How to Clean a Cooler That Smells

To clean a cooler that smells, mix equal parts of water and vinegar, soak the cooler in the mixture, then scrub it with a brush before rinsing thoroughly. Introducing the steps to clean a cooler that emits an unpleasant odor can save you from the discomfort of using a smelly cooler.

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Over time, coolers can develop a musty or foul smell due to bacteria, mold, or food residue. Fortunately, with a simple solution of water and vinegar, you can easily eliminate the odor and enjoy fresh-smelling coolers for your next outdoor adventure.

In this guide, we will walk you through the steps required to clean your cooler effectively and eliminate any unpleasant smell. So let’s dive in and discover how to restore a clean and odor-free condition to your cooler.

Assessing The Odor

Before you jump into cleaning your smelly cooler, it’s essential to assess the odor to determine the root cause and severity. By identifying the cause of the smell and determining its severity, you can choose the appropriate cleaning method to eliminate the odor effectively.

Identifying The Cause Of The Smell

The first step in assessing the odor is to identify what is causing it. Cooler odors can originate from a variety of sources, such as:

  • Food spills or leftovers: Leftover food, spills, or leaks can easily cause unpleasant odors if not properly cleaned up. These food residues can promote the growth of bacteria and mold, resulting in a foul smell.
  • Mold and mildew: Prolonged exposure to moisture can lead to the growth of mold and mildew inside your cooler. These microorganisms can produce a musty smell that can be quite pungent.
  • Bacterial growth: Bacteria thrive in moist environments, and your cooler may provide the perfect breeding ground. Bacterial growth can produce various bad smells, ranging from rotten to sour.
  • Chemical odors: Sometimes, your cooler might absorb strong odors from chemicals or cleaning products nearby. These odors can be overpowering and may require special attention to eliminate.

Determining The Severity Of The Odor

Once you’ve identified the cause, you should determine the severity of the odor. This step is crucial as it helps you understand the extent of the problem and decide the appropriate cleaning method to tackle it. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How strong is the odor?
  2. Has the odor permeated the insulation or other parts of the cooler?
  3. How long has the odor been present?
  4. Is the odor a result of a recent spill or an underlying issue?

By answering these questions, you can gauge the severity of the smell and devise an effective plan of action to clean your cooler thoroughly.

Preparing The Cooler For Cleaning

Before you begin the cleaning process, it is essential to properly prepare your cooler to ensure the best results. By following a few simple steps, you can ensure that your cooler is ready for a deep clean that will eliminate any unpleasant odors. Let’s walk through the necessary steps to prepare your cooler for cleaning, starting with emptying and removing all contents from the cooler.

Emptying And Removing All Contents From The Cooler

The first step in preparing your cooler for cleaning is to empty it completely. Remove any food, beverages, or ice packs that may have been sitting inside. Make sure to dispose of any expired or spoiled items properly. This will help prevent the growth of bacteria and remove any sources of odor.

Once you have emptied the cooler, take a moment to inspect it for any remaining debris such as crumbs or food particles. Use a soft brush or cloth to remove these remnants, ensuring that the interior is free from any debris that may contribute to the unpleasant smell.

Disassembling Any Removable Parts Or Accessories

Next, it’s time to disassemble your cooler by removing any removable parts or accessories. Check if your cooler has a removable lid, drain plug, or any other detachable components. These parts can be cleaned separately and will ensure a thorough cleaning of your cooler.

Detach the lid and rinse it with warm water and mild soap. Scrub away any dirt or residue using a soft brush or cloth. If you notice any stubborn stains, create a mixture of baking soda and water and gently scrub the affected areas. Rinse the lid thoroughly and allow it to air dry before reattaching it to the cooler.

If your cooler has a drain plug, make sure to remove it carefully. Rinse the plug under running water, ensuring that no debris is left behind. Similarly, detach any additional accessories such as dividers or baskets and clean them using the same gentle methods as the lid.

By disassembling these removable parts and accessories, you can effectively clean each component and ensure that all areas of your cooler are free from odor-causing bacteria.

Cleaning The Cooler

Cleaning the cooler is an essential step in maintaining its functionality and preventing unpleasant odors. In this section, we will discuss three effective methods to clean your cooler: washing with detergent and warm water, removing tough stains with baking soda or vinegar, and disinfecting with a bleach solution.

Washing The Cooler With Detergent And Warm Water

First, gather the necessary supplies: detergent, warm water, a sponge, and a soft brush. Begin by emptying the cooler and rinsing it with clean water. This will remove any loose debris or residue.

Next, mix a small amount of mild detergent with warm water in a bucket or sink. Dip the sponge into the soapy water and scrub the interior and exterior of the cooler. Pay extra attention to any areas that appear dirty or have visible stains.

Rinse the cooler thoroughly with clean water to ensure all the soap residue is removed. Use a towel to dry the cooler or let it air dry completely before storage. This method will help eliminate dirt, grime, and general odors from your cooler, leaving it fresh and ready to use again.

Removing Tough Stains With Baking Soda Or Vinegar

Sometimes, a cooler may have tough stains that require a more intensive cleaning method. Baking soda and vinegar are both effective options for tackling these stains.

To remove tough stains using baking soda, create a paste by mixing baking soda with a small amount of water. Apply the paste to the stained areas and gently scrub with a soft brush. Allow the paste to sit for a few minutes, then rinse the cooler thoroughly with clean water.

Vinegar can also be used to remove stubborn stains. Pour equal parts vinegar and warm water into the cooler, ensuring it covers the stained areas. Allow the mixture to sit for approximately 30 minutes, then scrub with a sponge or brush. Rinse the cooler thoroughly with clean water to remove any vinegar residue.

Both baking soda and vinegar are natural cleaning agents that are effective in removing stains and odors, without leaving behind harsh chemical smells.

Disinfecting The Cooler With A Bleach Solution

Disinfecting your cooler is essential to eliminate any bacteria or mold that may cause unpleasant odors. To do this, you can create a bleach solution by mixing one tablespoon of bleach with one gallon of water.

Before disinfecting, make sure to wear gloves and work in a well-ventilated area. Use a sponge or cloth soaked in the bleach solution to wipe down the entire interior of the cooler, including the lid and any seals. Allow the solution to sit for approximately 10 minutes, then rinse the cooler thoroughly with clean water.

Note: It is important to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the use of bleach or any cleaning products on your cooler.

Regularly cleaning and disinfecting your cooler using these methods will help prolong its lifespan and ensure it remains odor-free. By maintaining cleanliness, you can enjoy fresh beverages and snacks on your outdoor adventures.

Drying And Deodorizing The Cooler

Once you’ve cleaned the inside of your cooler, the next crucial step is to ensure that it dries completely to prevent any lingering moisture that could lead to mold or mildew growth. Additionally, if there are any unpleasant odors still present, you’ll want to deodorize the cooler to leave it smelling fresh and clean. In this section, we’ll discuss two effective methods for drying and deodorizing your cooler: allowing it to air dry completely and using baking soda or coffee grounds to absorb remaining odors.

Allowing The Cooler To Air Dry Completely

One of the simplest and most effective ways to dry your cooler is by letting it air dry naturally. This method allows any remaining moisture to evaporate, ensuring that no moisture is trapped inside the cooler.

Follow these steps to air dry your cooler:

  1. Open the lid of your cooler and remove any drain plugs or other parts that can be disassembled for better air circulation.
  2. Place the cooler in a well-ventilated area where it can receive plenty of airflow.
  3. Avoid direct sunlight or high heat, as excessive heat can warp the cooler or affect its insulation properties.
  4. Leave the cooler undisturbed for at least 24-48 hours, depending on the size and level of moisture inside.
  5. After the cooler is completely dry, reassemble any disassembled parts before proceeding to the next step.

Absorbing Remaining Odors With Baking Soda Or Coffee Grounds

If there are still stubborn odors lingering in your cooler after it has dried, you can use either baking soda or coffee grounds to absorb and neutralize the smells.

Baking soda:

  1. Ensure that your cooler is completely dry before starting.
  2. Take a clean, empty container and fill it with about a cup of baking soda.
  3. Place the container with the baking soda inside the cooler.
  4. Close the lid tightly and let it sit for at least 24 hours. The baking soda will absorb the odors.
  5. Afterward, remove the container and discard the used baking soda.
  6. Give your cooler a quick wipe down with a damp cloth to remove any residue.

Coffee grounds:

  1. Ensure that your cooler is completely dry before starting.
  2. Take a handful of fresh coffee grounds, unused or used but dried. The coffee grounds act as a natural deodorizer.
  3. Place the coffee grounds inside a coffee filter or a fabric pouch.
  4. Secure the coffee-filled filter or pouch and place it inside the cooler.
  5. Close the lid tightly and let it sit for at least 24 hours. The coffee grounds will absorb and mask any unpleasant odors.
  6. Afterward, remove the coffee pouch and dispose of the used coffee grounds.
  7. Give your cooler a quick wipe down with a damp cloth to remove any residue.

Applying A Deodorizing Spray Or Wipe To Eliminate Lingering Smells

If the odors persist after using baking soda or coffee grounds, you can try using a commercial deodorizing spray or wipe specifically designed to eliminate unpleasant smells.

Here are some tips for using a deodorizing spray or wipe:

  • Choose a deodorizer that is safe to use on plastic surfaces and does not leave any oily residue.
  • Read and follow the instructions on the product label for the best results.
  • Thoroughly spray or wipe down the interior of the cooler, paying extra attention to areas that may trap odors.
  • Allow the deodorizer to dry completely before using the cooler.

By following these steps to dry and deodorize your cooler, you can ensure that it is not only clean but also fresh-smelling, ready to be used for your next adventure.

Preventing Future Odors

Once you’ve successfully eliminated the unpleasant smell from your cooler, it’s important to take proactive measures to prevent future odors from developing. By properly storing and maintaining your cooler, regularly cleaning and disinfecting it, and using odor-absorbing materials or products, you can ensure that your cooler remains fresh and odor-free for longer periods.

Properly Storing And Maintaining The Cooler

When it comes to preventing future odors in your cooler, proper storage and maintenance are key. Here are some tips to follow:

  1. Keep it dry: After each use, make sure to thoroughly dry the cooler’s interior and exterior to prevent moisture buildup, which can lead to unpleasant odors.
  2. Store it in a cool, dry place: Avoid exposing your cooler to extreme heat or direct sunlight, as these conditions can contribute to the growth of bacteria and mold, resulting in odors. Instead, choose a cool, dry area for storage.
  3. Inspect for damage: Regularly check your cooler for any cracks, leaks, or damage. Even minor damage can create spaces for odors to develop. Repair or replace any damaged parts promptly.
  4. Keep it closed: When not in use, keep the cooler securely closed to prevent the entry of dirt, debris, and pests that can cause odors.

Regularly Cleaning And Disinfecting The Cooler

To maintain a fresh-smelling cooler, it’s important to establish a regular cleaning routine. Follow these steps for effective cleaning and disinfecting:

  1. Empty and rinse: Start by emptying your cooler and rinsing away any leftover food particles or spills.
  2. Use a mild detergent: Fill a bucket with warm water and add a small amount of mild dish soap. Use a clean cloth or sponge to scrub the interior and exterior of the cooler, paying extra attention to any stained or dirty areas.
  3. Rinse thoroughly: After scrubbing, thoroughly rinse the cooler with clean water to remove any soap residue.
  4. Disinfect: Make a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar or diluted bleach. Apply this solution to the cooler’s interior surfaces, using a clean cloth or sponge. Let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing thoroughly.
  5. Air-dry completely: Allow your cooler to air-dry completely before closing it to prevent moisture buildup and the growth of odor-causing bacteria.

Using Odor-absorbing Materials Or Products Inside The Cooler

In addition to proper storage and regular cleaning, using odor-absorbing materials or products can be highly effective in keeping your cooler smelling fresh. Consider the following options:

  • Baking soda: Place an open box of baking soda inside the cooler to absorb and neutralize odors. Replace the box every few weeks for maximum effectiveness.
  • Activated charcoal: Activated charcoal is known for its odor-absorbing properties. Place a few charcoal briquettes or an activated charcoal pouch inside the cooler to eliminate any lingering smells.
  • Coffee grounds: Coffee grounds are not only great for brewing your morning cup of joe, but they also act as natural odor absorbers. Simply place coffee grounds in a container or mesh bag and leave it inside the cooler for a few hours or overnight.

By incorporating these preventative measures into your cooler maintenance routine, you can enjoy a fresh and odor-free cooling experience every time. Remember to regularly clean and disinfect your cooler, properly store it, and use odor-absorbing materials to keep those unpleasant smells at bay.

How To Clean A Cooler That Smells


Frequently Asked Questions For How To Clean A Cooler That Smells

How Do I Get Rid Of The Smell In My Cooler?

To eliminate odors in your cooler, start by cleaning it thoroughly with a mixture of mild dish soap and water. Rinse thoroughly and allow it to air dry. Next, place an open box of baking soda inside the cooler and let it sit for a few days to absorb any remaining odors.


To sum up, maintaining a fresh-smelling cooler is vital to ensure a pleasant outdoor experience and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. By following the simple yet effective methods outlined in this post, such as cleaning with a mixture of water and vinegar or using baking soda for stubborn odors, you can easily eliminate unpleasant smells from your cooler.

Remember to clean it regularly and dry it thoroughly to prolong its lifespan and keep it odor-free. Enjoy your adventures with a clean and fresh cooler!

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