What’s inside an ice pack?

Emanuele Mortarotti in
05 January 2022

Today we will discuss instant ice and ice packs, focusing on the composition of these small yet indispensable medical devices.

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Welcome back to the Dispotech blog. Today we will discuss instant ice and chemical ice packs, focusing on the composition of these small yet indispensable medical devices.

Whether kept at home or in the office, in the medicine cabinet or where sports are practised, ice packs are very common medical devices - and therefore also accessible to children. Ice packs usually (whether reusable or not) have components which, if accidentally swallowed, can cause minor effects. Nonetheless, it is important to know the ingredients with which they are made in order to be able to intervene promptly and prevent poisoning or health problems of any kind. Let’s find out more with the support of an interesting article published on poison.org.


Designed to offer the benefits of cold, ice packs come in many forms and consistencies.

  • Some, such as gel packs, are bags which contain soft, malleable gels (which can be frozen but also heated);
  • Disposable instant ice may look like a normal bag, but when squeezed it turns into an ice pack in a few seconds. This type of ice pack is commonly found in first aid kits.

Depending on the type of ice pack, the results of exposure or ingestion of certain parts of it may vary from 'non-toxic' to 'severe'. Let’s have a closer look.

Instant ice packs: composition and warnings

Let’s start with instant ice, also known as instant ice packs. Owing to a combination of chemical reactors, the bag containing them can freeze in a few seconds. This is possible after pressing and the mixing of the chemicals contained in the bag - usually ammonium nitrate, calcium and ammonium nitrate or urea.

Of these three ingredients, the most toxic (if ingested) is ammonium nitrate, which can lead to:

  • dilation of blood vessels;
  • lowered blood pressure;
  • symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath;
  • the appearance of disorders such as methaemoglobinaemia and haemolysis.


However, calcium and ammonium nitrate is less toxic than ammonium nitrate; however, it can be hazardous if ingested in large quantities. The same applies to urea, the least worrisome of the three reactors - but which can still cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness and drowsiness.

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Reusable ice packs: composition and warnings

Reusable ice packs are usually transparent plastic bags containing gel - which can be chilled but also heated, if necessary. They are also known as gel packs and are usually composed of: water, a thickening agent, a freezing agent, silica gel, a non-toxic dye (usually blue). Of these ingredients, the temperature-lowering agent is the one which causes the greatest concern if ingested - most of the time consisting of propylene glycol.

Reusable ice cubes or bags containing gel beads are another type of instant ice. The reusable cubes are usually filled with distilled water, while the small gel spheres are made of sodium polyacrylate, which is toxic if swallowed. Pay special attention when using this type of gel pack, especially around children.


If any of the products listed above are swallowed, you must contact your doctor or go to a hospital.

In small doses, contact with the mouth and small ingested amounts can be neutralised by rinsing and drinking water often.

Should any of the substances briefly contact the eyes, rinse them gently with room temperature water for about 15 minutes. If discomfort or pain persists, you must contact a doctor.

Hazardous contact between skin and chemicals can be alleviated by washing the affected area with soap and water.


You may also be interested in: Cool pack and ice pack: what’s the difference?


For any doubts or questions to this regard, you must always seek the care of a doctor who will be able to advise you on the best treatment.

What do you think about this article? Have your say by contacting Dispotech.

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