The Zeer Pot, Please don’t Recommend that I Use One!

Refrigeration is a big challenge when living off grid.  One of the solutions that I’ve heard over and over and over again is the zeer pot.  I’m actually kind of tired of hearing that I should use one!  Please don’t recommend that I use one.  Here’s why.

As spring sprung and we could no longer keep food cold outside or use ice that we froze outside for coolers, I began to research off grid refrigeration options.  I saw a lot of people posting pictures of a little device called a zeer pot.  It’s not a new invention.  It’s actually been around for thousands of years.  It works on the simple principle of evaporation.  Sand between two clay pots (nested together) is moistened with water.  Food is placed into the inside pot and a wet cloth is placed on top.  Supposedly, this is the answer to my prayers of keeping food cold with no electricity at all!  I’m saying this a little facetiously after being told many times that this would work for me.  Of course, these people are only repeating claims that a zeer pot is the answer to refrigeration without electricity.

When something sounds to good to be true, I am always a little skeptical.  So I set out to find out the truth about these “miracle” pots.  If all the claims that I heard were true, then I would definitely make one!  But common sense told me that I would probably be disappointed.  It gets hot in the summer in Arkansas!  July and August are our hottest months with many days in the high 90’s and 100’s.  How are two clay pots going to keep my food cold?  The answer is that they are not.

The preferred refrigerator temperature is between 35 and 38 degrees.  This is our general expectation when we open the fridge and take something out.  We want it to be cold!  But it has a controlled environment, powered by electricity, that keeps the food cold.  The zeer pot depends on outside temperatures and relative humidity.  Evaporative cooling works because the transition of liquid water to water vapor, allows the dry air around to be cooled.  So as the water evaporates out of the sand and wet cloth, it cools the air inside the zeer pot.  But by how much?  Well this depends on the environment it is in.  At 0% relative humidity, the device functions its best.  There is no water in the air, so the evaporation process in the pot happens quickly and efficiently.  You may have to add water more regularly, but your work will be rewarded.  At 65 degrees outside and 0% humidity, you may be able to approach refrigerator temperatures.

But I don’t live in the desert.  I live in the Ozarks.  Our high today on July 6, was 86 degrees.  The relative humidity was 83%.  Not really the conditions that I’m looking for when using a zeer pot.  With these conditions, the best I could do would be about a 6 degree difference.   So, I now understand why we only see fruits and vegetables in pictures of zeer pots.  We don’t see them filled with leftovers, meats, and dairy products because most of us don’t live with 0% humidity.  It’s a great idea, but it is not the miracle off grid refrigerator that people make it out to be.

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About JaimieB

Jaimie lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead known online as An American Homestead. They live with their two sons and her parents Tim and Joann on 50 acres located deep in the American Ozark Mountains.

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  1. I see it recommended all the time and have been waiting for someone to speak up to say it doesn’t work. I haven’t tried it but common sense says when it’s 94* with 86% humidity (three days last week) it’s not going to keep anything cold. Glad to see it reviewed here!

    • it does work. build a mound of dirt. dig a hole in the mound and place a large pot (can be 55 gallon drum), place 15-30 gallon drum in 55 gallon drum, put approx 6″ of sand, set the smaller drum inside, fill space between 55 & smaller drum, saturate with water, cover with wet heavy cloth

  2. Now this is something I could use, I live in southeast Arizona where the relative humidity is -5% (I’m kidding on the negative number), but it is normally very dry with the exception of the monsoon season. neat trick though

  3. Excellent points. I live in Southern Appalachia, and so would have the same problem as you in regards to high temps and high humidity. Food storage is a real challenge in a hot, humid climate. We aren’t off-grid, but I think and work in that direction all the time. Besides mold and mildew, my food storage archnemesis is pantry moths!

  4. We live in a warm, humid climate, too and I know the zeer pot would not work for us. And because we have milk goats and milk cows, I must have some kind of refrigeration so, although we are currently on electricity grid, we hope to be on solar soon. I like your honesty on your views on things, Jaimie.

  5. The Wilder family had an ice house 🙂 Would that be an option?
    I’d love to have one and not have to rely on the fridge!

    An idea for a post – I’ve thought many times just how would I feed my family w/o using the fridge. I’d love to hear specifically how you guys do it (what are your meals?)


  6. I’ve never heard of the zeer pot but I’ve heard of something else, I don’t know what it’s called but I plan on trying it this summer. What you do is u get one of those metal trash cans, whatever size you want to use. Dig a hole that’s a bit bigger than it and when finished the can will be completely underground. Place sand in the bottom and put the can in, fill the extra space between the earth and the can with sand so it goes earth sand then metal can. Make a lid that can cover it that goes earth sand then metal lid. Then put your food in. Everyday you saturate the sand with water and it will keep the inside at fridge temperatures. To me it sounds almost like your zeer pot but with a root cellar type twist.

  7. Emily — what you describe is still a Zeer pot and still won’t work in hot-humid climates. Not to keep foods below the healthy 40F level. I live aboard a 26 ft sailboat on Florida’s Gulf Coast and I’m REALLY wanting something other than a propane powered 1-2 cubic foot refrigerator so I can be independent of land. I have plenty of solar energy available and use solar panels and batteries to provide me with light and charging of computer, cell phone, etc.

  8. Applause! Applause!! Applause!!!

    There are quite a few bits of information out there that are not useful to everyone’s situation to downright dangerous. From zeer pots to burying cargo containers, for instance.

    I’m adding to the discussion that the zeer pot is used mainly for vegetables The first time I saw them, as in being used in Africa, they were used so the women didn’t have to go to market every day. I have yet to read about the pots being used for meat. I very well could be mistaken. That wouldn’t be the first time.

  9. In climates where there is good sun and properly sized PV (and no battery), you can use a regular freezer. If the door is unopened (when there is no power in the night for example), it will keep temperatures low from 24-48 hours. Works well with meats, dough, breads, and some fruits and vegetables.

  10. That’s correct. This tech has been around 1000s of years and still today is used as a means of food preservation.
    What common sense did not analyzed was
    1. In most cases you need more than one unless it’s HUGH
    2. In your living conditions, it is best to BURY 1 or more in the shade for
    a) lack of light
    b) lack of oxygen
    c) cooler temperature
    d) ph level balance
    e) avoid desiccants in the soil
    To remind you…or inform you… burial, hugging and confit are also VERY ancient ways of preserving foods.
    Meats can also be wraps in egg shell then buried as well.
    Also common sense would dictate that there are some foods that preserve better and for longer periods than others.
    The ZEER method is an practical way if you have the complete knowhows.

    • None of that is “common sense”. That’s all highly specialized knowledge. Y’all really need to re-evaluate your understanding of “common sense” 🙄

  11. Thanks for the article. The term “great idea” should be applied to things that work.

  12. I think most of you are missing the point. Zeer pots aren’t made to replace refrigerators. Nor are they meant to keep your food ‘cold’ by any standard. They prolong the life of ‘certain’ items like vegetables. They act more like a mini root celler than a cooler or any cold storage. Don’t discredit their value. But don’t be fooled either.

    • I plan to use one in the Mexican desert. It’s reassuring to know that I’ll be using it as intended in the right climate.

  13. These are meant to work via evaporative cooling. Just like swamp coolers, these will not work outside of an arid and breezy environment. That’s what there aren’t swamp coolers in places like Florida or the Ozarks. If you’re not in the desert southwest or other similar clime, these would not have the same effect. And as Ryan mentioned, they are fridge replacements but rather a veggie cellar of sorts.

  14. We’re off grid and use a refrigerator that runs on propane. I actually bought it on Wayfair about a year ago. It’s made in Mexico, stainless and about 10 cubic ft. It’s cute and does the job for us without using our solar and wind power. Good luck!

  15. “The interior pot can reach a chilled temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Celsius) – if it’s constantly exposed to a good breeze. The average ambient temperature difference is typically around 1.5 – 3.5 degrees Celsius.”

    That is 34-37 degrees Fahrenheit. So, against your main point, they can indeed reach your “preferred refrigeration temperatures”.

    Perhaps not in your area.

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