Making your own ice packs at home is both convenient and budget friendly. Patients always ask me how they can get flexible ice packs like the ones we use in the clinic. The clinic packs are nicer than most over the counter ice packs because they can flex and be molded to conform around different parts of the body.
Heavy-duty ice packs cost around $20 or $25 and need to be ordered online or through a catalog. A better option is to make your own flexible ice pack at home for less than $2 using common household products.
What makes the therapy cold packs flexible is the mud-like material inside them that never completely freezes. Water will turn into a solid block of ice when put in the freezer. The way to make your ice pack at home bendable is to either mix rubbing alcohol with the water or use dish soap. Here’s how to do it:
What You Need To Make The Ice Pack
Ziplock bag. You can use either the quart or gallon size. I find more uses for the gallon size because it covers a bigger area. The freezer type bags work better because they are sturdier and have a double zipper which is nice to prevent leaks but the regular ziplock sandwich bags work fine too.
Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. This usually comes in two concentrations: 70% and 91%. Both work fine. The measurements for these instructions pertain to the 91%. If you are using 70% then you will have to use a little more alcohol and a little less water than whats listed to get the same effect.
Food coloring (optional). If you want to add tint to you ice pack. Don’t go out of your way to get this, it’s only for appearance. Then again, a blue ice pack just seems colder. Right?
Making the Ice Pack
For the gallon size bag fill it with:
- 5 cups water
- 1 cup rubbing alcohol
- a couple squirts of food coloring (optional)
For the quart size bag fill it with:
- 2 and 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup rubbing alcohol
- food coloring (optional)
Once you pull it out you should have a nice flexible cold pack.
If you find that your pack turned out too slushy or too firm, don’t worry, it’s an easy fix.
- If the pack is too liquid-y, pour a little of the mixture and replace it with water equal to the amount you dumped out.
- If the pack is too hard, wait for it to melt then pour out some of the mixture and add back a little more rubbing alcohol.
It doesn’t hurt to put the ice pack inside a second bag as a safeguard to prevent the mixture from leaking out. It’s easiest to get the second bag over the pack before you put it in the freezer.
An Alternative Method
Another inexpensive way to make a flexible cold pack is to use liquid dish washing soap. Since dish washing soap is more expensive than rubbing alcohol, this really only makes sense for making a quart size pack. I’ve tried this with both Dawn and Palmolive (don’t ask) but hands down trusty blue Dawn makes the best pack. The great thing about using soap is that the pack comes out perfect every time without doing any mixing or measuring. The downside is the cost of the soap and that after making your pack you might not have anything left to wash the dishes.
For the dish soap method fill the ziplock back about half full with the soap and then place it in the freezer for a few hours. Done.
- Never place the cold pack directly on your skin. Instead wrap it in a towel or place a cloth over the skin and then apply.
- Don’t use the pack for more than 10 or 15 minutes. I’ve seen cases of people who got frostbite from falling asleep with an ice pack directly on them.
- Keep your ice pack out of reach of children just like you would other household chemicals. They might easily mistake it for a frozen treat and rubbing alcohol can be toxic if ingested.
- Some people have been successful using a diaper to make a homemade ice pack, but that’s just too strange for me so I’ll pretend that method doesn’t exist. If you’re really curious Google it.
Ice Pack Collection