Introduction: DIY Cooling Ice Vest

I recently started taking flying lessons and found out that many pilots wear ice or cooling vests in order to stay comfortable and sooth airsickness in the warmer months when flying in planes without air conditioning. Additionally, athletes and industrial workers sometimes make use of ice vests. Working outside and feeling overheated? Just throw on your ice vest! These can be purchased, but I found that most were $80 - $100+ and this one cost me less than $15 to make. It is made using a shower curtain as a bladder that holds an ice/gel mixture that is then sewn into a vest that can provide hours and hours of relief from the heat.

Step 1: Materials

You will need:

  • An old vest with a lining - an old lifejacket would also work great
  • A shower liner - I used a light weight PEVA liner
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Diapers - 2 adult diapers for my size, but any kind would work it may just require more
  • Oven/Parchment paper

Tools:

  • Soldering iron
  • c - clamp
  • scissors
  • sharpie
  • copper tubing (optional)

Step 2: Create Your Pattern

Using the vest you have, create a pattern for the bladder. I kept mine about an inch in from the seams of my vest to allow for error and expansion once it was filled. The picture shows how I combined the back (top) and front (bottom) on one side of the curtain. This way I was able to fold the curtain in half (all the markings will still be showing) and get the complete bladder.

Step 3: Weld Your Seams

In order to make the seams in the bladder watertight I decided to weld them using the technique described by instructable user Aleksi (https://www.instructables.com/id/Welding-plastic-ba...).

The two pieces of plastic to be welded together are sandwiched between two pieces of oven paper and then the soldering iron is run over the top piece of oven paper in order to melt the plastic together. CAUTION: Remember to always be aware that burning plastic could potentially release toxic fumes and therefore this should be done in a well ventilated area and with proper precaution.

Be careful not to touch the plastic directly with the soldering iron as it will create a hole!

Be sure to leave an area of seam open in order to be able to fill it with gel later! I left the neckline open.

I chose to create my welds with the sandwich of oven paper and shower liner held against a copper tube in the hope that this would help the lower sheet of plastic heat up and create a more even weld. You will probably also want to practice the technique on some scrap sheets of plastic. I found that lining up my marking on the top of the copper tubing then using the side of the soldering iron to go over it with very small circular motions worked best.

I also created horizontal baffles in the bladder so that when I added the ice/gel it would not all sink down and gather at the bottom after melting.

Step 4: Create the Water/Gel/Alcohol Mixture

Time to harness the superior absorption power of diapers to make a gel that can be frozen to make a leak free ice pack! I got this idea from The King of Random (https://www.instructables.com/id/Diapers-Help-Your-...) but tweaked it a bit by also adding rubbing alcohol to my mixture so that the bladder would be more flexible once frozen and conform to the wearer (alcohol has a higher freezing temperature than water).

The materials we are wanting can be harnessed from the diaper by cutting it open when it is dry and pulling out the cotton and absorptive materials (more messy because the particles fly into the air) or saturating it with water until it can't absorb anymore and then tearing it open. Put what you collect into a bowl and the rest of the diaper can be discarded. Keep adding water and mixing, the cotton can be pulled apart into smaller pieces, until you get the consistency of "gel" you want. Mine was about the consistency of snow and in retrospect I wish I had added more water.

Add about 2 capfuls of rubbing alcohol for every cup of the gel you have and mix well.

Step 5: Fill the Bladder

Scoop the mixture into the bladder through the area that you left open when welding the seams. As you fill it you will have to work it through the baffles in order to evenly distribute it throughout. Use the broad sides of your hand/fingers to do this in order to avoid weakening or punching through the plastic. Make more gel as needed. I filled each area to a depth of about 1/2 inch which took two batches of the gel (two adult diapers).

Step 6: Finishing Up

Now that the bladder is filled, the seam that was left undone needs to be welded shut. I left about a half inch of seam open on the shoulders where there is no gel in order to let any air escape. Since the neckline is curved I welded this area by angling the smaller side of the copper tubing around and underneath it and then holding it in place was able to put the soldering iron to it. DON'T FORGET the oven paper on either side of the plastic. Also be careful with that soldering iron tip as it will instantly make holes that must be patched if it inadvertently hits the plastic directly (happened to me twice).

With the bladder complete all that is left is to insert it into the lining of your vest and sew your lining back. I tore the stitches out of the neckline of my vest which allowed me to slide the back panels and two front panels in with minimal restitching.

Step 7: Enjoy!

After freezing I left the vest out for 5 hours, 1.5 of which it was being worn and it was still cold! So it will provide many hours of relief from the heat. As with any time you are icing, be sure to be conscious of how long you leave ice on at a time and avoid direct contact with bare skin.

Pat yourself on the back for saving $100+. Beat the heat and stay cool!

Additional notes: Some people have expressed concern about mold, and while constant freezing should slow its growth dramatically should any begin to grow, another avenue that could be explored would to be adding chlorine or something similar to the gel mixture.

Comments

author
CarrieH35 (author)2016-07-11

I went to Goodwill a week ago and picked up 5 beautiful vests for $2.50 each. I ordered a case of gel packs from amazon for $12. They were a little bigger than what I wanted so I cut them in half and placed half of the contents in ziploc freezer bags. I used 3 freezer backs per ice pack and put the second one over with the zip the opposite side and then the 3rd bag opposite that side in case I have a leak. The packets were much lighter and stayed cold about 3 hours. Since I ordered a case i made several sets of 5 gel packs to replace the other 5 when they were no longer cold. I am putting a vest together tomorrow. Will let you know how it worked out!

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ChristiM6 (author)2016-07-09

Also, in lieu of the shower curtain, you could use "Food Saver" heat seal rolls and cut them to size and seal them easily and quickly with the little machine that comes with it. Or there is a little electric device, Euro-sealer, that reseals any plastic bag, with a heated wire underneath a fiber-glass cover.

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ChristiM6 (author)2016-07-09

Are you aware you can buy these polyacrylamide crystals by themselves, in any garden center, without having the mess of removing them from a diaper? Look for them marketed as "Miracle Gro Water Storing Crystals."

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dekanireland (author)2016-06-30

thank you this is exactly what i was looking for. i wish i had found this web site before i spent hours on end trying to figure out how to do this!!!! i'm also using it for a medical purpose so thanks more than i can say!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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raz-0 (author)2014-07-16

Pretty much what you are paying for with the $100+ cooling vests is the fact they are made with a substance that solidifies/freezes at about 50F and melts slowly.

By maxing out the cooling that much above freezing, and keeping contact limited to parts of the torso with larger blood vessels, it avoids causing problems with making overheating worse due to vascular construction which can trap heat in your core and raise your core temp.



author
JackyFaber (author)raz-02014-07-17

Yeah there were quite a few different designs in the more expensive range. Another example would be the ones that use a cooler and small pump to circulate ice water through the vest (much like the ones used for post joint-surgery patients). So in that case you are paying for the cooler and tubing and pump as well. In no way am I trying to claim that this vest is on par with the $100+ vests in terms of longevity or efficiency as I have not been able to directly compare them, but for my purposes of staying cool in a hot plane for 1-2 hrs at a time it works very well and saved me money :)

On a side note, if anyone was interested in trying it, it would seem the ice cooler pump design could easily be integrated by creating channels instead of baffles for ice water to be pumped through using a small garden pump. Hoses would also need to be added to the inlet and outlet of the vest.

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WildGadget (author)JackyFaber2016-04-04

Fantastic tutorial, I can't wait to try this! I was searching around thinking of trying this cooling pump you were talking about but I can't seem to find it anywhere. Do you have a link where I could purchase one?

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chefranger (author)2015-09-04

Love it

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Technovation (author)2015-07-08

amazing idea for me here in India!!!

thanks a lot

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docj2011 (author)2015-06-29

Had trouble with the shower curtain and creating the perfect seal. The problem was the plastic shrank when heated and couldn't get a perfect seal/bond between the two sheets of plastic. Maybe it was because my soldering iron was too hot and I used a wooden stick instead of copper tube. I also purchased the exact same shower curtain. The idea and mixture (diaper and rubbing alcohol) is genius!! I added more alcohol (about 1/4 cup to 32 oz.). Ended up using just use zip-lock freezer baggies! Amazing!

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justfluffyme (author)2015-05-17

I have some complicated medical issues & getting hot is problematic! I live in Texas & it's tough for me to be out much in the summer! You may have just provided a solution! THANK YOU! :)

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spothy (author)2015-03-25

To prevent mould and bacterial growth you can add salt to the mix. It will also lower the freezing point and "hold" the cold well too.

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leevonk (author)2014-09-09

from having done research on making a DIY gel ant farm (i.e. a block of gel that ants can eat their way through to make tunnels etc.), I remember seeing that people use Tea Tree Oil to prevent the growth of mold in the gel. I never tried it but was the most promising, bio-friendly thing I found in my research.

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plasticpopcorn4 (author)2014-07-22

hows the durability?

author

So far no leaks or any issues like that. I am pretty stationary when wearing it though, so if it was going to be used in a more active environment thicker plastic is always an option.

author

This is really interesting, and it looks like it turned out great!

author

Thank you Danger, and shout out to a fellow engineering major!

author

Woohoo engineering!

What kind of plane are you learning to fly? I took a couple glider lessons when I was younger and it was awesome, but takes so much time and money!

author

Very cool, I have never been in a glider, but I can imagine that just you and the plane and the air would be pretty amazing. I'm learning in a cherokee 140, a little low wing single prop. It is pretty demanding when it comes to time and expense, maybe this is the source of my newfound appreciation for DIY :)

author

Yeah, it's amazing how quiet it is when there's no engine. I'm looking forward to seeing more of your projects :)

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seth42 (author)2014-07-17

That's pretty cool jacky i gotta try. I like to run and bike ride a lot but i live in Arizona an its hot even in the middle of the night.

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jessyratfink (author)2014-07-16

Genius! And it turned out really well :D

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JackyFaber (author)jessyratfink2014-07-16

Thanks jessyratfink :)

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watchmeflyy (author)2014-07-15

Interesting idea with the diapers... Hope you're having fun with the flying lessons!

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JackyFaber (author)watchmeflyy2014-07-15

I know, at first when I saw The King of Random talking about ripping open diapers I was like "what?" but then shortly recognized his genius. Thank you it is a lot of fun!

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cbucci (author)2014-07-15

you could increase the alcohol or add a string acidic vinegar if mold becomes and issue...I doubt it will good `ible, have fun flying.

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JackyFaber (author)cbucci2014-07-15

Thanks cbucci! I wasn't too worried about it either, but my mom is a bit of a germ phob so the disclaimer was at her insistence haha