Instead of freezing water in trays or relying on your fridge to create ice cubes for you, these reusable ice cubes just go back into the freezer after you’ve cleaned them, and chill for their next use.
There are a few benefits to these that we’ll get into in just a moment.
Reusable ice cubes can be made out of a wide range of materials, though the most common are plastic and steel.
You can even find bamboo reusable ice cubes (which isn’t really the best concept), and they all have different cooling times and temperature retention capabilities.
The cycle of a reusable ice cube is to freeze it, pop it in your drink like a regular ice cube, and clean them very thoroughly.
If done properly, they will be a more sanitary solution than normal ice cubes that come out of your freezer.
We’ve all seen different reports and news exposes over the years regarding restaurant ice.
It’s filled with bacteria, potentially as filthy as toilet water, and isn’t deemed safe for consumption in most cases. But the ice machine in your freezer isn’t exactly exempt from these problems.
Do you know the last time the water line in your fridge was cleaned? For that matter, do you even know what material your water line is made out of?
Ice machines are supposed to be cleaned once per year in your home, and once every six weeks in restaurants. The thing is, this is a fantasy, because it’s rarely done.
Reusable ice cubes remove that risk, and mean you don’t have to clean out a machine that you don’t know much about. You just have to clean the ice cubes themselves.
This means you can fully disable the ice machine in your fridge. Most modern fridges have them, but they actually cost you more in water and electricity.
Than you’d think (if you pay for your water, which not everyone does).
Even though the annual electrical cost of running your ice machine isn’t life-changing, it’s always good to save a few bucks where you can, and use less energy for the environmental benefits.
What is in Reusable Ice Cubes?
It depends on what type of reusable ice cubes you are using.
The most common ingredient that you will find in reusable ice cubes is silica gel, which freezes slower than water, but keeps drinks colder for longer than a simple saline solution.
If your disposable ice cubes have silica gel on the inside, they could be toxic if they leak out and into your drinks.
It’s important to monitor the durability of your reusable ice cubes to prevent this from happening.
Then you have solid reusable ice cubes that are made out of stainless steel, which are your safest option.
These are made out of food-grade stainless steel to provide a fully sanitary experience that maintains a chill for even longer than silica gel.
Some companies do use a gel on the inside to cut steel costs, but make them out of non-toxic materials.
Then you have stone ice cubes, which are as basic as it gets. They can be made out of soapstone.
These are the least popular option, because they’re only good to maintain already chilled drinks without dilution, and are typically used for whiskey and bourbon.
Stone ice cubes are also not dishwasher safe since the high heat can cause them to crack, so you won’t be bombarded with many options like these if you decide to make a purchase.
Are Reusable Ice Cubes Safe?
Most of them are safe. Silica gel is a common ingredient in plastic and silicone ice cubes, which is toxic if it leaks into your beverage.
While it holds a low toxicity level, it’s still something you don’t want to ingest, and it could damage your internal organs.
The safest reusable ice cubes are those with no filling, and made out of stainless steel.
Even if you are using a BPA-free plastic for reusable ice cubes, it can still slowly break down into your drinks over time, which is not good.
Plastic can also absorb odors and flavors from other drinks, which can be confusing when you pull them out of the freezer.
So long as you freeze your ice cubes, the surface will be sanitary for use in your drinks, but it’s about what lurks underneath.
It’s also possible for whatever filling agent is used to shed micro particles over time, which is something to consider.
Do Reusable Stainless Steel Ice Cubes Flavor My Drink?
Yes they do, but almost any ice cube in your drink will change the flavor.
Stainless steel ice cubes have a slightly tinny taste, as if you were drinking out of a can.
High levels of bacteria that are found in restaurant ice cubes actually do alter the flavor, and plastic ice cubes can retain the favor of previous drinks.
Basically, any ice cube you use will affect the flavor, unless you’re making your ice cubes at home in steel containers, out of highly filter zero dissolved solid water.
Even if you were to freeze spring water and use them as ice cubes, it would have a positive impact on the drink (minerals only found in nature), but it’s still going to affect the flavor.
How Long do Reusable Ice Cubes Stay Cold?
An average of 30 minutes. This is, of course, dependent on what type of reusable ice cube you purchase and the temperature of the drink that you put them into.
The air temperature and humidity levels also impact the duration, but not quite as much as the material of the ice cubes in question.
Solid stainless steel ice cubes will hold their chill for the longest, but also require the longest amount of time to cool in the freezer.
Filled stainless steel ice cubes, or those with a non-toxic gel on the inside, will freeze quicker but not retain the cold as long in your drinks.
Stainless steel also sinks, where plastic cubes float. Since cold temperatures sink, having the cubes at the bottom will evenly regulate the temperature of the drink.
Plastic and silicone ice cubes are affordable, but don’t stay cold for longer than about fifteen to twenty minutes.
That being said, the point is to keep your drink temperature low, which is different from the amount of time that your ice cubes themselves will stay cold.
At this point, it’s best to remove them from the drink so that they don’t reabsorb the cold temperatures.
How Long do Reusable Ice Cubes Take to Chill?
You can expect plastic reusable ice cubes to chill in about one to two hours (depending on their size), and stainless steel ice cubes can take about three to four hours, or longer if your freezer settings are not ideal.
Steel is a better conductor of cold temperatures, but because the walls of plastic ice cubes are thin and the internal gel is also very responsive to cold temperatures, they chill for longer.
Steel cubes need to be chilled all the way through in order to be fully effective.
How Long do Reusable Ice Cubes Last for?
Stainless steel ice cubes can last a lifetime, and are nearly impossible to break or crush.
Most are also dishwasher safe, so you would really have to try to destroy them in order to damage them in the slightest. These are the best option, but also one of the more pricey ones.
Plastic ice cubes get tricky. On the one hand, we know that plastic doesn’t biodegrade for a millennium, but that doesn’t really make them the best reusable ice cube option.
As we talked about earlier, they’re filled with a solution that can either be a non-toxic gel, or silica gel. These should last forever, but they don’t.
Most plastic ice cubes say that they are top rack dishwasher safe, but the intense heat can actually cause the seams to slightly part, allowing a slow leak of the interior gel, which can get into your drink.
You’ll be able to spot the seams where plastic ice cubes were fused together, and those are the most vulnerable point.
There are also countless user reviews online from plastic ice cube sales pages that talk about punctures happening within a short time period.
This is where your shopper’s research and brand specifics come into play.
The walls of the ice cubes are usually very thin (in cheaper brands), making them very easy to pop or puncture with enough pressure.
If you hand wash these, which is preferred, don’t hold them too tight while scrubbing.
If you’re going through plastic ice cubes fairly quickly, not only is it a waste of money, but then you’re throwing more plastic into the landfills.
We recommend going with stainless steel ice cubes, or at the very least getting a steel ice cube tray and a water filter to make your own at home.