One of the most popular questions that we receive via email and YouTube Comments is which form of ice is best. Will dry ice last longer than cubed or “standard” ice? What about freezing large blocks of ice? Because we have received this question so many times, we decided to test it. Video Test Results embedded in post below.
Dry Ice Vs Block Vs Cubed Test Setup
In this test we used three identical coolers, Lifetime Products 55Qt Coolers. As you’ll see in the picture below, these were the same size, color, manufacturers etc. The only difference is the form of ice inside; cubed, block or dry.
15 pounds of ice was weighed out for each cooler and placed inside a cooler, which had not been pre-chilled. We also added two beverages to the coolers. This helps viewers at home to better gauge the ice melt as well as allows us to simulate actual use when we move the beverages from top to bottom and vice versa, three times a day. We also utilized internal/external thermometers to monitor temperatures throughout the test.
From the beginning of the test we knew that internal temperatures of the cooler containing dry ice would be significantly lower when compared to the other two. As shown in the video, we were even concerned that the beverages would become too cold, freezing, and eventually bursting. Only 20-30 minutes after the dry ice was introduced to the cooler, the internal temperatures were registering well into the negative digits.
Impact Of 24 Hours
The cubed ice and block ice cooler melted at virtually the same rate in the first 24 hours. This is pretty common and exactly what we have seen in all of our past tests. The dry ice on the other hand was something we had never seen. In the afternoon (4-5 hours into the test) the internal temperatures of the dry ice cooler had reached a low of -29°. When we came out to rotate the beverages, we couldn’t help but notice that both cans had expanded to an elongated shape. As we picked up and sat down the first of the two beverages, BOOM, the soda exploded. We were lucky enough to have the cameras rolling during the afternoon rotation. Looking on the inside of the cooler after the explosion revealed what looked like a slurpee party gone wrong. Frozen soda covered the cooler.
Cubed Ice And Block Ice Showdown
After the explosion, the dry ice went on to last 2.5 days. On the conclusion of the third day is when the cubed ice melted completely. However, one of the two (seven and a half pound each) blocks of ice still remained. Both coolers were roughly the same internal temperature after 3 complete days. Although we had reached a conclusion in the test, we decided to run the test in entirety to see exactly just how much longer the block ice could last when compared to cubed ice. In conclusion the block ice lasted an additional 6 hours. In other words 15 lbs of block ice lasted between 3-3.5 days as compared to 3 days for cubed ice and then 2.5 days for dry ice.
Interpreting The Results
There are a few points to take away from this test. As shown within the first few hours of the test, dry ice is not applicable for all cooler contents. More specifically, cans, glass bottles, and just about any containing liquid possesses a problem when using dry ice. It is also worth noting that handling dry ice can be dangerous. Not only is the ice so cold that it can burn skin if not handled properly, but it also presents a hazard in the form of explosion. If a cooler that is not compatible with dry ice, (which may have an airtight seal) does not allow the evaporating gases from the dry ice to escape an explosion can occur. This can be very dangerous.
As already concluded, using dry ice for liquid materials is not advised, unless the liquid is intended to be kept at below freezing temperatures. For meat or other items intended to be kept frozen, dry is probably the best solution. Additionally, dry ice will not provide the longest ice retention times.
Pro Tip: If you are going to freeze block ice, use empty juice or milk cartons that come in paper form as opposed to plastic bottles. In our testing, plastic bottles tend to expand and crack and the paper/cartons are more forgiving.
Cubed ice is the most common and readily available ice, yet will last slightly less than blocked ice. In our results block ice will last about a half of a day longer. However, internal temperature on cooler contents will be higher, as there is less surface area contact between contents and ice as compared to cubed ice. Also, as we have discovered pre-chilling coolers, most people will not plan ahead of time by freezing blocks of ice.
In the end we are talking a difference of about 6 hours between block ice and cubed ice. Most wont utilize dry ice as it harder to obtain and much more costly. We paid over $30 for 15lbs of dry ice as compared to $2.5 for 15 lbs of cubed ice and freezing the block ice was virtually free. If you have the spare time, desire to plan the packing of your cooler, and most importantly the room, block ice is the way to go.