As the temperatures creep up, traveling with babies can get more challenging. How do parents keep a car seat cool during the hot summer months? How does a baby stay cool and comfortable when riding in a hot car? Thankfully, with a little work, there are some easy things parents can do to keep their child cool and safe on a hot summer day.
This post covers:
- How parents can prepare to in order to prevent car seats from getting too hot
- Tips for keeping babies and young children cool once they’re in the car
- A few common things to avoid due to safety concerns
- Tips for preventing tragedy in a hot car
How to Prepare the Car (and Car Seat) to Keep it Cool on a Hot Day
Whether planning for a long road trip or a quick grocery store run, there are a few things families can do to keep a car seat cool before their baby or child even enters the car. Many of these require a little planning, but it pays off.
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1. Block the sun from entering the car.
If a car is parked outside on a summer day, the sun can heat the inside of the car. A lot. This is when window shades can make a big difference. Window covers or reflective sunshades on the windshield of a parked car can help reduce heat inside.
Of course, avoiding parking in direct sunlight helps keep the car cooler too.
For the side windows, smaller window covers or screens can keep some of the strongest rays from coming in. Some of these passenger side window covers or window visors have little suction cups to make them easy to take down.
For a more permanent solution, tinted windows also offer some sun protection. (Window tinting laws vary by state).
In other words, don’t underestimate the power of covering car windows.
2. Keep the car seat itself cool.
The simplest tip here is to throw a light-colored towel over the seat when it isn’t in use. If nothing else, this small step can help.
Premade car seat covers are also available. Here is one example (affiliate link). It’s kind of like an individualized car seat sun shade.
However, with a little planning, there are even more effective ways to keep the car seat cool when the car is parked in the summer heat. One that I use during hot weather is ice packs directly on the car seat (especially the metal buckles) when the car is parked.
Here’s how I use ice packs to keep car seats cool:
I have some reusable ice packs usually stored in the freezer. When we leave for an outing, I put those ice packs in a thin cloth cover. (One easy option: a baby’s outgrown cotton footie pajamas with a zipper. I’ve also used a T-shirt and a thin cotton tote bag).
I keep these in a cooler bag or an insulated lunch box. Then, when we get to our destination, the kids get out of their car seats, and I set the covered ice packs down in their place.
When we get back to the car later, the ice packs go back in the lunch bag and the kids get to sit somewhere cool. Even if everything has melted, the buckles are usually not hot enough to burn little fingers or legs.
Of course, there are also premade car seat coolers and pads that work the same way (affiliate link). The pad is prechilled, then placed on the seat before the child gets in. For safety, it must be removed from the car seat once it’s time for travel.
Or, take an infant car seat inside to keep it cool.
Some car seats are easy to take in and out of the car. This is especially true for infant car seats with the removable infant carrier. If it’s practical, families can lift the entire seat out and bring it inside (where hopefully it’s air-conditioned or otherwise comfortable) while the car is parked in the heat. This may seem obvious to some, impractical to others, but I point it out as a reminder. It’s a great option!
3. Choose a car seat thoughtfully.
Color matters. If you live somewhere prone to heat waves, consider lighter colors, as opposed to a black car seat in order to reflect some of the heat.
The car seat fabric may make a difference too. Breathable materials may be more comfortable.
4. Dress your baby with a hot car seat in mind.
What should babies wear in a car seat in the summer time? Every parent knows how their baby will be most comfortable, but there are a few things to consider.
First, a single layer of clothing is reasonable. This is more likely to keep a baby cool than several layers. And, if a baby has especially sensitive skin, consider choosing a non-irritating fabric. Sweaty skin in a rough or irritating fabric can be uncomfortable! Some babies are prone to heat rashes in this situation.
The other thing to consider when dressing a baby for a car seat in the summer? Those hot metal and plastic buckles of the car seat! It’s helpful for the clothes to protect a baby’s skin from these areas of the car seat. This means a onesie without pants, a dress, or short shorts may not be the best bet for many babies. The buckles and straps are more likely to touch their thighs in these outfits. I also think of the straps around the shoulders and chest. So, something with sleeves or a higher neck can help protect the skin there.
An added benefit to longer shorts or pants and sleeves is sun protection when they’re back outside.
This is all personal preference, though. If the buckles are cool enough, the skin isn’t bothered, and the baby is buckled up securely, then whatever a baby is wearing is fine!
Tips for Keeping Kids Cool in Car Seats in the Summer (When you’re on the Road)
So, if you’ve done all the above tips for preparing a car seat before it’s time for a kids to get inside, you’re off to a great start. You parked in a shady spot, used sun shades for the windows, and placed ice packs on the car seat itself. You made sure the babies and kids are dressed in a single layer of breathable fabric that will protect them from the hot metal buckles.
It’s still really hot when it’s time to buckle kids in and take that drive. There are still things to do in order to keep kids cool in their car seats.
This may be stating the obvious. But air conditioning (AC) makes a difference.
Some families who have a remote start option on their car can get the AC going even before it’s time for everyone to get inside. And, as everyone piles into the car, a parent can open windows to allow the hot air to escape for a few seconds before traveling.
During the drive itself, there are ways to get that air conditioning to reach the kids in the back seat. Children should be rear-facing in their car seats until they’ve exceed weight or height limits (this is usually well after age 2 years), so something like The Noggle can be helpful (affiliate link). It redirects the cool air from the air conditioner vents in the front of the car towards the back seat.
(Children under age 13 should not ride in the front seat).
Even without a special device, using the AC when available is a good idea. As a reminder, a cool temperature can also help prevent motion sickness in children. This may matter more on long car rides.
2. For older kids: a wet cloth or towel can help them stay cool.
For some toddlers and older kids, holding a cool wet towel or cloth in their laps or on their heads (!) can help them feel cooler. A “cooling towel” like these can be extra helpful (affiliate link). (I also like to carry these around outside of the car on a hot day). I don’t recommend these for babies sitting alone in the backseat as they could accidentally cover their faces.
As an alternative, some families will wet a towel with cool water and wipe down a baby’s head and face with it as they get buckled in the car seat. This has a similar cooling effect without the same risks.
Things Not to Use When Trying to Keep a Car Seat Cool in the Summer
On a really hot day when everyone is sweaty and desperate, parents might be willing to try anything to cool down the car seats. However, there are a few things that simply aren’t safe. They’re not the best options and certainly not worth the risks.
1. Spray bottle in a moving car
A spray bottle makes a lot of sense for a quick spritz to cool everyone down. But once the car is moving, it becomes a hazard. In the event of an accident, it could go flying and cause an injury. If you have one for use between drives, keep it stored securely.
2. Anything on the car seat that did not come with the car seat.
Unless the car seat manual specifically states that it is safe, nothing extra should be attached or added to the car seat. This means a baby should be placed directly in their car seat against the seat itself, not on top of a cooling pack or towel. Sippy cups should be secured in approved cup holders.
Many car seat manuals also specifically advise against the types of seat covers that go under the child’s car seat against the car’s original seats. The idea is to protect the original leather seats (for example). The best way to know what to use is to look at your car seat’s manual.
A Few Safety Reminders About Car Seats in the Summer
Even with all the best intentions for cool car seats, there are a few essential precautions to keep kids not only comfortable, but safe.
Every summer, there are accidental tragedies from babies and children overheating in cars. These tragedies are preventable.
As a reminder, a car interior can be much hotter than the outside temperature. It can be dangerous for kids and babies. Unlike fevers which a child’s brain can usually regulate, a hot car can cause a baby’s body temperature to rise to dangerous levels.
For those that need a few hard and fast guidelines, here are a few tips.
Never leave children alone in a car. Even if it’s just for a few minutes and they’re buckled safely in their car seat. Even if the AC is running. I think everyone has a story where a very quick task unexpectedly took longer. Or, where a car does not behave exactly as expected.
As challenging as it is to carry a baby into the post office or pharmacy or older sibling’s school, it is worth that challenge. Leaving them alone in the car is not worth the risk.
This is the most important thing to remember.
Develop a system to check the back seat for babies and children every time you get out of your car. Many tragedies happened when a family’s schedule was slightly different and parent simply forgot their child was in the back seat when they parked their car. It seems unthinkable, right? But it happens.
A few things that work for some families to remind them to check the back seat include:
- Set an alarm reminder for a few minutes longer than the trip is expected to take. For example, maybe you expect to be home and parked in 30 minutes. After you buckle your child, set an alarm for 35 minutes to check the back seat. This is a great way to remind yourself to double check everything and everyone when you get to your destination.
- Place something essential in the back seat, so when you get out of the car you have to check the back seat. Some parents put a shoe or their phone there.
- When another caregiver is involved, check in with each other to make sure all children and babies are accounted for. For example, a mother may normally drive straight to work while the baby’s father drops their child off at daycare. If the parents swap roles for a day, they may call each other after they get to work to make sure the child isn’t still in the car, that the baby did get dropped off.
Preventing heat-related car injuries in older kids
Maybe we think of babies when we think of tragedies in hot cars. However, older children are at risk too when there are high temperatures outside. A few tips for families with children beyond the baby stage:
- Teach children to never play in or around cars. Cars must be off limits for games like hide-and-seek.
- If a child is missing, check bodies of water first (like pools or bath tubs). Then, check all cars, including the trunks.
- Keep cars locked when parked. And, keep keys out of reach.
- When appropriate for your child, teach them how to unbuckle themselves and open the car door. (This is in case they are left in a car accidentally. Obviously, this applies only after they know to stay buckled during and until the end of the car ride).
Summary: Keeping car seats (and kids) cool in the summer is possible.
With a little advance thought, parents can provide more comfortable and safe car trips for their little ones. Whether it’s window shades or ice packs, a few simple products can go a long way in keeping car seats cool. And, with deliberate planning and safety precautions, parents can keep their children safe as well. Simply never leaving a child unattended in a car (and developing systems to not let it happen accidentally) can prevent many tragedies.
Maya M. Mahmood, D.O., F.A.A.P. is a board-certified pediatrician and mom. She is passionate about parents having evidence-based information to help their families be healthier. Subscribe to the newsletter or follow on social media @mayapeds.
This is for information only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. Please see the complete disclaimer.