After a day of picnicking, road-tripping, or tailgating, it can be tempting to just empty out your cooler and forget about it until your next adventure. If you can overcome these lizard-brain impulses and take care of your cooler before putting it away, you’ll find it’s surprisingly easy to keep it clean and looking like brand-new. But even if you’re dealing with filthy cooler marred by the remnants of its last use, you can still get it sparkling clean with just a little bit of effort by using one of the methods below.
If all you’ve had in your cooler is ice and drinks, then you can probably just give it a quick rinse and a wipe down with a wet cloth before setting it out to dry. However, if you’ve been using the cooler to store raw meat, fish, or any other smelly foods, you’ll probably need to try one of the other methods listed here.
Scrubbing with Warm, Soapy Water
If your cooler is a bit on the dirty side, then giving it a good scrub with detergent and warm water should help to remove the dirty, grime, or leftover food. For the best results, you should use a sponge or light abrasive cloth. Once you’ve scrubbed the cooler and dumped out the soapy water, you’ll need to rinse it and set it out to dry.
Scrubbing with Vinegar and Bicarb Soda
If you prefer not to use detergent or other cleaning chemicals, you can use a combination of vinegar and bicarb soda. This method is especially effective at ridding your cooler of any stains or lingering smells. Again, you’ll want to use a sponge or light abrasive cloth to scrub the inside and outside of your cooler. Once you're done, give it a quick rinse and set it out to dry.
Scrubbing with Bleach
If you need the nuclear option, bleach and water are the way to go. This method is recommended especially if you’ve let your cooler sit to the point that it’s growing mold inside. Mix the bleach with water at a 1 to 6 ratio and use a sponge to give the inside of your cooler a thorough scrubbing. When you’re done, let the cooler sit for about 30 minutes and then rinse it out. You may have to repeat the process a couple of times for particularly pernicious stains and odors. Once your cooler is clean, set it out to dry.
Washing with a High-Pressure Soap Spray
We’ve saved the best for last. If you don’t have a high-pressure hose at home, you can take your cooler to the car wash and spend a couple of dollars to give it a thorough cleaning. You’ll want to keep the hose close to the cooler to blast away the dirt and stains. You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting the spray into all the cracks and crevices, as well as the rubber seals and the drainage plug. For the most thorough cleaning, we recommend high-pressure soap spray followed by a good scrubbing. When you’re sure your cooler is clean, use the high-pressure rinse to wash away the soap and then—you guessed it—set your cooler out to dry.