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How to Buy Dry Ice

Three Parts:Buying and Transporting Dry IceHandling Dry IceThings to Avoid

Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide, the gas that we exhale when we breathe. It's called dry ice because it changes from a solid to a gas, or sublimates, under normal atmospheric conditions without going through a wet liquid stage.[1] Whether you're making a science project or creating cool fog-effects, follow these steps for safely handling dry ice.

Part 1
Buying and Transporting Dry Ice

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    Pick up dry ice at your local grocery or general merchandise store. Stores that sell dry ice include Safeway, Walmart, and Costco.
    • Plan to pick up dry ice as close to the time you will need it as possible. Since it is constantly changing from solid to gas, it has a very short shelf-life. Every 24 hours, 5-10 pounds of dry ice turns from a solid to a gas.[2]
    • Though most people can buy dry ice, some stores will require you to be at least 18 years of age in order to purchase it.
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    Buy dry ice in block form. Performing school experiments and creating fog effects both require blocks of dry ice.
    • Dry ice also comes in pellet form but is mainly used for dry ice blasting to clean surfaces, or for medical transportation.
    • The price of dry ice ranges anywhere from $1.00 to $3.00 per pound. Though prices vary based on amount and location, it generally tends to be cheap.
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    Place the dry ice in an insulated container like a plastic cooler/ice chest. Since dry ice is much colder than traditional freezing containers (-109.3 to -78.5 degrees Celsius), it won't be kept cool by your average freezer or refrigerator.
    • The thicker insulated your cooler or ice chest is, the slower the dry ice will sublimate.
    • Open and close the container as little as possible to slow down the sublimation process. You can also fill the open space in the cooler with wadded paper to limit dead space and slow down sublimation as well.[3]
    • Storing dry ice in the freezer may actually shut off your freezer's thermostat. Since dry ice is extremely cold, your freezer will shut off to keep foods from over-freezing.[4] Consequently, if your freezer breaks down and you need to keep the food inside frozen, you can put dry ice inside and it will act as a substitute.
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    Put the cooler in your car and roll down the windows. Remember, dry ice is carbon dioxide and is harmful if inhaled in large quantities.
    • Fresh air is especially important if you are transporting dry ice for longer than 15 minutes. Being in a poorly ventilated area with dry ice can cause rapid breathing and headaches and can be lethal if breathed over long periods.[5]

Part 2
Handling Dry Ice

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    Wear leather gloves and long sleeves when opening or pouring dry ice. Though brief contact is harmless, prolonged contact with skin can freeze the cells and burn you in a manner similar to fire.
    • An oven mitt or towel can also work, but it will not offer the same protection as gloves. Treat dry ice like you would a hot frying pan by keeping your skin out of contact.
    • Treat dry ice burns as you would typical burns. If your skin is only red, it will heal in time. If your skin blisters or comes off, treat the area with antibiotic ointment and wrap with a bandage. Consult a doctor immediately in cases of extreme burns.[6]
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    Keep unused dry ice in well-ventilated rooms. Storing large quantities of dry ice in airtight areas can create an oxygen deficient atmosphere.
    • A locked storage shed in your backyard will have good air circulation and won't be in danger of suffocating people or animals. If you're having trouble finding a good place to keep dry ice, ask a chemistry teacher at your school if there is a safe place to store dry ice in the chemistry lab.
    • Make sure you store dry ice away from young children and pets.
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    Open doors and windows in a room where dry ice has spilled. The dry ice will continue sublimating but will need to be able to mix with the air more easily.
    • Dry ice is heavier than oxygen and will accumulate in low areas of the spill area. Avoid putting your face near pits or other low, confined areas as these places will have the highest concentration of carbon dioxide.[7]
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    Leave dry ice in a well-ventilated area at room temperature to dispose of it. If you find yourself with extra dry ice, remember that it is constantly undergoing sublimation and simply needs to be left alone in order to evaporate.
    • Your backyard porch is a good place to dispose of dry ice. Make sure it is safely out of reach of others for at least 24 hours.
    • You can also use a fume hood to dispose of dry ice. A fume hood is a ventilated enclosure where harmful chemicals can be used or kept. Your school chemistry lab may have a fume hood where you can leave the excess dry ice. Be sure you ask a teacher first before doing so.

Part 3
Things to Avoid

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    Do not store dry ice in a completely airtight container. The sublimation of dry ice to carbon dioxide will cause the container to expand and possibly explode.
    • Dry ice can cause a violent eruption if packed too tightly. Some people have been brought up on felony criminal charges for purposely confining dry ice until it explodes, creating a dry ice "bomb."
    • Don't store dry ice in metal or glass containers, as an explosion can create shrapnel which can cause cuts or other serious injuries.
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    Avoid keeping dry ice in cellars, basements, cars, or other poorly ventilated areas. The carbon dioxide from the dry ice will gradually begin to replace oxygen and can cause suffocation if breathed exclusively.[8]
    • Air out storage areas that have previously housed dry ice before entering.
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    Try not to leave dry ice unattended. Even though no one may be around, spills and other accidents can occur if not under strict supervision.
    • Don't leave dry ice on tiled or solid surfaced counter tops as the extreme cold could crack it.
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    Do not dispose of dry ice in the sewer, sink, toilet, or garbage disposal.[9] You will likely freeze the water in the pipes and may even cause them to rupture.
    • The extreme compactness of a pipe will also cause dry ice to expand quicker and may cause an explosion.

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