How to Keep Crawfish Alive: 8 Essential Storage Tips

Safely store live crawfish for 24-48 hours by keeping them cool, moist, shaded, and protected, avoiding direct ice contact or submersion in water.

storing live crawfish

Spring is crawfish season when your mind turns to crawfish boils and gumbo. You could catch crawfish yourself, pick them up at a market, or have them delivered. Either way, you’ll want to keep the mudbugs alive until cooking. Let’s look at the best tips for safely storing life crawfish.

You can safely store live crawfish for 24 to 48 hours so long as you have clean, healthy crawfish. It would help if you kept them cool, moist, and protected from heat, freezing weather, wind, and predators. Crawfish have air-breathing gills, so they cannot be stored underwater. Never cook dead crawfish.

Also called crayfish, these tiny crustaceans are usually sold in large mesh bags (similar to crabs and shrimp). You can’t just sling the bag into your car and head off. You must keep the crayfish alive as you travel home and until you’ve got ready for your boil

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How To Safely Store Live Crawfish


It’s essential to cook the freshest crawfish possible, meaning they must be alive when cooked. Freshness is critical if you want to enjoy the tender, creamy lobster-like meat at its best and avoid food-borne sickness. What is the best way to safely store live crawfish?

Buy Clean, Fresh, Living Crawfish

The best way to keep your crawfish alive until you cook them is to start with good-quality mudbugs. Only buy crawfish from reputable dealers. 

If you’re at a market, avoid crawfish covered in mud or surrounded by dead crawfish. They should be translucent, either greenish or brownish in color. Also, check that they are active and moving around, not sluggish.

Store Live Crawfish For 24 Hours

Ideally, you should cook the crawfish on the day of catching or purchase. 

Once you’ve bought your crawfish, you have 24 hours to purge and cook the crustaceans. Within 48 hours, the crawfish will start dying and spoiling. 

There are ways of keeping crawfish alive for a week or more, which is advice to follow only if you plan to use them as bait, not dinner.

Keep Crawfish Cool

Crawfish are sensitive to heat, so you need to keep them cool but not freezing. The ideal temperature is 36 to 46 degrees F (2-7⁰C).

Here’s how to keep them cool while transporting them home:

  • When you buy the crawfish, keep them in their mesh bag. 
  • Place the mesh bag into a giant ice box or cooler box lined with newspaper. Ideally, use a heavy-duty ice chest.
  • Make sure you have a large enough ice box to lay the bag of crawfish flat on the cooler’s base, as you’ll store them in this box at home.
  • Do not stand the bag vertically, as this will crowd and damage the crawfish.
  • Sprinkle the crawfish with water. 
  • Cover them with a soaking wet towel. (An old T-shirt or burlap sack will also work.)
  • If you’ve got a distance to travel, gently place an unopened bag of ice on top of the towel.
  • Do not slam the lid shut.

To keep your crawfish cool once you’re home, follow these tips:

  • The crawfish may be sluggish from the journey and cold conditions. Rinse them in tepid water, still in their mesh bag.
  • Store the crawfish in the ice chest, with a wet towel and ice bag on top.
  • Replace the bag of ice on the crawfish every few hours. You can also use frozen gel packs.
  • Place a few open ice cubes on the towel covering the crawfish. This ice will melt, keeping the crawfish damp and cool.
  • Keep the ice box in full shade, for example, in the garage or kitchen. A chilly, dark place is best.
  • Do not leave the crawfish outside if the weather is freezing.
  • Do not place the crawfish in direct sunlight, under a radiator, or near a fire. Heat will kill the crawfish.
  • Do not store the crawfish in the refrigerator, as it is too cold and airtight.
  • Do not use dry ice, as this will kill the crawfish.
  • Allow the crawfish to come to room temperature before cooking.

Keep Crawfish Moist

Crawfish gills are sensitive and can dry out easily. You, therefore, need to keep them moist.

  • Once you’ve got the crawfish home, take the sack out and rinse the crustaceans with tepid water, not icy water.
  • Replace them in the ice chest and cover them with a wet towel or cloth.
  • Do not cover the crawfish with water.
  • Do not let them sit in icy water, as it will kill them.

Let Crawfish Breathe

Crawfish have developed specialized gills, enabling them to breathe normal air. So long as you keep their gills moist, they will survive.

  • Avoid using an airtight container. If you’re using an ice box, leave the lid open about half an inch to let in air. When home, you can lie the cooler at an angle to keep air circulating and allow the melted water to drain.
  • Do not keep the crawfish underwater, as they will suffocate and drown.
  • Drain water from melted ice that can accumulate in the cooler. It’s simple to keep the draining plug open.
  • Turn the crawfish bag over every 12 hours.

Keep Crawfish Out Of Draughts

Although you may think a draught or fan will cool the crawfish down, keeping them out of the wind is best. Their gills are highly sensitive and can dry out in breezy conditions.

Don’t Touch The Crawfish

Keep the crawfish out of reach of pets and wild animals. Also, keep them away from children who want to play with them or drunk friends who may want to do the same.

Discard Dead Crawfish

Only cook fresh, clean, living crawfish. Do not cook dead crawfish, as you will expose yourself to bacteria and food-borne sickness.

  • When unloading the crawfish, discard any dead ones. 
  • It is usual for a few crawfish to die during transport as they are overly stressed.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Keep Live Crawfish Alive Overnight?

Keep the crawfish in their mesh bag in a cool box or ice chest. Cover them with a damp towel and some ice. Keep the lid of the ice box ajar and open the drain so they can breathe and not drown in icy water.

Should You Keep Live Crawfish On Ice?

You need to keep crawfish cold, but don’t let them come into contact with ice, as it is too cold for them. Live crawfish need to be stored at a temperature of 36 to 46 degrees F, which is higher than freezing.

If you need to store them on a hot day, layer ice in the bottom of a cooler and cover it with a sack or garbage bag. Then lay the mesh bag of crawfish over it. Cover the crawfish with a towel and place ice bags on top of that if necessary. Keep checking that the ice has not melted or open the drain, as crawfish will die if submerged.

Can You Leave Crawfish In Water?

Leaving crawfish submerged in water will suffocate and drown them. 


You can safely store live crawfish for 24-48 hours to keep them cool, moist, shaded, and protected from wind and predators. Avoid putting them directly on ice or submerging them in cold water: this will kill them.

More FAQs

How long can you store live crawfish?

You can store live crawfish for several days on ice without killing them, as long as you replace the ice as needed. However, it is important to note that the flavor will be better if they are fresher. If you intend to store them for more than two days, make sure to rotate the sack daily to maintain their peak condition.

Can you save crawfish for later?

Leftover cooked crawfish should be refrigerated or frozen promptly after everyone has finished eating, as they are highly perishable. If you don’t plan on using the crawfish tails within the next few days, you can freeze them. It is recommended to freeze them in 1 cup portions, allowing you to easily retrieve the desired amount for specific recipes.

How long will crawfish live out of water?

Crawfish can live out of water for several days if they are kept cool, moist, and provided with fresh air. It is important to avoid placing them in closed containers filled with water, like an ice chest, as this will cause them to suffocate and die quickly.

How fast do crawfish spoil?

Crawfish spoil at a rate that depends on how they are stored. When stored correctly in the refrigerator, crawfish can last for up to two days. However, to ensure maximum freshness and safety, it is recommended to cook crawfish as soon as possible after purchase. It is crucial to keep crawfish cold and moist until ready to cook, and it is best to cook them within 24 hours of purchase.

At what temp do you store live crawfish?

The live crawfish should be stored at a temperature range of 36-42 degrees to keep them in a state of dormancy. If a refrigeration unit is not accessible, an ice chest and ice can be used as an alternative.

Is crawfish good after 3 days?

Crawfish can remain good for up to four days if it is freshly cooked and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. However, it is important to note that fresh fish can last for more than two days when kept in a cooler, and cooked seafood can stay fresh for up to three months in the freezer.

How long can you keep live crawfish in the fridge?

You can properly store live crawfish in the fridge for 1 to 3 days, ensuring they remain lively and ready to cook. To achieve this, it is important to keep the crawfish in the original sack and refrain from releasing them.

Should crawfish be kept in water?

Crawfish should not be kept in water if you want to prolong their life. The best way to ensure their survival is to keep them cool, moist, and provide some fresh air. It is possible to keep crabs and crawfish alive for several days outside of water under optimal conditions. However, it is important to avoid placing them in closed containers filled with water, such as an ice chest, as they will quickly suffocate and perish.

Can you freeze fresh live crawfish?

Yes, you can freeze fresh live crawfish. However, it is recommended to cook them first before freezing in order to maintain their freshness for a longer period of time in the freezer. If you choose to freeze live crawfish without cooking them, they can only be kept fresh for 14 days. If you plan to consume them immediately, you can do so.

How long can crayfish live out of water?

Crayfish can survive out of water for a limited time, usually around five to seven days, depending on the environment. If the weather is cold and humid, they can last longer if their gills remain moist. However, in hot and dry conditions, their survival time will be shorter.

Can you eat crawfish 2 days later?

Cooked crawfish can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days if kept in an airtight container to maintain freshness. Additionally, cooked crawfish can be frozen for up to 6 months. Before reheating, it is recommended to thaw them in the fridge overnight.

How do you keep a sack of crawfish alive overnight?

To keep a sack of crawfish alive overnight, you can follow these steps: Start by pouring approximately 4 to 6 1-lb. bags of ice into a cooler. Next, break the larger pieces of ice to create a level surface. Keep the drain in the cooler open and cover the ice with a large towel or newspaper. Place the sack of crawfish on top of the towel and leave the cooler lid slightly open to allow the mudbugs to breathe.

What happens if you leave crawfish out overnight?

If crawfish are left out overnight, they should not be consumed as they can become poisonous. It is important to not leave boiled crawfish in the open for more than two hours at room temperature to ensure their safety.

How do you save crawfish for later?

You can save crawfish for later by refrigerating or freezing them as soon as everyone is done eating.

Can I leave my crawfish in water overnight?

You cannot leave your crawfish in water overnight, as they are confined in the sack and can drown. Instead, put the sack(s) back into the box and loosely place a bag of ice on top of the crawfish sack(s) before closing the box.

How do you transport crawfish without killing them?

To transport crawfish without harming them, you can follow these steps: Place frozen water bottles at the bottom of a cooler, then carefully position the sack of crawfish on top of the frozen bottles. Open the drain on the cooler and add a bag of ice on top. Place an object between the lid and the cooler, securing it in a way that allows for a 2-3″ opening. This method will ensure the crawfish are transported safely.

Can you put live crawfish in the refrigerator?

Can live crawfish be stored in the refrigerator? To keep your whole crawfish fresh for an extended period, it is advisable to store them in the refrigerator. If you plan to consume the crawfish within 1-2 days, it is best to keep them in the fridge. However, if you do not have any immediate plans to use the crawfish, it is recommended to freeze them.

How long can crawfish live out of water?

Crawfish can live out of water for several days under optimal conditions. However, it is important to avoid placing them in sealed containers filled with water, like an ice chest, as this can cause them to suffocate and perish rapidly.

Can you freeze live crayfish?

Yes, it is possible to freeze live crayfish. It is recommended to freeze crayfish as soon as possible, ideally on the day it was caught, to ensure freshness. If freezing within 48 hours is not feasible, it is still acceptable.

Do crawfish go dormant when cold?

Crawfish do go dormant when it is cold, as Kevin Savoie, Fisheries Agent for the LSU AgCenter, explains that being cold-blooded, they adjust their body temperature to match the water temperature. When the water temperature drops below approximately 60 degrees, they enter a state of dormancy.

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