We all know the situation of going to the local service station and buying a bag of ice only to have it turn into one solid lump and not being able to break it up into it's individual ice pieces.
Wouldn't it be nice if you could keep the bagged ice from freezing together so whenever you need some ice cubes they are easy to access without having to take a knife or hammer to the entire bag? How can you stop bagged ice from freezing together?
Bagged ice sticks together because it's not cold enough leading to ice cubes partially melting and refreezing and sticking together. To stop this break up the ice in the bag and quickly place in the coldest part of your freezer. Alternatively place it at the bottom of your cooler where it's coldest.
It doesn’t matter what’s going in the cooler, fish, beverages, your feet on an extremely hot day, you don’t want a big blob of fused ice, it’s no good for anyone. What you want is to keep your ice cubes separated so that you can use them easily without having to smash and break them apart. Continue reading below and you’ll find out exactly how you can keep bagged ice from freezing together.
Why Do Ice Cubes Stick Together?
You may not know this but pretty much all ice cubes have a very thin layer of water on the outside which constantly melts and refreezes. The warmer the ice is (the closer to 32ºF or 0ºC) the thicker this layer of water.
When bagged ice is fairly warm the outside of each ice cube will melt and refreeze and given the ice cubes are touching they'll stick to each other.
The more pressure/weight that is placed on the ice the more likely this is to happen. This is why bags of ice near the bottom of a pile will be more fused together than bags of ice near the top of a pile.
You can make an ice cube snowman just by using ice cubes and pressure. This is why it’s so easy to make snowmen when it’s snowing. The snow, and pressure from your hands, essentially fuse the ice together when the pressure melts the snow, and the cold temperature freezes it back together.
Check out Mr. Wizard’s Supermarket Science experiment YouTube video here to see a demonstration and full explanation of why ice cubes get stuck together.
Below you can also see how ice is stacked up to 20 or even 30 bags high. Imagine the pressure on those bags on the bottom. Bagged ice is also stored at around 15ºF (-9ºC) whereas your freezer at home is most likely 0ºF (-18ºC).
How To Store Ice Cubes the Right Way
Have you tried everything you can think of to keep your bagged ice from freezing together? Placed them in new, smaller, bags to keep them isolated? Perhaps you’ve tried placing them in a container? If nothing has worked thus far, there might be other solutions you are yet to think of.
If you have planned a party and need plenty of ice to keep the drinks cool, what you don’t need is to be chiseling ice cubes apart for hours while everyone is arriving.
Sure, you can get the hammer on the bag and hack away at it, but that just results in a split bag with too-small ice cubes, or crushed ice, that melts quickly. You’ll have warm drinks before the party even starts.
There is no real “best” way to store ice cubes to keep them from sticking together, but there are better ways of storing them to help prevent them from freezing. Ice storage is what will make the difference between nicely stocked ice cubes, and a block of ice that doesn’t get the job done.
Wherever and however you can minimize moisture and water is the best option to keep your ice cubes from freezing together.
Make Your Ice Colder
The colder the ice the thinner the external layer of water will be. Less melting/refreezing means your ice is less likely to stick together.
After breaking apart your ice place it in the coldest part of your freezer where it will stay frozen.
Avoid placing the ice in or near the door of your freezer where it will be exposed to warmer temperatures.
Turn your freezer down to it's coolest setting or if your putting ice in your cooler then consider using some dry ice which will bring the temperature of the ice down significantly and stop it from fusing together as much. Be careful though as dry ice can be dangerous.
Paper bag it
If you’re already choosing paper bags at the grocery store over plastic, good on you. If you’re not, paper bags can be a great way to stop your ice cubes from fusing. This method is tried and proven and according to our research is one of the favorite methods used across multiple platforms.
Whether you’re making ice with an ice tray or an ice maker, or you have bought a bag of ice from the shop, try storing your ice cubes in a paper bag. Fold the top down to prevent air from getting in the bag.
If you have any melted ice, instead of freezing to another ice block, the moisture should freeze to the bag instead which in turn will keep your ice cubes separated.
Turn the defrost timer off
Many people don’t realize this when they buy a freezer, but some types of freezers come with a defrost timer. If you have a “frost-free” refrigerator/freezer, it might be worth checking if it has a defrost timer.
The automatic nightly defrost system warms the freezer to just above freezing temperatures for a short time so that any extra frost in the freezer is melted.
If you disconnect the defrost timer this should stop happening and the ice should stop freezing together.
Lowering the temperature isn’t the issue, it’s the constant change in temperature, which can also be caused by the freezer being opened and closed multiple times.
Don’t add pressure
As mentioned earlier, pressure makes ice cubes melt. Yes, even in the freezer.
To avoid your ice blocks from freezing together, especially after you’ve done the hard yards of separating them, don’t place anything on top of your ice bag and when putting the bag back into the freezer, give it a shake to try and loosen any pressure of ice on ice.
If you’re storing ice cubes in a tray within the freezer, you should rotate the ice every time you use it.
Using a spoon or a small spade, rotate the top and the bottom layers of the ice cubes to prevent the bottom layers from fusing together.
This is the same for those who are looking for a solution to their ice cubes fusing in the freezer’s ice maker. By rotating the ice every day you will minimize the chances of them getting too stuck together and making your ice maker ineffective.
There are numerous reasons why bagged ice cubes are freezing together but the main culprit will be melted ice. As soon as moisture and water are involved, the frozen cubes can easily freeze together once placed back into a below-freezing freezer.
The molecules in the melted cubes are locked into a crystalline structure between each cube, fusing them together. Try some of the handy tips above so that you and your guests can enjoy cold beverages from separated ice cubes all day long.