Regardless the size of your ice chest or cooler and whether it is stainless steel or plastic, you want to clean your cooler after each use, and especially for storing over long periods. Cleaning extends the life and removes smells so that you will not have mold and mildew growth. Killing existing mold and mildew will be discussed since it is disgusting!
You will not need all of these products unless you have stuck on food and drinks and/or mold. So let’s start with the easiest one first—soap and water.
- Dish Detergent
- Clear Vinegar (it is not white)
- Bleach (color safe)
- Real Lemons (not the plastic ones)
- Vanilla Extract (optional)
- Always clean your cooler the very first time you use it. It has factory chemicals on it and dust. It could have bugs. Yuck!
- Use a kitchen liquid dish detergent that you like for hand-washing your dishes. Do not cut open a dishwasher soap pod—it is too strong.
- Wipe down the inside and outside with a bucket of soapy water. Rinse it or use the garden hose. Keep the lid open and dry with a fabric towel. Paper towels do not absorb and tear off inside nooks, crannies, hinges, and latches so that they will not have a snug fit. Keep the drain open while you do this and leave it open until you are ready for your next trip.
- After each trip, always let the water drain and leave the water drain open so mildew or mold doesn’t grow from the wet environment.
- If your cooler has odors inside, put in pure clear vinegar and wipe with a cloth towel, rinse, towel dry, and air dry. The vinegar smell goes away shortly.
- If the bad odors did not go away, rub lemons cut in half on the inside. Be sure to remove the seeds; they will indeed scratch your cooler material. Rinse, towel dry, and allow it to air dry. If you have sunshine, that is the best place to let your cooler dry and air out for a short time.
- If you like the smell of vanilla or any other flavors used for cooking, such as cherry or walnut, don’t use it because the smell will linger. If you use it, rinse off, towel dry, and leave the lid open all day and night.
Stubborn Stains and Mildew Removal
This part is always hated. When you clean the cooler the first time you get it home after a trip, these problems will need elbow grease and will take some time to remove.
- Sponge or old Cloth Towels or Rags
- Arm & Hammer® (the best) Baking Soda
- Bleach (color safe) Diluted
- Old Toothbrush
- First, rinse the cooler with liquid dishwashing soap and warm water in a bucket. Use your sponge or rag to get rid of all the stuck-on food and drinks. Use the small toothbrush to remove gunk from the lid fitting and gasket. Rinse the ice chest but do not dry it.
- Sprinkle the entire new box of baking soda inside the wet cooler. Use fresh soda because when it sits on the shelf in the kitchen for years, it loses its strength and abilities to work when cleaning. Let the baking soda sit up for a half hour.
- Rinse the cooler with a rag to remove all the baking soda and rinse until the water is clear. Dry with a cloth towel.
Bleach is disinfecting and the best thing for removing lingering odors and mold and mildew.
- Put 1/2 cup of color safe bleach into a 1-gallon bucket or pail.
- With a cloth towel or sponge, wipe down the inside and outside of the cooler.
- Rinse with water in a bucket or use the garden hose until the bleach odor is gone. Towel dry and sit out in the sun with the lid open. You can take a small tooth brush to clean out the water drain.
- As mentioned above, if chemical smells bother you, use the vanilla/flavoring trick soaking a towel with a few drops letting the rag or towel stay inside the cooler overnight and remove the next morning.