Gel ice packs are commonly used as a way to treat injuries as well as a way to keep food and drink items cold. But do gel ice packs last for each application and do they last longer than ice?
They actually last extremely different lengths of time depending on what application you use them for. Using them on your body to treat an injury heats them up much faster than using them in an insulated cooler to keep your lunch cold.
At room temperature gel ice packs will last 3-4 hours at best, when used against your skin frozen gel packs will last 1-2 hours. They can last 12-36 hours in a cooler depending on the ice pack and quality of the cooler. Gel ice packs DO NOT last as long as ice but warm up faster due to their lower melting point.
In this article we'll outline exactly how long you can expect your ice packs to last, why they don't stay cold as long as ice does as well as how long they last until they break/expire.
How Long Do Gel Ice Packs Last When Applied To Injuries?
A common use for gel ice packs is to apply them to injuries. Sprained ankles or wrists or impact injuries can all benefit from a gel ice pack.
The cold reduces swelling and inflammation and can help you heal faster.
When applied to your body gel ice packs will only stay cold for approximately 1-2 hours, sometimes a little longer if it's a large gel ice pack.
This is because the direct contact with your warm body quickly melts the ice pack and warms it up.
Sometimes you can get a little longer out of an ice pack by first using a towel or wrap to insulate your body against the extremely cold temperature.
The towel or cover also helps to insulate the ice pack from the warmth of your skin and allows it to stay cold for longer.
People will often use a gel ice pack with a towel first and as it begins to warm up they will remove the towel and apply the ice pack directly to do skin.
How Long Do Gel Ice Packs Last at Room Temperature?
Gel ice packs aren't great at staying cold if they are left out at room temperature. They will last around 2-4 hours before they aren't very cold anymore.
Gel packs are generally long, wide and thin which allows them to get cold quicker than a shorter and thicker shape. But this also means there is more surface area which also leads to them warming up faster.
If you want them to last longer then wrapping them in a towel or something insulating or keeping them in a cooler will stop them from warming up as quickly.
How Long Do Gel Ice Packs Last In a Cooler
Gel ice packs are often used in coolers to keep food or drinks cold. The better the cooler the longer it will stay cold.
Cheap little lunch coolers will help your ice pack stay cold from breakfast until lunchtime, somewhere in the 4-8 hour mark depending on how hot the day is.
While you can expect a gel ice pack to last somewhere around 12-36 hours in a cooler it really depends on a wide variety of factors.
A single small gel ice pack in a large cooler with room temperature food will melt extremely quickly. However, a larger gel ice pack in a pre-chilled cooler with frozen food will stay cold way way longer.
So preparation is key if you want to keep things cold as long as possible. Learn more about how to keep ice longer in a cooler.
Do Gel Ice Packs Last Longer Than Ice?
People often want to know whether gel ice packs stay colder longer than regular ice? Is there something about the way they are made that helps them keep their cold for longer periods of time?
The answer is no. Gel ice packs actually warm up faster than regular ice. This is because the solid state of frozen ice takes more energy to warm up and melt than the already liquid state of an ice pack. Heat can travel more easily through the liquid so the ice pack gets warm faster.
So if you're looking for something that will stay cold longer you're much better off freezing a water bottle or using regular ice than using an ice pack.
However ice packs can be extremely convenient as they don't turn into water as they melt and they can also be molded into different shapes to more easily fit your cooler or lunch box.
Gel ice packs are also reusable and can be used over and over and over again. However, ice cubes will melt and then need to be discarded.
Loose ice will also melt in your cooler making everything wet, which can be far from ideal if you're trying to keep a sandwich cold and not soggy. Learn how to stop items getting wet in a cooler.
There are some ice packs (like Yeti Ice bricks) that are designed to start frozen but then melt slightly earlier than regular water ice.
While these don't stay cold as long as regular ice they extend the length of regular ice because as they melt and turn from a solid to a liquid they get colder and thus make the ice around them colder. Because the ice is made colder it takes longer to melt. Learn more about if ice packs are better than ice.
How Long Do Gel Ice Packs Last Until They Expire?
While you may not expect it gel ice packs have an expiry date. This expiry date depends on what ingredients are used in the gel ice.
Generally speaking gel ice packs last 2-3 years until they “expire”. However, as you're not consuming the ice packs the expiry date really doesn't matter and you're unlikely to see any changes after their expiry date.
If anything the gel-like substance in the ice pack may begin to lose it's color or may begin to freeze more solid than previously.
However, this is a slow transition and will likely happen over years.
It's more likely that the plastic will break and the gel pack will leak. If this happens you don't need to stress as gel packs aren't usually toxic, however it will make it useless and you'll need to buy a new one.
So while gel ice packs do something have an expiry date you can continue to use them well beyond this date without any issues to your health or the performance of the ice pack.