5 Mistakes to Avoid When Using Dry Ice

updated May 1, 2020
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(Image credit: Diana Yen)

Dry ice can lend a fun and spooky atmosphere to your Halloween festivities, but knowing how to use it is incredibly important. Dry ice is the frozen form of carbon dioxide, which is why, instead of melting into a liquid when heated, it turns into a gas. As it sits at an exceptionally cold temperature of -109.3°F, handling it properly is a top priority.

Here are five mistakes to avoid when using dry ice.

1. Buying it more than a few hours before you need it.

This is less about safety and more about the fact that dry ice doesn’t last very long. It takes about 24 hours for five pounds of dry ice to turn from solid to gas — even when stored in a cooler. So if you buy it a few days in advance of your Halloween party, it won’t last.

Follow this tip: Plan for a dry ice run right before you need it. Just a few hours before your party or gathering will be perfect.

2. Getting it anywhere close to your bare skin or mouth.

As mentioned, dry ice sits well below freezing, at -109.3°F. If your skin comes in contact with it for more than 10 seconds, you risk serious frostbite. The same goes for your mouth — if you come in contact with it while enjoying a smoky cocktail, you could even risk internal frostbite.

Follow this tip: Use heavy gloves, tongs, or both when handling it. And when using it in drinks, remind those sipping not to let their lips touch the ice. Since it’s extra dense, it will sit at the bottom of the glass and shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying it, but it’s still important to be aware.

3. Storing it in the freezer or an airtight container.

Once you bring dry ice home, it’s important to store it properly before you use it. If you keep it in the freezer, it will not only melt into a gas quickly, since the freezer is so much warmer than the temperature of dry ice, but it could also cause the freezer to shut down. And if you store it in an airtight container, when it turns into a gas it could cause the container to explode.

Follow this tip: The best place to store dry ice is in a styrofoam or insulated cooler with its lid ajar. That will help maintain its temperature while allowing it to have some ventilation for the gas to escape.

4. Using it in an area that’s not well-ventilated.

Because dry ice is made of carbon dioxide, as it turns to a gas you don’t want that gas to build up and replace the oxygen in the room. That could be dangerous.

Follow this tip: Be sure you’re using dry ice in a room that’s well-ventilated. Keep a window open to be sure that there is air circulating.

5. Tossing leftovers in the sink or trash.

Again, dry ice is very cold. Tossing any that you didn’t use at the end of the night in the sink to melt could cause serious damage to your sink and drains. Also dumping it in the garbage, which isn’t a ventilated space, could cause gas buildup and the trash can could possibly explode.

Follow this tip: Let any remaining frozen dry ice melt into a gas in a well-ventilated space. Pouring warm water will help speed the process up.