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Smoke Machine Chemistry

Dry Ice and Water


Smoke machines produce visible vapor.

Smoke machines produce visible vapor.

Smoke, fog, haze, and mist machines create some exciting special effects. Have you ever wondered what makes the smoke? Have you ever wanted to create the effect yourself? If so, you are in luck, as I will reveal these mysteries. However, I will warn you that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing! If used incorrectly, the equipment and chemicals used to generate simulated smoke can be dangerous (toxic, burn hazard, asphyxiation hazard, fire hazard, etc.). Also, all types of smoke generators will trigger smoke alarms. I'm telling you how the effects are created, not advising you to make your own smoke. If you are a serious do-it-yourself type, read the article and then please follow the links I have provided to the right of this article, which include specific instructions and warnings from professionals and experienced amateurs. Enjoy!

Dry Ice and Water

Aside from using a smoke machine, this method is the simplest for most people, both in practice and obtaining materials. Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide. You can make a dense fog by adding dry ice to hot water or steam. The carbon dioxide is vaporized, making a fog, and the rapid cooling of the surrounding air condenses water vapor in the air, adding to the effect.

Important Points

  • Dry ice fog sinks to the floor.


  • Water temperature affects the characteristics of the fog. Hotter water or steam vaporizes the carbon dioxide more quickly, yielding lots of fog and using up the dry ice more quickly, too. If fresh hot water or steam isn't added, the remaining water will cool quickly.


  • An easy 'smoke machine' can be made using a styrofoam cooler. Simply add hot water and dry ice. Machines that use dry ice work by continually heating water, to keep the fog flowing. Simple machines are also available to make dry ice or to solidify air.


  • Dry ice is cold enough to cause frostbite - use protective gloves when handling it.


  • Remember that use of dry ice increases the level of carbon dioxide in the air where it is used. This can present a respiratory hazard low to ground (or downstairs, if applicable), in enclosed spaces, or with large quantities of dry ice.

Are you ready for more smoke machine ideas? Read on...

Next page > Part II: Liquid Nitrogen > Page 1, 2, 3, 4

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