How To Use Dry Ice In A Cooler: A Wet Man’s Guide

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So you’re thinking of switching from your regular wet ice to dry ice and you have no idea how to use dry ice in a cooler. First of all, we would like to congratulate you; dry ice is not for the faint-hearted. It is different in many ways than what you’re used to and even needs to be handled in a special way. All the same, it’s a great choice and can really help you keep your cooler contents cooler for longer. So let’s not waste any time and dive right into it!

What is Dry Ice?

how to use dry iceWe all know how regular ice works. What we do is we take water and freeze it. As time passes by, the ice melts back into water. It’s a simple process, right? Well, with dry ice, we’re freezing carbon dioxide. Yep, that’s the very same gas you breathe out every day and the kind you find in a bottle of cola.

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Dry ice is much colder than wet ice. Water will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Dry ice, on the other hand, has an average temperature of about negative 109.3 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s pretty cold!

Another interesting thing about dry gas, and also the reason why it’s called dry ice in the first place, is that it doesn’t turn into a liquid as it warms. In other words, it doesn’t melt. Instead, it just turns back into a gas that dissipates into the air.

Sometimes, this happens in a smoky way, and that is why dry ice is popularly remembered by many. In fact, the smoky way it dissipates is utilized in live shows when dry ice is released for the effect. You will often see it turn into smoke the moment it is exposed to heat. The reason this happens is that the gas is rapidly being released into the air. It’s not necessarily something to be worried about.

Why use it in a Cooler?

Because of these properties, dry ice is pretty popular with coolers. You don’t have to worry about ice turning into water when it melts and you don’t have to worry about space. The carbon dioxide simply turns into gas and evaporates out of your cooler when you open the lid.

TIP: To maximize ice retention also try to use pre chilled ice packs too. Here are the ones we recommend.

how to pack cooler with dry ice

How to Use Dry Ice in a Cooler

So how can we utilize this great force of nature that is known as dry ice? Well, there are two main ways you can put dry ice in your cooler: you could place it in the bottom, or you could place it on top.

Placing in the Bottom

This happens to be the most common ways to store dry ice in a cooler. That doesn’t mean that it is the most efficient manner. When you put dry ice in the bottom, the major advantage is that it doesn’t escape from the cooler too quickly.

That means it’s a little safer, especially if you have pets in the car sitting next to the cooler while you drive around. The gas won’t escape and endanger your pets.

On the other hand, the intense pressure from all the weight above the dry ice will cause it to turn into gas faster and it won’t keep your cooler contents as cool for as long as if you put it on top.

Place on Top

This happens to be the best way to store dry ice if you want to freeze your cooler items for longer. It’s therefore great if you’re going to go hunting and you want o keep your meats frozen. Because of the very low temperature of dry ice, it is typically used to keep meat frozen over long distances. It is used to freeze the meats you buy for delivery.

The Use of Dry Ice in a Few Steps

Here are a few steps you should take when using dry ice in your cooler:

  • For the best effect, wrap the dry ice in some newspapers; a few layers is best. You can then place it on top of the contents of your cooler.
  • Next, put some wet ice below the contents. Whatever you do, though, make sure the dry ice on top does not come into contact with the water below. It will last longest that way.
  • If there is any empty space in your cooler, wad up some newspapers and use them to fill in that space. That will cause the dry ice to dissipate much more slowly.
  • Freeze the food 12 hours before you start your trip. That way, you get to conserve the ice you use.

The Benefits of using Dry Ice in a Cooler

There are 3 major benefits of using dry ice in a cooler:

  • Dry ice has the advantage that it keeps your items frozen, and not just cold. Because of its extremely low temperature, it lowers the temperatures of the food enough to freeze it.
  • Dry ice does not make the contents of your cooler wet. You, therefore, do not have to worry about wading your hand through water as you rummage through your cooler to find something.
  • When well used, dry ice can last a lot longer than regular ice. We’ll talk about the ways in which you can make your dry ice last longer in a while.

Dry Ice vs Block Ice vs Cubed Ice; Which is Better?

Dry Ice Vs Block Ice Vs Cubed IceOverall, dry ice is a lot better than both blocked ice and cubed ice because of the advantages that we pointed out previously since both blocked ice and cubed ice are made of water.

When it comes to cubed ice vs blocked ice, it’s a little different. Blocked ice lasts longer, but is harder to distribute throughout the cooler. Cubed ice will melt faster but can fit in the dead space between your foods and drinks.

The best way to utilize all three is to place block ice in the bottom with some cubed ice and then fill in the dead spaces with some newspaper to prevent the dry ice from coming into contact with the water, and then to place dry ice on top. This will bring about the best freezing effect.

How to Safely Handle and Use Dry Ice

The very first rule with dry ice is to always wear gloves and long sleeves when handling it. Dry ice is always at an extremely low temperature. At that temperature, it could literally burn you in much the same way as fire, and you will have the scars and pain to show for it. You should, therefore, wear gloves to stay safe (pick up one here).

Additionally, when transporting dry ice, there is always the danger that it will give off carbon dioxide till levels become dangerous, leading to headaches, breathing problems, and even the loss of consciousness. You should, therefore, put your cooler in a different compartment from where the driver and passenger sit.

In case you have a pet in the vehicle, do not have it sit next to your cooler if it has any dry ice. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air. As it is released, it will stay low and potentially suffocate your pet.

How to keep Dry Ice longer in your Cooler

Naturally, dry ice has a pretty short shelf life. It needs to be kept at negative 109.3 degrees Fahrenheit or it will sublimate completely. It might last a little longer in a dry ice approved cooler, but it still doesn’t last very long.

The best way to keep your dry ice last longer is to keep it on top of the cooler and not to open the cooler lid too frequently, otherwise, you will lose a lot of ice in a day.

Best Dry Ice Approved Coolers

Most of the top roto-molded coolers (like Yeti and the like) are suitable for use with dry ice, but we recommend checking this fact with the specification before purchasing.

Here are the brands and coolers that are definitely compatible with dry ice:


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Luke is a co-founder of, a cooler expert and author of 70+ reviews on this website. Luke has a deep passion for sports and all-things-outdoors. From fishing to hiking, from family camping to solo bike trekking, Luke adores spending quality time enjoying nature, oftentimes checking out new coolers while doing so.

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  1. It’s so cool that dry ice is actually made of carbon dioxide. I honestly had no idea! Anyways, I’ve been wanting to throw a winter or Christmas themed party, so I’ve been thinking of getting dry ice to make some frosty looking drinks. Thanks for explaining how to safely handle dry ice!

  2. It’s awesome that you point out that dry ice can keep things cold in a cooler for a long time. I’m planning a camping trip with my friends for this summer, so I’m thinking about purchasing some dry ice for the cooler that we’re going to use. I’m going to see if there’s a good business in the area that can sell me some dry ice.

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