Refrigerator Shirt




Introduction: Refrigerator Shirt

I like to race Radio Control cars here in California in the Central Valley but I get heatstroke symptoms (headache, dizzy, nausea) on 100 degree plus days. (Heatstroke is risky). I was bummed I couldn't race all summer. I then sought a solution and came up with this. It is not a cheap as anyone would like ($410), but it is better than trying to save money by buying cheap, then the merry-go-round of stuff that doesn't work, and then buying the expensive stuff in the end anyway.

The shirt can be assembled in any order, so it isn't really step-by-step. Also, my eBay links can go stale, so I will tell you what to google.

The vest has tubing that you circulate ice water through with a pump. The hydration pack has a reservoir that you half fill with water then add ice. As the ice melts you pour out the excess water and add more ice. A 5lb bag of ice from a convenience store lasts all day.

The shirt works. I can spend all day in 100 degree plus weather and be comfortable. When you first switch the pump on, it fells like jumping into an freezing pool, but then your body acclimates and you don't even know it's working. Then you take it off, and holy crap, you see how hot it is outside.

The design is a coolshirt vest (vest with hose sewed in), a pump, a battery, a switch and a hydration pack.

Step 1: Hydration Pack and Coolshirt

You can pick any pack you want. I got one that hold 3 liters and is meant for bicycling. Less than 3 liters probably would not work. 3 liters is like 100 ounces. The military ones are the most expensive but seem the best quality. This is the one I bought, it was about $68:

Coolshirt makes the vest with hoses sewn in. I called the saleman at coolshirt for a recommendation. Here is his contact info just in case. You can buy from him so you don't get the wrong thing, or save money and do the research yourself.



I bought a large sized coolshirt vest, 2 female connectors, and a bottle of maintenance additive for total $240. I bet you can get cheaper if you shop around. I then bought 5 feet of 5/16" inner diameter tubing at home depot. I then cut the tubing in half and pushed the female connectors on one end of each piece. These will plug into the coolshirt. One tube I connect to the pump (sump, inlet at bottom), that will pump into the coolshirt, and the other piece of tubing will be the return.

Step 2: Pump, Battery and Switch

Here is the pump. It is small, like 6 inches long. Tom at coolshirt recommended it. The model is Comet Elegant. They are made in the UK for tiny RV's. I bought mine for $30. The inlet for the pump is on the bottom. I attached one end of the tubing to the top outlet. I put a zip tie on it just in case. Here is a link but it can go stale, so google "Comet Elegant pump". You just push the pump down to the bottom of the hydration pack reservoir.

It is a 12V pump, so a 3 cell Lipo battery can power it (3 cell is called 3s). I bought mine at a hobby store. I picked a large capacity (5000mAh) and cheap $62. The pump is rated at 2.8A but when I measured it, it was 1.3A. The math for how long the battery will last is:

5000 / 1300 = 3.8hrs

You will need a way to charge it. The hobby store can sell you are charger. I will buy a second battery to go all day.

I then just ran wiring from the battery to the pump and a roller on/off switch. You can buy wire and switches at these places:

Batteries (get RC car type)

I have this charger because I use all types of Lithium Polymer Batteries (Lipo) for my projects.

Step 3: Final Notes

You can save money on this project if you are creative. You have alternatives for every part. The refrigerator shirt can be improved by adding a control unit, instead of just a switch. You can PWM the pump motor speed. You could add a sensor and buzzer when the battery need charging. A more energy efficient pump could make the battery last longer. You could make this shirt for your grandparents, so the could garden in the heat. You could make a system for riding your bicycle or motorcycle or any outdoor sport. The possibilities are endless.



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    52 Discussions

    Do you have a total weight on this project, materials, water, ice, etc?
    I travel around a lot and currently working in AZ on civil engineering projects. I have tried cooling vests (non powered) with the block inserts before when I ran pipe on drilling rigs, but they were way too bulky and heavy; not something you want with long periods of fast paced work.

    2 replies

    It is pretty light. The water capacity is 3 liters (100 oz), that is where the weight is. You could use a lot of twist ties to keep the hoses from catching. The hydration pack has straps which holds everything together and down tight. You could use a sport hydration pack made for physical activity. You could add straps if it was still not perfect. My opinion is you could work on it until it meets your needs. One problem is the ice lasts for 45min. So to keep working, and not stop to replenish the ice, you would need a larger hydration pack.

    ...throw a peltier thermo-coupler or two in there, and you can lose most the water

    Hi Again, Bill. I spent yesterday trying to "get up to speed with with Lipo battery chargers". I can see from the RC Forum I'm not alone I'm not alone with feeling a bit uneasy. I'd appreciate if you might be able to guide me with the size/type charger you use. My sense is that a balance charger but-- better to ask someone experienced & using the same size Lipo battery I'll be using!

    Thanks again for all this help (:

    4 replies

    I have a charger that does not balance the cells. I haven't had problems. On the charger I have, you type in the capacity of the battery, in my case 5000mAh, and it automatically charges at 5A, which is a safe rate. A precaution is charging in a safe spot, like the sink, and hanging around until it's done. There are also fireproof bags you can buy that contain the battery. Only an RC racer may try to charge faster or push in more charge. Then there is a lot more risk of fire.

    I am putting a 10A fuse inline with the battery to protect from short circuits. This is a precaution I think is wise. A short could rapidly heat the pump or wire. It could cause a battery fire. How bad I don't know since it hasn't happened to me.

    Sounds like another good idea, so I got that fuse & holder coming. What kind of battery charger did you get exactly. That's the last thing I'll need. The balance charger I mentioned is a bit too complex for me. As always, your input's greatly appreciated!

    I have a Duratrax Onyx 230 charger but they have upgraded it to 235. It is an easy to use charger and it balances. All Lipos come with a 2nd plug and this is the balancer plug. So you plug in the charging plug and then the balancing plug. Here is a link:

    Here is a video on how to use it.

    There may be a cheaper charger, since this is a pretty good one. I have lots of projects with many different size Lipos, and this is handy.

    That is a nice charger. I opted for the Acucell 6 (upside cheaper, downside have to use 12v power supply). The confusion came from just reading the manual and not having the right parts on hand power up the charger to program it. Once I did that it worked great. One thing I noticed with the RC LiPo battery manufacturers (same for cell phones too) is they do the same marketing ploy of using varied connectors.

    PS: Liked that coiled wire you had pictured-(again --good idea!). I found a DIY article online for heat forming a straight cable. (maybe you coiled that cable yourself too?). If not here's that link:

    LOL! I got a chuckle when I read your line: "When you get EXPERIENCE with the system". Water everywhere is something I'd like to avoid.
    Your comment about my making an Instructable with the changes I might make with mine is a great idea!
    The way you made your instructable impressed me with its simplicity. My aim is to balance simplicity with 'ease of use'. For now your idea is solid enough.
    Still have to get batteries. So I'll keep in touch through Instructables one way or the other. Thanks o<[:0)

    Hi Bill!

    Got another questions if you don't mind.

    Do you just have the inlet & outlet hoses come out the fill opening of the

    bladder to the vest?

    Just ordered the cooling vest. (Got that osprey

    vest and the pump already). I want to get everything

    together to try before the cooler weather sets

    in around central PA in the next month or two.

    Thanks again!

    1 reply

    Yes. I just pushed the hose on the pump and pushed the pump down to the bottom of the bladder. The return hose sits about 4 inches inside the opening. To hold the hose in place you could drill a small hole in the side of the opening and then use a a zip tie to hold the hose. Mine stays in place pretty well, but if the return hose pops out it will pump water everywhere.

    When you get experience with the system and make adjustments, you could make an instructable on your improvements.

    Hi. I thank you for this instructable. I'm heat sensitive and tire rather easily. I have one question about HOW OFTEN do you have to replenish the ice? You'd mentioned being in 100 degree temps.I just want to get a better idea if it would meet my particular situation. Another gent here mentioned he has M.S. and uses an ice vest. I've had M.S. for over 32 years and use ice vests as well. I try to stay active by being a caring clown for kids, elderly and disabled. The vest I have uses refreezable inserts but it's challenging having to remove my clown shirt and switch into another vest (still easier than switching out the individual packs though!)..

    I've started looking into purchasing all the items you'd mentioned. Your input will be greatly appreciated!

    4 replies

    It is kind of difficult to say. The ice for me lasts half an hour to 45min. Using a hydration pack means I have to take it off to replenish the ice. I use a 3 liter hydration pack but there are much larger ones. I usually don't check how much ice vs. water, but I could have just enough water to make the pump work and the rest ice. When I made this vest, no one could answer these questions for me. I had to approximate and adjust to get the solution, and I can always keep improving on it.

    Hi Bill,
    I appreciate your reply. I always do our caring clown gigs with my wife who I know wouldn't mind topping off the ice. We live in the central PA area where the temp's aren't as severe (so might last an hour or so?). I'm keeping an eye out for some brightly colored hydration vest so it could be part of the whole clown persona. I was thinking of just extending the drain tube to rid myself of the melted ice. Our gigs never last longer than I can (which is about 2.5 hours).
    BTW that pump you mentioned "The Comet Elegant"-- Did you get it in the U.S. or have to get it from England?. Thanks again!

    PS: I've got a bunch of images on our website. You can see (perhaps) I'm usually wearing an icevest when I do clowning.
    . Here's the link:

    The Comet Elegant I got on eBay for $30. You can find their website (UK) with a little effort and see what other pumps they have, then maybe get them on eBay. You could definitely integrate the shirt in your clown outfit. You could add food coloring to the water and some extra tubing and do something zany. You would be the only clown doing it for sure.

    Thanks Bill. I checked getting one from England but the shipping is double the cost of the pump. I think that Ebay idea's the way to go. Thanks again and have a great weekend!

    Pretty cool

    After reading "bicycling science" written by some MIT guys, i wondered if it's not possible to convert the thermal energy into mechanical.

    (This book says, that while a average athlete is putting 350W mechanical into the pedals, 850W in heat needs to be dissipated to the environment.)

    So if it would be possible to convert these 850W to mechanical energy, this would be helpful. Even at a low efficiency of 30% or so. Maybe with a hydrocarbon solvent, that changes its phase a little below body temperature. Then use the vapour on a steam machine or a Stirling or a turbine.

    Would in be possible to do this using a radiator and pump as in a water cooled PC? Instead of using ice

    1 reply

    Not in this case. Heat flows from hot to cold. The water exiting the vest should be not hotter than body temperature, 98.6F (unless there is solar heating because the vest black in color). If the air temp is 100F, the radiator will just heat the fluid further... unless it has some sort of evaporative cooling mechanism.