Why Ice Cubes Shrink In The Freezer? Have you ever placed a bag of ice cubes in the freezer and come back to find them significantly smaller? You’re not alone. While it’s not entirely clear why this happens, scientists have a few hypotheses. This post will explore some of the potential explanations for why ice cubes shrink in the freezer. Are you ready to learn more? Read on!
Ice Cubes Shrink In The Freezer?
Ice expands as it freezes. Water freezes at 32° F (0° C). The other component of ice, the crystal structure, is less predictable. Sometimes water molecules form interlocking hexagons to create flat planes called basal faces.
Other times they join together in odd-looking shapes called crystal pavilions. However, in both cases, each water molecule attracts four neighboring water molecules.
A single ice cube may contain billions of individual ice crystals in its solid-state, all bound together by these hydrogen bonds. Since an ice cube’s volume roughly doubles when it freezes, you might expect each cube to occupy a larger space in your freezer after freezing – but they don’t.
Instead, the cubes swell as they freeze and shrink in size once frozen. But why?
The answer lies in water’s unusual physical properties – its oddly high melting point and relatively low boiling point.
Let’s start with the first: Melting and freezing points are colloquially termed freezing or melting “points” because they represent a substance’s change of state from solid to liquid to gas.
While other substances can exist as solids, liquids, and gases at various temperatures (theoretically speaking), only water has an easily recognizable freeze/melt point where it switches states.
The water molecule’s hydrogen atoms each possess one proton with a positive electrical charge, while the oxygen atom contains eight protons and eight neutrons, all positively charged.
When the two atoms form a tight bond, they create an electrically balanced structure with a slightly positive charge on both ends of the molecule. This arrangement allows water molecules to attract and link together in the formation of hydrogen bonds, freeze into ice cubes, or boil into steam.
What makes water unique in terms of freezing and melting?
The answer lies in how much energy is required to break its many hydrogen bonds (which hold it in its liquid state) and allow it to solidify.
It takes relatively little energy for water molecules to remain bonded when they are in their liquid state compared with most other liquids; this is why wine freezes at around 28° F (-2° C), but pure ethyl alcohol (a much more potent alcohol) freezes at -173° F (-114° C).
Water’s unique physical properties place it in a narrow temperature band where the liquid is stable, even though water requires more energy to stay together as a solid than as a liquid.
Why does this happen?
The hydrogen bonds are constantly breaking and reforming between water molecules. For example, when its temperature climbs above 32° F (0° C), enough energy exists within the system to break these bonds apart with less energy required to reform them.
However, once they are broken apart, we must remove additional heat from the ice before re-forming into their solid structures. This explains why you need an external source of cold – your freezer – to freeze water into ice: Remove the heat, and the water molecules will freeze.
The same principle holds for melting; energy is required to break apart the hydrogen bonds within the ice, which causes it to become liquid water.
Once this happens, additional heat must be added before those bonds reform and freeze into their solid structures. Hence, we need an external energy source – such as boiling water – to melt ice into liquid water.
Now that you know why ice cubes shrink during freezing, what’s going on with your freezer?
The temperature settings inside your freezer are typically around 0° F (-18° C). When you put ice cubes in your freezer, they begin to absorb energy from their surroundings and slowly drop down in temperature – but never quite reaching 32° F (0° C), the freezing point.
When all of the available energy has been absorbed by your ice cubes, and they reach a stable temperature, water molecules continue to migrate from warmer areas within the cube towards colder ones – but do so slowly enough that hydrogen bonds reform between them as they freeze. In other words, your freezer automatically thaws any ice it creates!
Now you know why ice cubes shrink in size when frozen! The next time you have a party or family gathering at your house, don’t be surprised if people take “cubes” rather than “chips”!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How Do You Keep Ice Cubes From Shrinking?
If you like your ice cubes to stay exactly as they were the moment they came out of the tray and not to melt and shrink before making it into your favorite drink, then this article is for you.
Ice cubes do not melt the same way as regular water does. If a cube is placed in a room-temperature environment, the ice cube will not melt gradually.
The ice cube will start melting from its corners and edges. Then, when all the corners and edges have melted, the middle section of the ice cubes will begin to melt in a radial pattern radiating out from the center.
Why Is My Ice Evaporating In The Freezer?
You’ve probably noticed that the ice cubes in your freezer are getting smaller, right? Have you ever wondered why this was happening?
Is it just a coincidence, or is something else going on? The truth is that your ice will gradually evaporate over time. This process begins as soon as you pour water into an ice cube tray and place it into your freezer.
Water will freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), but it won’t stop evaporating until the temperature reaches around -8 degrees F (-22 C).
Even if you freeze a full tray of water, it’ll still lose an average of 1 percent of its total mass each day! Ice melts from the outside in, so the last part of an ice cube to melt is always the center. This is why your once-convenient tray of ice cubes has now turned into a block of icy water.
What Happens If You Leave Ice In The Freezer Too Long?
Leaving ice in the freezer for too long can significantly impact the taste and quality of the frozen water source. In many cases, food poisoning has occurred after leaving the ice in a freezer for too long. On occasion, The Center For Disease Control (CDC) has issued statements regarding outbreaks of Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes that were caused by food poisoning after leaving the ice in a freezer for too long.
What Is It Called When An Ice Cube Shrinks?
Shrinkage is a term used to describe how ice cubes lose volume over time. The conditions under which shrinkage occurs can vary widely depending on several factors, such as the type of freezer and the kind of ice cube tray being used.
Understanding what happens to an ice cube during shrinkage helps to be familiar with the crystallization process.
Ice cubes are made up of crystals formed within a silicone tray as water is slowly frozen. As water freezes, it creates pockets of space in the ice cube trays.
During freezing, these pockets push against each other and cause some ice cubes to lose volume. This phenomenon is called shrinkage, caused by the water in the ice cube freezing at different rates.
The ice cubes shrink in the freezer because of a process called sublimation. The solid form cannot contain the molecules that makeup water, so they escape into a gaseous state.
This leaves behind a space that compresses all of the surrounding atoms together, creating pressure on them. Eventually, this compression creates enough force to cause a crystal lattice structure breakage in some areas and release gas bubbles from other parts.