Sous Vide Cling Film Debate

Cling film debate

Whatever you call it – cling wrap, cling film, glad wrap, cling film, plastic wrap – people want to know…can you use it as the cover for your water bath when using the sous vide cooking technique?

Here’s the pros and the cons of using sous vide safe plastic wrap, or whatever you call it, to cover your sous vide water bath.

Related Reading: If you are not yet familiar with what sous vide cooking is, and would like to learn a little more about it, head to our FAQ.

In a nutshell, sous vide cooking is cooking your ingredients in a food pouch in a water bath (like a kitchen pot) at a low temperature, over a very long period to create the perfect “doneness” every time.

Covering your water bath with cling film

So why do you need to cover your sous vide water bath anyway? Well, sous vide cooks can be long. Really long. It is not uncommon for some cooks to run for 24-48 hours.

Over that period of time, you are going to see some water evaporation if you don’t cover your water bath. And evaporation means that your sous vide immersion circulator is going to need to work a little harder to get the job done – and use a little more energy.

And, at worst, if your water level drops too dramatically, your sous vide immersion circulator will stop working all together – and that means the end of your cook, wasted food and sad dinner party guests!!

We have talked in other articles about using sous vide water balls and custom lids on the top of your water bath to stop water evaporation and to ensure the temperature remains constant.

But not everyone wants to shell out for extra sous vide accessories. That brings us to looking at whether cling wrap is an effective solution to trap heat and moisture in your water bath during your sous vide cook.

Related article: Sous vide water balls and why you need them 

The pros and cons of cling wrap as a water bath cover

Let’s take a quick look at the advantages and disadvantages of using cling wrap as your water bath cover rather than a lid, water balls, or nothing at all.

Pros of using cling wrap to cover your water bath

  • Significantly reduces water loss from your water bath – with cling wrap over your water bath, the water evaporates back into your water bath
  • It’s convenient – you are likely to have cling wrap in your kitchen for other uses anyway

Cons of using cling wrap to cover your water bath

  • You need to create a number of layers to ensure that there is enough coverage on the top of your water bath
  • Plastic wrap is not reusable
  • Given you need to use a fair bit of cling wrap, it can become expensive if you use this method often
  • It’s tricky to get to your food pouches if you want to check tenderness etc during your cook
  • Given the water can only evaporate around your sous vide immersion circulator, the steam can interfere with your immersion circulator’s electronics. THIS IS A SHOW STOPPER. Immersion circulators are designed to handle a small amount of steam but they are not built to handle steam from an entire water bath condensed in a small area

Here’s what sous viders have to say about covering your water bath with cling wrap

Asking sous viders who regularly use cling wrap as the cover for their water bath is the best way to determine if it’s effective or not.

Here’s what real life sous viders say about using cling wrap as their water bath cover:

  • Wrap the water container you are using as your water bath first in cling wrap, before creating a hole for your immersion circulator
  • If the plastic wrap you have is listed as “microwave safe”, it should be OK to sustain the temperature of your sous vide water bath
  • Most food-safe plastic wraps are low density polyethylene, so if you’re not exceeding 80C/176F in your sous vide water bath, you’re fine. Above that it starts to soften
  • After you add cling wrap, cover your water bath with old kitchen towels as well for additional insulation
  • You don’t want your cling wrap to sag down into the water during your cook. Use longer pieces of wrap and pull them super tight, putting extra wrap around the pot handles and edges, leaving room for your sous vide immersion circulator on one side and the clip of your food pouch on the other side

Does water vessel size matter?

You don’t actually have to cover your water bath with anything to have a successful sous vide cook. Many sous viders don’t see what all the fuss is about and don’t use anything as a cover for their water bath at all.

But as we mentioned earlier in this article, if you regularly undertaken long sous vide cooks, you will experience more water evaporation. So using a cover of some type makes sense.

We see a lot of sous viders using cling film over their regular sized pots and saucepans with some success.

But larger vessels such as polycarbonate containers are more susceptible to producing higher levels of steam (as the water bath mass is greater). And that means an increased risk of shorting out your sous vide immersion circulator.

What about using cling wrap as a food pouch instead of vacuum sealed bags or ziploc bags?

We don’t recommend this. Sous vide cooking relies on your food being placed in vacuum sealed pouches where there is no air present and no chance of water leaks. Using cling wrap cannot ensure a vacuum seal or prevent water leaks.

Related article: Ziploc versus vacuum sealer bags for sous vide cooking

Conclusion

So there you have it folks. If you are in a pickle (not literally of course – that would be weird) and only have cling film at home, then perhaps use cling film as a one time wonder to get your sous vide cook off and running.

We certainly see plenty of people using cling film over their water baths with smaller vessels such as pots and saucepans without problems.

BUT you will be spending a fair amount of money and impacting the environment if you use cling wrap as your water bath cover, especially if you are using a larger container as your water bath.

Further Reading and Resources

Sous Vide Hub Favorite Accessories

Sous Vide Containers – The Low Down 

Sous Vide Hub Recipes

Sous Vide Hub FAQ

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