How To Clean a Cooler To Keep It Looking New

How To Clean a Cooler To Keep It Looking New

Quality coolers are an investment in an adventurous life. You carefully review which cooler size, shape, and material will fit your lifestyle best. When it arrives at your doorstep, you toss in some ice, drinks, and head out to go fishing or camping.

Just like any item in your outdoors lineup, your cooler demands some maintenance. Cleaning your cooler can prolong your cooler’s lifespan. Regular cleaning will prevent stubborn stains and unpleasant smells from lingering. Having to cancel an upcoming tailgate because your cooler has an odd odor is not anyone’s idea of a good time. 

Caring for your cooler can be done in a few simple steps and is worth the extra time and effort. Cleaning your cooler after each use will keep your cooler looking new even after long-term use. 

Learn more about how to care for your cooler below: 

Why Is It Important To Clean Your Cooler?

Depending on how frequently you use your cooler, it may be something you forget to clean. You may stow it away in the garage or storage room until the next time it's needed. While cooler maintenance may not be at the top of our to-do’s, it is vital to prioritize. 

First, cleaning your cooler prevents moisture, mold, and bacteria buildup. Proper cooler hygiene is vital for food safety since you will most likely use your cooler to store food and drinks.

Food left behind in your cooler will go bad, thus inviting bacteria to grow. If not dumped out, melted ice can also pave the road for mold growth. That’s why we always advocate for using a cooler drain plug for all hard-sided coolers

Second, cleaning your cooler keeps it looking as good as the day you bought it. Not only will your cooler stay fresh, but it also won’t show evidence of wear and tear. 

What Can You Use To Clean Your Cooler?

When it comes to cleaning your cooler, there are various methods for achieving that sparkling-new look.

Mild Detergent

Using a mild detergent may be the best option for your cooler if you have tough stains that have hung around longer than you’d like. To spot clean, you can simply moisten a cloth with warm water and add a small amount of detergent to the cloth. Then, simply apply to the stain and scrub. 

Dish Soap

Using dish soap is a safer alternative to bleach or other harsh detergents. For best results, mix dish soap with baking soda. Dish soap can also be used on its own to wipe away any food residue left over. Mix some dish soap with warm water and let it soak the inside of your cooler. 

Baking Soda

There are countless benefits when it comes to cleaning with baking soda. Baking soda is known to eliminate harsh odors while removing stains. Baking soda works hard to remove hard-to-clean surfaces and is likely sitting in your cupboard right now. Baking soda is also a natural alternative to store-bought cleaning products. 

Baking soda can get rid of lingering smells in your cooler. Whether you’ve used your cooler to store raw meat or your fresh catch, these odors can be difficult to expel. Use baking soda for cleaning your cooler and an all-purpose cleaner around the house. Simply sprinkle some baking soda onto a damp sponge and scrub the desired surface. 


Many people opt for vinegar-based cleaning solutions because it is a natural alternative to some chemical-ridden cleaning products you’ll find on the market. Using vinegar to clean your cooler will help eliminate any lingering odors. Vinegar also helps to disinfect your cooler so that new bacteria won’t grow. 

To make this cleaning solution, mix one-part white vinegar with two parts water. Some people also choose to add lemon to the mixture, softening the smell of the vinegar. 

5 Steps for Deep Cleaning Your Cooler 

If it’s been a while since your cooler has been cleaned, or you haven’t been in the habit of cleaning it after each use, it may be time for deep cleaning. 

You’re only five steps away from a flawless finish:

Step 1. Bring Your Cooler Outside 

Unless your kitchen sink is large enough to fit your entire cooler inside, it will be easier to bring your cooler outside for its regular cleaning. This also prevents you from dealing with water all over your kitchen floor or food residue left in the sink. Cleaning your cooler outside also allows the fresh air to help ventilate any unpleasant smells that were left behind. 

Step 2. Rinse

Before any deep cleaning can take place, you want to get rid of any loose crumbs or liquids that are in your cooler. You can do this by rinsing the inside and outside with a garden hose. Getting rid of any excess dirt will help you to see where the tough stains are lingering. 

Step 3. Soak 

Soaking the inside of your cooler with warm water and dish soap or detergent will help to loosen tough stains and brighten the inside of your cooler. You can also use any of the other cleaning agents listed above. Depending on the severity of your cooler stains, allow the cleaning solution to soak for ten to 20 minutes. 

Once your cooler has soaked for the proper amount of time, you can remove the cooler drain and allow the cleaning solution to flow out. Rinse the cooler again with a garden hose. This can take a bit of time, so opt for 50-quart coolers with a quick drain system to really speed up this process.

Step 4. Scrub

If you still notice that some of the stains remain, you can go back and spot clean the stains with a sponge. Dip your sponge in the cleaning solution that is left over and scrub stains until they lift. Once the stubborn stains are gone, you can rinse your cooler one final time. 

Step 5. Dry

Allowing your cooler to air-dry outside is the best way to ensure proper ventilation. Air drying your cooler will freshen it, and leaving it in the sun for a short time can help restore brightness.

Leave the cooler lid and drain plug off to allow proper drying. Once your cooler is dry, you can return it to storage so that it is ready for continued use. 

Wrapping Up

Coolers are an essential part of any outdoor gathering or adventure; they allow us to enjoy our favorite foods and drinks even when miles (or days) away from the closest grocery store.

It’s important to take proper care of your cooler to ensure its longevity. For best results, you’ll want to clean your cooler after every use and perform a deep cleaning at least once every three months. 

There are a variety of different things you can use to fight tough stains in your cooler. From store-bought cleaning products to natural and homemade cleaning solutions, there is a cooler-cleaning method for everyone. No matter how you choose to clean your cooler, when the next impromptu fishing trip is called, you’ll be glad you’re prepared.



​​Reliable and Scientific Tips for Cleaning With Vinegar | NSF

The Science of Baking Soda | American Chemical Society

A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home | US EPA

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