Using dry ice in a cooler is a great way to keep food frozen and to keep things cold. However, because dry ice is so cold at -109.3°F (-78.5°C) it will cause most drinks to freeze and be undrinkable.
When you are using dry ice in a cooler specifically for drinks there are some extra steps you need to do to make sure your drinks stay cold but don't freezer.
I want to show you exactly how to use dry ice in a cooler for drinks as if done correctly your drinks will be the perfectly cool drinking temperature.
The key to using dry ice in a cooler for drinks is to not have your drinks touching the dry ice or being close to it. Have your drinks far away from the dry ice. The dry ice will cool down the inside of the cooler and thus cool your drinks, much like the way a fridge/freezer works.
There are multiple different ways to achieve this and depending on how much dry ice you have in your cooler you may need to be more extreme or less extreme.
If you're just using a little bit of dry ice with a lot of drinks then chances are not much freezing will happen and just stoping your drinks from directly touching the dry ice is enough.
However, if you've got large quantities of dry ice (eg 15-30+ lbs) then the chance of your drinks freezing is much higher so you need to take more extreme measures.
1. Cover Your Dry Ice In Newspaper or Cardboard
It is always advised that you use either newspaper or cardboard to cover your dry ice so it doesn't come in direct contact with anything in your cooler.
This is because dry ice is much colder than even a regular freezer and can ruin food by causing freezer burn as well as quickly freeze drinks and cause bottles to break or cans to explode.
Newspaper and cardboard act as insulators so this is less likely to happen. It also decreases the chances of anyone touching the dry ice with the bare hands as this can cause frostbite.
2. Keep Your Drinks In An Elevated Basket Near The Top of Your Cooler
A great way to keep your drinks cold but not frozen is to use your coolers dry basket (if you have one).
Dry baskets usually sit at the top of a cooler up and away from the ice.
The dry ice will lower the ambient temperature of the inside of the cooler and so your drinks will still get cold. But because they are up and away from the dry ice they are unlikely to freeze.
The downside with dry baskets is they are usually small and you can't keep many drinks in them.
3. Separate Your Drinks For The Dry Ice Using a Divider
Another strategy is to use a divider in your cooler to put the dry ice on one side and the drinks on the other side.
This works similar to the dry basket. It stops the drinks from touching the dry ice but instead cools them down due to the ambient temperature of the cooler being lower.
4. Put Meats, Food or Anything Your Want Frozen Closest To The Dry Ice and Put The Drinks On Top of That
Chances are you might be keeping more than just drinks in your cooler and might want to store some food items or even some icecream.
In order to stop your drinks from freezing put these food items that you want frozen closest to the dry ice. They will receive most of the cooling effects and then put your drinks on top of your food.
The cold food will cool down your drinks, but they should be far enough removed from the dry ice that they won't freeze themselves.
5. Use Regular Ice On Top Of The Dry Ice And Put Your Drinks On Top of That
If you're not storing any other food and instead are just using your cooler for drinks then putting regular ice on top of the dry ice can be a great way to get your drinks away from the dry ice.
The dry ice will help the regular ice to stay frozen and then the regular ice will work to cool down your drinks to the perfect drinking temperature.
6. Create Layers of Cardboard/Newspaper to Keep Your Drinks Away From The Dry Ice
Another way to get your drinks up and away from the dry ice (if you have nothing else to do it with) is to create layers of cardboard and/or scrunched up newspaper to elevate the drinks.
You can put dry ice, then some cardboard, then some scrunched up newspaper, then some more cardboard to provide a raised platform for your drinks.
The cardboard and newspaper will create air pockets which will insulate your drinks against the extreme cold of the dry ice but there should still be enough cooling power in your cooler to make your drinks nice and cool to drink.
How Much Dry Ice Should You Use In a Cooler For Drinks?
I did a full article on how much dry ice do I need for a cooler, but that was focused more in keeping food frozen for a number of days.
When it comes to drinks it's a little bit different as you don't want as much dry ice as it'll cause your drinks to freeze.
To keep drinks cold 1-5 lbs of dry ice should be enough in your cooler. 10 lbs of dry ice would work well in a larger cooler as it allows you to spread out the dry ice.
The better the cooler you have the less dry ice you need to keep your drinks cold. A high performance cooler like a Yeti will do much better than a low performance cheap styrofoam cooler.
If you want to keep dry ice for days then click here to learn how long dry ice lasts in a cooler.
What Are The Best Coolers For Dry Ice?
If you're looking to store drinking in a cooler and use dry ice to keep them cold then you want to make sure you've got a cooler that is dry ice compatible.
Most hard-sided coolers can handle dry ice but most soft-sided coolers can't handle the extreme cold of dry ice. You can also check out these coolers which hold ice the longest.
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