Quick & Easy DIY Ice Packs For Coolers, Lunches & First Aid

Here are a few different quick and easy projects for having a steady supply of homemade ice packs on hand for assorted uses (soothing minor scrapes, first aid treatments, keeping food and beverages chilled, etc.).

Included also are several budget friendly ideas for keeping the contents of lunch kits and camping coolers nice and cold. Some will be squishy and flexible, others rock solid. I’m certain you’ll find something here that does just the trick!

Homemade Ice / Gel Sack Instructions:

These are squishy so they will mold nicely to body parts (knees, elbows, etc.). They’re also ideal for tossing in the lunch kit without taking up a bunch of space.

First A Few Notes:

  • Use freezer bags that zip close. The plastic & seal are more heavy duty with these so you can use them again and again.
  • Fill with suggested ingredients, combine well, remove as much air as possible & seal shut.
  • Optional: If they’re for the kiddos and they’d like them to be in fun colors, add a few drops of food coloring in any color of choice.
  • Toss in the freezer.
  • If they are too hard and aren’t slushy, simply allow them to melt and then add more alcohol.
  • For extra durability: Once bag is filled, air removed and then closed, insert it seam side down into another ziploc and zip shut.
  • For permanent seal (optional): Once frozen, press seam flaps on zipped side with an iron on medium heat (have a layer of aluminum foil or parchment paper between iron and plastic). This will melt the flaps together.
  • Another option for permanent closure: vacuum sealers.

There are a few different ways to make them, choose one of the recipes below then follow directions outlined in the notes above…

#1

2 cups water
1/3 cup vodka (80 proof)

#2 (slushy)

1 cup rubbing alcohol
2 cups water

#3

Liquid Dish Detergent
(only up to 3/4 full)

#4

Corn syrup

  • That’s it! The end result is a nice and flexible pack. Great way to take advantage of syrup that’s past the expiry date.

Single Use Method:

  • Prepare jello as directed, pour liquid into bag and freeze. Wait till the jello gets really cold and gels, then it’s ready to use.

Lunchbox Ideas:

The squishy gel sacks above will do a good job, but here are a few more suggestions…

  • Just freeze juice boxes the night before and toss in the lunch box, or buy reusable plastic drink boxes and do the same (make sure to leave room when frozen juice expands).
  • Salt Slush: Pour into a sandwich ziploc 2 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of salt. Produces a “slushy” result.
  • Mini-Condiments: Throw ketchup, mustard, plum sauce packets into the freezer for mini-packs.
  • Fill small, snack-size ziplocs with just water. The end result will be a solid block.

DIY Camping Cooler Ice Blocks:

Fill these about 3/4 full with water, seal then freeze.

  • Clean empty plastic pop bottles (nice & tidy because of the caps).
  • Large ziploc freezer bags.
  • Balloons (because these are larger, they won’t melt quickly).
  • Washed milk cartons or jugs.
  • Empty food containers with lids (margarine, sour cream, yogurt, etc.).
  • Wine box bladder: Once you’ve finished the wine, remove the bladder, take off the nozzle, rinse bladder out well then pour in water (only 3/4 full) and a couple tablespoons of salt (so it won’t form a rock solid block). Or get a little creative by filling instead with a favorite cocktail or punch recipe that contains some alcohol. Take it out one night for drinks around the campfire. Whichever option you choose, make sure this is frozen flat so it will fit comfortably in the cooler.
  • Custom Fit 2″ PVC Pipes: Measure & cut pipes to the inner length of the cooler (minus a few inches to allow for end caps), attach and seal PVC end cap with PVC cement (on one end). Allow to dry for a couple hours then fill 3/4 full with water and a tablespoon or two of salt. Attach the other end cap with glue. Stand it up and allow to cure for 2 hours. Shake it up then place in the freezer.

Need Something In A Jiffy?

  • You can use a package of frozen vegetables (peas, hashbrowns or corn work best since pieces are small and form perfectly around elbows, knees, etc.).
  • Toss some ice (crushed or cubed) into a bag, add cold water, remove air, close, insert closed side down in another ziploc, seal, then apply.

First Aid Helpers:

These are nice to help soothe headaches, muscle aches, bumps, bruises, strains and more.

  • Run a washcloth or clean sponge under the tap, don’t squeeze but allow excess liquid to drip out then tuck into a ziploc and throw in the freezer. They’ll become flexible as they thaw a bit.
  • Frozen sacks full of uncooked grains, rice or beans conform nicely to the body.
  • Also, don’t forget about this great tip for making microwave heating pads, they can also be chilled and used as a cold compress (suitable for first aid treatments).

Tip: To protect skin from the extreme cold, wrap the packs in a small towel or sew little homemade fabric pouches to hold them. Depending on their size, they can also be covered with a clean sock.

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Comments

    • Jessica
    Reply

    I am so happy I found this site,
    very good ideals. I would like to
    add that I have taken wet wash clothes wrap them in tinfoil an freeze…remove foil when ready to use.

    • diane
    Reply

    I fold washcloths in fourths, wet, and place in zip seal sandwich bags. They tuck nicely into a cooler, don’t leak, and provide a cool cloth for face and hands.

    1. Love this idea! Our small ice packs start to leak way before they should. I put cloth napkins in my kids lunch box but the wet cloth kills two birds with one stone. Thanks!

    • Elizabeth
    Reply

    If you use green rubbing alcohol it serves the same purpose as food coloring.

    • Tgal
    Reply

    Don’t forget to double bag when using zip locks, double the leak proof. 🙂

    • stewy
    Reply

    look, how many house holds have enough washing detergent at 9pm on a sunday night they can use for more than a couple of days if required with budgets as tight as they are? Try car wash in three tied freezer bags as zip bags can leak with pressure. I find that the car can wait weeks but dish’s can not and you can always re use the car wash defrosted

    • Verity
    Reply

    My favorite reusable ice pack is a bag of old-fashioned (non-micro-wave-able) popcorn. It stays cold for quite awhile and there is no fear of it going bad if left out too long as can happen with frozen peas.

      • jon
      Reply

      do you pop it 1st?

        • Dawn
        Reply

        No, use the unpopped kernels.

    • aardvark
    Reply

    I would think twice b4 using or sending alcohol-containing (whether edible type or not) with children or to school. Dangerous idea – and potentially illegal.

    • Tracy
    Reply

    I learned this kid safe ice pack from my children’s preschool. Fill a sandwich baggie 3/4 full of Karo syrup. For a colored ice pack add drops of food color. Place in freezer. Stays cold long enough for most boo boos to heal! Can be reused over and over and is nontoxic if opened.

    • Kelli
    Reply

    I love this Karo syrup idea–it is nontoxic, inexpensive, easy-to-find, and I would think it would be slushy enough for a lunchbox all day! I love TipNut! I would have never thought to make my own icepacks, but now I won’t ever have to buy those wierd blue liquid-filled packs again!

    • Lenetta @ Nettacow
    Reply

    Thankfully my 2 year old has been relatively injury free, but I can see that changing as she gets more brave and tries new things. I linked to this on my weekly roundup – post is under my name. Thanks!!

    • Mary
    Reply

    A good friend of mine gave me the recipe for the ice pack using water & rubbing alcohol although in her recipe it called for dried black eyed peas. I don’t remember how many cups to use but start with 1c, freeze and see if it’s enough to help conform the pack around the “hurt.” You can always add more before you put it back in the freezer for the next time. I suggest always have (2) ice packs on hand and a rice bag for heat.

    • Kelly
    Reply

    I keep my rice bags in the freezer because they work great for headaches and booboos. they conform and are good and cold but not too cold.

    • AbbNik
    Reply

    I have been looking for information on this topic for a long time… I work at a daycare and have been through many, many ideas for our many booboos. We have tried sponges in a ziplock.. I wonder if you could soak the sponge with the alcohol mixture and then freeze?

    Has anyone tried this?

    • Tammy
    Reply

    I use the karo syrup method. But I use my foodsaver vacumn sealer instead of ziplock bags and they last forever without the worry of busting open when you try to get it into just the right spot.

      • kathy
      Reply

      Great idea there. Would never thought of using that way. Thanks

        • Chris
        Reply

        Great idea. I had my knee replaced and I used the rubbing alcohol and water. I still have some made at home just in case. I also run a daycare and use them.

    • Suzi
    Reply

    If you use food coloring to the water and rubbing alcohol (in either sanwhich or snack bags), as ice packs, the children get to pick their own color when they get hurt. Beleive it or not, the pain seems to go away before they even get use the bag. It is a miracle bag, lol!

    • Victoria
    Reply

    At the school I used to work at they simply took dollar store sponges, filled them with water, put them in a plastic bag and then in the freezer. They’re colorful and safe =)

    • Sylvia
    Reply

    Actually, using the green alcohol supposedly will make your “slushy” ice pack even colder. It is or at least was what they used for athletes when they got injured, because it gets colder and STAYS colder than regular. Personally I use the old fashioned “ice bag” with a cap on it, to put mine in. Holds up for ages! 🙂

    • Pam
    Reply

    Save the little ketchup, taco sauce,mayonnaise from fast food. Freeze and use for those little boo boo’s . Kids live them.

    • dottie
    Reply

    When my hubby had hip replacement done, the nurse had given me this home receipe for ice packs. Worked great. A few years later I needed this receipe again for a broken foot. Couldn’t remember how much alcohol to add to the water. Logged onto the internet under home made ice packs and “wella” found the receipe. Thank you so much for this web site. I love the alcolhol and water mixture. Freezes well and extremely handy.

    • Tina Suarez
    Reply

    Hi just wondering if there are any tips for keeping lunches colder longer. My son works outside in 100 degree heat but he says by the time lunch comes around his ice pack in his lunch box has already melted, he usually takes sandwiches and chips but has to pack plenty of fluids…and suggestions?

      • Susan
      Reply

      Yes, try freezing a 16.9oz water bottle. A few if there is room, then by the end of the day, the water has melted enough to drink ice cold water.

        • Kathy
        Reply

        I pack my husband’s lunch, he has the same problem. I take a Propel/Gatorade bottle and fill it half way with water and freeze that overnight. In the morning I fill the rest with water. Not only does it guarantee him cold water but it also helps cool the other stuff.

    • Sam
    Reply

    I have a simple recipe that beats all that are on this page.
    3 cups water
    Ziploc Freezer Bag (1 quart size)
    2 to 3 tablespoons of salt
    (NO FOOD COLORING)

    Pour water into a freezer bag; add salt; mix; remove air; and seal bag. Place bag seal side down into another ziploc freezer bag, remove air and seal that bag. I do this a 3rd time for security. Place in freezer and use (and reuse) as needed (nice and slushy!). If the water freezes too hard, let it melt and add more salt to the mix.

    The reason this solution is superior to the others mentioned is that if it gets punctured, so what! All you have to clean up is water and some salt. Alcohol will probably bleach any clothing or other fabrics. And have you ever tried to clean up dishwashing liquid that has spilled? You’ll be washing that for days and you can’t put it in the washing machine or the suds will overwhelm the washer, just like they did to Bobby Brady.

    Technically, salt does not “melt” ice — it lowers the freezing temperature of the water it mixes with. The same is true on winter roads. So, your freezer and your ice bag may be 0 degrees Fahrenheit, but the solution will not be frozen.

      • JAMIE
      Reply

      thanks I have been looking for something like this for a homemade ice pack I got a blow up half ring that you can use for your neck and I was wanting to use it for a ice pack because when my husband gets bad headaches he puts a ice pack on his neck and I thought that would be good for it going to try it tonight 😀

    • Dani
    Reply

    Thanks Sam! I needed a recipe with items I actually had and wanted to use at home! Perfecto!

    • joyce
    Reply

    When our children were small, we learned to freeze a red washcloth . Blood is not so visible on red and therefore less frightening .

      • katie
      Reply

      so smart!

    • keona mcmahon
    Reply

    I’m so happy I found this site .I’m so happy this site was here when I needed itthe most……..thank you so much……….bye and thank you again………so thank thou so so so so so much……..<3……..<3……..thank you……..<3

    • kinzienicole
    Reply

    For Kid ice packs (for ouchies) we take cheep sponges cut into quarters, wet wringing out all excess liquid put in snack size ziploc bag and freeze. Once thawed just throw back in the freezer. Perfect size for little ones.

    • B.
    Reply

    Stay away from milk cartons unless single use. The milk will never come out of the plastic and the water will be nasty. I use soda bottles and sometimes drink the water at the end of our trip. Small water bottles mixed in with the cooler stuff take up less space and are drinkable in the hot afternoon.

    • Elaine
    Reply

    We use a foodsaver sealing system for a truly leak proof ice pack.

      • Jenny
      Reply

      The hospital had given me a reusable ice pack with some sort of gel like substance in it. One day it sprung a leak and I didn’t want to throw it away. So, I placed the partially frozen ice pack into a quart size foodsaver bag and then, vacuum packed it with my foodsaver sealing system. To this day I haven’t had any problems with my ice pack..

    • Embarrassed Kelly
    Reply

    Please be careful!!! Adding alcohol to water significantly lowers the freezing point of water, meaning packs with alcohol (drinky or rubbing) are WAY colder than just plain ice. I just literally gave myself frostbite on both shoulders this way and I feel really stupid but all I can do is hope I didn’t do too much damage. When you ice all the time (injuries, surgery), you have a pretty good tolerance for icepacks and this happens more often than you might think.

    • Nick
    Reply

    DO NOT use FOOD COLORING. There is absolutely no reason to color to contents. But if it springs a leak, you will have food coloring wherever it leaks, which will be nasty to try to clean. Otherwise, you’d just leak water and alcohol, which is no big deal.

    • leebo
    Reply

    ill use salt or the rubbing alcohol method but in my method ill use a food saver and vacuum seal the liquid into the bags. as soon as the liquid starts coming up into the machine i cancel the vacuum and the press seal. than you can cut the extra off and double bag it for extra vacuumed protection

    • Drea Lindsey
    Reply

    I love the ice pack

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