Instant Ice Packs: FAQs Answered

Instant Ice Packs: FAQs Answered
10 August 2022

Instant Ice Packs: FAQs Answered

Instant ice packs are an essential part of a first aid kit and are popular with a wide range of medical professionals, including sports medics, physiotherapists, rehabilitation facilitators and first aiders. They are a convenient product commonly used as part of hot and cold therapy to treat injuries and reduce swelling. Learn more about the science behind how instant ice packs work on our blog.

This article will answer the most common questions about instant ice packs, including their ingredients and how to use them, to help you decide if they're the right product for you.

What is in an instant ice pack?

Instant ice packs consist of a single outer plastic bag containing water and a smaller inner bag containing either urea, ammonium nitrate, or calcium ammonium nitrate.

When the inner bag inside the water is broken by squeezing and agitating the pack, it combines the chemicals inside, resulting in an endothermic process. This process absorbs heat from the surroundings, quickly lowering the pack's temperature.

Our Sterofreeze Instant Ice Packs contain urea as the reactive chemical, at a ratio of 50% water and 50% urea which causes an instant cooling endothermic reaction you can rely on.

Is the liquid in instant ice packs toxic?

The answer to this depends on the ingredients inside the instant ice pack. Some chemicals inside instant ice packs can be toxic if they are still active and haven't gone through the endothermic reaction already, depending on the specific chemical used. It is important not to puncture the outer bag, especially before or during the endothermic reaction.

Instant ice packs containing urea as the reactive chemical, such as our Sterofreeze instant ice pack, are considered the least toxic and harmful if the internal unreactive ice pack chemicals have been misused and ingested. Urea is considered the least hazardous of the instant ice pack chemicals, although it can still cause nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and dizziness if consumed.

If your instant ice pack contains ammonium nitrate, it is considered the most toxic option. If ammonium nitrate is consumed and digested, it can cause gastrointestinal irritation, leading to symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea. If someone has consumed ammonium nitrate from an unused instant ice pack, seek medical advice urgently and look out for signs including bluish-coloured lips and nail beds, dizziness, fatigue, headaches and shortness of breath. 

Instant ice packs that contain calcium ammonium nitrate, a mixture of calcium carbonate and ammonium nitrate, are considered less toxic and hazardous than pure ammonium nitrate when ingested. While it still contains ammonium nitrate, the ratio is far lower, so a person would have to consume a lot more of the instant ice pack solution before suffering any severe symptoms.

Kid Playing in Cardboard Box

As a rule, never leave unused instant ice packs laying around where children can reach them. However, once activated and the chemical reaction is over, the chemicals inside instant ice packs are no longer considered toxic, so they present less risk in the event of consumption. Always dispose of used or out-of-date instant ice packs safely. 

How cold do instant ice packs get?

Instant ice packs are designed to cool down the temperature of their surroundings instantly and rapidly. A typical instant ice pack can reach temperatures close to 0 degrees Celsius but may vary slightly. The temperature will rise to room temperature again once the chemical reaction is complete.

Transparent Glass With Ice Cubes in Dark With Blue Back Light

As a rule, never leave unused instant ice packs laying around where children can reach them. However, once activated and the chemical reaction is over, the chemicals inside instant ice packs are no longer considered toxic, so they present less risk in the event of consumption. Always dispose of used or out-of-date instant ice packs safely. 

How long do instant ice packs last?

Most instant ice packs contain a chemical solution that will cause the cooling endothermic reaction to last between 10–15 minutes. If the air temperature is relatively low, the chemical reaction usually lasts longer than in warmer weather. 

Sterofreeze Instant Ice Packs are proven to work faster and for longer than similar products from other competing brands.

As a rule, never leave unused instant ice packs laying around where children can reach them. However, once activated and the chemical reaction is over, the chemicals inside instant ice packs are no longer considered toxic, so they present less risk in the event of consumption. Always dispose of used or out-of-date instant ice packs safely. 

Can you take instant ice packs on a plane?

Instant ice packs are safe to be transported via air travel. However, if you need to carry instant ice packs as part of your first aid kit supplies for travel, pack them in your hold luggage. Airport authorities will only allow you to carry instant ice packs in your hand luggage if you have medical documents to prove that they are essential and need to stay on your person for special dietary or medical purposes, such as keeping food or medicine cool while you travel or to continue treatment of a sports injury. They may also be permitted for parents who need to keep their children's food or drink cool, depending on the airline's regulations and if proper documentation is provided.

Airline employee assisting family with baggage cart at the airport

If you need to carry instant ice packs with you on a flight for any of the reasons stated above, you must present documentary evidence from a healthcare professional. You could be asked to provide this information anytime during airport security. Carrying instant ice packs on your person on board a flight for any other reason is not permitted.

Can instant ice packs be reused?

Instant ice packs are not reusable and should be disposed of safely after use. As their name suggests, they work instantly upon agitation. The endothermic reaction initiated by combining the internal chemicals will last for up to 20 minutes. However, they are single-use products. Once the endothermic reaction is complete, it cannot be repeated using the same instant ice pack.

Do instant ice packs expire?

Instant ice packs do have a shelf life due to the chemicals contained in the packs. If they are safely stored in a cool, dry area out of direct sunlight, they typically last for 18–24 months. Experts advise against using instant ice packs after their expiry date and instead dispose of them safely.

How do you dispose of instant ice packs?

Instant ice packs are single-use, disposable products and should be disposed of after use according to local regulations. Always keep instant ice packs away from small children, whether used or unused. They are not recyclable. Always keep instant ice packs away from small children, whether used or unused. 

Avoid puncturing the bag when disposing of the ice pack. If the liquid escapes, it can be messy to clean up.

British Alleyway Wheelie Bins

Tips: How to use instant ice pack products the most effectively

Instant ice packs are commonly used as part of cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy. When used correctly and at the appropriate time, instant ice packs can soothe pain symptoms and help to reduce swelling and tissue damage caused by an injury. It's important to understand that ice pack use needs to be combined with RICE therapy (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) to be as effective as possible. 

Knowing how to use instant ice pack products safely and correctly is essential. Follow our guide on how to use Sterofreeze instant ice packs to maximise the benefits of using them for cold therapy to treat an injury. This process is ideal for treating sports injuries.

How to use Sterofreeze Instant Ice Packs

  1. Find the sachet inside the outer water-filled pack, squeeze it as hard as possible to release the contents and allow it to combine with the water.
  2. Shake the ice pack for a few seconds to activate; the pack will begin to turn cold within seconds.
  3. Apply underwrap or a towel to provide compression and create a barrier against the skin to prevent ice burn.
  4. Secure the ice pack to the injured area using a cohesive bandage or PhysioWrap; this will also provide additional compression.
  5. Repeat the process every few hours for the first 24 hours after an injury.

For more guidance, watch the video below. Dr Allan Munro and Mike Carolan, experts in sports rehabilitation, take you through the steps on how to use the instant ice pack to treat injuries safely and effectively

Note: Don't use cold therapy products, including instant ice packs, to treat stiff muscles or joints or if the patient has poor circulation or diabetes.

Instant ice packs are a convenient, quick way to provide cooling relief to an injured or swollen area. Steroplast stocks a wide range of hot and cold therapy products including reusable hot and cold packs, reusable ice bags, medical freeze spray, cooling bandages, heat spray, Deep Heat spray, and Deep Heat rub. This range of products is ideal for physiotherapists and medical professionals to keep on hand in their medical kit, ready to treat a wide range of injuries and ailments.

For more information on hot and cold therapy, check out our articles on how hot and cold packs work and how to use medical freeze spray.

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