How to keep your hot phone cool and working in a heat wave

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Record-breaking heat waves baked entire swaths of the United States and Europe earlier this summer, and relief has been hard to come by ever since. Even now, temperatures continue to hit record highs in western states, prolonging a series of severe hot streaks experts say will only become more common in coming years.

In situations like these, staying informed and connected to other people becomes even more important than usual. There’s a catch, though: Our smartphones are perhaps as prone to overheating as we are.

Most of the time your phone gets toasty, it’s because of some fairly benign reason — you’re playing a game that pushes the device’s processor, perhaps, or it’s connected to a high-speed charger. Other times, overheating can arise from an app or apps misbehaving, or even a specific kind of chip design. The point is, running hot isn’t unusual for phones, and they’re generally pretty good at compensating for it.

But when hot summer days — or a full-blown heat wave — arrive, your phone may start to have trouble shedding the extra heat inside. Once that happens, you may eventually find yourself unable to use your phone at all until it cools down, and that’s not good for anyone. To help, here are a few things you can do to keep your phone functional and cool when it’s too hot outside.

Heat waves are getting hotter and more frequent. Here’s how to prepare.

Keep your phone out of the sun

Using your phone out under the sun — say, snapping some photos — means it can quickly absorb heat. And if it’s especially sunny, your phone might try to crank up the brightness of its screen to make it easier to read. That can be helpful, sure, but that also means your phone is expending more power, which increases the odds that the phone will shut down to protect itself.

“I’ve been road tripping through some hot states and keep instinctively placing my phone on the dash mount for navigation,” says Jon-Erik Hylle, a project manager at the repair resource website iFixit. “Inevitably it turns off due to overheating. Moral of the story is to keep devices from direct sunlight.”

Don’t push your phone too hard

Ideally, that means staying off your phone entirely, though we get that’s a lot harder than it sounds. If you can’t quite tear yourself away — or if you have a good reason you need to be on your phone — the next best thing is to limit what you do with it.

Avoiding using your phone’s camera is a good example, especially for shooting videos. (People don’t think about it much, but capturing video footage works many parts of a smartphone at the same time.)

Using your phone as a mobile hotspot is another common way to heat things up quickly; I’ve seen my iPhone offer up the dreaded temperature warning on a not-even-that-hot San Francisco day after pulling hotspot duty. Skip it, if at all possible. Ditto for graphically rich games: these can require a lot of oomph from your phone’s processors, and avoiding that load will keep your device cooler for longer.

Some cases could make it more difficult for phones to effectively dissipate the heat building up inside them. If you routinely keep your phone enshrined in a case, consider removing it and storing the device in a bag or a pocket that doesn’t directly touch your body.

Beyond limiting what you do on your phone, you can also limit what your phone is doing on its own. That’s where its low-power or power-saving mode comes in.

Among other things, Low Power Mode on an iPhone disables 5G (if applicable), makes your device lock faster, dims your screen and disables some background processes. These tweaks are ostensibly meant to make your battery last longer, but since they prevent from trying to handle lots of things once, it can help prevent overheating, too.

Android phones have a similar feature, and it’s usually called Battery Saver or Power Saving Mode depending on the company that built your device. You can use this tool in much the same way, though phone makers like Samsung tend to offer more options, like capping your phone processor’s performance at 70 percent.

If all else fails, turn it off

The one sure-fire way to keep your phone from overworking itself — and overheating in the process — is to turn it off and stow it in the coolest place available to you.

Do you have a better way to keep your phone cool in hot weather? Let the Help Desk know.

Should I put my phone in the fridge?

Smartphones tend to cool off pretty quickly, and you’ll probably have a functioning phone again in just a few minutes if you just leave it alone. But if your phone is overheating right now and you absolutely have to use it, can you cool it down with a quick trip to the kitchen?

Maybe, but it comes with some potential hazards.

“I would not recommend putting a device into a refrigerator to cool it,” Hylle says. “Rapid cooling in a moist environment could cause condensation and short the device. Also, going from very hot to very cold in a short amount of time creates its own risks.”

(There’s also a pretty good chance your phone won’t be able to latch onto a cellular signal in there, which may be counterproductive.)

I’ve also seen some people online mention holding their phones under a stream of cool water from a faucet — after all, smartphone makers have crowed for years that at least some of their devices can survive plunges underwater. I don’t recommend that either, since those companies are generally vouching for how a phone will hold up while sitting under a few feet of water, not whether it can withstand running water.

Here’s what I’d recommend: grab something cool, like a portable ice pack, a bag of frozen peas, a Capri Sun from the fridge, whatever you’ve got. Wrap it in a tea towel or a handkerchief, and place your phone on it for about a minute, then pop it off again. Repeat until the phone is back to working condition. Don’t have any of things? Place the phone on a cool countertop, or something like it. With luck, this more gradual kind of cooling should get your phone up and running quickly, and with less risk of condensation-based mishaps.

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