Fun Things to Do With Dry Ice

Got dry ice? Here are 15 fun dry ice activities and science projects to try.
Got dry ice? Here are 15 fun dry ice activities and science projects to try.

Try these fun things to do with dry ice. Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide. It’s much colder than regular water ice. Dry ice is “dry” because it goes directly from the solid to gas phase, with no liquid in between.

How to Get Dry Ice for Projects

Many grocery stores carry dry ice, but it’s a good idea to call ahead to make sure they have it in stock. Otherwise, labs, businesses that liquefy gases, and ice houses may have the product.

Dry ice sublimates into carbon dioxide gas pretty quickly, so buy it the same day as you’ll use it. To maximize how long it lasts, transport it in a paper bag in a cooler and transfer the paper bag to the freezer. Don’t latch the cooler or the freezer closed. As dry ice changes to gas it produces pressure that needs to be allowed to vent. Transport and store dry ice in well-ventilated spaces because it increases the concentration of carbon dioxide in air.

Things to Do With Dry Ice

Cool Dry Ice Fog

The easiest dry ice project is tossing dry ice into a container of hot water. The cold carbon dioxide vapor chills water vapor in the air, producing fog. The activity works with cold water, too, but hot water increases the rate of sublimation and makes the most fog. Dry ice fog is a spooky special effect on its own, plus you can use it for punch bowls or drinks. If you add dry ice to a drink, it sinks to the bottom of the glass. Don’t touch it with your mouth or eat it!

Pumpkin bowl with dry ice fog. (Photo: Mike Bowler, Flickr)

Dry Ice Bubbles

Add a squirt of liquid dishwashing detergent to water before plopping in the dry ice. You’ll get a mountain of bubbles that release fog when they pop.

Dry Ice Crystal Ball

Add a bit of liquid detergent to a bowl of water. Dampen your hand with the soapy water. You’ll get bubbles when you add the dry ice, but if you pass your hand over the rim of the bowl, you’ll get a large single bubble that resembles a foggy crystal ball.

Pets find things to do with dry ice, too. Make certain they don’t attempt to lick or eat it.

Frozen Soap Bubble

Blow bubbles into a container of dry ice. The bubbles float on the dense layer of cold carbon dioxide. Eventually, they freeze and form frost patterns.

Make a Model Comet

You can use simple materials to simulate a comet. In a big plastic bowl lined with a trash bag, mix together:

  • 1 liter water
  • 2 cups dirt
  • 1 tablespoon starch (holds comet together, not found in real comets)
  • 1 tablespoon syrup (organic component of real comets)
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (for amino acids in real comets)
  • 1 tablespoon rubbing alcohol (like the alcohol in real comets)

Tie a string around your comet to keep control of it. When you hold the comet by the string it gives off vapor. Bring it near a simulated star (a hot light bulb) to see what happens when a comet approaches its Sun.

Dry Ice Poppers

Sealing dry ice in screw-cap or latched containers can lead to dangerous ruptures. But, you can put a small piece of dry ice in a container with a pop lid safely. Film canisters and potato chip cylinders work great. Another option is loosely sealing a plastic container with a cork. Don’t use glass, just to be safe. These poppers also work as small rockets.

Dry Ice “Smoke” for a Model Volcano

Decorate a model volcano and just use a cup of water and a chunk of dry ice to to make smoke. Add a chunk of dry ice to a baking soda and vinegar volcano to simulate erupting lava and smoke. The effect works for any water-based volcano, so be creative!

Dry Ice Volcano Cake

It’s easy to make a dry ice volcano cake, plus the effect is spectacular. Stack a small round cake on top of a larger one. Use a biscuit cutter to remove a circle from the top of the cake. Ice and decorate the cake so it looks like a volcano. Place a small cup inside this hole. Add a bit of warm water and a chunk of dry ice to get cascading fog.

Spooky Dry Ice Jack o’ Lantern

A dry ice jack o’ lantern is a fun dry ice activity for Halloween.

Dry ice goes well with a carved pumpkin for Halloween. Either pour a bit of water into the base of the pumpkin and add a chunk of dry ice or place a small cup of water inside the jack o’ lantern and add the dry ice (less mess). If you like, color the fog using a sealed LED. Remember, dry ice sinks, so pay special attention to the jack o’ lantern mouth to get the best effect.

Make Carbonated Ice Cream

Blend dry ice into any ice cream recipe to freeze it. You’ll get soft carbonated ice cream (no freezer needed). The effect is sort of like an ice cream float.

Make Carbonated Fizzy Fruit

Ice cream isn’t the only food you can freeze using dry ice. Place small pieces of fruit in a bowl of dry ice. You’ll get frozen fruit containing tiny carbon dioxide bubbles. The fizzy fruit works great as a topping for dry ice ice cream or to decorate drinks. Use grocery store dry ice for this, as not all dry ice is suitable for food.

Make dry ice ice cream and top it with fizzy fruit for a special treat.

Singing Spoon

Make a metal spoon “sing” by holding it against a piece of dry ice. The sublimation of carbon dioxide from a solid into a gas vibrates the spoon, producing the sound. You’ll get the same effect if you grab dry ice using metal tongs.

Inflate a Balloon With Dry Ice

Seal a piece of dry ice within a balloon. As the dry ice sublimates, carbon dioxide inflates the balloon. If the piece of dry ice is large enough, the balloon may even pop!

Inflate a Glove With Dry Ice

Similarly, seal a piece of dry ice inside a disposable glove. The inflated gloves make great Halloween decorations.

Make Your Own Dry Ice

If you can’t find dry ice, make it yourself. You need a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher or a carbon dioxide tank, a cloth bag (to capture the dry ice), and heavy-duty insulated gloves.

  • Put on the gloves.
  • Insert the nozzle of the tank into the cloth bag. Clamp or tape the edges of the bag around the nozzle so the dry ice won’t escape. (Don’t use your hands!)
  • Discharge the fire extinguisher or partially open the valve of a CO2 cylinder.
  • When you have a bag filled with dry ice, turn off the extinguisher or close the valve.
  • Gently shake the bag to dislodge dry ice from the nozzle. Store the dry ice in a freezer. Because the particles are so small, this form of dry ice needs to be used quickly.

Safety for Dry Ice Activities

  • Don’t store dry ice in a sealed container. It could burst.
  • Handle dry ice using insulated gloves. If you don’t have gloves, use a kitchen towel or tongs.
  • Work with dry ice in a well-ventilated room. As the solid changes into a gas, the carbon dioxide concentration rises. The cold gas sinks, so the effect is greatest near the floor.