The Dos and Don’ts of Dry Ice
How to be safe when playing with sublimation.
Mysterious and mesmerizing, dry ice is a spooktacular way to turn your Halloween punch into a thing of BOO!-ty. That said, as with lots of awesome stuff in life (hot glue guns, sharp knives, propane torches), dry ice is also something you must handle with care, especially when children are involved. Get the dos and don’ts of having an icy blast below.
In the pantheon of “That’s so awesome!” childhood experiences that unite food and science, a smoke-billowing Halloween punch made with dry ice is a must. (See also: dropping Mentos in Diet Coke or simply eating Pop Rocks.)
Available for cheap at many grocery stores, dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide (the same stuff we exhale) and really cold. It doesn’t melt; rather, when it warms up to a toasty -109.3°F, it skips the liquid phase and goes straight from solid to gas, a process known as sublimation. Because the gas is still quite cold, it causes water vapor in the air to condense, producing the fabulous fog that creeps and crawls from your cauldron of fruity toil and trouble.
Of course, parents should note that along with all the chilly thrills, dry ice can cause a real party bummer known as a “cryogenic burn” on unprotected skin. But with a few simple precautions, it’s a perfectly safe way for everyone to have a scary good time. Get your dos and don’ts of compressed-CO2 here:
Do have fun! Witch’s brew is only the beginning—your children will love experimenting with dry ice any time of year.
Don’t leave kids unsupervised with dry ice. It’s not like it will jump out of the bowl and attack them, but young hands can get real curious. Is your party for a bunch of pint-sized poltergeists? Put your punch or fog-breathing pumpkin somewhere out of reach.
Do handle dry ice safely. Wear insulated work gloves at all times. To break up a larger block of dry ice, wrap it in a towel and let your kid hit it with a hammer—then transfer the chunks using tongs.
Don’t store dry ice in an airtight container. As the ice sublimates, the build-up of gas could cause the container to explode. Instead, use a well-insulated container, such as a cooler with the lid only loosely closed (not latched), and you’ll be fine. Fill the empty space with crumpled paper to reduce sublimation. Never put dry ice in the freezer, as it could cause your unit’s thermostat to turn the freezer off. But you do want to store it somewhere cold as well as up high away from kids and pets—outside in a shady spot is perfect.
Do get your dry ice from the store just prior to party time. It will take about 24 hours for 5 to 10 pounds of dry ice to completely sublimate, possibly fewer if you don’t store it somewhere cold.
Don’t dispose of leftover dry ice in the sink, toilet, or trash, as it could potentially damage whatever it touches. Instead, put it in a well-ventilated area—ideally outside, again away from snoopy kids and pets—and allow it to sublimate until gone.
Do transport, store, and display dry ice in spaces with lots of ventilation. (No closets, for example.) The sublimated gas will sink to low areas and replace oxygenated air, which can lead to suffocation. If you are transporting dry ice in a car for longer than 10 minutes, roll the windows down. Store it outside or in a well-ventilated room (open a window) that no one is sleeping or hanging out in.
Don’t consume dry ice—it’s not toxic, but it can damage throats. If you’re making a snazzy adult cocktail, it’s perfectly fine to put dry ice directly in the drink—just remind folks not to swallow it. Fortunately, dry ice cubes will sink to the bottom of the glass and stay there, so sip carefully or wait about five minutes until the cubes fully sublimate.
Do use the two-bowl method for spooky punches children will drink. Place chunks of dry ice in a large cauldron (or bowl) and then place a smaller metal or plastic punchbowl on top. When ready, pour a little warm water over the ice to get the creeping mist in full effect. One pound of dry ice will produce smoke for a few minutes.
Wanna fill the kids’ cups with something frothy, too? The classic sherbet and ginger ale combo is always bloody delicious!