While ice baths were once reserved for professional athletes aiming to push their body past its limit, they have become much more popular in recent years. The more we have learned about their ability to improve performance and benefit your health, the more people have been willing to give them a go.
Unfortunately, while there are some cheap choices on the market, most of the top ice bath options available come with enormous price tags. This means many people are put off, can’t justify buying one, or simply can’t afford it, stopping them from giving an ice bath a try in the first place.
Just because you don’t want to spend a fortune on an ice bath doesn’t mean you can’t make one for yourself though.
Droves of fitness fanatics have been coming up with new and creative ways to try and make the most of cold therapy without spending a fortune, many of which have been very effective.
So, if you want to start making the most of cold therapy benefits, without having to shell out your life savings to do so, our detailed guide to building your own DIY ice bath is just what you have been looking for.
Using An Existing Indoor Bathtub
The easiest, most straightforward option for building your own ice bath is to simply use the tub you already have in your home.
It is made to hold large amounts of water, will be comfortable to lay in, is easy to drain, and won’t require you to find any spare room in your house to store new equipment.
This makes it a great, cheap way to get all of the benefits of ice baths, with almost none of the cost.
How Much Ice To Use?
Depending on the size of your tub, the average user will want to use between 50 and 100 pounds of ice, which will equate to one to three regular sized bags full.
This should be enough to ensure you achieve the optimal water temperature of between 45 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit (7 and 14 degrees Celsius).
The exact temperature you use will again vary a little from person to person, as it is dependent on your own personal cold tolerance level and experience.
What Is The Ratio Of Water To Ice For An Ice Bath?
Despite being called an ice bath, the optimal ratio of water to ice in an ice bath is 3 to 1. Water turns to ice at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), but in an ice bath, the water should be around 45 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit (7 to 14 degrees Celsius).
If you use the 3 to 1 ratio, it will usually take around 10 minutes to achieve this temperature. If you use any less ice, it can take ages for the water to reach the correct temperature, and sometimes it will never reach it at all.
On the other hand, if you use much more ice, it can make the water too cold or cause it to freeze over entirely, both of which render the ice bath unusable. This makes the 3 to 1 water to ice ratio the optimal range for a successful ice bath.
What Is The Best Way Of Preparing An Ice Water Bath?
While preparing and then taking an ice bath may seem like a basic, easy activity (aside from building up the courage to try it for the first time of course), there are certain steps that should be taken if you are going to use your ice bath in the most safe and effective way possible.
We will now look at the steps and the order in which they should be completed for anyone who wants to make their ice bath experience as enjoyable, safe, successful, and convenient as they can.
Fill a tub with cold water.
Begin by filling your tub to around the halfway point with water, then add somewhere between one to three bags of ice (50 to 100 pounds), until you have visibly achieved the 3 to 1 water to ice ratio mentioned above.
You will now have around 10 minutes to get everything else prepared while the temperature inside the ice bath gradually drops to the desired 45 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit (7 to 14 degrees Celsius) range.
That said, it is a good idea to periodically check the temperature as you go, to ensure everything is going to plan.
Stage your post-bath clothing.
Once you complete your ice bath, you will need to dry off and get into warm clothes as quickly as possible, to bring your body temperature back up to its normal level.
It is therefore essential that you put your post ice bath clothes, a towel, and perhaps even some footwear in the bathroom before you get in the bath, so you can access them as soon as you get out.
Don the proper attire.
While you will see videos online of experienced users taking ice baths wearing virtually nothing, the majority of people are highly recommended to wear clothing, especially when you are just getting started with ice baths, as it will protect your skin from burns and damage, while limiting the shock.
Options like shorts, sweatpants, or leggings, each paired with a T-shirt are among the most popular options. Some people also choose to wear thick pyjamas or a sweatshirt, as well as booties on their feet, to keep their torso and toes warm enough throughout.
Enter the ice bath.
When you get in an ice bath for the first time, it is a massive shock to the system, which can be exacerbated if you enter it too quickly. This can lead to issues like hyperventilating or even passing out, which can cause a whole range of problems of its own.
To try and avoid these issues, get into your ice bath by slowly submerging your feet, legs, and waist into the ice bath gradually. As you enter, breathe deeply to keep yourself calm and avoid hyperventilating.
Once your entire lower body is in the ice bath, you can then carefully but a little more quickly lay back to submerge the rest of your body. The parts of your body that have been submerged in the water will begin to feel numb after just a few minutes.
Dry Yourself Thoroughly With A Towel
An average ice bath will last around 10 mins and you should remain in one for an absolute max of 15 mins. You then have to get out carefully to avoid slipping and falling. Once out, you then need to dry yourself off completely and warm your body up, without doing it so fast that it causes complications.
Immediately remove the clothes you took your ice bath in and use the towel you got ready earlier to thoroughly dry each part of your body. Rub firmly and quickly to warm yourself up using friction then, as soon as you are dry, put on your change of warm, dry clothes.
Building Your Own Cold Plunge
For those who would prefer to save their tub for more relaxing experiences, you could instead try repurposing a common item and turning it into an ice bath.
While there are plenty of ways you could go about this, depending on how “out of the box” you can think, the following are perhaps the two most straightforward options.
Trash Can Ice Bath
The first option is to simply purchase a large trash can that you can fit inside. It is better to use a plastic trash can, as the metal ones are less comfortable and harder to control the temperature of.
You also want to make sure you use a brand new trash can for smell and hygiene reasons.
Fill your chosen trash can up to the halfway point with water and dump 1 to 3 large bags of ice in it, until it is a little over the 2/3rds full mark. You can then simply follow the steps for using an ice bath outlined above, get in, and enjoy.
DIY Ice Bath Chest Freezer
The other popular option is to use a chest freezer to form the base of your ice bath. Not only will it usually be large enough for you to lay back in, but they will come with their own cooling system, which will reduce the amount of time and money you have to spend to add ice to your ice bath.
Second hand chest freezers are usually cheaply available on sites like eBay, while they are often even given away for free on sites like craigslist, providing you are willing to go and pick it up.
Some people may even be lucky enough that they already have an empty chest freezer at home that they can convert into an ice bath without spending a penny.
However, if you do have one at home, maybe check that no one wants it before turning it into an ice bath, to save yourself some grief.
It is also important to note that chest freezers aren’t usually designed to hold several hundred litres of water.
You will therefore want to check its weight capacity and that there aren’t any electrical connections that could be dangerous if they got wet before you start converting it into an ice bath.
How To Convert A Chest Freezer Into An Ice Bath
Begin by cleaning the bath out thoroughly, making sure that no debris, dirt, or oily residue is left inside.
This is particularly important if you are using a second hand unit. You then need to seal everywhere that there is a gap with silicone sealant, to make it completely watertight.
Be sure to seal up each corner, where the sides join the base, over any power points or drains, and also around the top, where the upright meets the top frame. Use a thin layer of the sealant, as this will make it easier to see what you are doing, ensure you get it into all of the gaps, and avoid lumps.
You can repeat the sealant stage two or three times if necessary, but make sure to only use a thin layer each time. You don’t want to do it any more than this though, as the sealant will begin to form lumps, have poor adhesion, and start to peel off.
If you don’t want to lay directly on the interior of the chest freezer itself, you could line it with some type of plastic lining sheets, such as Visqueen. If you do this, make sure you carefully fold it as tight as possible into each corner of the unit and tape the edges to the top of the door frame.
Get a cheap, waterproof digital thermometer that you can place on your new ice bath, to give you a constant, accurate reading of how cold it is. You will then need to get a plug timer, to let you control the on off cycles of the freezer’s refrigeration unit, to keep the water at the right temperature.
Due to the built in cooling system, you don’t actually need to use any ice in this type of ice bath, as the water can be kept at the right temperature by the machine itself. This also means it will constantly be ready to use whenever you want it.
Once you have filled it with water, it is a good idea to add food grade hydrogen peroxide to the mix, to help slow the build-up of bacteria. Make sure you don’t decide to cheap out and simply use salt though, as this will promote rust and potentially ruin your ice bath.
Even with these precautions taken, you should still aim to change the water in your ice bath at least once a month, in order to keep it as clean and hygienic as possible.
When it is time to use your ice bath, make sure you always unplug the power from the unit before doing so. While it is extremely unlikely that any harm will come to you if you use the unit while it is plugged in, it is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to mixing water and electricity.
Benefits Of A DIY Ice Bath Freezer Or Trash Can Ice Bath
These types of DIY ice bath are both inexpensive and very fast and easy to convert. This means you don’t have to spend too much money and can start using an ice bath incredibly quickly, avoiding the long delivery times many purpose built ice baths come with.
You also don’t need to waste money or impact the environment by buying new units either, as there are plenty of second hand options on various websites, while you may even have one of your own already at home, just waiting to be converted.
Both options also offer a much more authentic ice bath experience to simply substituting it with a cold shower. This will allow you to make the most of the full range of cold therapy benefits and experience the hit and lift that they offer.
The chest freezer option is also very convenient as it has its own cooling system. This means you don’t have to waste time or money filling it with ice every time, as it can maintain its temperature. This means it will always be immediately ready to use as soon as you want to as well.
If you do find that you don’t like ice baths or it isn’t for you, you haven’t made a huge commitment, so are not facing a huge waste of money and resources.
Depending on what you have done to convert the freezer or trash can, you may even be able to resell it and not have it cost you a dime.
Ready Made Alternative- Ice Barrel
A good compromise between building your own and splurging on a ready-made cold plunge tub, such as the cold plunge, which retails at close to 5000$ is to buy a cheaper plastic barrel.
Our favorite barrel is the ice barrel which retails at around 1000$ and is the perfect size for full submersion:
DIY Outdoor Cold Plunge
If you don’t want to buy a purpose-made ice bath, use the tub in your bathroom, or repurpose an item from around the house, the only option you have left is to purchase a second bathtub and build your own outdoor cold plunge from scratch.
This is undoubtedly the hardest method and will take a certain amount of practical know-how and craftsmanship. This is an option you will want to avoid or get help with if you aren’t good with tools. Depending on the materials and components you use, it can also start to get quite pricey as well.
However, this is also the option that gives you the most choice. You can design your cold plunge in the style you want, make it perfectly suited for use in your preferred place in your home, and even choose what features it has, such as cooling units, drainage systems, thermostats, timers, and more.
Best Material For Outdoor Bathtub
Regardless of the features and aesthetics you settle on for your home made outdoor cold plunge, the most important part of the build will likely be deciding on what material to make it out of.
This will play a vital role in determining many of the qualities of your ice bath, such as its strength, water resistance, and thermal conductivity.
The two primary options you have are metal and plastic, although these can then be broken down further into a number of subcategories.
Metal is perhaps the most popular type of bathtub for use as an outdoor cold plunge and is available in three types, those being formed Steel, cast iron, and aluminium.
Formed steel bathtubs usually feature a coating made from a blend of porcelain and enamel. These are often among the least expensive types of tubs, as well as one of the strongest. However, selecting formed steel as your material does have its drawbacks as well.
The most notable drawback is the fact that they are extremely heavy, weighing more than double some other types of tubs, which may not be ideal depending on where you plan to put it, given the weight of the ice and water it needs to hold. The surface is also extremely prone to chipping.
Unlike formed steel tubs and their porcelain and enamel coating, enamelled cast iron tubs are actually resistant to chipping. This is because they use a thicker enamel, and the cast iron is more resistant to impact, making them even stronger than a formed steel tub as well.
However, they are also even heavier than formed steel tubs, so moving it can be extremely difficult, if not outright impossible. This could be a problem if you aren’t sure where it will be used long term, want to move it around, or aren’t sure of the strength of the floor on which you are placing it.
The third metal option, aluminium, is low maintenance, durable, easy to clean, hygienic, leak-proof, low maintenance, insulates & maintains heat extremely well, is soft against skin, and won’t rust. It is also extremely lightweight, weighing roughly a third of what steel does, making it much more portable.
The drawbacks to aluminium all relate to its strength. If you get a low grade aluminium tub, there is a much greater risk of it getting damaged, especially at extremely low temperatures, where it can get brittle. The welding quality is also very important as, if it is poorly done, the tub is much weaker.
The other main option you have for the material of your tub is plastic. Plastic tubs are usually made by moulding different plastics into the shape of a bathtub and then reinforcing it with fibreglass.
The tub is then coated with a layer of gelcoat resin, which gives it a high-quality finish and makes the surface easy to clean.
The main upside to a plastic tub is that they are generally less expensive than other varieties. Plastic is also an extremely lightweight material, making it easy to install or move your tub.
Unfortunately, the nature of the lightweight material also makes plastic one of the most brittle materials on the market to make a bathtub out of. Plastic tubs are also porous and the surface will absorb water regularly, causing it to crack.
This is particularly problematic at the extremely low temperatures used in outdoor cold plunges.
Ice baths are a great way to improve your health and physical performance and, although they might not be the most appealing activity at first, they are definitely worth giving a go.
While high prices of the top ice baths may have once put people off giving one a try, that need not be the case anymore.
Whether you want to build an ice bath from scratch, adapt a common item, or even use your regular bathtub, you have plenty of choices available.
Not only will these save you a great deal of money, but they can also help you to achieve an experience much more custom fit to your own wants and needs.
So, all you have left to do now is work out exactly what your own dream ice bath looks like. That way, you can give it a try for yourself and start making the most of all the benefits cold therapy has to offer as soon as possible.
Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine from Alexandria university and is a practicing plastic surgeon. He’s our expert on all things nutrition, medicine, rehabilitation, and flexibility. Dr.Ahmed has been a medical content writer for more than 11 years and his work reached top publications such as the HuffingtonPost