Quick Answer: Can you use dry ice for a cold therapy ice bath?
⚠ Warning: DO NOT use dry ice for ice baths or any form of cold exposure therapy. Dry ice turns into Carbon Dioxide, which takes the place of oxygen in the air, which can cause suffocation, injury, and loss of life.
For those who are familiar with dry ice, it’s easy to see why it can be a very dangerous object.
And if you’ve seen a few science experiments or demonstrations of this unusual substance, you’ll know how there is certain protective equipment to wear as well as protocols to adhere to when handling dry ice:
Don’t let it touch your skin, don’t breathe in the smoke, don’t eat it, etc.
But dry ice has many uses aside from chemistry demos, in many fields like commercial food handling and storage, industrial cleaning, as well as in the life-saving medical industry.
So why the strong warnings about using dry ice in cold water immersion therapy?
If you want to know exactly why that is, then read on to find out why you should be sticking with good old fashioned ice cubes for your next cold plunge pool session.
First, let’s start with a safety warning:
Dry Ice Safety Warning
Dry ice is a powerful object that should be handled with care.
It is made of carbon dioxide, which is a colourless, odourless gas that can cause suffocation and deprive you of oxygen.
Dry ice can also burn your skin after just a short touch.
Content Warning: The following sections describe incidents involving dry ice that have led to injury or death.
What’s Dry Ice?
Dry ice is a bit like normal ice, but it's much cooler.
It's made of carbon dioxide and has a temperature of -78.5°C. (Source: University of Rochester Dry Ice Handling Guidelines)
Unlike regular ice, which melts into water, dry ice goes through a process called “sublimation” and turns into a gas.
That’s why it’s called dry ice, because it doesn’t become liquid when it “melts”.
This is why it's often used for cooling objects like perishable food during shipping.
But because it's so cold, it can be dangerous to handle.
Direct contact with dry ice can cause frostbite and severe skin damage, called an ice burn, which is a similar injury to an actual hot burn.
So, it's important to handle it with care and avoid inhaling the gas it produces, which can cause respiratory distress and even be fatal in high concentrations.
We’ll get into the details of the dangers of dry ice later, but for now, let’s examine what dry ice is used for.
What is Dry Ice Used For?
Like we mentioned earlier, dry ice has many uses, such as preserving food and being used as a refrigerant in the medical field.
It’s also commonly used for shipping perishable goods like ice cream, because it’s “significantly lighter than regular ice” which can reduce shipping costs, and at the same time can prevent the damage that melting ice can do to product packaging. (Source: How to Ship Ice Cream)
It's also used to create smoke effects in movies and concerts through fog machines that put dry ice in heated water. This makes dense, thick clouds of fog that stay near the ground.
In the industrial sector, dry ice is used for cleaning and surface preparation through a process called dry ice blasting, which is similar to sandblasting.
Here’s a demo of it being used to deep clean car parts here:
In the medical field, dry ice plays an essential role as a refrigerant for “organs and tissue, vaccines and pharmaceutical products.”
It can also be used to treat a variety of conditions, such as skin imperfections and warts by freezing them off. (Source: Dry Ice Medical Applications)
Despite its usefulness, it's important to handle dry ice with care.
In the next section, we’ll discuss the dangers of dry ice in detail, including the damage it can cause, as well as a few unfortunate examples of incidents involving dry ice.
The Dangers of Dry Ice: Why it’d be so dangerous in an ice bath
Dry ice can be incredibly dangerous if not handled properly.
It's crucial to understand the potential risks involved in handling this substance.
There are two main ways that dry ice can harm you: one is through touching it, and another is through suffocation from the gas it turns into.
We’ve already mentioned how direct contact with dry ice can give you a burn.
And that’s because dry ice can cause frostbite and severe skin damage if it comes into direct contact with the skin. This damage can happen in moments!
Also, accidentally ingesting dry ice can be as hazardous:
In this case, dry ice touches you from the inside of your body instead of externally.
A risky practice some bartenders do is to use dry ice with drinks, which creates bubbles and makes fog when put into warmer liquids.
Note that inhaling this fog can give you abnormally-high carbon dioxide levels in your blood, a condition called Hypercapnia. (Source: Journal of Clinical Images and Medical Case Reports)
One time, a man suffered severe injuries to his digestive system after drinking a cocktail with dry ice. He had suffered burns to his throat, intestines, and stomach lining. More than 6 months after the incident, he still couldn’t eat and drink normally. (Source)
Needless to say, dry ice should never be added to any drink or food.
The next way dry ice can harm is exactly why you should never use it with any form of cold immersion therapy.
Another tragic incident occurred when three people lost their lives at a pool party after dry ice was added to the pool. (Story: Three die in dry-ice incident at Moscow pool party)
The group had ordered dry ice to cool down the pool which they said was too warm.
Unfortunately, the dry ice dumped into the pool caused the pool water to release a large amount of carbon dioxide gas, which displaced the oxygen in the surrounding air.
The people in the pool were unable to breathe, and they ultimately suffocated and died.
In case it has to be said, do not use dry ice for Cold Exposure Therapy as it is deadly.
These incidents highlight the importance of handling dry ice with caution and taking appropriate safety measures to prevent fatalities: in other words, be safe by not drinking or eating dry ice, not putting dry ice in pool water, and not touching it.
Given the dangers associated with dry ice, it is not recommended at all for use anywhere near Cold Exposure Therapy is being done:
Keep it away from pools, bathtubs, jacuzzis, and other places where people could breathe in the gas it produces.
Use regular ice or ice packs instead, and follow our tips on how to maximise your ice bath experience and your body’s perception of coldness—even if the ice bath isn’t cold enough.
If you're ready to take the plunge and try cold immersion therapy, our portable Ice Bath is the perfect solution. It's easy to set up and requires no plumbing: just add normal ice and water. Try our portable ice bath today and experience the many benefits of cold therapy—Delivered straight from Christchurch to your doorstep NZ wide.