There are many reasons why someone might buy their own portable ice bath.
You might have felt euphoric after taking an ice bath at a spa, and wanted to take that delight home.
Or it might be more convenient to you in terms of time, money, or effort to just do it at home—but you don’t have access to a bathtub.
Whatever the reason is, you’re probably at the point where you have your own ice bath.
Ever since I wanted to level up my cold exposure by reintroducing ice baths in my routine, I’ve learned many things.
Since my previous ice baths were at “contrast spas” where all I had to do was jump into the bathtub-sized ice bath, the at-home experience was… a little different.
Because as I’ll describe, diving into an ice bath without all the proper knowledge can lead to beginner mistakes that can hinder your progress (and waste money and time.)
Mistake. Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash.
In this article, we will cover the 14 Beginner Home Ice Bath Mistakes that you definitely don't want to make.
Read on, because with some of my DIY cold plunge experience, I’ll provide some real-world valuable tips on how to avoid them as well. So that perhaps, you can be informed before you even receive your ice bath.
Let’s get started with my first embarrassing mistake.
Not making sure you have (access to) enough ice
One of the biggest and most common mistakes when starting with ice baths is not having enough ice.
Let me illustrate with my first home ice bath:
So, there I was, watching a dinky portable bathtub fill with water in the midday sun.
It’s a sunny day but not quite humid.
Thinking of the ice bath I’m making, because it’s not too hot out, I remember the cool feeling that a little swim can do at the beach that stays with you even in direct sunlight.
15 minutes later, the tub was half-filled with garden hose water, and I was ready to head to a nearby convenience store to grab some ice.
Because to ensure an effective ice bath, you need a significant amount of ice.
I didn’t want to spend more money than I needed to by buying too much ice—I didn’t want to overdo it even though I’d been doing cold showers for weeks, since I was getting back into ice baths after a long time.
I thought I would be able to eyeball or at least estimate how much ice I needed.
So I loaded up a few online ice bath calculators and did a few quick calculations that came out to about 10 kilograms of ice apparently for my size of tub given the amount of water.
The process did not go smoothly at all.
The first three stores didn’t have ice and it was only noon. Luckily enough, we were able to leg it to the last nearby store and were finally able to secure a few bags of ice.
After getting back home and dumping all the ice in the bath, it turns out that the calculator was wrong.
That, or the manufacturer of the no-name portable ice bath I bought had vastly inaccurate figures on their product descriptions.
The coldest it got was 17.3°C, which is just slightly off from the recommended 10-15° C ice bath temperature.
But the problem is that it only stayed like that for a minute.
The moment I got in, it went to 18.4°C, and then hovered at around 18.9°C for most of the remaining time I was in, then dropped off.
So, what have we learned? Make sure to plan ahead and purchase enough ice for your sessions.
And not only that, more importantly, make sure that you have ice to buy from your chosen stores in the first place.
Good thing I didn’t end up with a tepid lukewarm dip instead.
Not getting in before the ice melts
If you made the previous mistake like I did, and didn’t get enough ice, it’s likely you’ll do this one too.
After you plop in all your ice, it's crucial to get into the ice bath before the ice melts.
It of course depends on the ambient temperature, time of day, if the sun is hitting you, and other factors, but obviously, putting ice in lukewarm water immediately causes it to start melting.
And it melts fast if you don’t have much ice, like it did in my experience.
As I said earlier, we got the water to 17.3°C, but the instant I stepped in, it increased to 18.4°C.
If most of your ice melts even before you get in, you won’t get much of the ice bath's therapeutic benefits that come from the cold shock, which stresses the body in a controlled way that enables improved healing and mood, among other effects.
Once the ice begins to melt, the water temperature will rise, reducing the effectiveness of the ice bath.
Aim to get into the ice bath within the first 5-10 minutes of adding the ice.
Not filling the ice bath with enough water
Filling the ice bath with the right amount of water is crucial for achieving optimal results.
If you don't use enough water, you end up exposing parts of your body to air, which can reduce the effectiveness of the cold exposure therapy.
Which is exactly what happened in my first home ice bath.
“I need more water!” is what I said, upon trying to fully submerge myself for the first time in my no-name portable bathtub with unknown water capacity.
Beforehand, I thought that filling it just halfway would be enough, from the logic that the ice and my body mass would displace enough water to do a full immersion.
I learned that I should’ve filled it to ¾ instead, because I had so little ice as well.
Luckily, I had some family members around to help make the experience smoother and help with getting more water in.
They also took a dip afterwards. Which brings us to the next mistake:
Not getting acclimated to cold exposure beforehand
Before taking the plunge into the world of ice baths, it's important to acclimate your body to cold exposure gradually.
Some of my family members didn’t take too kindly to the cold, with some of them avoiding any type of coldness their entire lives.
Most of them didn’t do regular cold exposure as well.
It was quite a surprise when they also took a dip as well—or at least tried to.
One of them, a steaming hot shower connoisseur, instantly felt the harsh bite of the cold when she stepped in.
She didn’t want to submerge herself any further than her knees and promptly got out. Better luck next time.
I recommended her to start introducing the cold in her showers, a bit like this:
If you use very hot water to shower, you can start with shorter cold showers at the end and gradually increase the duration and intensity.
Doing this conditioning will prepare your body for the shock of the ice bath and help avoid adverse reactions in case the bath is too cold for a beginner.
Not staying in long enough for positive effects
Staying in the ice bath for an adequate amount of time is crucial for achieving positive effects.
Some of the studies recommend plunging for 5-10 minutes in a 10-15°C ice bath.
There was a study that had participants do 1-hour head-out immersions, measuring positive effects at 20°C and 14°C. (Source)
The problem with my first home ice bath was that by the time my other family members were immersing themselves, the water was already 21-27°C because of the lack of ice.
While this cold exposure can be beneficial and can start their cold exposure therapy journey, it’s far from what’s recommended.
Because the key to cold exposure is, the colder it is, the less time you have to stay in.
Of course, the temperature should always be cold enough for it to be uncomfortable but such that you can safely stay in.
A long-term study on whole-body cold exposure in healthy women saw increases in adrenaline from just 20 seconds in very cold 4.4°C water. (Source)
We recommend starting with 1-2 minutes and gradually increasing the duration as your body adjusts.
Aim for a total of 5-10 minutes per session.
That is, if you get enough ice to bring the temperature low enough to 10-15°C or what your current comfort level is.
See our article answering the question: How long should you ice bath for?
Buying too much ice for your current cold exposure level
On the other side of things is buying too much ice.
While it's important to have enough ice for your ice bath, buying too much can be wasteful and costly.
Lots of ice. Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash.
I wanted to avoid spending more than I needed, but a wrong calculation led to a less than ideal first home ice bath.
You can avoid this by getting a proper portable ice bath where the store actually knows how much water their ice bath can hold.
Let’s keep things simple: Our portable Ice Bath has a capacity of up to around 200 L of water, which is about ¾ full from the top of the ice bath.
Start with a smaller amount of ice and gradually increase as your body adjusts to cold exposure therapy.
Choosing a substandard ice bath (use our portable ice bath instead!)
When it comes to ice baths, you’re better off choosing a high-quality product from the start.
A substandard ice bath can lead to poor results and potential safety hazards.
Take it from me: my first home ice bath (which was just a portable bathtub) was a chore to set up for the first time, and the distributor and manufacturer both couldn’t agree on how much water it could really contain.
The build of the no-name tub was also questionable, and I worried that if I did get enough ice, it wouldn’t be strong enough to handle it:
The last thing you want in a therapy is to worry if the container you’re doing it would burst open—not very relaxing and therapeutic.
Have peace of mind with our Ice Bath NZ.
Our portable ice bath is a great choice, as it's easy to set up and requires no plumbing.
Plus, it's more affordable than other bulky and heavy solutions like “ice barrels” and complicated outdoor bathtubs with different mechanical parts to maintain, not to mention the need for plumbing as well as a massive space in your backyard.
Save yourself the hassle (and more junk around the house) by buying a proper first ice bath without breaking the bank.
The next tips are mistakes I’m lucky enough to have avoided in my first at home ice bath.
I’m sure they’d be helpful for beginners to make sure their first ice baths would go much more smoothly than mine.
Not using a thermometer to check water temperature
Water temperature is crucial when it comes to ice baths, especially when you want to compare your personal cold therapy with published research to get the best results.
The thermometer I used in my first home ice bath. It has an external probe that I submerged in the water to check its temperature.
You don’t want to always buy more (or less) ice than you need, and you don’t want to have to stay submerged for an hour or more because your water isn’t cold enough.
Use a thermometer to check the water temperature and ensure that it's within the recommended range of 10-15°C, or to find out what your current cold comfort level is.
Filling the ice bath with too much water
Filling the ice bath with too much water can overpower the ice, reducing the effectiveness of the therapy.
Fill the ice bath with enough water to cover your body but not too much that it overflows when you try adding the ice.
It depends on a lot of environmental factors, but aim to get an equilibrium between the amount of ice and water in a way that maintains your goal temperature.
The more you use your ice bath, not only do you get the benefits of cold immersion therapy, but you get used to the ratio of ice to water for your specific ice bath.
Tip: If you get a really good ice bath going, take note of how much ice you bought.
Not setting up your ice bath where you have adequate drainage
My dad saved me from this mistake as I was about to set up in a part of the backyard with no drainage at all. It would’ve made a large puddle that might’ve taken ages to dry.
Proper drainage is essential when setting up your ice bath.
You don't want to have to drag around your ice bath mid-session, which can damage it.
Set up your ice bath in a location with adequate drainage, such as a shower or bathtub, and ensure that the drain is clear.
Some portable ice baths also drain slowly, especially if they only have one small drain like my first cheap ice bath, so you kind of have to “guard” it while it’s draining, moving it around so that there’s no backflow.
Not using proper attire for the ice bath
Wearing the appropriate attire for your ice bath is important for comfort and safety.
We recommend wearing a swimsuit or sport shorts and a t-shirt.
Try not to wear heavy clothing that can wick lots of moisture and make it hard to move: dangerous.
If your ice bath isn’t too cold, (depending on how much you’re acclimated with cold therapy,) you might be able to get away with just swimming shorts, or a swimsuit.
Not having a timer or stopwatch to track the time
With so many research studies specifying exactly how long their cold exposure protocols are, timing your ice bath sessions is crucial for achieving the best results.
An ordinary kitchen timer will work. Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash.
After the initial “bite” of the cold, it was quite relaxing. After around 2 minutes, I got out because I mistakenly thought I would get hypothermia in such a short time.
But I’m sure those more acclimated could stay in for longer.
If you stay there long enough as well, you actually might get hypothermic, although for the usual ice water, it’s estimated to take at least 30 minutes before the first symptoms. (Source)
Although, it’s better to be safe than sorry: use a timer or stopwatch to track the time and ensure that you stay in the ice bath for the recommended duration.
This will help you achieve the full benefits of cold exposure therapy.
Not considering individual health conditions
Individuals with certain health conditions, such as heart disease or hypertension, should consult a medical professional before starting cold exposure therapy.
It's important to listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too far too soon.
As the popular cold therapy enthusiast Wim Hof “The Iceman” says, "Never force. Let the body do what it’s capable of doing," referring to stress induced by breathwork and cold exposure as training the body to grow stronger, and that we shouldn’t overdo it.
Not learning from your mistakes
Lastly, learning from your mistakes is an important skill anywhere in life.
Ice Baths take a lot of willpower to do, as well as include some time and effort costs to set up.
The worst thing is the feeling of not getting anywhere while putting in a lot of effort into something.
Reflect on your ice bath sessions and identify areas for improvement.
Take notes like I have, so that your next ice baths will get better and better.
This will help you avoid making the same mistakes and instead efficiently strengthen your body and mind with the cold and avoid losing ice bath gains.
Like many athletes and people interested in wellness have experienced, ice baths can be a powerful tool for health and recovery when done correctly and safely.
We all start from somewhere, so learn from my many first at-home ice bath mistakes before starting your first home ice bath.
Avoid these 14 beginner mistakes, so you can get the most out of your ice bath sessions and enjoy a higher level of wellness and recovery.
Make sure to check out our guide on what to do after having an ice bath.
If you're ready to take the plunge and try ice bath therapy, our portable Ice Bath NZ is the perfect beginner-friendly solution. It's easy to set up, requires no plumbing, and can be quickly stored away when not in use. —Delivered straight from Christchurch to your doorstep NZ wide.