Everything You Need to Know About Dry Ice
Be sure to keep this in mind before transporting it in your car.
Whether you need it for refrigeration, making a spooky fog or fizzy fruit, dry ice is a fun science experiment waiting to happen.
What Is It?
Dry ice is not related to regular water; it's solidified CO2 (carbon dioxide) and is way colder than the ice cubes in your lemonade (-109F!). That means it can cool down or freeze solids and liquids at a much quicker rate. As dry ice evaporates, it turns into color- and odorless CO2 gas that can have an eerie effect. It's super cool, but can also be super dangerous. Read on for the dos and don'ts of dry ice.
How to Handle Dry Ice
- Avoid direct contact with skin. It could cause burns similar to frost bite. Be sure to wear insulated gloves when handling it.
- Give dry ice a little breathing room. The best place to store it is in a cooler wrapped in a towel. Coolers aren't air-tight so there will be enough ventilation for some of the vapors to escape as the dry ice evaporates. Don't store in a fridge, freezer or other air-tight place otherwise you run the risk of it building up too much pressure which could have unintended explosive consequences.
- Don't inhale dry ice in a closed space. If you're transporting dry ice in your car, be sure to keep its container vented and open the car windows — you don't want to inhale any of the gas.
- Buy the size you need. Cutting and chipping dry ice can be tricky. Try to buy it in the form and size you need, like a chunk that will fit nicely in a Halloween cauldron. If you do need to cut it then be sure to wear insulated gloves and protective eyewear.
- Allow any leftover dry ice to turn into a gas in a well-ventilated area. Outdoors works great. Just be sure to keep out of reach from kids and pets.
- NEVER eat or swallow dry ice.
Where to Get Dry Ice
Your local grocery store or national super store chains should sell dry ice, but of course, call ahead to check. It comes in one to five-pound blocks and should be bought the day of use. Otherwise, it will completely evaporate within 24 hours.
If you live in a large town or city, you will probably be able to find a dry ice supplier. Such suppliers normally sell to restaurants or companies that use dry ice, but if you call ahead, you can typically order the size of dry ice you need.
What to Do with Dry Ice
For Making Fog: Dry ice needs to be submerged in water to react. Warm water creates a dense and thick fog — expect a one-pound block to be completely evaporated within 20 minutes. Colder water will make a thinner fog that lasts longer.
For Refrigeration: If you're using dry ice to keep food cold, be sure to wrap it in a towel and store everything together in a container that isn't air-tight, like a cooler. Keep things you don’t want frozen away from it.
Have (Safe) Fun with Dry Ice
Besides the obligatory creepy witch's cauldron at Halloween here are a few ways to play with dry ice:
- Drop a block into a punch bowl for a side of fog. Make sure no pieces chip off.
- Fruit with fizz: Turn grapes, strawberries and orange segments (that's just a start) into an effervescent treat: Wrap dry ice in a towel and place in a clean cooler. Add fruit, shut the lid and wait about 12 hours. You'll have fruit with a secret fizz — like soda — inside.
- Make a singing spoon for an easy party trick: Hold a metal object near dry ice and listen to it "sing" and vibrate.