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Dry Ice: What It Is & How to Use It

dry ice

Whether they realize it or not, most people have experienced dry ice in one way or another, be it at the local theatre house or their neighbor’s last Halloween party. Many children have even seen or conducted experiments that involved the stuff. But, what exactly is dry ice, and how do you use it?

What Is Dry Ice?

What Is Dry Ice

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Dry ice is the non-flammable, colorless, and odorless solid form of carbon dioxide, frozen at a staggering -109 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike most other ices, dry ice changes directly into gas rather than a liquid state. This transformation is where the name “dry” ice originates.

How Is Dry Ice Made?

Made

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Although it is easy to manufacture dry ice in a process called “deposition,” there are several steps involved. First, technicians produce and pressurize gases with a high concentration of carbon dioxide.

These gases are then refrigerated until they liquefy into a snow-like consistency. Finally, technicians compress the “snow” into the desired shape and size (often large blocks or small cylinders).

How Long Does Dry Ice Last?

How Long Does Dry Ice Last

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As dry ice transforms from a solid straight into gas, it “sublimates” rather than “melts,” and it sublimates rather quickly. Influenced by storage habits and cooler size, dry ice usually has a short shelf life and needs to be used within 24 hours. Therefore, it’s best to use dry ice on the same day as its purchase.

How to Use Dry Ice

Found in many professional settings, including hospitals, laboratories, industrial units, theatre houses, and food centers, dry ice primarily functions as a cooling agent. However, it can also add memorable special effects to parties or help preserve food for home and recreational uses. Preservation, presentation, FX, and making homemade ice cream are among the most popular usages of dry ice.

  • For Preservation

Preservation

Often used when mechanical cooling is unavailable, dry ice works well for food preservation. Make sure to place the ice away from foods you don’t want to fully freeze and avoid glass cracking by insulating any breakable shelving with a buffer like a newspaper.

While determined by usage time, size, and weight of the unit or cooler, typically, an average freezer requires about 11 pounds of dry ice to keep contents frozen for 12-24 hours.

  • For Presentation

Presentation

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Utilizing dry ice for fog effects in drinks and food platters can be a fun way to enchant dinner guests and party-goers. Usually, these effects are executed by adding smaller portions of dry ice to warm water. However, since you should never ingest it, proceed with caution and seek out products explicitly manufactured for your desired purpose.

  • For Weddings, Holidays, and Theatrical Effect

Weddings

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From Halloween haunted houses to wedding dance floors, make any event unforgettable with a foggy atmosphere. Unlike the mist created for food platters, these considerably substantial effects require dry ice and a vat of heated water, plus an optional fog machine.

Adding about 4.5 pounds of dry ice to about 5 gallons of warm water will generate fog for around 10 minutes. Using a fog machine to keep the water temperature from cooling enhances and elongates the effect.

  • For Homemade Ice Cream

Ice Cream

While there are several different dry ice ice-cream recipes available, they all follow the same concept: the dry ice freezes the other ingredients and carbonates the dish in the process. Essentially the confectioner slowly mixes crushed dry ice into the ice cream ingredients until it hardens, allowing it to soften before serving.

Why is it safe to consume dry ice, ice cream but not dry ice? As the dry ice mixes with the other ingredients, it sublimates, releasing carbon dioxide, creating carbonated bubbles, and ultimately rising to a safe, digestible temperature.

How Much Dry Ice Do I Need?

The amount of dry ice needed for any project heavily depends on the details of its intended use. A standard home refrigerator or freezer needs about 11 pounds of dry ice per day to maintain its contents. Quantities for coolers vary based on cooler size, conditions, and usage time. Contacting a dry ice supplier is a great way to determine how much dry ice is suitable for your purposes.

How to Store Dry Ice

How to Store

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It is essential to keep dry ice in a holder that permits a limited seepage to circumvent pressure build-up. Keep it out of direct sunlight and refrain from unnecessarily opening the container. Above all else, store dry ice in a well-ventilated area, avoiding closed-off basements and walk-in freezers. Otherwise, the dry ice could sublimate CO2 into a lethal concentration.

How to Dispose of Dry Ice

Proper disposal of dry ice is of utmost importance for safe usage. Dry ice should never be run through the sink nor flushed down the toilet because it could cause pipes to freeze. Additionally, never place dry ice in garbage disposals nor garbage chutes due to possible pressure build-up and gas accumulation. Always let dry ice fully sublimate naturally in an extremely well-ventilated area.

Cautions and Concerns

Cautions

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Although fun, helpful, and quite interesting, dry ice needs wielding with care and caution and kept out of reach of children. Never ingest dry ice as it can engender tissue death and fatal internal injury.

When handling dry ice, wear insulated gloves and, if chipping it, a face shield and goggles to avoid frostbite. Be wary that dry ice is heavier than air, pools in lower areas, and high concentrations can lead to hypercapnia. While carbon dioxide is colorless and odorless, signs and symptoms of overexposure include nausea and vomiting, trouble breathing, and headache.

Where to Buy Dry Ice

Found at most major retailers and supermarkets, dry ice averages around 1 to 3 dollars per pound. You can also purchase it online from dry ice vendors in various shapes and sizes for several different specialized uses at a range of prices.

The best vendor and deal depends on the consumer’s intended use and circumstances. When transporting dry ice, keep car windows open to allow for better ventilation.

How Much Does Dry Ice Cost?

The cost of dry ice dramatically depends on the quantity, vendor, and designated use. Average supermarket prices range between 1 and 3 dollars per pound, while specialty vendors such as Continental Carbonic average around 2 dollars or less per pound, with better prices when bought in bulk.

Reusable dry ice-based ice packs run around $15 from online retailers such as Amazon. If you’re looking for the best deal, calculate exactly how much dry ice you need before purchasing.


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