Shipping with Dry Ice

What is dry ice?

Dry ice, a solid form of carbon dioxide (CO2), is a versatile and essential coolant used to maintain the freezing temperature of shipments during transit. Unlike traditional wet ice, dry ice sublimates directly into a gas, eliminating the risk of damage to your shipment from melting ice. It offers several advantages, including ready availability, cost-effectiveness, and the ability to sustain a frozen temperature for extended periods.

Dry ice can burn skin if touched, the gas vapor can explode if not allowed to vent. Because of this there are very specific regulations around shipping with dry ice.

Why use dry ice for shipping?

Dry ice is the ideal coolant for keeping shipments frozen, whether you're transporting sensitive medical supplies, perishable goods, or temperature-sensitive research samples. With a chilling temperature of -109.3°F (-78.5°C), dry ice provides exceptional insulation capabilities when properly packaged, ensuring a prolonged frozen state. This resilience becomes particularly crucial for long-distance or international shipments, where maintaining consistently low temperatures is essential to prevent spoilage or degradation of goods.

Determining the amount of dry ice needed

If your shipment requires dry ice to maintain the appropriate temperature, it's crucial to consider the rate of dry ice evaporation, which can impact the duration of your shipment. Generally, dry ice evaporates at a rate of 5-10 lbs. per 24 hours. For instance, if your shipment weighs up to 12.5 lbs. and requires dry ice, you should have at least 5-10 lbs. of dry ice per day. For a two-day journey, it's recommended to have at least 20 lbs. of dry ice to ensure temperature maintenance. Using insufficient dry ice can lead to spoilage or damage to your goods, so it's best to err on the side of caution and use more than you think you'll need.

Shipping with dry ice: 3 essential steps

  1. Obtain Dry Ice: Dry ice is readily available at local suppliers, grocery stores, and some big box stores. Mercury couriers can also deliver dry ice to your location, whether it's your lab, office, or a clinical site.
  2. Packaging: Pack your contents into a suitable thermal container. Various containers, from simple Styrofoam boxes to vacuum insulated panel thermal shippers, can be used for shipping with dry ice. Select the box that suits your shipment's specific needs.
  3. Compliance with Regulations: Ensure you adhere to shipping regulations. Refer to our article on shipping with dry ice for guidance, including how to properly label boxes with a UN1845 label.

*For our clients, Mercury works with the best validated thermal shipper manufacturers to provide you with the boxes that are best for your specific shipment as well as temperature monitors and GPS trackers if you need them.

Replenishing dry ice during transit

Depending on your shipping method, dry ice can be replenished while in transit in case of a carrier issue or customs delay. The availability of dry ice replenishment during shipping varies with express carriers, but when using a specialty cold chain service like Mercury's, it is possible to refill the dry ice during transit.

Choosing the right shipping method

When choosing a shipping method, it is important to assess the importance of your shipment. For high-value, irreplaceable shipments, it is advisable to use a specialty cold chain service or a same-day courier. Conversely, routine, low-value shipments with dry ice can typically be sent through express carriers, especially if they are within the same country.

Below is a general guide on which shipment method to use but we recommend to consult with an expert should you have any questions.

Express DeliveryCold ChainCourier Service
Used for ambient shipmentsTemperature-controlled 
international shipments 
Shipments within driving distance
Overnight shipmentsCritical domestic shipmentsRequires fastest delivery method
Overnight shipments that need
to maintain +2 to +8 Celsius
Specific pickup or delivery 
Specific pickup or delivery instructions
Routine, low value international shipments

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