UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
Is it safe to eat snow?
Question Date: 2007-09-20
Answer 1:

Well, I guess the answer is that it depends. Basically, of course, snow is just frozen water and actually more or less frozen DISTILLED water because it is moisture that was in the air which condensed. But there are a few ways in which other things than water can get in the snow. For example, if the air is not clean, pollutants from the air can get included in the snow. Actually, tiny dust particles are essential even for the snow to form, they are the "seeds" on which the water starts to crystallize (freeze). The other way things can get into the snow is once it has fallen on the ground. Things from the ground, things put on the snow... On a side note, drinking huge amounts of distilled water is dangerous by itself, but since snow is so cold, it is unlikely that you'll eat enough of it to run into that problem. On another side note, melting snow is the main source of water for mountaineers all over the world. Of course, in your typical high mountain environment, the problems from contamination that I mentioned above are minimal and so it is very safe. For taste and to get around the "distilled water danger" I mentioned, you would usually add things like Kool-Aid, Gatorade, or even just a little salt to the melted snow.

My bottom line: eating clean snow is not only safe, it is fun and sometimes necessary, and something everyone should do at least once in their life!

Answer 2:

I wondered the same thing as you did, when I was in the snow last winter.I saw kids eating snow when they were in a group supervised by adults. From that 'scientific' observation, I made the hypothesis that the adults supervising the students thought that it was safe to eat the snow.

The answer depends on the location and appearance of the snow you want to eat. Is it dirty looking? Does it have a faint pink layer on top?The pink layer is due to the presence of red algae - tiny primitive plant cells. A scientist once told me not to eat pink snow,s but I don't know if it is really dangerous or whether she was just being cautious.

Answer 3:

It probably won't hurt you to catch a few flakes on your tongue, but I wouldn't eat a handful of it. As snow falls, it picks up all sorts of things in the air, like particles of pollutants. Then when it's on the ground, all sorts of things can happen to it, even if it looks clean.

When I was in a Girl Scout mountaineering group we were often camping in the snow and had to use it for drinking water. We boiled it first so it was safe, but we told each other not to look at it or chew it because the snow that looked so clean when we picked it up often contained pine needles, small sticks, and worse.

Some communities near mountains get most of their water from snow melt,but they treat it first. Where does water come from in your community?What happens to it when it goes down the drain?

Thanks for asking,

Answer 4:

Ordinarily, yes - snow is just frozen water.

The reason why I say "ordinarily" is because some snow contains red-pink algae that can give you diarrhea if you eat it.

Answer 5:

It depends on where you are and where the snow is. Fresh fallen snow is usually safe to eat, as long as it's collected in a clean container or clean glove. (Think about everything you've ever handled with your gloves or mittens... would you want to lick that?) Old snow can have dirt blown over the top of it, even if it's just a few days old, so it might not be safe to eat unless you melt it and boil the water. And obviously, if you're scooping snow off the ground, you don't want to dig so deep that you're gathering dirt or old snow in what you're scooping up.

Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2020 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use