While not extremely common most people have seen or used dry ice at some point in their lives. Maybe it came in a shipping box with some frozen food or maybe you used it in science experiments or to make halloween fog.
You may have heard that dry ice is dangerous or seen people handling it with gloves wearing safety goggles. But why is dry ice dangerous and what can it do to you?
Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide and it's dangerous because at -109ºF (-78ºC) it's cold enough to burn your skin if you hold it for longer than a second. It also turns straight into Carbon Dioxide gas which if not vented properly can cause asphyxiation or can build up enough pressure to blow up a container.
Dry ice isn't so dangerous that it's considered an extremely hazardous material. Carbon dioxide exists in the atmosphere and companies use it all the time to put into soda and beers to make them fizzy.
With the right precautions and by taking the right steps it's quite easy to handle and use dry ice safely. But being silly with it is likely to get you hurt.
1. It's So Cold It Can Burn Your Skin and Cause Frostbite
The biggest danger with dry ice is that it's so cold even holding out for a short period of time can be enough to burn your skin.
Holding on your skin for long enough can even lead to frostbite.
At -109ºF (-78ºC) it quickly kills your cells leaving your skin black and God forbid if you accidentally get some in your eyes then it could potentially damage your eyes so much you go blind.
This is why it's so important to wear protective equipment when you're handling dry ice.
Gloves are usually enough for moving it around with your hands or if you don't have gloves you can use a towel. Even some scrunched up paper can sometimes be enough if you aren't holding it for too long.
Safety glasses are a must if you're going to be using a hammer to break off smaller chunks of dry ice. The last thing you want is a piece flinging up and getting in your eyes.
2. If Accidentally Consumed It Can Cause All Sorts of Problems
If you were unfortunate enough to actually swallow some dry ice because it was in some ice cream you were making or in the bottom of a cocktail it can potentially cause some serious damage.
I've done a full article on what happens if you accidentally eat dry ice but the results don't look good.
Basically it'll burn your mouth and then likely burn your esophagus on the way down to your stomach.
In your stomach it could also kill off your cells and cause burning. Dry ice is cold enough to burn through 2 inches worth of your body so this could cause some serious internal damage.
This is EXTREMELY unlikely though and I wasn't able to find any news reports about people who have had accidents eating dry ice.
3. The Gas It Lets Off Can Be Dangerous If Not Vented
Dry ice is simply frozen carbon dioxide. As it warms up it lets off lots of carbon dioxide gas which in small amounts isn't an a big issue.
Dry ice becomes dangerous when you are in a confined space with it and there is no ventilation or airflow from the outside.
Something like a small room or walk-in fridge or even putting dry ice in your car and failing to put the windows down.
Dry ice fills the space with carbon dioxide gas which when inhaled in large quantities can displace oxygen in the body which can lead to harmful effects like headaches, confusion, disorientation and ultimately death.
There was a case of an elderly woman dying accidentally inside a car filled with dry ice in the back. There have also been stories of people passing out in their cars filled with dry ice as well as someone convulsing after entering a non-ventilated walk in freezer that contained dry ice. More on how dry ice can kill you.
When you're using dry ice in an enclosed space make sure that you have lots of windows open and there is good airflow.
This allows the carbon dioxide to escape and ensures that it won't reach dangerous levels.
As long as you're using dry ice in a well ventilated area you shouldn't have many issues.
4. It Can Cause Containers To Explode
As dry ice warms up it turns directly into carbon dioxide gas.
This quick release of gas has the ability to build up lots of pressure.
If you're keeping your dry ice in an airtight container and then eventually this pressure will become so intense that it could explode the container.
Every now and then there is a trend where teenagers make dry ice bombs by putting dry ice and water in a plastic bottle and closing the lid.
However, this can be extremely dangerous and if the bottle explodes in your hand it can cause some serious damage which has happened to people in the past.
When storing dry ice make sure you don't store in an airtight container and make sure that there is a way for the gas to escape and vent out of the container.