How to Make a Gel Ice Pack

Woman sitting with ice pack on knee
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Gel ice packs provide cold therapy, which is helpful for reducing swelling and inflammation. When you're treating injuries like sprains, strains, bruises, and tendinitis, cold is the way to go. If you're the frugal type, you may grab a bag of frozen peas from the freezer when you're treating a bump or bruise, but we've got something even better (but just as economical!): homemade ice packs that can be made in under five minutes with supplies you probably already have in your home.

What You Need for a Homemade Ice Pack

To make your own gel ice packs, you'll need the following supplies:

Making the Gel Ice Pack

Follow these simple steps:

  1. Mix together two parts water and one part rubbing alcohol in one of the freezer bags. Press out any excess air and seal the bag securely to make sure it doesn't leak.
  2. Use the second freezer bag to double bag your mixture to minimize the potential for leakage.
  3. Freeze the ice pack until the rubbing alcohol and water form a gel. The mixture will get slushy without freezing solid. This allows the ice pack to mold to the shape of your body to more effectively treat injuries.

Use your homemade ice pack in place of store-bought ice packs. They're great for icing injuries, but work just as well keeping food chilled in a lunch box or cooler.

Avoid Ice Pack Errors

The traditional first aid treatment RICE—rest, ice, compression, and elevation—has been standard practice for decades and is often used in treating sports and other injuries. While ice has been shown to greatly reduce swelling and pain, it's important to use ice packs correctly to avoid further injury.

Steer clear of these ​common errors when using your DIY gel ice pack.

  • Icing an injury too long: Because ice constricts the blood vessels, it can reduce the blood flow to the injured area and slow the healing process. Apply the ice pack for no more than 10 minutes at a time.
  • Applying ice directly to bare skin: Used incorrectly, ice may cause frostbite and damage to the delicate tissues of the skin. Always wrap ice packs in a towel or place them in a thick sock before applying them to an injury. If you're crafty, you can also try sewing cloth sleeves to cover your gel ice pack.
  • Not elevating the injury: Remember the "E" in RICE. If you're using your gel pack on an injury, elevate the affected body part if possible.
  • Not resting your injury while icing: You'll need plenty of rest time to allow your injury to heal. Always consult a doctor or seek medical help if the pain doesn't diminish or the injury does not heal within a day or two.

Tips

  • Make a variety of sizes for different uses. Gallon-sized bags make great ice packs for large coolers. Freeze them flat so they take up less space in the freezer.
  • Add a few drops of food coloring to the bag before you freeze it to create a colored ice pack. This will help identify it as a non-food item.
  • These ice packs can be used again and again. Put them back in the freezer after using them to re-freeze. Throw the ice packs away if they begin to leak.