There are many contributing factors that affect the time it takes for a liquid to freeze. Different types and thicknesses of liquids freeze at slightly different rates. The amount of liquid, its total surface area, its original temperature, and the freezer’s temperature can also alter its freezing time.
Here are a few of the most important factors to keep in mind when freezing some of the most common liquids.
Factors to Consider When Freezing Liquids
When you cool any liquid, you decrease the average energy of its molecules. As you remove more and more heat, the molecules’ attractive forces become greater and greater until the molecules are forced to fuse together and the frozen liquid turns solid. How much time this process takes depends on a few factors.
The first factor to keep in mind is the composition of the liquid. Thicker liquids take longer to lose their heat energy and freeze much more slowly than liquids with less viscosity. Certain liquids, like alcohol or antifreeze, contain chemicals with stronger or weaker intermolecular bonds that can affect freezing time.
The liquid’s volume and surface area are also important factors. These have to do with the size and depth of the container you use to hold your liquid. More liquid in a bigger container will take more time to freeze completely, while less liquid in a shallow container will freeze quite fast.
The next factor to consider is the liquid’s starting temperature. The closer the liquid starts to its freezing point, the faster it will arrive there. This means that cold liquids freeze faster than warm liquids; although, hot liquids can freeze faster than lukewarm liquids in certain special cases.
The final factor to keep in mind is the temperature of your freezer. Liquids will freeze faster at colder temperatures, but there are other things to consider when setting your freezer’s temperature.
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What Temperature Should a Freezer Be?
When you set up your freezer, besides thinking about the perfect temp for water to freeze, keep in mind that the main goals are to keep from getting sick and to preserve your stored food’s quality for as long as possible. So how cold should a freezer be?
According to FDA consumer guidelines, you should keep your freezer’s temperature at an even zero degrees Fahrenheit. Although most foods freeze at around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the FDA-recommended temperature will slow down as much deterioration as possible, keeping food safer for longer.
Freezing temperatures won’t kill most pathogens, but the cold will keep the most common bacteria from spreading through your food. Microorganisms that would otherwise spoil the food are put on pause indefinitely at low temperatures.
Even though colder temperatures may freeze liquids slightly faster, your electric bill can skyrocket if you keep your freezer too cold. Setting your freezer lower than zero degrees can also make your food lose flavor and moisture faster than necessary.
Some freezers come with a flash freeze option that you can use if you need to freeze a lot of liquid quickly. This setting drops the temperature of your freezer for a given short period of time and then automatically returns it afterward. Flash freezing can help speed up liquid freezing time without giving your stored food freezer burn.
You can also drop the temperature manually, but don’t forget to set it back to zero degrees once your liquid is frozen. Standalone freezers generally have their temperature dials at the top center of the interior. Refrigerator combos may have separate freezer and fridge controls or a shared control panel at the top center of the fridge or on the inside of the door. Many freezers mark their dials in degrees, but some use arbitrary numbers or up and down arrows to give you a general temperature range.
If your freezer doesn’t display its actual temperature, you can double-check it using a submersible thermometer. Measuring the temperature of the air in your fridge will give you less of an accurate picture than measuring the temperature of a liquid in the fridge:
- Place your submersible thermometer in a cup of oil, making sure the liquid covers the thermometer’s bulb.
- Put the cup in the center of your freezer, about halfway between the front and back and the top and bottom.
- For the most accurate measurement, let it sit for about 12 hours before you check it.
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How Long Does It Take a Freezer to Get Cold?
The average freezer takes about four hours to go from room temperature to the zero degrees Fahrenheit recommended by the FDA. Standalone upright freezers take around four and a half hours, while standalone chest freezers can take up to five hours. Refrigerator and freezer combos may make you wait as long as 12 to 24 hours to get the freezer to zero degrees.
The larger the compartment, the longer it will take to freeze. A Maytag upright freezer with a 15.7 cubic foot compartment will take about six to eight hours to freeze, while a compact Koolatron with a 3.1 cubic foot compartment will cool down in only around two or three hours.
How Long Does It Take for Water to Freeze?
Plain water freezes faster than any other common liquid. This is because it’s composed of only the barest essential chemical ingredients that you can make a liquid with: hydrogen and oxygen.
The less pure and more contaminated with foreign particles your water becomes, the slower it will freeze. Distilled or bottled water will freeze just a bit faster than tap water.
Water in an average ice cube tray will turn into ice cubes in about three or four hours. Shallow trays that make smaller cubes will freeze faster in around one or two hours, while deeper cocktail ice trays usually take the full four hours.
You can speed up your freezing time a bit by using a metal ice cube tray. Metal containers transfer heat energy out of water quicker and more efficiently. If you don’t have a metal ice cube tray, you can put your plastic tray on an aluminum or stainless-steel baking sheet to cool things down faster. If your freezer comes with a built-in ice maker, the water will freeze slightly faster because there will be fewer obstructions between the water and the cold.
If you need to freeze a whole bottle of water, the bottle’s size will affect the total freezing time. A small 8-ounce bottle or cup of water freezes in about 45 minutes. A larger 16-ounce bottle will freeze in around an hour and a half at zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Does Hot Water Freeze Faster?
Hot water doesn’t usually freeze faster than cold water, but there are certain conditions where it’s possible for hotter water to turn to ice faster than slightly cooler water. Starting at room temperature, it takes only around 15 calories to heat 1 fluid ounce of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. But because of the latent heat of vaporization, it takes over 15,000 calories to turn a fluid ounce of water into steam.
If you put hot, steaming water into the freezer, each ounce that evaporates will remove about 15,000 calories from the rest of the water. This is much more than the 15 calories per Fahrenheit degree that it takes to cool each fluid ounce by normal thermal conduction.
On the other hand, water that starts out warmer has many more degrees to cool down to reach its freezing point than water that starts out cooler. When we crunch all the numbers, it turns out that water at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit will turn to ice quicker than water at around 150 degrees but not quicker than water that starts out below 150 degrees.
Another factor in the race to freezing different temperatures of water is the surface area. Hot water with a larger surface area, such as in a shallow dish or ice cube tray, will evaporate faster. At the same time, the larger area of contact with the freezer shelf will cool the lower molecules of water faster than the molecules on top.
For water in a shallow dish that starts at room temperature, when the lower molecules get close to their freezing point, they’ll rise to the top of the dish. This cycle of convection currents will keep churning until all the water molecules reach their freezing point together and the whole body freezes solid.
For hot water in a shallow dish, as the lower molecules cool, they become denser than the hotter molecules on top. This prevents the convection currents from churning and makes the lower molecules start to freeze in place even while the surface is still warm. This quicker segmented freezing combined with the above evaporation effect can make hot water in a shallow container freeze considerably faster than lukewarm water. Your freezer will use a lot more overall energy, though, to extract all that extra heat.
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How Long Does It Take for Soda to Freeze?
Even though there are many different kinds of soda, the main factors that affect their freezing time are their amount of sugar and carbonation. The more sugar and carbonation a soda has, the longer it will take to freeze.
At the molecular level, water has a simple, regular structure that allows it to form regular hydrogen bonds when it freezes. The result is the simple, regular crystalline structure that we see in snow and ice.
Sugar molecules are very different from water molecules, both in size and shape. When you add sugar to water, it disrupts the regular structure and prevents normal ice crystals from forming.
Plain water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but the extra additives in sodas lower their freezing point by an average of about 2 degrees. On top of that, the carbon dioxide in sodas that creates all the bubbles prevents most sodas from ever turning into a perfectly solid block of ice. Instead, most sodas freeze into a loosely coagulated, slushy texture. For a 16-ounce bottle of soda, this takes about three hours.
If you leave a soda bottle in your freezer, it tends to keep its liquid form in the bottle for much longer than you’d think. As soon as you open the bottle, though, it will release some of the pressure of its carbon dioxide concentration, which raises its freezing point. As the compressed gas expands, it also rapidly cools, drawing any remaining heat from the soda. These two effects cause the liquid inside to turn to slush in an instant.
All the carbonation under pressure can make freezing a can of soda a bad idea. Some types of soda cans can’t withstand much expansion and may explode as their temperature drops in your freezer. If you need to freeze a soda, it’s a much better idea to use a plastic bottle. You should also open the seal and pour a little bit of the liquid out to make sure it has plenty of room to expand as it freezes.
Other Common Drinks
The sugar in juice causes it to freeze at a few degrees lower than water, which takes a bit more time. In a shallow ice cube tray, it should take around two or three hours. A larger glass bottle will take around six to eight hours.
The freezing temperature of beer depends on how much alcohol it contains. Beer with 8% alcohol content freezes at around 27 F, which will take about an hour and a half in a normal freezer. Just like sodas, beer contains sugar and carbonation, which means it tends to freeze into a slushy rather than a block of ice.
Milk contains fat, which takes more energy to freeze than water. You’ll have to wait around 24 hours for a gallon of milk to freeze. If you pour your milk into an ice cube tray, it will freeze in around three or four hours.
Knowing how long it takes for water and other beverages to freeze can help you get the most out of your freezer. It can also help you avoid unwanted freezing when you’re only looking for a frosty, refreshing beverage.