How To Use Dry Ice In A Cooler

Most people have either a passing knowledge of or passing experience with dry ice; such as when it’s used for dramatic effects to create fog for rock bands or theater productions. But dry ice is more than just something that’s used to make your favorite singer seem more mysterious than they actually are. It’s used widely in medical research to preserve important biological samples. Doctors use it to remove warts and corns and people who order high-priced cuts of meat from faraway places (and there are many that do) can thank dry ice for the fact that their Angus beef arrives in prime, mouthwatering condition. This last fact leads us nicely into this discussion because we’re going to talk about how to use dry ice in your cooler to keep food fresh for longer. But first a bit of dry ice background.

What is Dry Ice Anyway?

Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide. It can be easily produced from other processes that generate large amounts of carbon dioxide rich gas. Once the gas is cooled to a bone-numbing −109.3 °F it takes on a solid state. Because of the extremely cold nature of dry ice it should never be handled without proper protective gear. It should also never be ingested in even the tiniest quantities. Ever. Dry ice evaporates rather than melts so there’s no mess to clean up as with water ice. A typical 10 pound slab of dry ice will completely evaporate over the course of about 24 hours. The evaporative gas is not particularly hazardous although breathing too much of it can cause elevated levels of CO2 in the blood which can lead to respiratory stimulation and in rare cases, mental confusion or disorientation.

yeti cooler

Using Dry Ice in your Cooler

Most, though not all, coolers will accommodate dry ice with no ill effects. Any cooler you’re considering for use with dry ice should be well insulated although it should not have an airtight seal. This is because dry ice vapors will need to escape the cooler. If they become trapped they can build up and cause an explosion. Many of today’s heavy-duty coolers are built to accommodate dry ice although the seal on some is just too tight. If you want to use dry ice with your cooler instead of water ice we recommend you check with the manufacturer first.

Putting Food in a Cooler with Dry Ice

Freeze any foods you’re going to transport in the dry ice cooler ahead of time. If you don’t they may freeze unevenly in the cooler. Put the frozen foods on the bottom of the empty cooler and cover them with a thick piece of cardboard. The cardboard will prevent the dry ice from “burning” the already frozen food. Wrap a slab of dry ice in packing or newspaper (remember to wear thick rubber gloves when handling the dry ice) and place it on the cardboard. Put another layer of cardboard on top of the dry ice and put a towel on top of that cardboard layer. You can then put other foods on top of the towel that you want to keep cold but not frozen.

Transporting your Dry Ice Cooler

Once the cooler is loaded to your satisfaction place it in the trunk of the car. The lid should be on but not so tightly that it prevents evaporative gases from escaping. If you have a trunk it’s always preferable to transport the dry ice cooler this way. However, if the trunk is full or you have another reason for wanting the dry ice cooler in the passenger compartment you’ll need to take a few common sense precautions.

Make sure the window nearest the cooler is cracked open in order to allow gases from the evaporating dry ice to escape. If you have your air conditioner on make sure it’s set to fresh air so that it’s not recirculating the air inside the car. And by all means if anyone feels any respiratory distress or shows signs of confusion or disorientation lower all the windows immediately, stop as soon as it’s safe to do so and move the dry ice cooler to the trunk.

Tip for Hunters

Hunters know that the faster they harvest their game meat and freeze it the fresher it will taste and safer it will be when they want to serve it. Basically the faster you freeze the meat the less bacteria will have a chance to establish a foothold in it. With that in mind take your dry ice cooler with you and cut and bag the game meat quickly. Then put it in the cooler, place a layer of cardboard with holes punched in it over the bagged meat and then place the slabs of dry ice on top of the cardboard. Since dry ice vapors naturally sink (think about how the dry ice fog hugs the floor of the stage during magic shows) they’ll leak through the holes in the cardboard and freeze the meat.


While water ice is still the preferred method for keeping drinks cool, dry ice has some distinct advantages when it comes to transporting things that need to be frozen. Primary among these are the facts that it’s much colder than water ice and it doesn’t melt, it evaporates. When used properly in a cooler built to accommodate it, it can provide an extra level of convenience and enjoyment to your outdoor excursions. You can find out more information by visiting our buyers review of the top coolers on the market at the moment.