How to Clean a Cooler: Simple Steps for Maximum Efficiency

TOP 3 Ways on How to Clean a Dirty Cooler and Sanitize It Too

Oct 04, 2023
A cooler works almost like a refrigerator. It helps to keep food and drinks fresh for a prolonged period. For example, it can keep fish, meat, beer, drinking water and even tomatoes fresh for a longer period. A typical cooler looks like the one below

Cooler box

To keep your cooler and the stored items fresh, you should know the best way on how to clean a cooler. So, have you ever opened an ice chest and met with a funky or fishy smell? If not cleaned regularly, it soon starts to infect the stored items with a foul smell that’s very disgusting. Even the best coolers require regular cleaning.

But what makes coolers develop an odor?

Causes of Bad Odor in a Cooler

When poorly maintained, coolers soon become dirty and smelly. The reason could be one or a combination of the following:

● The action of bacteria on the moist areas
● Growth of mold inside the enclosure
● Spillage from the previously-stored items, hidden in corners or other hard-to-reach areas
● Frequent use

However, the good news is such a state isn’t permanent. There are simple ways on how to get smell out of coolers. With the right detergent and formula, even seemingly stubborn stains are easy to eliminate. 

So, have you tried unsuccessfully to restore the look and the smell of your cooler? Then this post is for you. Besides, it will show you how to prevent your cooler from developing an extremely, disgusting smell.

Steps to Restoring the Smell and the Look of the cooler

A dirty cooler can be restored by any or a combination of the following steps:

● Cleaning mold
● Removing bad odors
● Cleaning deep stains and other blemishes

So, let me walk you through the above processes one by one:

1. How to clean mold from a cooler in 10 steps

Since mold isn’t welcome in our homes especially around food, you should regularly check for it on your cooler. Fortunately, it isn’t that difficult to find and eliminate. Here are 10 simple steps on how to clean a moldy cooler:

What you need

● Liquid dishwashing soap
● Warm water
● Baking soda
● Sponge
● Garden hose
● Bleach
● Clean towel

First step

Ensure that your cooler is stationed in a leveled ground in the open air. That gives it enhanced stability thus preventing any accidental spillage. Remove any items that may have been abandoned in the container.

Second step

To ease mold removal, first rinse out the filth, dirt and other light stains from the cooler surface. A water hose can help you remove such loose surface dirt and debris. Let out the water by opening the drain or just pouring it out manually.

High pressure from water hose removes the loose filth in a cooler

High pressure from water hose removes the loose filth in a cooler

Third step

Combine a cup of baking soda, three drops of liquid washing soap and a gallon of warm water. Mix the ingredients thoroughly in a bucket. This forms your cleaning solution.

Fourth step

Dip the sponge in the bucket containing the cleaning solution. Ensure it is soaked in the solution. Then use the sponge to gently scrub the cooler's interior. If you don’t have a soft sponge, then a paper towel will do the job equally well.

Fifth step

When the paper towel dries up or becomes extremely dirty, re-dip it in the bucket and continue wiping the cooler’s interior surface.

How to scrub the cooler’s inner surface with a sponge or soft brush

How to scrub the cooler’s inner surface with a sponge or soft brush

Sixth step

Once you have wiped the inside, wet the sponge in the solution one more time. Then begin wiping or scrubbing the exterior as well.

Seventh step

After gentle wiping and scrubbing of the exterior, it’s time to rinse. If it has a drain plug, ensure it is open and then spray the cooler with the water hose both inside and outside. Doing so eliminates the residual soap and the dirt from the equipment.

Eighth step

Discard the remaining solution from the bucket and rinse it. After that, fill the pail with a gallon of water. Next, add a cup of bleach to the same water and mix. Pick a clean sponge and dip it in the solution. Cleaning a cooler with bleach helps to eliminate molds easily. Wet the inside of the cooler with the soaked sponge. Make sure you apply the solution to every corner. 

Ninth step

Allow the setup to rest for about 10 minutes

Tenth step

Rinse the bleach solution from the cooler using the garden hose. Check if there are still traces of mold on the equipment. Repeat the process and rinse again. Wipe off excess water from the cooler with a soft, dry towel, then air dry.

Parting advice

For complete drying off of any hidden moisture, leave the drain and the lid open for a while. Air drying the cooler not only freshens it, but also discourages further growth of mildew and mold.

2. Cleaning a Stained Cooler in Seven Steps

Since coolers store a variety of foods, water, and other liquids, it might develop blemishes and stains on the floor and sides. To a professional, how to clean a cooler shouldn’t be stressful.

Since this process can be long-winded and monotonous, you can have some cool music to entertain you during the process. Here is a sure way on how to clean a stained cooler:

What you need

● A cup of white vinegar

A cup of white vinegar

● Garden hose
● Lemon juice

Lemon juice

● Soft towel

Soft towels

● Sponge


● Toothbrush


Step one

First, begin by rinsing the cooler using the garden hose. That removes the loose dirt and thus helping you identify clearly where the stubborn stains are located.

Step two

Secondly, add a little bit of liquid dishwasher to warm water to make a solution. Dip a sponge in the warm soapy water. Using the wet sponge, gently scrub the walls and bottom of the cooler. Take a toothbrush and gently scrub the area around the lid gasket and the drain area, for any hidden dirt.

Step three

After the gentle scrubbing, rinse out the loose filth.

Step four

Mix the white vinegar with water in the ratio of 1:1 to form a solution. Dip a sponge or rag in the white vinegar solution and use it to wipe the entire inner surfaces of the cooler.

➜ RELATED: How to Clean With Vinegar - Amazing Remedies and Cleaning Hacks for Homeowners

Step five

Leave the cooler to settle for about half an hour. Then rinse thoroughly using the garden hose.

Do you still see some stubborn spots? Then move on to the step below:

Step six

Cut a lemon into two equal parts.

How to cut lemon in two halves, in readiness for cleaning cooler
How to cut lemon in two halves, in readiness for cleaning cooler

Remove the seeds. Then take each half and gently rub it on the stubborn stains. Next, rub those areas again with a sponge soaked in a little bit of liquid soap dishwasher. Then rinse.

Step seven

Still, seeing some faint spots? Then here is a trick; squeeze out some lemon juice onto the towel and rub it on the faint stains. Thoroughly rinse again, and air out in the sun.

Parting advice

Before wiping off the cooler with a towel, check on the area around the drain. Perhaps, you will find that some of the stains removed from the walls have developed here. Give the area a hard scrubbing similar to the process followed on the walls. Make sure to store the cooler with the drain open. We hope that helps you to even clean a Yeti cooler!

3. How to clean a stinky cooker

A few foods can lead to a disgusting smell in the cooler like fish or meat residue. And woe unto you if any leakage occurs in the cooler when transporting any of the two mentioned above. The question next is: How do I clean out a stinky cooler? An ordinary cleaning with water and soap detergent isn’t sufficient to remove all the traces of the fish smell.

Fish in a cooler, prone to leaving fishy smell

Fish in a cooler, prone to leaving fishy smell

So, below are six steps on how to remove odor from the cooler:

What you need

● Warm water
● Liquid bleach
● Mild abrasive
● Baking soda
● Toothbrush
● Gloves

Step one

Empty the cooler. Wash as usual with warm soapy water to remove food crumbs. Gentle scrubbing with an old toothbrush will help remove grime from crevices, corners, and the lid gasket. Rinse out the cooler but do not wipe dry.

Step two

Sprinkle fresh baking soda onto the entire interior surface of the cooler. Do not forget to do likewise to the area around the lid. This is a crucial step in how to remove odor from cooler.

Step three

Using a clean toothbrush or mild abrasive, gently rub the baking soda onto every inch of the surface. Ensure it reaches even the usually hard-to-reach areas. Close the lid and leave the setup to rest for about two hours.

➜ RELATED: Baking Soda for Cleaning - The Accessible and Effective Household Cleaner

Step four

After the elapse of two hours, rinse out the baking soda residue. It should eliminate the smell.

But if there still is a lingering smell, what is the best way to clean a cooler that gives it the fresh smell? To answer that question, put on your gloves then move to this last step on how to clean a cooler.

Step five

Prepare a solution of one part liquid bleach to two parts of water. Transfer the solution to a spray container.

Step six

Spray every surface, corner and even the lid gasket. This step neutralizes the odor traces, inhibits bad bacteria’s growth and sanitizes it too. Allow the bleach solution to work on the cooler for about sixty minutes before doing a thorough rinsing.

Step seven

If the lingering smell of bleach bothers you, then take vanilla extract or oil and smear it on a paper towel. Then use the towel to wipe the cooler's interior. Hurrah! Your cooler has been restored to its fresh new look like the one shown below:

 Professional cleaning makes your cooler sparkle like this one

 Professional cleaning makes your cooler sparkle like this one

Are you looking for a quick way to clean a yeti cooler? Here is a pro tip:

If you have no time but are looking for the best way to clean a Yeti cooler then here is the trick:

Either buy or hire the service of a high-pressure soap spray. A self-service car wash center is one sure place to get the equipment. It won’t cost you more than a few dollars but you will appreciate the service it offers you.

Hold the high-pressure soap spray at a close range and spray the cooler, especially inside thoroughly. Pay extra attention to any crevice, drainage plug, and the rubber gasket.

After which, scrub the cooler and finally rinse with a high-pressure hose. Lastly, open the lid, turn the cooler upside down to let the water drip down and dry out completely.

But as you have realized, cleaning smelly coolers or removing stubborn stains can be very elaborate. Thus, it is important to know the best way to prevent the unit from developing stubborn offensive smell and stains.

How to Prevent a Cooler from Developing Bad Odor

First, don’t forget the routine of cleaning the cooler with warm soapy water after every use. A gentle scrubbing may also be necessary as well. Make sure to clean the cooler immediately after use before the spilt liquid and crumbs decompose. Also, check on these points below:

A. Pack items in cooler correctly

The most crucial, point here is to know the correct way on how to pack a cooler. First insert food items like meat, fish or any smell substance in an airtight plastic bag before putting them in the cooler. That helps to keep both the smell and spillage from reaching the cooler unit.

Fish packed in a plastic bag before storage in a cooler box

Fish packed in a plastic bag before storage in a cooler box

B. Never store a damp cooler

Closing the lid and storing a moist cooler is a sure recipe for smell. The dampness allows for the action of bad odor-causing bacteria. Instead, open the lid, air dry to remove the dampness. Once done, dry sprinkle some baking soda on the bottom of the cooler before storing it away.

C. Never store items in the cooler longer than necessary

Sometimes your business involves transporting perishables in a cooler from one place to another. That isn’t bad. Have you ever felt so tired after a long trip that you don’t feel like emptying the cooler not to mention washing it?

Once you have reached your destination empty the cooler straight away. Then use a garden hose to clean and spray the interior. Mostly it is the buildup of spillage or food crumbs that contributes to the offensive smell. Spraying it out eliminates the problem.

D. During cleaning don’t forget the drain plug and gasket area

However thorough your cleaning is, if you fail to take care of the hard-to-reach areas, your cooler will still smell. Therefore, pay special attention to the drain, lid gasket, and the corners as well.


To get the best service out of your cooler, you need to take care of it. The above outlined methods show you fool-proof ways on how to clean a cooler. we don’t just stop there. We give you detailed advice on how to guard against the cooler developing stubborn stains and offensive smells.

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