May 01

Fun with Dry Ice

  Or: How to Entertain Little Kids for Hours for $5

A few weeks ago, I was grocery shopping with the kids. As we wheeled out of the frozen foods section, I noticed a big cooler full of dry ice for sale. I had seen it before, and thought it might be fun to do some experiments with the kids. But it was never the right time, and I thought I should probably research fun experiments before I bought any. Well, today I was taking care of the kids all day. And it was a beautiful day. Then I noticed the price. It was about $5 for a pound of dry ice. For $5, who cares if we haven’t done any preparation? It’s $5! We can’t afford not to try it!

It turns out it takes about 2 minutes of internet surfing to come up with plenty of fun stuff to do with dry ice. Here are the things we liked the best, and some things that were not that awesome.

Things that were awesome:

Put it in a pan of water

Dry Ice in panThis is the most basic fun thing to do, and a lot of other cool experiments start with this basic one. Find an old pan, put a half-inch of water in it, and drop in a chunk of dry ice. Smoke everywhere! I used a metal pan, because I was concerned a glass pan might crack. I also put it on top of some cardboard, to insulate it from our glass tabletop. If you just leave a chunk of dry ice in the air, it will slowly sublimate, causing a small ‘smoke’ effect. The water speeds up the process by transferring heat faster, so it sublimates faster, making the smoke more dramatic. The water around the dry ice will eventually freeze, which slows down the process. You can knock the water ice off to get things going again. Which brings us to a word on safety. When I say ‘drop in a chunk’, keep in mind this stuff is seriously cold. It will stick to your hands and ‘burn’ your skin if you leave it on long enough. It won’t kill you to touch it, but we mostly used gloves or tongs to handle it.

Submerge it in a tub of water

Smoky bubblesOnce you’ve watched the basic pan of water for a while, try adding enough water to cover the dry ice (or, throw some in a fountain, like we did). The dry ice is still sublimating, but now the ‘smoke’ forms bubbles under water, which come up to the surface and pop.

Add some bubble soap

If you’ve already got the dry ice submerged and making bubbles, add some soap. If things work just right, you’ll get smoke-filled bubbles that will leave the surface of the water, and then float off through the air.

Touch it with metal

If you press a piece of metal (spoons, screwdrivers and pennies all work well) against the dry ice, you’ll hear a high pitched screeching. Apparently, the gas forming around the metal pushes the metal away. Then the escaping gas pulls the metal back. This happen over and over and quickly enough to make a horrible noise. Kids love it.

Put in in apple juice

Dry Ice Apple JuiceThis is a great break when the kids are finally growing weary of the water pan experiments. “Let’s have some juice. Oh, look I put a little chunk of dry ice in your juice glass!” Now we’ve got bubbling juice, with spooky looking smoke on top. Don’t let them drink it until the dry ice is gone, but when it is, you now have carbonated juice. This was a huge hit.

Things that were not that cool:

Put some in a balloon

The idea here is you put dry ice in a balloon, tie it, and the dry ice inflates the balloon. First, it is very hard to get the dry ice into the balloon. It needs to be a small piece to begin with, and then it wants to stick to the rubber as you’re trying to push it in. I eventually got the balloon tied off, and it did partially inflate, but it was pretty unimpressive.

Put some in a Ziploc bag

This is the same idea as the balloon, but since the bag can’t stretch like the balloon, it should eventually explode with a loud kaboom. Since I had little children wandering around, I was very conservative with how much dry ice I used. It slowly inflated the bag. The bag then quietly ruptured. No kaboom. If I had put a bigger chunk in, along with some hot water, it probably would have worked as intended. Maybe next time.

The Takeaway

Overall, the kids (and dad) loved it. It turns out a pound was way more than we needed to have fun for hours. A half-pound probably would have been plenty. Also, it will last all day in a regular cooler, so you don’t have to stress about getting things prepared quickly. Was it worth $5? Absolutely. We may buy some more at Halloween for spooky witch cauldron effects.

Are there any awesome tricks I should’ve done, but didn’t? Let me know in the comments, because I’ll probably do this again someday.

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