How to Clean a Smelly Cooler

To clean a smelly cooler, mix equal parts of white vinegar and water, then thoroughly scrub the interior with the solution using a sponge or brush. Keeping a cooler clean and odor-free is essential for maintaining its functionality and ensuring the freshness of its contents.

Text Example

Must-Have Cleaning Essentials For Every Home (Recommended):

Calyptus 45% Pure Super Concentrated Vinegar | Dilutes to 18 Gallons | 9x Power Concentrate Vinegar | 2 Gallons
  • Consistently delivers the same smell, color, and results - every time. For superior and safer cleaning performance, in and around your home.
Baking Soda
Milliard 5lbs Baking Soda / Sodium Bicarbonate USP - 5 Pound Bulk Resealable Bag
  • Great household product for anything that needs a bright new look! Use it as a cleansing booster with your laundry or dish detergent, as a pH buffer in swimming pools, or for cleaning kitchen surfaces.
Microfiber Cleaning Cloth
MR.SIGA Microfiber Cleaning Cloth, Pack of 12, Size:12.6
  • Ultra-soft, highly absorbent, durable, lightweight, non-abrasive microfiber cleaning cloths. Great for cleaning windows, kitchenware, cars, bathrooms, mirrors, or other delicate surfaces. Perfect dish rags that don't smell.
This post may have affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

However, over time, cooler interiors can accumulate grime, mold, and unpleasant smells. Luckily, with a simple mixture of white vinegar and water, you can easily eliminate these odors and restore your cooler’s cleanliness. We will outline a step-by-step guide on how to clean a smelly cooler effectively.

Emphasizing the importance of regular cleaning and utilizing this vinegar-based solution, you will be equipped with the knowledge to keep your cooler fresh and ready for your next outdoor adventure. So, let’s dive in and learn the secrets to a clean and odor-free cooler!

How To Clean A Smelly Cooler


Table of Contents

Understanding The Cause Of Smelly Coolers

Smelly coolers can quickly become unpleasant and unhygienic, ruining the freshness of your food and drinks. Understanding the cause of these odors is crucial to effectively combat them and ensure a clean and pleasant cooler. Factors such as improper storage, lack of ventilation, and exposure to moisture contribute to smelly coolers. However, the main culprits behind these foul odors are bacteria and mold growth within the cooler. Therefore, it is essential to delve deeper into how these growths occur and the importance of proper cleaning to prevent odors.

Factors That Contribute To A Smelly Cooler

Several factors can contribute to the development of a smelly cooler:

  • Improper storage: Storing the cooler in a damp or dirty environment can lead to the growth of bacteria and mold, resulting in unpleasant odors.
  • Poor ventilation: Inadequate airflow within the cooler restricts ventilation, creating a conducive environment for bacterial growth and the accumulation of odors.
  • Food residue: Leaving food particles or spillages within the cooler can provide a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, causing a persistent smell.
  • Moisture buildup: Moisture can accumulate in coolers through melted ice or condensation, promoting the growth of microorganisms that produce unpleasant odors.

How Bacteria And Mold Grow In Coolers

Bacteria and mold thrive in warm and moist conditions. When a cooler is not thoroughly cleaned and properly dried after each use, it becomes the perfect environment for these microorganisms to flourish. Mold spores and bacteria can enter the cooler through the air or from contaminated food and drinks. Once inside, they multiply and spread, emitting foul odors.

The Importance Of Proper Cleaning To Prevent Odors

Proper cleaning is essential for maintaining a fresh and odor-free cooler:

  1. Regular cleaning: Regularly clean your cooler after each use to prevent the accumulation of food residue and bacteria.
  2. Thorough rinsing: Rinse the cooler with warm water and mild detergent to remove any remaining dirt and debris.
  3. Sanitization: Use a mixture of water and vinegar or a mild bleach solution to sanitize the cooler and kill any lingering bacteria or mold.
  4. Drying: Ensure the cooler is completely dry before storing it to prevent moisture buildup and inhibit the growth of odorous microorganisms.
  5. Proper storage: Store the cooler in a clean, dry location to prevent exposure to moisture and contaminants.

By understanding the factors contributing to smelly coolers and adopting a proper cleaning routine, you can ensure the freshness of your food and drinks, ultimately enhancing your overall outdoor experience.

Gathering The Necessary Supplies

Before you start cleaning your smelly cooler, it’s important to gather all the essential supplies. Having everything you need at hand will make the process smoother and more efficient. Here are the must-have items for cleaning a smelly cooler.

Essential Supplies For Cleaning A Smelly Cooler

To effectively clean your smelly cooler, you need to have the following supplies:

  • A large basin or sink
  • Hot water
  • Mild dishwashing soap or vinegar
  • A scrub brush or sponge
  • Microfiber cloth or paper towels
  • Baking soda
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Lemon juice

Using Natural Cleaning Products For A Chemical-free Solution

If you prefer a chemical-free cleaning solution, you can use natural products that are effective in removing odors. Here are some natural alternatives:

  • Baking soda: Acts as a natural deodorizer and absorbs unpleasant smells.
  • White distilled vinegar: Helps in eliminating bacteria and odors.
  • Lemon juice: Its acidic properties break down odor-causing bacteria.

You can mix these natural ingredients with hot water and use them as an eco-friendly cleaning solution for your smelly cooler.

Proper Protective Gear For Handling Cleaning Agents

Although natural cleaning agents are safe to use, it’s still important to protect yourself while handling them. Ensure you have the following protective gear:

  • Gloves: Protect your hands from coming into direct contact with cleaning agents.
  • Goggles: Shield your eyes from any potential splashes or spray.
  • Apron or old clothing: Prevent your clothes from getting stained or damaged.

Wearing the right protective gear will ensure your safety throughout the cleaning process.

Step 1: Emptying And Dismantling The Cooler

Before you can effectively clean a smelly cooler, you need to start by emptying and dismantling it. Follow these simple steps to ensure your cooler is ready for a thorough cleaning.

Removing Any Remaining Items And Ice From The Cooler

Begin by carefully removing any remaining items from the cooler. This includes any leftover food, beverages, or ice that may be inside. Make sure to dispose of any spoiled or rotten food properly to avoid attracting pests. Once the interior is clear, move on to the next step.

Disassembling The Cooler To Ensure Thorough Cleaning

To ensure a deep and effective cleaning, it’s important to disassemble the cooler. Start by removing any detachable parts, such as shelves, dividers, or trays. Lay them out separately for individual cleaning. If applicable, refer to your cooler’s instruction manual for specific disassembly instructions. This step will allow you to clean every nook and cranny of the cooler and eliminate any hidden sources of odor.

In addition, check for any removable gaskets or seals on the cooler. These components can accumulate dirt and mold over time, contributing to the unpleasant smell. Gently remove them and set them aside for cleaning.

Properly Disposing Of Any Spoiled Food Or Liquid

While emptying the cooler, you may come across spoiled food or spilled liquid. It’s essential to dispose of these properly to prevent further odor development. Carefully eliminate any spoiled items, such as spoiled food or liquid, into a garbage bag. Seal the bag tightly and promptly dispose of it in an appropriate trash bin. This will help maintain cleanliness and prevent any lingering odors in your cooler.

By thoroughly emptying and dismantling your cooler, you’ve laid the groundwork for effective cleaning. Now, it’s time to move on to the next step to remove the unpleasant smell.

Step 2: Pre-cleaning Preparation

In order to ensure effective cleaning and removal of the unpleasant odor from your cooler, it is important to properly prepare it before diving into the cleaning process. Following these steps will help you get started:

Rinsing The Cooler With Warm Water To Remove Loose Debris

Begin by rinsing the cooler thoroughly with warm water. This step helps to remove any loose debris or residue that may have accumulated inside the cooler. Make sure to clean all the surfaces, including the interior, exterior, and lid of the cooler. The warm water will help to loosen and dislodge any debris, making it easier to clean in the subsequent steps.

Utilizing A Mild Detergent To Pre-soak And Sanitize The Cooler

Next, it is important to pre-soak and sanitize the cooler using a mild detergent. Fill the cooler with warm water and add a small amount of mild detergent. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes to allow the detergent to break down any stubborn stains and bacteria. This pre-soaking step will help to ensure a more thorough cleaning process.

After the detergent has had time to work its magic, use a soft scrub brush or sponge to gently scrub the interior surfaces of the cooler. Pay extra attention to any areas that appear dirty or have a strong odor. Make sure to rinse thoroughly with warm water to remove any lingering detergent residue.

Avoiding Harsh Chemicals That May Damage The Cooler’s Material

When selecting cleaning products for your cooler, it is essential to avoid using harsh chemicals that can potentially damage the cooler’s material. Stick to mild detergents or natural cleaning solutions that are safe for use on food-related surfaces. Harsh chemicals can not only cause discoloration or damage to the cooler but also pose a risk to your health if they come into contact with consumable items stored inside the cooler.

By taking the time to properly prepare your cooler for cleaning, you are setting the stage for a more effective and thorough cleaning process. The pre-cleaning steps of rinsing with warm water, utilizing a mild detergent for pre-soaking and sanitizing, and avoiding harsh chemicals will ensure that your cooler is ready for the next step in getting rid of that stubborn odor.

Step 3: Deep Cleaning The Cooler

Now that you have removed any loose dirt and eliminated foul odors from your cooler, it’s time to delve deeper into the cleaning process. This step involves thorough scrubbing of both the interior and exterior surfaces, paying special attention to areas that are prone to bacterial growth.

Scrubbing The Cooler’s Interior And Exterior Surfaces

To ensure your cooler is squeaky clean, it’s important to scrub both the inside and outside surfaces. First, prepare a solution of warm water and mild dish soap. Dip a brush or sponge into the soapy water and gently scrub the interior walls of the cooler. Be sure to reach all corners and crevices to remove any lingering grime or food residue. Rinse thoroughly with clean water to remove any soap residue.

Next, focus on the exterior of the cooler. Use the same solution of warm water and dish soap and scrub the outer surfaces using a brush or sponge. Pay extra attention to any sticky or stained areas, such as handles or latches.

Paying Special Attention To Areas Prone To Bacterial Growth

While cleaning the cooler, it’s important to pay special attention to areas that are more likely to harbor bacteria. These areas include the rubber gasket or sealing strip that keeps the cooler airtight. Using a brush or sponge, give this area a thorough cleaning to remove any dirt or mold buildup that may be present.

Additionally, don’t forget to clean the drain plug or spout, as these areas often trap debris and can lead to unpleasant smells. Remove the plug, if possible, and clean it thoroughly before reinserting it.

Using A Brush Or Sponge For Removing Stubborn Stains

If your cooler has stubborn stains that are not easily removed with regular scrubbing, it’s time to bring out the heavy artillery. Use a brush or sponge with abrasive bristles to gently scrub away the stains. Remember to use light pressure to avoid damaging the cooler’s surface. Rinse well with clean water once the stains have been removed.

By following these steps and taking the time to deep clean your cooler, you can ensure that it remains fresh, odor-free, and ready to use for your next outdoor adventure.

Step 4: Eliminating Lingering Odors

So you’ve tackled the dirt and grime, but that unpleasant odor still lingers in your cooler. Not to worry, we’ve got you covered in this step-by-step guide on how to eliminate those stubborn smells for good.

Employing Natural Odor Absorbers To Neutralize Any Remaining Smells

If you want to keep things natural and chemical-free, there are several effective odor-absorbing options available. These natural solutions not only eliminate odors but also leave behind a refreshing scent.

One popular choice is activated charcoal. This powerful odor absorber works by trapping and neutralizing unpleasant smells. Simply place a few charcoal briquettes or a mesh bag filled with activated charcoal inside your cooler and leave it overnight. The charcoal will effectively absorb any remaining odors, leaving your cooler smelling fresh and clean.

An alternative option is coffee grounds. Fill a bowl or a mesh bag with coffee grounds and leave it inside the cooler for a few days. The coffee grounds will absorb the odors due to their natural ability to neutralize smells. Additionally, they will leave a pleasant coffee aroma behind.

Removing Trapped Odors By Airing Out The Cooler

Airing out your cooler is an essential step to get rid of any trapped odors. Start by opening all the lids and removing any ice packs, damp towels, or other items inside the cooler. Place the cooler in a well-ventilated area, ideally outdoors, and let it sit open for a few hours.

This process allows fresh air to circulate inside the cooler, helping to dissipate any lingering smells. If possible, position the cooler in an area with a light breeze to enhance the airing-out process.

Baking Soda And Vinegar As Effective Odor-killing Agents

If you prefer a more hands-on approach to odor elimination, you can rely on the power of baking soda and vinegar. These common household ingredients are known for their potent odor-killing properties.

Start by sprinkling a generous amount of baking soda on the interior surface of your cooler. Let it sit for a few hours or overnight to allow the baking soda to absorb the odors. Once the time is up, use a damp cloth or sponge to wipe away the baking soda residue.

Vinegar, on the other hand, works wonders at removing tough odors. Mix equal parts water and white vinegar and use this solution to thoroughly wipe down the interior of your cooler. The vinegar will neutralize any remaining smells, leaving your cooler fresh and odor-free.

Remember to rinse the cooler thoroughly with water after using baking soda or vinegar to remove any residue.

By following these simple yet effective steps, you can say goodbye to unpleasant odors and enjoy using your cooler with confidence. Don’t let offensive smells spoil your outdoor adventures – keep your cooler smelling fresh and ready for your next outing!

Step 5: Drying And Preventive Measures

Properly drying your cooler is crucial to prevent any lingering odors and to maintain its longevity. Additionally, taking preventive measures can ensure that your cooler remains odor-free in the future.

Allowing The Cooler To Completely Air Dry Before Reassembly

After cleaning your cooler, it’s essential to let it air dry thoroughly before putting it back together. This will help eliminate any moisture that could lead to the growth of mold or mildew, both of which can cause nasty smells.

To effectively air dry your cooler, follow these steps:

  1. Empty the cooler of any remaining water or cleaning solution.
  2. Leave the lid and all other parts open, allowing air to circulate inside the cooler.
  3. Place the cooler in a well-ventilated area, such as a dry outdoor space or near an open window.
  4. Avoid drying the cooler under direct sunlight, as this could cause warping or discoloration of the materials.

By ensuring that your cooler is completely dry before reassembling it, you can prevent moisture buildup and keep it smelling fresh.

Storing The Cooler In A Cool, Dry Place To Prevent Future Odors

Where you store your cooler plays a crucial role in preventing unpleasant smells from reoccurring.

  • Choose a cool, dry place to store your cooler, such as a garage or a dedicated storage area.
  • Avoid storing the cooler in areas prone to high humidity or extreme temperatures, like a basement or attic, as these conditions can contribute to odor-causing issues.
  • If possible, elevate the cooler off the ground to protect it from moisture or dampness.

By storing your cooler in an appropriate environment, you can minimize the chances of moisture buildup and unpleasant odors.

Regular Maintenance And Cleaning To Keep The Cooler Odor-free

Taking regular maintenance and cleaning steps can go a long way in keeping your cooler odor-free and in optimal condition.

Consider incorporating the following practices into your routine:

  • Wipe down the cooler with a mild cleaner or disinfectant after each use, especially if it has been exposed to food or beverages.
  • Empty and clean the cooler thoroughly before storing it for an extended period.
  • Inspect the cooler’s gaskets and seals regularly and replace them if they show signs of wear or damage.
  • Consider using air fresheners or odor absorbers, like baking soda or charcoal, inside the cooler to neutralize any potential odors.

By regularly cleaning and maintaining your cooler, you can enjoy a fresh and odor-free experience each time you use it.

Frequently Asked Questions Of How To Clean A Smelly Cooler

How Do You Get Rotten Fish Smell Out Of A Cooler?

To remove the rotten fish smell from a cooler, clean it with a mixture of water and vinegar. Scrub the surfaces with a sponge, focusing on areas with odor. Rinse thoroughly with water and let it air dry. Alternatively, use a baking soda solution to absorb the smell.

How Do You Clean A Smelly Yeti Cooler?

To clean a smelly Yeti cooler, mix warm water with dish soap, wipe the interior thoroughly, and rinse with clean water. For persistent odors, try a mixture of vinegar and water. Let the cooler air dry with the lid open.

Why Does My Cooler Smell Bad?

A smelly cooler can be caused by spoiled food or mold and bacteria growth. Clean the cooler thoroughly using hot water and dish soap, and rinse it well. Leave it open to air dry. Use baking soda or vinegar to eliminate any remaining odor.

How Do You Clean A Mildew Cooler?

To clean a mildew cooler, mix equal parts water and white vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray the solution on the affected areas and let it sit for 15 minutes. Scrub with a brush or sponge, then rinse thoroughly. Repeat if necessary.

Dry the cooler completely before use.


To make your cooler fresh and odor-free, follow these simple cleaning techniques mentioned in this blog post. By using natural ingredients and following proper cleaning methods, you can effectively eliminate the unpleasant smell from your cooler. Regular maintenance and a clean cooler will not only keep the odor away but also help preserve the quality of your stored items.

Give your cooler the attention it needs and enjoy a clean and fresh cooling experience every time.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top