How to build an ice bath: A comprehensive guide to convert a chest freezer into a cold plunge
Take control of your recovery and wellbeing with this guide to creating your own plunge experience in the comfort of your home
Below, columnist Joshua Lee explores the physical and mental benefits of cold water therapy for first responders. Some of the most recognized and researched cold therapy mental benefits are stress reduction, reduced cortisol levels, mood enhancement and improved mental resilience.
Has your department started to include wellness trends, such as cold therapy, heat therapy and more within its wellness program? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share photos or videos of your department’s ice bath therapy participation and we’ll include it in an upcoming article!
Before you start taking ice baths, be sure to consult with your doctor first to ensure it’s safe for you. People with heart conditions, who take specific medications and older adults may be at higher risk of experiencing complications. Additionally, an ice bath, much like a pool or hot tub, should have controlled access to prevent children from accessing the ice bath without adult supervision. This could lead to accidental drowning, which is the leading cause of death for children 1 to 4 years old.
Cold water therapy has emerged as a powerful tool for both the body and mind. While cold water therapy has gained popularity in sports fitness and social media, it is important to understand its effectiveness and whether it’s suitable for you.
If you decide that cold water therapy is for you and you want to make your own plunge, here is a comprehensive guide on how I created my own cold plunge experience right in the comfort of my home.
I have been doing cold water therapy for nearly a decade. When I began my cold water therapy, most cold plunges cost well over $10,000, which was beyond my police salary budget. Instead, I bought a few bags of ice and threw them in my bathtub. I quickly realized that tap water in Arizona during the summer is too warm and my ice bags quickly melted. My two bags of ice often turned into eight. And after $15 worth of ice for a single bath, I decided to look for a better solution.
After a bunch of trial and error in making my own ice bath, I finally found the best method to properly turn a chest freezer into an ice bath that will last for years.
NOTE: If you purchase a new chest freezer, spend the time to seal it properly the first time. A properly sealed chest freezer cold plunge will likely last a very long time. You can also skip to SECTION 3: SANDING.
WARNING: Always have your freezer unplugged while you are working on it. Wear your eye protection, latex gloves and always follow the specific directions with any of the products you are using.
Automatic timer to plug the freezer into
- JB Weld Water Weld (four tubes minimum)
- Pond Shield epoxy liner (one 1.5-quart kit minimum)
- 6-inch paint roller and a paint tray
- 80-grit sandpaper
- Several rags and light soapy water
- Eye protection and gloves
If Restoring an Old freezer, you will also need:
80-grit flap sander attached to an angle grinder
- Self-etching prime – not Rust-Oleum brand
STEP 1: CHOOSE YOUR FREEZER
Choosing the right freezer is important. If you choose one that is too small, you won’t be able to get completely submerged. If you get one too big, you are wasting water and electricity to keep it cool. Look for a chest freezer that will fit your body type. For example, a 15-cubic foot chest freezer holds about 118 gallons of water. For reference, I am 5’10” and 220+ pounds and I fit just fine. My legs are bent when I sit down, but I am completely submerged, which is what you want. If you are over 6 feet tall, you may want a bigger chest freezer.
This is a picture of my 15-cubic foot chest freezer. It lasted about four years but, because of rust issues, it probably wasn’t going to last much longer. I decided to restore and seal it the proper way.
STEP 2: CLEANING RUST
If you use an old chest freezer, you will want to clean it and remove all the rust. Don’t attempt to sand the rust by hand, because you will get frustrated and quit. Instead, use an angle grinder with an 80-grit flap disc. Just be careful not to go too aggressive with your sander, because you do not want to cut through the thin metal walls of the freezer.
Tip: Keep a shop vac turned on and nearby where you are grinding. This will suck up the dust and debris so your cleanup will be quicker.
STEP 3: SANDING AND WASHING
After grinding through the old sealant and rust, use 80-grit sandpaper to lightly scratch the entire tub. Really spend the time and sand everything. You will want your Pond Shield epoxy to adhere to the metal.
After you finish sanding the entire tub, wipe as much dust off the surface as possible. Use a bucket of soapy water and several cotton cloths. Make sure to dry everything right after you wash to avoid creating more rust. After the surface dries, rub your hand on the surface to check for any dust. If you see dust on your hand, you will need to keep cleaning and drying.
STEP 4: PRIMER
If there is any exposed metal, apply a self-etching primer to it. Pond Shield recommends any primer except for the Rust-Oleum products.
After the primer dries, you will want to lightly wipe any overspray off the surface. To make things really clean, wipe the non-primed surfaces with rubbing alcohol.
STEP 5: SEAL THE SEAMS
The old chest freezer was sealed with basic waterproof silicone caulk. It worked for about six months before the chest freezer developed rust. To avoid rusting and leaks, you will want to seal the seams of your freezer with a product that is more durable and made for underwater applications.
In my experience, JB Weld Water Weld is the most effective product for DIY cold plunges. It is hard to see the seal in this picture, but I sealed the seams around the bottom, around the compressor box (upper right) and up the middle seam (bottom of the picture). I also recommend sealing around the trim of the lid on the inside. Each freezer is a little different so just pay attention to where the seams are. This freezer took four tubes of JB Weld.
NOTE: There are different opinions on sealing the drain plug. Some seal the entire drainage plug, which will cause you to have to siphon the water out when you clean it. If you don’t seal the drainage plug, then you run the risk of a leak. For me, I sealed around the drain where the plastic met the metal, but left the hole so I could easily drain it for cleaning.
STEP 6: APPLY POND SHIELD
Wait a day for your JB Weld to completely harden. If you didn’t sand and clean the freezer properly, then the Pond Shield will not adhere to the metal. Pond Shield is meant to seal ponds and fish aquariums, so it works well for underwater applications like a cold plunge. It is also one of the few epoxies designed for underwater applications.
After following the Pond Shield mixing directions carefully, it is time for your first coat of epoxy.
Apply thin coats of Pond Shield while paying close attention to the seams. In the above picture, you can see where some of the primer spots showed through.
You will want to follow the directions on the Pond Shield to get your desired thickness, but Pond Shield recommends 3-5 coats. I used five thin coats on mine. This 15-cubic foot freezer took one Pond Shield kit. If you purchase a bigger freezer, then you will need to purchase two kits to get the proper coverage.
STEP 7: FILL AND MAINTENANCE
Wait a minimum of three days before filling the tub with water. I used a typical garden hose with an RV filter attached just to clean the water a bit more. Fill the tub less than three-fourths full. If you overfill the tub when you get in, you will have water coming over the sides and onto the floor.
You will also want to get a digital plug-in timer. Just plug in your freezer to the timer and set the exact hours to keep it at the temperature you want. I keep my freezer at about 35 degrees. Avoid turning your cold plunge into a solid block of ice by using a timer. Yes, I have made that mistake.
NOTE: There are many views on cleaning and maintenance. For me, I only used the tub after I shower. I use it 1-3 times a week and I am the only one using it. The water remained clean for several months and I didn’t have to change it that often. If you are doing contrast therapy, where you are going from hot to cold – or if you share the bath with anyone else – you will need to set up a filtration system to keep it clean.
After setting up the desired temperature, maintaining a chest freezer cold plunge requires minimal effort.
FOR THOSE WHO WANT A PROFESSIONAL MODEL
I have built many chest freezer cold plunges over the years, but this year, I decided to purchase a professional version. I spent considerable time researching the right product and the right company that wouldn’t break the bank and would be first responder-friendly.
CarbonWellnessMD offers a range of reasonably priced professional cold plunge options. You can use the Coupon Code PoliceOne for a first responder discount.
If opting for a professional model, purchase a tub that is insulated. I am still surprised to see many of the “high-end” cold plunges that are not even insulated.
Cold water therapy is a fantastic tool to heal the body and calm the mind. It is my hope that with this guide, first responders can take control of their recovery and wellbeing by incorporating cold water therapy into their lives. If you don’t want to make your own cold plunge, it is nice knowing you can still purchase a professional model at a reasonable cost.
Let’s embark on this journey together and explore the transformative potential of cold water immersion for first responders seeking resilience and rejuvenation.