Dry ice has a wide range of applications. You can use it to cool and preserve food while on the move, like on road or camping trips. You can also use it to maintain refrigerator temperatures in case of a blackout.
Dry ice is often used in coolers to transport perishable goods by individuals, shipping companies, and businesses. It is also used to make mosquito traps. However, how long can it last?
The length of time dry ice can last before it sublimates depends on where it is contained, the volume, and the surrounding environment. It can last anywhere from a few hours to 18-24 hours.
This article will discuss how long dry ice can last and what to do for it to last longer. But first, an overview of dry ice and how it works.
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What Is Dry Ice and How Does It Work?
Dry ice is a solid form of carbon dioxide. It is made through a special process that entails cooling and then pressurizing it into a liquid. It is then depressurized and allowed to turn back to gas.
The expansion process causes a sudden temperature drop, which causes some carbon dioxide to freeze into solid pellets. The solidified carbon dioxide is then shaped into chunks used in different settings, including food preservation, biochemical labs, and Halloween haunted house scenes.
The main reason it is referred to as dry ice is that it does not turn into liquid. At higher temperatures, the ice sublimates into vapor.
How Long Does Dry Ice Last?
The shelf life of dry ice depends on how it is stored, surrounding temperature and conditions, and the amount of ice.
Typically, dry ice sublimates at a rate of 5-10 pounds per hour at room temperature. It takes 3-5 hours to evaporate if you leave it in the open air. Dry ice sublimates much faster when put in liquid than in the open air. A 5-pound block will sublimate within 15 minutes when put in water.
With proper storage and handling, dry ice can last longer. A 5-pound block of dry ice can last between 12-24 hours when put in a well-insulated Styrofoam shipping box or dry ice cooler. Two bags can last up to 36 hours.
Since dry ice has a relatively short lifespan, it should be bought as close as possible to the time of use and then stored properly. When buying dry ice for later use, consider that some of it will sublimate. Let’s say you need 15 pounds of dry ice for use the next day; you will need to buy 20-25 pounds.
Tips for Storing Dry Ice to Extend Its Shelf Life
Dry ice should be stored in a cooler when not in use. Ideally, one insulated with the lid loosely closed. Dry ice should not be put in an airtight container, but it should not be left exposed for extended periods.
Therefore, the lid should never be closed tightly. This is because, inevitably, some of the dry ice will sublimate into carbon dioxide, and if the container is closed too tightly, the carbon dioxide gas can cause an explosion.
Place the cooler box in a well-ventilated, cool area. Dry out the cool box before putting in the dry ice. As mentioned earlier, water and moisture cause the dry ice to sublimate.
If the dry ice is not in use, cover it with a towel, paper bag, or newspaper to slow down sublimation from exposure to air and atmospheric moisture. If you have packed items for preservation in the cool box, use a newspaper or paper to fill up any spaces between the items and dry ice to slow down sublimation.
Not all cool boxes are suitable for use with or storing dry ice. Always check a cool box’s manual to confirm if it is compatible. Usually, cooler boxes designed for use with dry ice—such as Styrofoam coolers—have extra padding to protect the inner parts from damage. They are also designed with a ventilation system.
If you use dry ice with a cool box that is not specified for that use, it can freeze spots on the box and damage its interior. Furthermore, an accumulation of carbon dioxide could lead to an explosion.
Dry ice keeps things colder for longer. However, it has a relatively short lifespan and requires proper storage in a Styrofoam cooler in a cool, dry place. When properly stored, a 5-10-pound pack lasts about 24 hours.
Therefore, if you are using it to preserve frozen food for longer than 24 hours, you will need to refill the cool box with 5-10 pounds of dry ice as it will have sublimated.
Have dry ice that you no longer need and have to dispose of? It is important to learn the proper way to dispose of dry ice as to not harm yourself or cause any damage.
Does dry ice go bad?
Dry ice does not go bad. Neither does it have an expiration date.
Can you store dry ice in the freezer?
Never store dry ice in the freezer. Dry ice is much colder than the normal freezer temperature range. Therefore, putting it in the freezer can shut down the thermostat damaging the freezer. Also, the freezer door closes airtightly, which can cause the dry ice to explode.
How long does dry ice last in a drink?
One of the more fun uses of dry ice is for cocktail making. A small piece of dry ice—about the size of a sugar cube—is dropped into the cocktail using tongs. It starts to sublime as soon as it comes into contact with the drink creating a white smoke that rises up the glass for a dramatic effect.
Note that dry ice consumption can be detrimental to your health. Therefore, only a small amount should be used. Also, ensure that white smoke (carbon dioxide) clears up completely before taking your drink. It takes about five minutes for the entire ice cube to sublimate and for the vapor to clear up.