Introduction: Air-conditioned Shirt

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Air conditioned shirt keeps you cool while looking professional; so you can keep your cool. This air-conditioned short has two fans (on either side near the back of this dress shirt) that force cool air under the clothing and out through the collar and cuff openings. Perfect for those long, hot summer days stuck at the office. I've explored alternative clothing to keep cool at work before, and this air-conditioned shirt is a fine additional to my cooling arsenal.

I was inspired to make the air conditioned shirt after seeing the commercially available one from Kuchofuku (Japan). They are the "only one company in the world" that makes them, and they retail retail for $138. Looks like that site closed down, here's another place to buy them for $190.

Using reclaimed computer fans, scrap electronics, and a dapper dress shirt from the thrift store, I was able to make this AC Shirt for around $10 - and can work with almost any type or style of shirt or pants.

Ready? Let's make!

Step 1: Tools + Consumables

  • hobby knife
  • indelible marker
  • scissors
  • needle + tread
  • fabric chalk or pencil
  • soldering iron
  • heat-shrink tubing
  • epoxy suitable for plastic and metal
  • hammer
  • 2x 12V battery ($4)
  • 1x battery holder ($2)
  • 2x 4" computer fans
  • 2x 4" fan guards
  • 1x SPDT switch
  • dress shirt ($5 thrift store find)
  • button snaps (I got a pack of 10 for $0.25)
  • Thin, semi-rigid scrap plastic sheets - see step 2
  • zap-straps

Step 2: Making Fan Support for Shirt

To attach the fans inside the dress shirt neatly there needs to be support. I chose a thin cutting board, but the carcass of a plastic 4L (1Gal) milk jug would also work. Trace the outside edge of the fan shroud into the thin scrap plastic using a marker. Then, placing the marker tip in between the fan blades, trace the inside edge of the fan shroud. Cut out the shape using a hobby knife or scissors, ofsetting your cut about 2mm [+1/16"].

Using the fan guard as a guide, center the fan guard on the traced outline and mark the four corners where the fan guard eyelets meet the scrap plastic.

button snaps
Most button snaps have an upper and a lower snap, held onto fabric using a toothed washer that clams on from the other side. The toother washer is the same for upper and lower, and my button snaps came with a plastic fastening device that squishes the toothed washer into one side.

Line up one corner mark on the scrap plastic between either an upper or a lower snap and a toothed snap. Place the snap-plastic-toothed washer sandwich into the   plastic fastening device and strike a sharp blow with a hammer to set the button snap. Repeat for each corner for all plastic cut outs you made, making sure that you use the same upper or lower snap, located on the same side of the scrap plastic, for all scrap plastic cut outs.

When complete, I had four identical cut outs with snap buttons all facing the same direction. These will be the support that attches to the inside of the garment to hold the fan assembly.

Step 3: Attach Support to Shirt

Once the snap button supports are finished we can install them into our garment. I experimented some, trying to determine the least-intrusive place to locate these fans. In the end I could not improve on the location and decided to install my fans on the back of the garment, one on each side under the arms. This location is ideal not only because it is out of the way, but the ambient air draw will likely be cooler than the air inside the garment, which will convect the warmer air upwards and out.

Wanting an easier time of attaching the plastic supports to the fabric, I decided to perforate my plastic with a sharp pokey-tool around the perimeter. Lining one edge of the plastic support along the shirt side seam I started to sew the outside edge of the plastic support to the inside of the shirt. Only sew the outside edge, leave the inside circle for now.

Turning the shirt right side out and laying it flat on the table, I used a fabric pencil to outline the circle on each plastic support. These openings in the fabric are for the the fan intake. I traced another circle inset from the first pencil marking by about 10mm [+3/8"], this will be where the fabric is cut. After removing a small circular patch of fabric, small radial cuts were made from the inside of each circle, about 10 for each. These radial cuts will make flaps wich can be folded back and neatly sewn in placing using the perforated inside edge of the plastic support.

As you can see from my photos, my sewing leaves a lot to be desired.
Learn how to sew like a pro in this guide.

Step 4: Make Fan Assembly

First determine the direction if airflow through your fan. The fan guard should be placed on the intake side of the fan to prevent objects from being inserted into the blades. The opposing button snaps that were used for the plastic support will be located on top of each corner eyelet of the fan guard.

Use an epoxy rated for use with plastic and metal. Most adhesives will likely not adhere to metal or certain plastics, or the bond will fracture when snaps are inserted. Make sure you use the right type of adhesive for what you are bonding.
The fan guard was attached to the fan and the button snaps on each corner eyelet of the fan guard. Leave epoxy to set completely.

When setting, some epoxy seeped out underneath the button snap, preventing the snaps from being inserted. I used a drill bit to clear away any blockage. In hindsight, an alternative would be to use the corresponding side of the button snaps than the one I show here, thereby eliminating the need to drill the opening after the epoxy was set.

Step 5: Wiring

The wiring for this is easy. Two 12V fans are wired to a small SPDT switch located on the shroud of one of the fans, and then wired to the 12V batteries. I chose to locate my switch in this location so the fans would be operable by simply reacing back with one hand and flipping the switch under your arm, right where the fabric opening is. The switch was wired up and more metal and plastic epoxy was used to secure it in place.

I wanted to keep the battery accessible, so chose to just zip-tie it in place. Make sure you have enough clearance for your fan blades if you choose this approach.

Lastly, make sure you heat shrink all your connections. Not only is this good practice, in this application it will be a good layer of protection from human skin contact. Bearing in mind the climate that these electronics are coming in contact with, heat shrink is perfect for this level of moisture.

Step 6: Wiring Harness, and Final Adjustments

The majority of the project is complete and the fan assembly can be snapped into place. Depending on how much wire you have stretching between your fans you may need to make a wiring harness from fabric to keep things tidy and comfortable. A simple sleeve from scrap fabric can be sewn to cover the wiring and battery.

I placed my battery pack on the lower side, underneath my fan where it was not interfering with skin or inhibiting movement, and my wires between fans were trimmed to length but left with enough slack to allow for any stretching.

Step 7: Stay Cool

With two fans to prevent overheating, you'll be the coolest guy in the office. Depending on usage, the batteries can last for about a week, or longer. The commercially available air conditioned shirts are rechargeable with a USB cable, so that might be a consideration for another version.

Now you're ready to sit at your desk all summer long while keeping your cool.

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