6 Ways to Make Soft Ice Without Carbonated Water

I’ve noticed more and more food chains make the switch to soft ice (also known as nugget ice or pebble ice) and it’s become popular for its chewy, soft nature and how it takes in the flavor of drinks.

I know you can make soft ice with carbonated water as I've done it in the past with great success. My kids loved it for chewing in the middle of summer and we made snow cones from it.

But carbonated water isn't something I really keep stocked in my house, plus it costs a lot more than tap water so I wanted to see if I could make soft ice without carbonated water. Turns out there are a variety of ways to do it.

There are many ways to make soft ice without carbonated water, including adding sugar to water, using a soft ice nugget tray, making instant soft ice with a water bottle, crushing ice pieces manually or in a blender, or buying a nugget ice maker. 

Some would say soft ice has become a cult classic and it’s easy to try it for yourself at home if you know what you're doing. 

I’ve personally tried each of these tricks and can say that some definitely work better than others, but I’d recommend giving each method a try to see which is the most convenient for you.

What Is Soft Ice And What Makes It Different?

Left: soft ice made with carbonated water Right: regular ice

Soft ice is different from the clear, solid cubes of ice you might normally dispense from your fridge.

While it’s chemically equal to clear hard ice (they are both just made of water), soft ice is white and less dense (Read to learn what makes white ice different).

Soft ice comes in many types, but they all have tiny pockets of air that make the ice more chewable, along with the ice itself usually being smaller and easier to chew.

The munch-ability and flavor absorption of the ice makes it fun to eat, and there’s a mass of people (many of my friends included) that praise soft ice as the best complement for sodas, iced tea, coffee, and cocktails.

The recent popularization of soft ice was started by the fast-food chain Sonic, and other restaurants such as Chick-fil-a have followed suit and taken advantage of the craze.

One of the easiest ways to make soft ice at home is by freezing carbonated water, but that’s a pretty niche item that won’t be found in every house.

So how do you go about making soft ice for yourself at home without carbonated water?

1. Use a Mini Ice Cube Tray

Special ice trays are the simplest way to make nugget ice. These smaller ice cubes are naturally much softer and chewier than larger ice cubes.

Nugget ice trays are designed to create small ice nuggets with minimal effort. All you need to do is pour water into the tray and leave it in the freezer for a few hours.

This is the only ice cube tray the kids regularly use, refill themselves (I know…shock horror) and fight over who gets to eat the ice.

Although the freezing process can be time-consuming (it takes a few hours to fully freeze), the result will be ice cubes that are extremely small and white in the middle, making them soft and easy to munch on. 

While they might not match the softness of Sonic cubes or a nugget ice machine, using an ice cube tray is cheap and simple to do at home and way WAY cheaper than buying a nugget ice machine.

I’d personally recommend picking up these silicone trays from Amazon. They come at a good price for a 3-pack and work well in making soft ice.

Mini Nugget Ice Cube Trays

These mini ice cube trays make 160 cubes of nugget ice each. Made from 100% food grade silicone these trays and BPA and great for kids drinks of cocktails.

Pack also comes with a ice bin for storing ice cubes and a plastic scoop for serving.

See Latest Price at Amazon
03/07/2024 04:42 am GMT

2. Use a Water Bottle to Make Instant Soft Ice

You can make soft ice “instantly” with just a water bottle and your freezer. This takes some time management and effort but if done correctly makes soft slushie ice that is great for summer drinks and snow cones.

Place a water bottle in your freezer on its side for approximately 1.5 to 2 hours. Ideally you want to use distilled water.

Your water will reach a temperature below freezing, but you’ll be taking it out JUST before ice crystals form. It'll be “supercooled” and ready to freeze at any moment.

The water will then be supercooled, meaning it’s below freezing but does not have the “nucleation site” needed to form the ice crystals. Nucleation sites are impurities in the water or a solid like an ice cube.

Once you take the bottle out of your freezer, hit the bottom softly and you’ll notice ice will form “instantly” in the bottle before your eyes. This ice will be extremely soft.

Another fun trick is to pour the supercooled water over ice, causing it to freeze instantly (it kinda looks like a frozen drip castle). 

This trick is easy to do, and you can read my guide if you’d like to learn more about how it works. You can also check out the video below to see how it’s done.

3. Buy a Nugget Ice Machine

If you’re a serious ice enjoyer, a nugget ice machine is probably your best and quickest option for making soft ice. It takes pretty much no effort and very little time to use the machine, and it allows you to make soft ice in bulk. 

The machine works by pumping water into a freezing cylinder. The water turns into flaked ice and is then compressed into nugget-sized pieces that are extra soft and chewable.

The only real downside of a nugget ice maker is the high price. 

You’ll be investing a lot of money into having better quality ice, but if you’re one of the many people who have caught a craving for soft ice, you’ll find it worth the money.

The Opal ice nugget machine can make 1 pound of nugget ice every hour, with the first cubes coming out after just 15 minutes. You can also check out my list of the best nugget ice makers for your home. There are quite a few brands to choose from.

This makes it pretty convenient for gatherings or parties and it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a high-quality design that’s fit for your kitchen.

GE Profile Opal 2.0 | Countertop Nugget Ice Maker
$629.00 $594.00

The GE Opal Nugget Ice Maker version 2.0 produces up to 24 lbs of chewy nugget ice per day. Features built in WiFi and voice control and new LED display screen this is the most popular nugget ice maker on the market.

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03/06/2024 08:22 pm GMT

4. Add Sugar to the Water

You can add sugar to water before freezing it in order to make soft ice cubes.

You’ll want to use hot water and stir well to make sure the sugar dissolves completely.

Once you freeze the water, the sugar crystals will get in the way and prevent the water molecules from making stable bonds.                                                         

Your end result will be soft and chewy ice cubes that pair perfectly with a drink.

I personally don't like doing this because why make ice unhealthy and sugary when you don't need to? But it is an option for some people.

5. Crush Your Ice (Blender or Manually)

Although it takes a little elbow grease, crushing ice is a quick and easy way to get soft ice.

This is something I used to do as a kid in the summertime for homemade snow cones. I put ice in a zip lock bag, then smashed it into smaller pieces using a rubber mallet. The end result is fluffy crushed ice that can be flavored with syrup or be enjoyed in a drink.

Nowadays I wrap the ice in a tea towel and hit it with an actual hammer and it creates great crushed ice.

The Lewis Ice Bag is another way to get the intended result, and it’s a convenient and affordable product if you want something that’s tailored for making ice.

Viski Professional Lewis Bag and Mallet
$23.99 $19.90

This Lewis Bag and Mallet is the perfect way to make crushed ice. The canvas bag keeps the ice contained and absorbs excess moisture. Perfect for making cocktails, drinks for kids or as a Christmas or birthday gift.

Buy Now at Amazon
03/07/2024 04:52 am GMT

If you’re open to spending a little bit more money to reduce your labor, the Vivohome Electric Ice Crusher does a great job of crushing ice. It’s quick and designed to not take up too much space in your kitchen.

Vivohome Electric Dual Blades Ice Crusher
$79.99 $69.99

Sharp dual blades create soft, fine and fluffy snow ice. Crush up to 143 lbs of ice per hour.

Adjust the thickness of the crushed ice by adjusting the blades to get larger or smaller pieces. Made from food-grade stainless steel and works great.

Buy Now at Amazon
03/07/2024 07:28 am GMT

If you don’t want to spend money and already have a blender in the kitchen, you can use that to create crushed ice as well. Just be sure not to blend for too long, as the ice will become more of a slush than ice.

6. Use Soda

The tastiest option available is to use soda to create soft ice. My kids like to use this method to make coke or lemonade flavored ice cubes to use in their soda.

You can also use juice instead of soda for a healthier option that will still end up nice and soft.

Fill up an ice tray halfway with soda. You don’t want to fill it up completely, as the ice will expand more than regular ice when freezing.

Cola, root beer, lemon-lime, use any flavor of soda when filling your tray. Leave it in the freezer for at least six hours and your result will be chewy and tasty cubes for a drink (my kids especially enjoy them as a summer snack).