Is Dry Ice Toxic: Environmental Friend Or Foe?

Many of us remember dry ice from sitting in science class when we were kids.  But you probably remember more of the magical effect of dry ice than the nuances of the science.

We buy our fruits and vegetables local, sustainable, and often organic. So we don't want those benefits for the environment to go waste, which is why we're fans of dry ice. We're always looking at ways of having a more positive environmental impact, and giving you the best, and the freshest, produce.

What exactly is dry ice?

Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide (CO2), and has an average temperature of about -109 degrees Fahrenheit. Now that is cold! It’s an interesting solid because instead of the melting process going from solid to liquid to gas, dry ice skips the liquid part and goes straight from being a solid to a gas via a process called “sublimation”.

Recently, a cooking channel had an amazing sweet duel. In a race to beat her opponents by creating an award-winning dessert in under 30 minutes, this chef perfected her double-rich molten cake by topping it with raspberry ice cream she made using dry ice in under 45 seconds. There are so many fascinating elements of dry ice we can't share them all, but we'll do our best.

Is there water in dry ice?

Nope. Unlike the ice we typically think of, there is no water in dry ice - it is made up of frozen carbon dioxide. Dry ice gets its name because it never enters a water state—instead, when the solid carbon dioxide is heated, it goes directly into a gaseous state, skipping the liquid state completely - in scientific terms, undergoing sublimation. As soon as dry ice starts to “melt”, it turns directly into carbon dioxide gas and is released into the atmosphere.

Is dry ice environmentally friendly?

If you’re suddenly feeling guilty for enjoying the visual beauty of melting dry ice because of all our discussions linking increased carbon dioxide emissions to global warming and other environmental problems like higher acidity of ocean waters—rest easy. Dry ice is very environmentally friendly. In a way, dry ice sublimation is a “zero sum game”. Although dry ice is made from solid carbon dioxide, it never produces or releases excesses carbon dioxide into the environment when it turns into its gaseous form, and does not contribute to the greenhouse effect.

So, while the “magic display” of dry ice may not get us quite as excited as adults as it did when we were kids, we can get excited about the very real scientific properties that give dry ice tremendous potential for contributing to sustainability and well being of our planet.

Dry ice is being used more as a replacement “technology” for more environmentally destructive processes. Dry ice blasting, which replaces chemical cleaning solvents with dry ice pellets to safely clean all types of industrial equipment, is a great example. Agriculture, meat processing, food and fuel shipping, pest control, emergency preparedness - the list of industries tapping into eco-friendly dry ice alternatives to improve their processes goes on and on.  For now, we're a big fan of the uses of dry ice, but we always look to have the lowest and non toxic impact possible.  

Is it safe to put dry ice in drinks?

Dry ice is safe to use in cocktails, it will not alter the flavor in any way. The ice will sink to the bottom of your glass, but take extra precaution not to ingest it or touch it in any way.

Is dry ice dangerous?

Dry ice is not dangerous if it is stored and used correctly. It can present hazards because it is extremely cold. While carbon dioxide is not toxic, it can build pressure or displace normal air, potentially causing problems. 


Can you mix dry ice with regular ice?

Using dry ice alone or combining with regular ice is completely safe. A good trick is to wrap the dry ice in some newspaper to keep it seperate and on top.

Is dry ice odorless?

Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide. Chances are, you’ve already heard of carbon dioxide; it's found naturally in our atmosphere and we exhale it every day. It's completely colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Carbon dioxide is transformed from a gas into a solid when it's put under pressure at very low temperatures

Why does dry ice make fog?

The warm air over the hot water is nearly saturated with water vapor. This warm air is cooled by mixing it with the cold carbon dioxide gas that sublimes from dry ice. Initially the hot water heats the air above it making it less dense, thus causing the fog to rise.

How long dry ice can last?

Dry ice stored in a cooler will last for 18-24 hours, other storage times and conditions are listed below. 

  • Outdoors – 3-5 hours
  • In liquid – 15-45 minutes

To put it another way, if stored properly (that is, in an insulated cooler…see below), dry ice sublimates (turns from solid form to gas form) at a rate of about 5-10 pounds every 24 hours. That means that if you need about 15 pounds of dry ice for the next day, you need to buy 20-25 pounds the day before.

What are the uses of dry ice?

There are many uses of dry ice. Whether used for health, cleaning, or recreational activities, dry ice is a useful resource for many tasks, especially during the hot summer months. Some of these uses include camping, keeping your perishables frozen in the event of a power outage, and for theatrical special effects for Halloween parties and other occasions. Did you know that dry ice is also a great product for cleaning? It is used across many industries as a way to increase sanitation without increasing toxicity in the air like other cleaning methods. Here are some reasons why dry ice is one of the most sustainable ways to clean.

How cold is dry ice?

As dry ice is extremely cold and stays that way, a little goes a long way. At -109 degrees, it is so cold it can burn your skin. The super-cold temperature and the sublimation feature make dry ice great for refrigeration. For example, if you want to send something frozen across the country, you can pack it in dry ice. It will be frozen when it reaches its destination, and there will be no messy liquid left over like you would have with normal ice.

What is colder liquid nitrogen or dry ice?

Many people are familiar with liquid nitrogen, which boils at -320 degrees F (-196 degrees C). Liquid nitrogen is fairly messy and difficult to handle. So why is nitrogen a liquid while carbon dioxide is a solid? This difference is caused by the solid-liquid-gas features of nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

Does dry ice occur naturally?

On Earth most likely not. Carbon dioxide freezes at about minus 40 degrees. The concentration of it in the atmosphere means we wouldn’t notice it amongst the mass of water ice that would have already formed at that temperature.

At the poles you could probably collect snow when the temperature is at or below that limiting temperature, and isolate a minute amount of solid carbon dioxide

Frozen carbon dioxide does not exist naturally on Earth, but is plentiful on Mars. These extraterrestrial occurrences have been linked to active processes on Mars such as carbon dioxide gas geysers and lines on sand dunes plowed by blocks of dry ice. 

Is Dry Ice Toxic?

Follow the insights above and have a completely safe experience with dry ice.   If dry ice is stored in an area without proper ventilation, it may cause people to inhale large amounts of the gas CO2, which displaces oxygen in the body, the CDC says. This, in turn, can lead to harmful effects, including headache, confusion, disorientation and death when large commercial volumes are not ventilated.  For home use and small quantities dry ice offers some fun benefits provided you just are aware of the basic handling needs.

What are some unique uses of dry ice?


  • Shipping Cold Item
    Dry ice keeps items cold without producing moisture.  This makes it great to send items that need refrigeration in the mail.  It is light so it doesn't add weight and create more costs and take extra fuel to ship like ice or other thermal packs.
  • Camping
    As we mentioned, dry ice is perfect for storing perishables of any type. This makes it the ultimate cooler trick for keeping your food, water, and other necessities chilled when ice is hard to come by.
  • Bed Bug Removal
    If you’ve ever had bed bug issues you know just how difficult they can be to remove. Not only are they annoying, but many of the chemicals traditionally used to kill them have since been banned. You can kill or check for them by building a dry ice trap.
  • Dry Ice Blasting
    Dry ice blasting uses compressed air and small dry ice pellets to quickly and effectively clean.
  • Lures Away Mosquitos
    Dry ice produces significant amounts of CO2 gas, which is what lures mosquitos in the first place. For your next outdoor gathering, a five-to-ten pound block of dry ice can be placed away from guests to keep pests distracted.
  • Quickly Stop Leaks
    When you have an emergency plumbing issue dry ice can be used to quickly freeze a pipe if you are not able to get to the water shutoff valve. This means you can stop any extra water while you wait for specialists to arrive.
  • Cold Caps
    One unique use for dry ice is in cold caps for chemotherapy and hair loss prevention. Studies have found that by cooling the scalp, hair loss can be prevented (if it is being caused by certain issues). In this usage, ice-based cold caps often melt and warm up too quickly to maintain their effectiveness. Dry ice, on the other hand, can be used for longer periods of time.
  • Science Experiments
    Creating experiments with dry ice is fun, easy, and adds drama to even a traditional volcano. There are dozens of ways to use dry ice to amp up your next science fair project. 

What do you need to make dry ice?

Dry Ice Ingredients
  • CO2 fire extinguisher or carbon dioxide tank.
  • Cloth bag
  • Heavy-duty gloves.
  • Duct tape (optional)
Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are labeled as such. If a fire extinguisher doesn't specify "carbon dioxide", assume it contains something else and won't work for this project. 
Make Dry Ice
All you have to do is release the pressure on the gas and collect the dry ice. The reason you use a cloth bag is that it will allow carbon dioxide gas to escape, leaving just the dry ice.
  1. Put on the heavy-duty gloves. You don't want to get frostbite from the dry ice!
  2. Place the nozzle of the fire extinguisher or the CO2 tank inside the cloth bag.
  3. Either clamp your gloved hand around the mouth of the bag or else tape the bag onto the nozzle. Keep your gloved hand clear of the nozzle.
  4. Discharge the fire extinguisher or, if you are using a CO2 canister, partially open the valve. Dry ice will immediately begin forming in the bag.
  5. Turn off the fire extinguisher or close the valve.
  6. Gently shake the bag to dislodge dry ice from the nozzle. You can remove the bag and use your dry ice.
  7. Dry ice sublimates quickly, but you can extend how long it lasts by storing the bag in the freezer.

Will dry ice explode in a cooler?

Dry ice can't be stored in an airtight container because the CO2 gas needs room to expand, so it could cause your cooler to explode if you don't remove the plug.  We think dry ice works far better than a Yeti $1,000 cooler, and is geeky, science forward, and greener.

What's the carbon footprint of dry ice?

It does not produce CO2 or add CO2 to the atmosphere, so therefore does not contribute to the greenhouse effect. Meaning, its carbon footprint is  zero!  It never produces or releases excesses carbon dioxide into the environment when it turns into its gaseous form and does not contribute to the greenhouse effect.

How much carbon is released from Dry Ice?

One pound of dry ice will produce about 8.3 cubic feet of carbon dioxide.   Approximately 4-1/2 lbs. of liquid CO2 will yield one pound of dry ice.  Yet, 1lb of dry ice will produce approxiatemely 1lb of Co2. 
Order some ice cream and get a little dry ice on the house.