Dry Ice vs Ice In a Cooler: Which Is Better?

Is dry ice better than regular ice in a cooler or is it not really worth the extra trouble?

When considering dry ice vs regular ice for your next adventure there are a few different things to look at. Both types of ice have their pros and cons and depending on what you are trying to keep cold or frozen will depend on which type of ice you'll want to use.

Dry ice will actively freeze items in a cooler and keep them frozen, but it's harder to get than regular ice and can be hazardous. Regular ice is great for keeping things frozen or keeping things chilled. Dry ice will freeze drinks wh

Most people use regular ice in a cooler because it'c cheap, easy to get in bulk and will keep items frozen or cold easily. Dry ice is much colder than regular ice so is better at keeping things frozen, but it's harder to get, can be hazardous and will actively freeze drinks.

In most cases for most people regular ice is going to do the job just fine and you can even make ice bricks at home. But in some specific cases dry ice in your cooler will work much better.

In this article we'll look at dry ice vs regular ice in a cooler and when you'll want to use each.

In Most Cases You'll Want To Use Regular Ice

In most cases regular ice is going to work just fine and you'll have no need for dry ice.

Regular ice in a cooler, especially a good cooler, will help to keep items frozen (assuming they are frozen to begin with) and it'll also actively cool down food and drinks and keep them cool.

So if you're camping, have a day at the beach or going on an adventure regular ice can be used to keep beer, soda, milk and water cold. It can keep meat, cheeses and vegetables cold and preserve food for a couple of days until you're ready to eat it.

Regular ice is easy to get. You can buy bags from local gas stations, supermarkets and even vending machines or you can make your own ice bricks at home to use in your cooler.

When Is It Better To Use Dry Ice?

There are some situations where it's better to use dry ice in your cooler instead of regular ice.

Dry ice is super cold. It's -109ºF (-78ºC) which is much colder than a freezer which is only 0ºF (-18ºC).

When You Want To Freeze Things

This means dry ice will actively freeze things you put in your cooler and it will also keep things frozen.

Often items in a regular cooler will thaw out, even when there is still ice left. If you're transporting meat or food that you don't want to thaw out then dry ice can be a great option.

When You Want To Post/Ship Things

Dry ice also sublimates (or turns to gas) which means it doesn't melt and leave water in your cooler which can make food and items wet.

This makes dry ice perfect for shipping frozen things. There will be no water left over to spill out of the cooler, wetting the packaging and so you don't have to worry about your container being watertight.

When You Want To Extend The Ice In Your Cooler

Dry ice can also be used in combination with regular ice in a cooler.

You can place the dry ice at the bottom of your cooler with your frozen items and it will keep them frozen. It will also keep any regular ice frozen.

Once the dry ice sublimates into gas and disappears you'll still have frozen regular ice to keep your items cool. This can extend the life if your cooler and help your cooler keep ice longer.

When You Want To Keep Ice Cream Frozen

Dry ice can also keep ice cream frozen whereas regular ice cannot.

Ice cream is designed to melt at a much lower temperature than regular ice. This is why it's so smooth and creamy when you get it out of the freezer.

However, in a cooler ice cream quickly turns to mush or goes completely liquid.

Dry ice is cold enough that it can keep ice cream frozen. It's one of the best ways to keep ice cream frozen in a cooler.

It'll keep it so frozen you might need to leave the ice cream out for a bit to thaw before you can serve it up.

Negatives of Dry Ice in a Cooler

While dry ice is much better at regular ice at keeping things frozen it isn't perfect and there are definitely some negatives to consider when using dry ice.

It's So Cold It Freezes Everything, Even Drinks

When you're using dry ice in your cooler it's going to be so cold that it'll likely freeze everything in your cooler.

There is a way to use dry ice in a cooler for drinks but it involves layering things and can be difficult.

More often than not it'll freeze your drinks. This can lead to exploding soda cans, broken beer bottles and drinks so frozen you can't drink them.

It Can Burn Your Skin If You Aren't Careful

Dry ice is so cold that holding it for longer than about 1 second can cause serious burns to your skin.

Held for long enough it'll cause frostbite.

It's fairly easy to handle with gloves or something protective like a towel but when around kids who aren't aware of the dangers it could be too much of a risk.

The Gas Can Be Toxic When Confined

Dry ice is made of frozen carbon dioxide which is an extremely hazardous but if contained in a confined space it can reach excessive levels and be dangerous.

You need to leave your windows open and keep it well ventilated.

It Can Be Hard To Get For Some People

Depending on where you're located it may be difficult for you to get access to dry ice.

A lot of Walmarts and other stores sell dry ice but if you're in an area where they are less common it could be difficult for you to get access to dry ice.

I do know that here in Australia dry ice is quite rare and hard to get a hold of.

Too Expensive To Fill Your Entire Cooler

Dry ice also tends to be more expensive than regular ice.

With regular ice you can spend a couple of dollars and fill up an entire cooler. But to fill your entire cooler with dry ice would be much more expensive.

When Is It Better To Use Regular Ice In Your Cooler

In a lot of situations it's going to be better for you to use regular ice in your cooler.

Regular ice is much cheaper and much easier to get access to making it way simpler to fill up your entire cooler.

You can even make your own ice at home or you can fill up water bottles or milk jugs with water and freeze them to make giant ice bricks.

Regular ice is great at helping to keep things frozen and it's also great at keeping drinks cold but not completely freezing them over.

If your having a barbecue or going on a picnic and want to keep some sodas or beer is cold then regular ice is going to be the best option for you.

Another perk of regular ice is that you can actually use the ice in drinks, use it to make cocktails or I know my kids absolutely love eating the ice out of the cooler which they could not do with dry ice.

Negatives of Regular Ice in a Cooler

There are also some downsides to using regular ice in a cooler that may make you opt for dry ice instead.

Makes Everything Wet As It Melts

We all know the experience of a cooler becoming extremely wet as the ice melts.

This is fine for drinks and for food that is packaged in watertight containers but more than once have I lost some food due to it getting completely soaked by the melting ice.

I still remember the day I opened my cooler to eat some chocolate but water had gotten in and completely ruined the entire block of chocolate. I was devastated!

There are ways to keep food dry in a cooler but you need to take that extra step, where is dry ice by its very nature is dry.

It Won't Freeze Items And Won't Keep Items Frozen

RRegular ice in your cooler is cold but it's nowhere near as cold as what your freezer is set to.

This means that the ice in your cooler cannot actively freeze items. It can keep items cold like a fridge can but it won't freeze them.

When packed properly in a good cooler you can keep food frozen in a cooler for multiple days at a time but more often than not regular ice will cause items to slowly thaw it won't keep them frozen.

It Won't Keep Ice Cream Frozen

Like we mentioned above ice cream is designed to melt at a temperature much lower than that of regular ice.

This means you cannot use regular ice to keep ice cream frozen in a cooler.

Within a couple hours your ice cream will start to turn mushy and eventually will turn to liquid even when your cooler is still full of ice.

Dry Ice vs Regular Ice in a Cooler: Which Is Better?

So when it comes to dry ice versus regular ice in a cooler which is better and which should you use?

As you can see they are both different and both have their pros and cons. Whether you should go with dry ice or regular ice will depend on what you're trying to store and keep cold in your cooler.

Dry ice is best for keeping things frozen and is great for shipping as it won't melt and wet everything in the process.

Regular ice is cheaper and easier to use and is great at keeping food and drinks cold but not frozen.

For most people regular ice is going to do the job they need it to do, that is keep things cold, but for some people they'll need to use dry ice.

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