Everything You Need to Know About Dry Ice

Dry Ice with Smoke

For the vast majority of us, our only exposure to dry ice has been one of two places: a) a Halloween party where the hosts really went all out, or b) an elementary school science classroom. It was always so cool when the teacher poured the water over the solid block of ice, and see it instantly turn into billowing fog. But how does dry ice work? And why can’t anyone touch it, unless they’re wearing crazy thick gloves?

Below are the basics of dry ice, and how to stay safe while using it.

What exactly is dry ice?

Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide (CO2) and has an average temperature of about -109 degrees Fahrenheit. 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 a solid to a gas using a process called “sublimation”.

How can dry ice be used safely?

Because of the extremely cold temperature of dry ice, contact with bare skin can cause frostbite. So it’s always important to use thick gloves while handling dry ice. It’s also important to make sure the area in which the dry ice is being used is well ventilated. Because it’s solid carbon dioxide, use in a confined space could lead to suffocation.

What is dry ice used for?

As stated above, dry ice can be used to create a spooky ambiance at Halloween, or in science experiments. But it also has some super practical purposes. For example, the first time dry ice was used commercially was in 1925 in the United States to keep train cars cool while transporting perishable items.

Today, in a similar way, and is largely used in the medical field to keep organs cool during transport to a medical transplant.

How should dry ice be stored?

Dry ice should be stored in a thick, insulated container in a well-ventilated area. And do not store in an airtight container. The gas will expand, causing the container to burst.

There you have it! The basics of dry ice. So whether you’re concocting a witches brew or a first place science fair project, you’ll be able to safely handle dry ice.

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