Dry ice is considered safe when handled correctly and it can be bought from many different stores like Walmart and Costco. But can dry ice kill you and if so how can dry ice kill you?
The truth is that yes, dry ice can kill you when you don't take the right precautions. It can cause asphyxiation, internal burning and rupturing of your stomach and other organs, frostbite and hypothermia and even shrapnel injury from an explosion.
The good news is that a lot of these issues are highly unlikely and will only occur if you do not handle the dry ice properly.
You can easily avoid these issues with some simple precautions.
Below we'll look at the 4 different ways dry ice can kill you and we'll also talk about how you can easily avoid suffering this fate.
1. Cause You To Asphyxiate
Dry ice is simply frozen carbon dioxide. Dry ice doesn't melt at room temperature it sublimates, which means it turns directly from a solid into a gas.
The risk of death occurs when you are in a confined space with dry ice and there is no ventilation or outside air flow.
Dry ice fills the space with carbon dioxide gas which when inhaled in large quantities can displace oxygen in the body which can lead to harmful effects like headaches, confusion, disorientation and ultimately death.
There was a case of an elderly woman dying accidentally inside a car filled with dry ice in the back. There have also been stories of people passing out in their cars filled with dry ice as well as someone convulsing after entering a non-ventilated walk in freezer that contained dry ice.
This is a real threat but luckily it is easily avoided.
When driving with dry ice always make sure you wind down the windows so your car is well ventilated.
If you're using dry ice inside again make sure that windows are open and fresh air can get in and the carbon dioxide gas can escape.
As long as you only use dry ice in well ventilated areas you should be fine.
2. Cause Bodily Harm If Ingested
Dry ice can be extremely dangerous if ingested.
Dry ice is extremely cold at -109.3°F (-78.5°C) and this can cause near-instant frostbite if it comes in contact with your skin for more than a second or two. This is why gloves and protective gear are recommended when handling dry ice.
If you were to swallow or ingest dry ice then the consequences could be severe.
For starters it would burn the inside of your mouth and then if swallowed will burn your esophagus and then enter your stomach.
Inside your stomach it will cause freezer burns to your stomach.
The most significant risk of all is all that expanding carbon dioxide gas that is now in your stomach. The large build up of pressure from the gas could rupture your stomach causing internal bleeding and possibly death.
Some entertainers use dry ice and put it in their mouths so they can blow a puff of smoke however this is extremely dangerous and should not be tried at home as there is a real risk of accidentally swallowing the dry ice or burning your mouth.
3. Cause Frostbite
Because dry ice is so cold it can cause frostbite to the areas of your skin where it touches. This causes the skin to die and can cause permanent injury.
While frostbite doesn't kill you the infections that may occur after frostbite could kill you. Things like bacterial infections, tetanus and gangrene all pose risks.
You can easily avoid this by wearing protective and insulated gloves and other clothes while handling and working with dry ice.
4. Cause Hypothermia
If you are in a room that is made cold by dry ice it could cause hypothermia if your body gets too cold.
This leads to reduced blood flow which can lead to shock liver failure, kidney failure and ultimately can cause complete heart failure and death.
You would need to be in an extremely cold room for a decent amount of time without the proper clothing for this to happen though. So it's highly unlikely to ever occur.
5. Shrapnel Injury From An Explosion
Dry ice expands as it sublimates. If dry ice is kept in an airtight container then pressure will build up over time until the container breaks and potentially explodes.
The safest way to try this is with a cardboard chip packet with a plastic pop lid. Pressure will build up and pop the lid off.
It gets more dangerous if the dry ice is kept in a metal container with no easy lid to pop off.
Depending on the structure of the container this could lead to an explosion and metal shards could break off at high speeds. If one of these shards was to hit you in a vital area (eg. your throat) then it could cause injury and death.
Again this is highly unlikely and can be easily avoided by keeping dry ice in a container that is not airtight so the gas can escape easily and pressure doesn't not build up.
Learn More About Dry Ice
If you want to learn more about dry ice and how to use it effectively and keep it longer check out some of the below articles:
Best Way To Store Dry Ice
Generally speaking the best way to store dry ice is in a cooler box. A cheap styrofoam cooler usually does the trick or more expensive coolers like Yeti or Otterbox can hold ice for over a week.
Below are some of the best coolers for dry ice:
Disposible Option: Styrofoam Cooler
If you are shipping a product and it needs to stay frozen with the help of dry ice then styrofoam coolers are lightweight, cheap and disposable.
This makes them the best solution for one off uses.
Budget Option: Coleman Xtreme
If you're looking for a budget cooler that can keep dry ice for a long period of time, but one you don't have to throw away after a single use then the Coleman Xtreme is a great option.
It is dry ice safe and it has enough insulation to be able to keep the dry ice frozen for 1-3 days depending on how much dry ice you use.
It also won't break the bank or your budget.
Premium Option: Yeti Coolers (or Similar)
If you're looking to get the absolute maximum ice retention from your cooler and you need to be able to store dry ice for as along as possible then coolers like Yeti are going to be the best for you.
These coolers use thicker and better insulation and can keep small quantities of dry ice for 2-3 days with ease and can hold larger quantities of dry ice for over a week!
Yeti is the most popular and well known brand when it comes to high-end coolers, but there are actually some other great cheap options out there too.
I personally own a Yeti cooler and I absolutely love it