on friends, family, even your neighbours during a heatwave is important. You never know when a simple action like sending a text or picking up the phone might just save a life in case they are struggling.


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