Can you imagine going to a tailgate, reaching into your portable cooler, and finding that it’s not chilly inside at all? Your drinks would taste less refreshing, your sandwiches would be soggy, and the fruit and veggies would be rotten and gross. Talk about a party killer!

Luckily, you can count on portable coolers to stay at the right temperature for a long time. How does this work? What’s the science behind coolers? Keep it cool and get ready to learn all the details!

How Do Coolers Work?

Dark Green Cooler

Portable coolers stay cold with the magic of insulation and ice. The insulation, which is usually made from foam or plastic, lines the inside of your cooler, slowing down the circulation of warm air. The ice, meanwhile, keeps the inside of your cooler nice and chilly.

The insulation inside the cooler slows down the warm air through a process called convection. If you didn’t pay attention in science class, this is when hot air travels around a space and increases the temperature.


The process of heat traveling around an enclosed space through air currents.

It’s unavoidable – convection will eventually take place inside your cooler. Thanks to the insulation, though, it happens at a slower rate. Ultimately, this helps things stay colder for a longer period of time.

Still, there’s more behind the science of coolers! Due to the warm air slowing down from the insulation, a process called conduction is also unable to take place. This is when an object loses its temperature and affects other objects nearby. Think of it like one bad apple heating up the bunch.


The process of heat spreading from one object to other objects that are close by.

Convection and conduction aren’t able to wreak their havoc inside your cooler because the insulation acts as a strong barrier. Meanwhile, the ice is working its magic and making sure the temperature stays pretty cold. Keep in mind, though, this only works when the lid stays closed. Every time it’s opened, warm air is able to sneak inside and make the temperature go up faster. Avoid this serious party foul at your next barbecue or tailgate!

How Long Does Ice Last Inside a Cooler?

Aside from insulation, most coolers also need some kind of ice to stay nice and chilly. The ice inside a cooler can last for up to a week, depending on whether you use block ice, dry ice, or ice cubes inside.

  • Dry Ice – 18 to 24 hours
  • Ice Cubes – 1 to 2 days
  • Block Ice – 5 to 7 days

Dry Ice

Dry Ice
It may be surprising, but dry ice can be used inside your coolers. Wrap it in a few layers of newspaper and then carefully place it inside for your next camping trip.

Please Note: It’s dangerous to leave dry ice in your car for an extended period of time or to handle it with bare hands. Please handle this type of ice carefully.

Ice Cubes

Ice Cubes
You can find these bags in a variety of sizes at any grocery store or gas station. They are a good option for picnics, barbecues, or one-day outdoor events.

Block Ice

Block Ice
If you have a community fundraiser planned, block ice may be the way to go. This type of ice is usually available from a wholesale manufacturer and is a bit more expensive than cubes.

Consider your event when deciding which type of ice to use for your cooler. If you aren’t going to be outside very long, dry ice or ice cubes are good choices. Longer trips, on the other hand, benefit from wholesale blocks. No matter what the occasion, it’s always a good idea to have some kind of ice inside your cooler.

Did you know?

You should use 1 pound of ice for every quart size of space available in your cooler.

How to Keep Your Cooler Cold for Longer

How to Keep Your Cooler Cold for Longer

Insulation and ice are great, but they can only go so far when it comes to keeping your cooler cold. Even Superman has to deal with Kryptonite at some point, right?

Luckily, there are super easy ways to make your cooler stay cold for a longer period of time:

  1. Pre-chill the food and drinks you plan on packing.
  2. Fill the cooler to the top with food and drinks.
  3. Freeze bottled water to store in empty spaces.
  4. Store your cooler out of the sun.
  5. Put the ice in last.
  6. Don’t drain the water when the ice melts.
  7. Pack all the essentials on top.
  8. Keep the lid closed.
Tip #1: Pre-Chill the Food & Drinks

Tip #1: Pre-Chill the Food & Drinks
The day before your outdoor event, put all the food and drinks in a refrigerator or freezer. This will help ensure that everything stays colder for a longer period of time.

Tip #2: Fill it to the Top

Tip #2: Fill it to the Top
Good news! You should stuff your cooler with as many delicious treats as humanly possible. This will help reduce the amount of empty space that can be filled with warm air.

Tip #3: Freeze Bottled Water

Tip #3: Freeze Bottled Water
Eliminate any extra space you have with frozen bottles of water. Not only will these serve as bonus ice packs, but they will also keep warm air from creeping into the cooler.

Tip #4: Store Out of the Sun

Tip #4: Store Out of the Sun
It goes without saying, the sun is hot. If you want your food and drinks to stay cold, find a nice shady spot to store your cooler.

Tip #5: Put the Ice in Last

Tip #5: Put the Ice in Last
It might seem like a good idea to spread the ice all over the cooler, but it’s better to wait until the end. Why? Cool air travels down, so the whole cooler will get a lot chillier with the ice on top.

Tip #6: Don’t Drain the Water

Tip #6: Don’t Drain the Water
While you don’t want things to get soggy, your cooler will ultimately keep its temperature longer if you leave some cold water inside. You can do this by spreading the remaining ice around so your food is protected.

Tip #7: Pack All the Essentials on Top

Tip #7: Pack All the Essentials on Top
Let’s say you’re making burgers and hot dogs for a barbecue. The buns, meat, condiments, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cheese should be easy to reach. Everything else that you don’t plan on using right away, like fruit and desserts, should be stored at the bottom of the cooler.

Tip #8: Keep the Lid Closed

Tip #8: Keep the Lid Closed
Warm air will travel into your cooler a lot faster if the lid stays propped open. Grab your drink or snack and make sure the lid closes securely when you’re done.

The last thing you want is to ruin the fun with a warm cooler, especially if you’re using them as personalized business products at places like music festivals and community fairs. Be mindful of these tips to keep your food tasty, the drinks flowing, and the party going!

Your cooler will stay nice and chilly with the easy-to-follow tips in this video!

The Bottom Line

Think of your cooler like one big science experiment. It takes insulation, ice, and a few hacks on your end for it to work properly. Go ahead and wow your friends with your chilly cooler at the next barbecue. They’re sure to be impressed!


David, I. (2019). How Does Ice in a Cooler Stay Cold? Retrieved January 24, 2019, from

Shearlock, C. (2010, December 5). How to Use an Ice Box Cooler for Food Storage. Retrieved January 25, 2019, from

Sweet, D. (2018, October 25). Using Dry Ice in Your Cooler. Retrieved January 25, 2019, from

Hawaiian Shaved Ice. (2019). Cube Ice vs. Block Ice. Retrieved January 25, 2019, from

Eat By Date. (2019). How Long Does Dry Ice Last? Retrieved January 25, 2019, from

Rubbermaid. (2019). Keep Your Cooler Cold for Up to Five Days. Retrieved January 29, 2019, from

Alfaro, D. (2018, June 4). How to Keep Your Cooler Cool. Retrieved January 29, 2019, from

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