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How Long Do Gel Packs Last in Shipping?

How Long Do Gel Packs Last in Shipping?

If you're planning to ship items that need to stay cold with gel packs, you're probably curious how long these packs last especially if you need to deliver items to far-off areas. In this guide, we'll dive into the details.

What Are Gel Packs?


woman holding gel ice pack
Credit: Envato Elements/ towfiqu98

Gel cold packs are portable packets used to keep items cool during transport. They typically consist of a plastic or vinyl exterior filled with a gel-like substance. This gel is often a mix of water and polymers like sodium polyacrylate. Some gel packs also include hydroxyethyl cellulose or vinyl-coated silica gel, which freeze and thaw at a slower rate.

To use them, all you need to do is place them in the freezer and let them freeze. Unlike ice, gel packs don’t create a watery mess as they thaw because the gel stays contained within its durable plastic packaging. After thawing, you can reuse them by refreezing. They come in various sizes and are particularly popular for keeping pharmaceuticals and frozen food cold and maintaining temperature control during shipping. They're also handy for keeping food fresh or drinks cold in a cooler or lunch box.

Why Do You Need to Use Gel Packs with Temperature-Sensitive Items?


ice pack with ice inside
Credit: Envato Elements/ microgen

Firstly, frozen gel packs are a reliable cooling source that can maintain a steady, low temperature for extended periods. This is critical for products like food, medications, and some chemicals, which can spoil or lose effectiveness if they get too warm.

These packs are designed to release cold slowly, which helps keep the shipping container at a consistent temperature. This slow release is far more effective than ice, which can melt quickly and cause temperature fluctuations that might damage the products.

Lastly, these packs are leak-proof, which helps prevent any damage to the product or its packaging. They are also reusable and don't need water or electricity to work, making them a more sustainable and cost-effective cooling solution compared to options like refrigerated trucks.

How Long Do Gel Ice Packs Last in Shipping?


shipping truck moving on highway
Credit: Envato Elements/ bilanol

On average, they're effective for 24 to 48 hours under typical conditions. The actual time can vary based on the size and type of gel pack, the external temperature, and how well the shipping container is insulated.

How to Make Gel Packs Last Longer?


hands holding gel ice pack
Credit: iStock

To extend the cooling life of gel packs when shipping items, follow these practical steps:

1) Pre-Freeze Your Gel Ice Pack

Make sure your gel packs are completely frozen before using them. It's best to freeze them for at least 24 hours in a freezer at the lowest temperature. If you can, chill the items you're shipping before packing them as well. This lowers the initial workload on the gel packs, helping them stay cooler for a longer time. It's best to freeze them for at least 24 hours in a freezer set at the lowest temperature. If possible, you can also chill the items you're shipping before packing them. This reduces the initial burden on the gel packs which in turn helps them stay cooler for a longer time.

2) Use Adequate Insulation

The type and quality of insulation in your shipping container can make a big difference in how long your flexible ice packs last. You can use insulated boxes or containers designed for shipping perishable items. These often feature thick styrofoam or double-layered cardboard to help keep the internal temperature stable.

3) Pack Everything Tightly

Air acts as an insulator, so consider filling up any empty spaces with additional packing materials like crumpled newspaper, packing peanuts, or bubble wrap. Also, consider where you place your gel packs. For best results, place them both above and below perishable goods, since cold air naturally moves downwards. Also, be sure the container is sealed tightly. This prevents warm air from entering and cold air from escaping.

4) Use Enough Gel Packs

Don't skimp on the number of gel packs. Using more will generally help maintain lower temperatures for longer. The rule of thumb is to use one pound of gel pack for every three pounds of product, but this might vary based on shipping conditions and the items being shipped.

How Do I Dispose of Gel Ice Packs?


woman using gel ice pack on wrist
Credit: Envato Elements/ varyapigu

If a gel pack is no longer usable, you might be able to recycle its plastic casing. Check the packaging for recycling symbols and consult your local recycling guidelines to see if it can be included in your regular recycling. The gel inside should not be poured down the drain because it can clog pipes and may contain hazardous material. Instead, cut open the pack and throw the gel away in the trash. Some gels are non-toxic and biodegradable, but it's always good to look at the packaging for disposal instructions. If you're unsure, contact your local waste management services.


Are there different types of gel packs for different types of items?

Yes, there are. Some are formulated to freeze at lower temperatures for shipping frozen goods, while others are intended for general use with perishable items that need to be kept cool but not frozen.

How do I know if a gel pack is no longer usable?

A gel is likely no longer usable if it starts to leak, has a puncture, or doesn't stay cold as long as it used to. At this point, it's best to dispose of it properly and replace it.


Gel packs can last from 24 to 48 hours, depending on their size, external temperature, and the insulation of the shipping container. Using them correctly, like pre-chilling items and placing them strategically, can make them last longer.

Looking for a reliable cooling solution for your critical shipments? Check out Nice Packs. Our dry ice packs deliver long-lasting cold, ensuring your perishables arrive in top condition. Shop with us today. 

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