Can you stop water from expanding when it freezes into ice?

My favorite demonstration of the expansion of water when freezing is to leave a carbonated beverage in the freezer until it is just at/below freezing temp. When you open the cap/can and release the pressure the liquid rapidly freezes.

The trick is to remember you left the drink in the freezer before it ends up exploding (not the funnest mess to clean up).

Also fun is near frozen bottled water which if you time things right can supercool then freeze when you tap the bottle.


I read this paragraph from you and knew what channel was being featured. I agree.


I thought that the failure point was going to be the threads of the pipe or fitting, as he only appeared to hand tighten them.

You don’t have to search Google very hard to find images of all kinds of pipe material burst from the expansion of freezing water. The damage can be catastropic:


The expansion of ice as it is forming is a very powerful force, containing it without expansion would take some extreme engineering.


Action Man is British GI Joe.


Reminds me of the youtuber who took the guts out of a microwave oven and had fun pointing it at fluorescent bulbs to make them glow.



Yes. It was VFP UK that did the PSAs.


You want Ice-9? Because that’s how you get Ice-9.


Especially when no coworkers will fess up to it, so you have to clean the slush off of your frozen lunch items (and by extension the whole freezer, because seriously WTF).


I once had a particular freezer and ice cube tray that always resulted in spikey ice cubes. As the liquid water froze in the open-top cells of the ice cube tray, it didn’t just expand upward evenly. Rather, a spike would shoot up from the centers of most of the cubes. Some of the spikes were almost as tall as the main body of the cube.

I think the cubes froze slowly from the outside to the center. The path of least resistance for that last bit of frozen water in the center of the cube was to jet upwards, at which point it froze rapidly.

But I never understood why it would happen so consistently in that one freezer-and-tray combo and yet I’ve almost never seen it anywhere else.


Harsh but true.

I can’t help think that the only thing that made the process 'splody and dangerous was the liquid nitrogen. Had he just put the frosty pipe bomb in the freezer for a while, it would still have failed but without much enthusiasm.

I wouldn’t like to have to share a workspace with that guy.


What a fucking idiot!
NO safety glasses
NO safety Screen
NO thermal gloves for pouring out the liquid N2
Picking up the container with bare hands straight afterwards.
What a fucking dipshit douchnozzle doofus. He deserves to get frostbite.

I was anxious when I saw his “shield”… seemed way to flimsy. A long time ago, mid-'70s, I was lured into a small theatre at the CNE, enticed by the “science demonstration” promised within. A black & white film where a scientist filled a cannonball-like metal ball with water, wrenched on a plug, and then lowered the cannonball into liquid nitrogen. Fricken thing asploded like a bomb, as in no visible trace of the beaker or the cannonball remained.

Turned out this was some lead-in to convince me of the power of God or Jesus or something. I forget the denomination, but never forgot this demo.

I felt the ouchies in my fingertips watching him handle the still-cold pipe.


I don’t think the liquid nitrogen changed much. What happened was going to happen no matter what because of the properties of cast iron. The only thing the liquid nitrogen added was speed of freezing and the cloud of vapor, making it look more dramatic. But the iron was going to fail the same way, regardless of how slowly or quickly it froze.

The key to “when” it would fail is the amount of solid ice that formed. Each 1.0 ml of water that became 1.1 ml of ice added to the pressure in the container. Once the critical volume of ice was formed, the pressure exceeded the strength of the iron.

From the fractured edge, it looks like gray iron, which has lower tensile strength than ductile iron.

When the iron failed, you can see that it shattered at the point of highest stress, which is where the cap’s curvature is sharpest. And it was explosive because of the brittleness of grey iron. When the first stress fracture formed, the fracture probably traveled around the cap at the speed of sound in iron, with no elasticity to slow the spread. So the whole dome of the end cap fractured all at once and blew off as shrapnel, and the remaining unfrozen water under pressure acted as a rocket engine to blast the pipe away.


Oh, and the reason houses don’t explode like this when their pipes freeze? Because your house pipes are not 100% sealed steel and iron. There are lots of squishy parts that will fail at much lower pressures than cast iron, like rubber washers and O-rings in faucets, washing machine and dishwasher hoses, water heater tanks with pressure relief valves, and softer metals like brass fittings and copper pipes. House pipes don’t freeze all at once. When the first section of a pipe starts to freeze, the increase in water pressure gets spread along the pipes to all those softer spots, and one of them will fail long before the iron pipes reach explody pressures.

Of course with the heat out for an extended period of time, all the pipes and tanks filled with standing water will eventually break as the ice forms and pushes outward radially from inside the tubes, but the water itself won’t be raised to the extreme pressures that caused the explosion. It’ll just leak out somewhere else.

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