How To Use Dry Ice In A Cooler

Dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) has some major benefits when used in a cooler compared to regular ice, but you need to know how to use dry ice in a cooler correctly or you risk damaging your cooler.

Most coolers these days are “dry ice compatible” but rarely if ever will they tell you the correct way to use dry ice to get maximum benefit as well as protect your cooler. That is what we will go into in this article.

I will show you exactly how to use dry ice in your cooler and will share with you the dos and do nots of dry ice in coolers. Unfortunately most people are doing it wrong. Are you?

What Is Dry Ice and Why Use It In A Cooler?

What Is Dry Ice?

Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide (as opposed to regular ice which is frozen water). It is made by taking pressurized liquid C02 and then lowing the temperature and freezing it into the blocks of dry ice you have likely seen before.

Benefit #1: Dry Ice Keeps Items Frozen, Not Just Cold

It is much colder than regular ice, at either -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit (or -78.5 degrees) instead of +32 degrees for water.

While regular ice is commonly used to keep items refrigerated in a cooler dry ice can be used to keep items frozen, instead of just cold.

This is great for a lot of uses, but especially for meats, which will keep much longer when frozen as compared to refrigerated.

Benefit #2: Dry Ice Doesn't Make Things Wet

Regular Ice In Cooler

We all know the experience of your cooler filling up with water over time as your regular ice melts. This makes everything in your cooler wet.

Not a big deal for drinks, but can be annoying for some food items. No one like soggy sandwiches.

Dry ice goes straight from a solid ice brick into gas, meaning it keeps items cold but never makes them wet.

Benefit #3: Dry Ice Can Last Longer Than Regular Ice

As dry ice starts out colder it can last much longer than regular ice, especially when purchased in large blocks (as opposed to smaller pellets).

People have reported keeping dry ice for as long as 10 days in a regular cooler, let alone a well insulated roto-moulded cooler.

Using Dry Ice In Your Roto-Moulded Cooler: IMPORTANT

Dry Ice In Yeti Cooler

When water goes from ice to liquid it takes up less room. However, when dry ice goes from a solid to a gas it takes up significantly more room, building up pressure if not allowed to escape.

While not a big issue in cheaper coolers that aren't air tight, this build up of pressure can cause issues in roto-moulded coolers like the Pelican or Yeti, which are said to be completely air tight.

Increase pressure puts strain on your cooler. While your roto-moulded cooler is unlikely to explode like a water bottle the increased pressure can put excessive strain on the weakest areas of your cooler, mainly being the gasket and drain plug.

This means that using dry ice in a roto-moulded cooler, without providing a way for the excess gas to ventilate is doable, as these coolers are built to be strong, but not 100% recommended.

The simple solution to this is to unscrew your drainage cap slightly, allowing a small amount of air to escape. This will stop the build up of pressure but have little impact on overall ice retention.

If you are using water ice as well as dry ice then loosing the drainage cap may not be an option. As long as you are opening your cooler a couple of times per day to let the excess pressure escape there should be a big issue.

Check out this video of dry ice expanding and exploding a plastic water bottle, to see how pressure can build up when your cooler is air tight.

How To Safely Handle and Use Dry Ice

Dry ice is dangerous is a couple of ways to you need to ensure you are safe when using it.

[easyazon_image align="left" height="160" identifier="B0047PHUCK" locale="US" src="" tag="thecoolerbox-20" width="112" link_id="305" type="image"]Use protective gear – Always use protective gloves (like these dry ice gloves) when handling dry ice. Dry ice is so cold that it will either burn or skin, or more likely cause frostbite. By using a pair of gloves you can safely handle the dry ice without getting hurt.

NOTE: Never put dry ice in drinks. Swallowing a piece of dry ice can cause internal damage to your body.

Ensure ventilation – Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide. As it melts it releases carbon dioxide into the air. To much carbon dioxide = dizziness (or worse…death). So just make sure you have decent ventilation.

How To Use Dry Ice In Your Cooler

There are a few different ways you can use dry ice in your cooler and each method has a different pros and cons.

Most Common Method: Dry Ice On The Bottom

Keep Your Dry Ice At The Bottom Of The Cooler

The most common method of using dry ice is to simply place it at the bottom of your cooler and pack everything on top. This is best for people using their cooler to store items they need to access throughout the day such as food whilst camping.

This makes sense for a lot of reasons. Firstly, as dry ice can burn you keeping it at the bottom tends to be the safest way to use it.

Also it allows you to freeze some items while simply keeping other items refrigerated. Any items touching the dry ice or close to the bottom will freeze, while items near the top will stay cold but won't freeze.


  • Place styrofoam or cardboard at the bottom/sides of the cooler (wherever the dry ice is touching) to avoid the dry ice damaging the plastic interior of the cooler
  • For extra protection place a cardboard sheet with hole in it over the dry ice. This will still let cold through but will stop people directly touching the dry ice.
  • Always use proper protective gear (gloves and glasses) when handling dry ice as direct contact with dry ice will burn your skin or cause frostbite.

Best For Hunting: Dry Ice On Top

Yeti Hunting Cooler

When hunting, harvesting and freezing your game meat quickly will help stop the growth of harmful bacteria and make the meat safe to eat.

The best way to use dry ice in the field is to bring your cooler with dry ice with you. Once you have cut and bagged your meat put it in the cooler and place the dry ice on top of the meat.

At the dry ice sublimates (turns from a solid into gas) the cool gas will sink down over your meat rapidly cooling and freezing it.

If you wish to freeze meat even faster then scattering dry ice pellets over the meat will work to cooler it faster, however the dry ice will also run out faster when using pellets. For more tips check out Continental Carbonic's Dry Ice Blog.

While keeping dry ice on top and letting the cool gas sink to the bottom is technically the most effective way to use the ice it doesn't prove practical for camping purposes when you need to access the items in your cooler on a regular basis.


  • Place styrofoam or cardboard at the bottom/sides of the cooler (wherever the dry ice is touching) to avoid the dry ice damaging the plastic interior of the cooler
  • Smaller pellets of dry ice will cool items faster, but will also run out sooner due to the larger surface area
  • Always use proper protective gear (gloves and glasses) when handling dry ice as direct contact with dry ice will burn your skin or cause frostbite.

How To Keep Dry Ice Longer In Your Cooler

To make your dry ice last longer in your cooler follow these simple tips

Dry Ice Blocks Melt Slower

The larger the blocks the better – Large blocks of dry ice sublimate slower than smaller blocks. So the larger the blocks you can get the better.

Wrap dry ice in newspaper – Newspaper insulates the dry ice and stops it from evaporating as quickly. Newspaper also has the added benefit of making the dry ice less dangerous to touch, though you should still always wear protective gloves.

Open cooler only when needed – Everytime you open a cooler the cold air inside is exchanged for the warmer air outside. Warm air melts ice, so only open you cooler when it is absolutely necessary.

Fill in gaps with regular ice – When it comes to keep ice longer air is your enemy! If you have gaps left in your cooler fill them with regular ice. Regular ice is colder than air and it has the added benefit that it will stay frozen until the dry ice runs out, giving you a few extra days after that.

Have a good roto-moulded cooler – Good roto-moulded coolers can keep regular ice for 7 days or more and will keep dry ice even longer. These coolers are slightly more expensive than your cheap run-of-the-mill Coleman cooler but they are worth the extra cost. Check out the best cooler for the money to get massive ice retention without breaking the bank.

Dry Ice Compatible Coolers

You can't just put dry ice in any cooler. Cheaper coolers won't be able to handle the cold temperatures and will likely crack and break. The following coolers are dry ice compatible:

Recommended: Pelican ProGear Elite

Pelican Best Cooler For The Money


The Pelican ProGear Elite Cooler is my most recommended cooler. It has better ice performance than the most popular brand (Yeti) and is packed with features like easy to use press-and-pull latches, strong fold up plastic handles, drainage plug with garden hose attachment and more.

It is dry ice compatible and it also happens to be one of the most affordable roto-moulded coolers on the market. This was the first cooler I ever bought and I absolutely love it.

List Of Dry Ice Compatible Coolers

CoolerDry Ice Compatible?Average Customer Rating
Pelican ProGear
[themify_icon icon=”fa-thumbs-up” link=”http://” icon_color=”#31a4eb”]4.7-5
ORCA Coolers
[themify_icon icon=”fa-thumbs-up” link=”http://” icon_color=”#31a4eb”]4.7-5
Yeti Tundra
[themify_icon icon=”fa-thumbs-up” link=”http://” icon_color=”#31a4eb”]4.7-5
Grizzly Coolers
[themify_icon icon=”fa-thumbs-up” link=”http://” icon_color=”#31a4eb”]4.7-5
Engel Deep Blue
[themify_icon icon=”fa-thumbs-up” link=”http://” icon_color=”#31a4eb”]4.7-5
Igloo Yukon
[themify_icon icon=”fa-thumbs-up” link=”http://” icon_color=”#31a4eb”]4.7-5
Yeti Roadie
[themify_icon icon=”fa-thumbs-up” link=”http://” icon_color=”#31a4eb”]4.7-5
Yeti Tank
[easyazon_image align="none" height="75" identifier="B00SU9AL52" locale="US" src="" tag="thecoolerbox-20" width="75"]
[themify_icon icon=”fa-thumbs-up” link=”http://” icon_color=”#31a4eb”]4.7-5
Coleman Marine
[themify_icon icon=”fa-thumbs-up” link=”http://” icon_color=”#31a4eb”]4.7-5

Problems With Dry Ice

While dry ice has some major benefits it also has some downsides.

Cost – Dry ice is more expensive than regular ice, so it can be cost prohibitive to use it unless absolutely necessary.

Harder to access – While fairly easy to get it isn't quite as readily available as normal ice and you can't make it yourself.

Makes plastic brittle – As dry ice is so cold it can make the plastic structure of your cooler brittle and more prone to breaking

Freezes items close to it – While this can be a benefit for things like meat, if you are using your cooler to store beverages (like beer) freezing isn't always desirable. Make sure you keep items you don't want frozen away from the dry ice.

Should You Use Dry Ice In Your Cooler?

Should You Use Dry Ice In Your Cooler?

The answer of whether or not you should use dry ice in your cooler is completely up to you.

For those hunting who need to freeze meat quickly then yes, you absolutely can't go wrong with dry ice and it is likely the perfect solution.

However, for the regular camper or traveler their are pros and cons that need to be considered. Sure you can freeze items, which may prove useful but dry ice is harder to get and more expensive which can make filling up your ice chest when you run out of ice more difficult.

Also the safety issues with dry ice and threat of burns or frostbite tend to deter a lot of people who can make do with regular ice. Especially seeing as you can now get great coolers for your money that keep regular ice 5-10 days, it really makes you ask whether or not dry ice is worth the hassle.

In the end I'll leave the decision up to you.