Ice Cubes Melting Process

By Mason Howard; Updated April 24, 2017
Ice melts more slowly in air than in water.

Composition of Water

Water molecules are made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O). At freezing temperatures, the atoms that make up the molecules bond, causing the water molecules to hold together in a static form. Ice melts as its temperature rises above zero degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit.) Ice cubes melt by conduction or radiation, receiving heat energy by direct contact or from distant hot objects.

Absorbing Energy

As soon as you take an ice cube out of the freezer, it begins to absorb surrounding energy (heat), causing the frozen water molecules to begin vibrating. The molecule bump against each other, causing the overall vibrations to increase. Water molecules break away from each other and the ice cube begins to turn from a frozen to a liquid state.

Melting Speed

How fast ice cubes melt depends on size, how much surface area is exposed and whether they are in liquid or surrounded by air. Larger ice cubes will take more time to melt than smaller ones because it takes more external energy to get all of the molecules to vibrate. Ice cubes with more surface area (like a square ice cube vs. a round one) will also melt faster because more of the ice is exposed to the external, heat-transferring environment.

Ice cubes in liquid melt faster than ice cubes in air because liquid has a greater concentration of molecules than air does. This means that when ice cubes are surrounded by liquid, more molecular activity is interacting with the frozen water molecules, causing a faster chain reaction of molecular vibration. Continuing to heat the water until it boils will cause the molecules to vibrate even more, and eventually turn into steam.

When ice cubes are surrounded by air, there is a much less concentrated amount of molecular activity surrounding the ice cubes, resulting in a slower chain reaction of molecular vibration. In certain cases air, when hot and fast moving (like from a blow dryer), will melt an ice cube faster than liquid.

About the Author

Mason Howard is an artist and writer in Minneapolis. Howard's work has been published in the "Creative Quarterly Journal of Art & Design" and "New American Paintings." He has also written for art exhibition catalogs and publications. Howard's recent writing includes covering popular culture, home improvement, cooking, health and fitness. He received his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Minnesota.