Who knew reusable ice cubes would become such a big thing. But are they sustainable? Let’s find the answer if the switch is practical.
Making small changes in your daily life can quickly add up, and during a recent dinner conversation with my kids, we started talking about the ice cubes we had just taken out of the freezer.
Now, while we had used ice cube trays rather than a dedicated ice maker, we started discussing if we really should be using reusable ice cubes.
We also quickly came to the conclusion that plastic ice cubes were probably not the way to go, and after some research, we found that there are a few great choices to ensure our drinks stay cold.
We've also come up with a list of the best reusable ice cubes at the bottom of this page.
Reusable ice cubes are also often called chilling cubes, and they work on the principle that the cubes cool down to freezing temperature but don't melt as water ice cubes do.
You might have seen these in stores before, where you sometimes find fun-shaped plastic reusable ice cubes in the summertime. These are usually shapes that contain silica gel. They work to make cold drinks while at the same time not giving you diluted drinks.
But these silica-gel ones do have downsides from a practical, health, and environmental point of view.
More on that shortly.
The idea behind reusable ice cubes is really simple. They either contain a liquid or are made from a material that easily gets to freezing temperature. When you then place it in a drink, there is a temperature exchange that keeps your drink cold.
With regular ice cubes, this ends up with your drink becoming diluted with melted water. And that's one of the main advantages of the reusable ones. They either contain a liquid in a plastic mold, or they are made from a solid material like steel or granite and therefore don't melt.
Here are the main types of reusable ice cubes with some information on whether I would recommend them.
These are small solid blocks of stainless steel, and they are possibly one of the coolest looking and most effective ones you can buy. I'll get into the details of how different types compare for the cooling effect shortly, but steel is highly conductive, so they freeze fast and then cool down your drinks fast as well.
Stainless steel ice cubes also tend to be a bit smaller because of that effect, making more space in your glass for a drink.
You'll often see these advertised as whiskey stones, and they are most often made out of different types of marble. When marble is highly polished, it won't absorb any of the liquid, which is important to avoid a reusable ice cube attracting bacteria or mold.
What I like about the stone-type ice cubes is that you can get them in different colors to make them look more effective with different types of drinks.
These are probably the most common type of reusable ice cube. They come in different shapes and contain distilled water. This water freezes and then melts in your drink. But it doesn't dilute your drink.
It's important, though, to get a BPA-free plastic-type, and ideally ones that are dishwasher safe. But, if you want to have a better eco-impact, then stick with chill rocks instead.
More on this shortly.
Another type of plastic reusable ice cubes that you might find is silica-gel ones. However, I wouldn't recommend using these as there is a significant health risk.
The problem with plastic reusable ice cubes is that they can get damaged and leak. And silica is not something you want to ingest. Even if they are BPA-free plastic ones that are dishwasher safe, it's simply not a chance you want to take with your family and friends.
There are two ways to look at reusable ice cubes when you're trying to figure out how safe they are.
There are two things you need to consider with plastic ice cubes. First of all, they should only contain non-BPA plastic. And secondly, stay away from the silica ones.
Both silica and BPA are toxic if they leak into your drinks. And when you have these ice cubes in everyday use, then they can and will eventually crack and break. Now, they are not lethally toxic, but when you use them a lot, then those toxins will build up and can cause some serious health conditions.
As long as they are made either from a non-porous rock or you choose food-grade stainless steel ice cubes, you should have no risks to your health. If anything, these types of ice cubes could actually be a lot safer in many places around the world where drinking water isn't entirely safe.
I generally prefer the stone ones as they tend to have a lower carbon footprint than steel, but I'll get into that shortly.
OK, the first thing I will say is that making a switch to reusable ice cubes isn't going to be the action that will save the planet. It's also not going to be a huge water saving since other areas of your home use infinitely more water.
But, there are still some benefits to using regular ice cubes.
I mentioned above that I wouldn’t recommend the plastic and silica reusable ice cubes to keep drinks cold. There's a health risk, but you should also be doing everything possible to reduce the amount of plastic in your home.
So, by switching to stone or steel ice cubes, you can remove one more piece of plastic.
Based on my research, the stone ice cubes seem to have the lowest carbon footprint.
Here's my theory.
They do need to be cut to size, but they are usually made from cut-off pieces used in construction and home furnishings. The cutting process is far less energy-intensive than creating steel. And with steel, you have the added impact of iron ore mining.
As I said, these things won't cause any kind of drastic change in the climate and environment, but it's still the right thing to do.
This is an important part of choosing the right reusable ice cubes. And I'll just get into some basic physics to give you an idea of which type will help your drinks stay cold.
If you have plastic reusable ice cubes, then they will take about the same amount of time as regular ones that you make in ice cube trays. Those trays are typically also made of plastic, which is not a good conductor of heat and cold.
You can prove this by taking two water ice cubes and placing one on a steel plate or spoon and the other on a plastic plate. The one on the steel plate will melt a lot faster as there is more temperature exchange.
The silica ice cubes that I said you should avoid will probably take less time to freeze, and on average, I'd say that a plastic one will take 2 to 3 hours.
In my experience, the steel ice cubes tend to cool down the fastest in the freezer and typically are ready in about 2 hours. The stone ones take a bit longer and sometimes over 3 hours.
I've tested out stone and steel reusable ice cubes and placed them in a cold drink. I made sure two glasses of water had the same temperature and then took out the ice cubes every ten minutes to measure the temperature.
The stone ones seem to stay cool for longer, up to 30 minutes, while the steel ones last about 20 to 25 minutes. But that's technically a good thing, as you want your drink to be cold as soon as possible, right?
Yes, my experience is that steel reusable ice cubes are the most efficient because they are so temperature conductive. Plastic ice cubes seemed to be the least efficient as the plastic casing creates a small barrier for the temperature to cross.
At the same time, the marble chilling stones that I have are a very close second and I prefer the look of them as well.
I've done quite a bit of trial and error testing with reusable ice cubes, and ultimately that has given me these four main areas that I think you need to focus on.
So, the ones I've mentioned are plastic, steel, and stone. And it's important to understand the benefits they might have.
Plastic ice cubes are probably the cheapest ones you'll find, but they also have certain health risks if they contain BPA and/or silica. I also found that they don't last all that long, and most aren't dishwasher safe.
Steel is a great choice for reusable ice cubes, but they tend to be quite heavy. And the larger ones can be quite expensive too.
The stone ones might be a bit slower to cool down than steel, but you can get them at a reasonable price, and they look great.
You'll find that the plastic reusable ice cubes come in the widest variety of shapes and colors. They often use fruit and animal shapes as I imagine that they are mainly marketed for children. But they still look great in a summer cocktail or long drink for a party with friends.
With the steel and stone reusable ice cubes, I have found that they almost always come in cubes (surprise, surprise). But as they have become more popular, I have occasionally seen round and pyramid-shaped ones.
What I haven't seen is shapes other than geometric ones, as I imagine that those shapes would be difficult and expensive to make.
OK, I generally prefer having metal and stone ice cubes that are about the same size as a regular ice cube you'd get out of a tray. This gives me more flexibility to adjust how many I might need depending on whether I want to cool down an already cold drink or one at room temperature.
But you can get larger ones that are over one inch on each side, and they tend to stay cold for quite a bit longer.
The other thing I would mention is that the stone and stainless steel cubes tend to be quite heavy, with the steel ones being the heaviest. That's why I don't use large stainless steel ones for my kids, as it does make the glass quite heavy.
My experience is that the stainless steel ice cubes are the easiest to keep clean, just like your cutlery is. They also don't rust, so there really is no health issue to be concerned about.
With the stone ones, you have to be a bit more careful to choose the right ones. One of the most common materials for these is marble, and they are polished and sealed. That means they won't absorb any liquids that could turn moldy and smelly.
However, I would still recommend regularly cleaning them with a sanitary solution just to be on the safe side.
And finally, there are the plastic and silica-filled ones. I would not recommend using these at all. They contain toxins that could build up in your body over time and cause health issues. I also found that they are often very small, making them a choking hazard for young kids.
I've tested out all of these and ordered them to give you my favorite one first.
The rounded edges are important to avoid them causing chips on the inside of your glass.
With eight in each pack, I ended up buying three of these for a family of six. It gives us plenty of them on a daily basis.
This set also comes with a tray to keep them tidy, and a tong grips them more easily without dropping them before you get to the drink.
Each one weighs about 1 ounce, and they chill in the freezer in about 2 1/2 hours.
The company also supplies them with a convenient tray, which beats keeping them in a zip lock bag. And there's also a non-slip ice tong that helps you avoid that splash effect when you drop one into your drink.
I've placed two of these in an 8-ounce glass of room temperature water, and the water was nice and cool within two minutes.
I find they look particularly well in hurricane glasses, and I know some of my friends who like whiskey have favored these as well.
It's a high-grade 304 stainless steel, which makes it suitable for any kind of food consumption utensils. It also means that they won't rust or tarnish.
The only downside I found with this is that the tong is a bit awkward to grip the cubes.
They are dark grey, which makes them stand out very nicely in your drink.
The chilling stones also have rounded edges and corners, which is important as I previously tried ones that ended up chipping and breaking glasses.
I usually place three of these in my favorite drink, and they work very effectively to cool it down within about 90 seconds. The only thing I'm missing with them is a tray rather than a cloth bag that isn't suitable for the freezer.
The gold color makes them blend in especially well with whiskey, brandy, rum, and other alcoholic beverages.
And the diamond shape really makes them stand out a lot.
They also come in a nice gift box that includes a tray and silicone grip tong to make it easier to put them in your glass without dropping them.
Yes, reusable ice cubes made of plastic with purified water will freeze. Those made of stone or stainless steel are solid by nature, but they will also drop in temperature to below freezing when placed in a freezer.
Yes, many people think whiskey stones are better than ice because they don't dilute the whiskey. The stones also don't have a smell or taste, so you can enjoy the flavors in their natural form.
Yes, you have to clean reusable ice cubes. Stainless steel ones are the easiest to clean as you can simply wash them with your dishes. It's important to fully remove any residue from drinks to make sure they don't get moldy or smelly.
You clean reusable ice cubes by washing them the same way you would with your cutlery. With the stone ones, you should probably scrub them with detergent or a hand wash to ensure there's no residue left.
Most reusable ice cubes are made of stainless steel, stone, or plastic. Chilling stones tend to either come as granite or marble, which helps to avoid them soaking up any of the drinks you put them in.
I'm certainly not going to tell you that reusable ice cubes are going to save the planet. But I always remind my kids that even if there are small actions we can take, then those are the right thing to do.
And ever since we've stocked up on the ZMPWLQ ones (I know, it's a weird name), we've enjoyed cold drinks all the more.
They are definitely worth trying out to make your drinks stay cold longer.