How to Get Smell Out of Cooler: Effective Approaches to Deodorizing

How to Get Smell Out of Cooler in Very Easy to Use Steps

Mar 01, 2021
Have you recently gone to a tailgate party or a camping trip that left your cooler with an awful smell? Read this article for information on how you can clean and deodorize your cooler. This article highlights some of the easiest and most effective ways to deodorize your cooler.

A close up picture showing an ice cooler carried by a man
A close up picture showing an ice cooler carried by a man

Coolers tend to stink if you leave food remnants or stale beer in them for a long time. Sometimes, the smell soaks into the cooler, making it really hard to remove completely. In this guide, we will take you through some of the effective cleaning methods that will remove unpleasant smells from your cooler.

A picture showing a cooler opened
A picture showing a cooler opened

This guide isn’t only for people who want to deodorize their cooler. You can also use the methods in this guide to eliminate the awful stink in your ice chest. Using these tips to clean your cooler will give you quick and easy results.

What methods should you use to remove odors from the cooler?

Before we dive into methods for eliminating the offensive odors from a cooler or ice chest, we need to understand the possible causes of the bad odor. Some of the common culprits are food and drink leftovers.

Each food type is unique and may require a specialized method for removing the offensive odor that it causes. So, let’s take the plunge and learn the best cleaning techniques.

1. Removing bad smell from fish remnants

Fish leftovers can cause your cooler to stink to high heavens if unattended to. Always make sure to clean your cooler as soon as you’re done storing food in it. But let’s assume you had a tight schedule and didn’t have time to empty and clean the cooler.

A close up picture showing a cooler full of fish
A close up picture showing a cooler full of fish

In this situation, your cooler will be filthy, emitting an offensive smell if you open the lid. You can follow the steps below to clean it and get rid of the smell that the fish remnants left behind:

● Step 1: Mix 240ml of natural vinegar with 60ml of lemon juice in a bowl. Then add a drop of dish soap and let the cleaning solution sit for 30 minutes. The good news is that these ingredients are readily available. For the lemon juice part, you can either squeeze the juice from fresh lemons or buy the juice from a store.

● Step 2: Empty and rinse the cooler. Pour the mixture in the cooler and scrub every inch of the cooler with a brush. It’s important to make sure you have rinsed the cooler first so the smell is the only thing to combat.

● Step 3: If there are any leftover stains on the inside walls of the cooler, use a magic eraser sponge to remove them. Then thoroughly rinse the cooler with plenty of clean water and empty it. Repeat the rinsing process until all the cleaning solution is flushed out of the cooler.

● Step 4: Take the lid off so the cooler can air dry. Leave the cooler open overnight or throughout the day until all the moisture has dissipated into the air. Your cooler should be free from the offensive smell that fish remnants caused.

So, you can use the method above if you’re looking for how to get fish smell out of your cooler.

2. Removing bad odor using an odor absorber

Using natural vinegar and lemon juice mixed with a drop of dish soap works great at dislodging odor-causing bacteria from the walls of the cooler. But what if there are no such bacteria and the bad odor emanates from the inside of the cooler walls?

A close up picture showing silica gel odor absorber

A close up picture showing silica gel odor absorber

In this situation, you might want to take full advantage of odor absorbers. This method works great for delicate coolers. So, you can use it to get the smell out of a soft cooler. Simply follow the steps below and you will be good to go:

Step 1: Fill up your cooler with charcoal or baking soda. Yes, those are the two most effective odor absorbers. They are readily available at home, which makes this method even better in terms of cost-effectiveness.

Step 2: Close the lid of the cooler. This step is to maximize the power of the odor absorber. Leaving the cooler’s lid open will reduce some absorption power. So you need to close the lid to maximize this power. Besides, you want the odor absorber to focus on the odor inside the cooler; not the odor outside!

Step 3: Put the cooler in your garage or outside where it won’t be disturbed or knocked over. Place it in an area or room with less activity going on. And leave it in the same spot for a few days. This method isn’t for people in a hurry. You want to give the odor absorber enough time to extract as much odor as possible.

The number of days will depend on the size of the cooler. Smaller coolers will need just a few days, say 3 days. But larger coolers might need up to a week. If your cooler is very large and has strong odors, you might need to repeat all the steps above multiple times.

Step 4: Open the lid after the set time has expired and smell the inside of the cooler. You should notice a reduction in the offensive smell. If the smell has drastically subsided, then you have achieved your goal of eliminating the bad odor from the cooler.

Step 5: Rinse the cooler with plenty of water. Once you have disposed of the odor absorber, the next order of business becomes cleaning the inside of the cooler. You will need plenty of clean and fresh water for this step. You will need to make sure that no odor absorbing substance remains in the cooler.

Step 6: Leave the cooler open to air dry. Make sure there’s no water moisture left inside the cooler. You can simply let the cooler air dry until all the moisture has evaporated into the air. Then close the lid and get it ready for next-time usage.

3. Removing bad odor from meat

After a camping trip, many people leave meat remnants in the cooler unattended to for a long time. And after a while, there will be a stench that offends the olfactory system of anyone close by.  This method is therefore another effective and easy way to remove the odors.

A picture showing a fly on some smelly meat
A picture showing a fly on some smelly meat

While meat is delicious and healthy, eliminating the smell that it leaves behind after it rots might be a challenging task. If you are looking for how to eliminate the meat smell from your cooler, then read on for more information.

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If you want to get odors out of a soft cooler then simply follow the steps below and your cooler will be as good as new. But first, you will need the following supplies for the cleaning:

● Rubber gloves.
● A tablespoon.
● A plastic bowl.
● Dish soap.
● Baking soda.
● White vinegar.
● Bleach.
● 4 white cotton clothes.
● A bucket. 

Once you have gathered all the supplies, follow the steps below:

● Step 1: Throw away the rotten meat in a dumpster or trash can outside the kitchen. Then open the windows of the kitchen. This is to provide plenty of ventilation so the smell can escape out of the room. Also, you are opening the windows so that you have plenty of fresh air to breathe.

Step 2: Put on the rubber gloves. While cleaning the cooler to remove the odors, it is a good idea to wear protective gear. Rubber gloves are ideal in this situation. And it is also helpful to have a mask to protect your olfactory system from the offensive smell. The rubber gloves will also protect your skin from the cleaning solution that might irritate the skin.

● Step 3: Prepare a cleaning solution. Add 1 tablespoon of chlorine bleach in a bucket. Then add 1 gallon of cold water to it. This is a sanitizing solution. Use this sanitizing solution to rinse the inside of your cooler. Be careful not to spill the solution on your skin where the gloves don’t protect.

Step 4: Take one of the white cotton cloths and wet it with hot water from the tap. Wring it out then sprinkle some baking soda on it. Rub the fabrics together so you can form baking soda paste. Then wipe the interior of the cooler with the cloth. Remember to thoroughly wipe the interior of the cooler.

Step 5: Take another cotton cloth and wet it. Wring out the excess water from it. Then use it to wipe out the baking soda residue in the cooler. Thoroughly wipe every inch of the inside walls so you can get rid of all the baking soda residue. You might need additional cotton cloths depending on the size of your cooler.

Step 6: Leave the cooler open so it can air dry. You will need to leave it open until there is no more moisture or water vapor in the cooler. After these steps, your cooler should be smelling fresh. You can close the window and store the supplies in their rightful place. Your cooler will then be ready for its next use.

4. Removing the smell using baking soda and coffee beans

The purpose of baking soda and coffee beans is to deodorize the cooler. But first, you will need to follow some simple steps before using the deodorants that we have already mentioned.

Baking soda for removing bad smell
Baking soda for removing bad smell

Before you can begin carrying out the steps below, make sure you have the following supplies. But you also need to know how to clean a cooler before you can carry out this procedure successfully.

● Vinegar.
● Dish soap.
● Water.
● A container of baking soda.
·● Freshly ground coffee beans.
● Four cotton balls.
● Vanilla extract.

Now, it is time to proceed with removing the smell from your cooler. And the steps are as follows.

Step 1: Prepare a cleaning solution. Mix 2 parts of vinegar with one part of soapy water. This will be your cleaning solution in this method.

Step 2: Wet a white cotton cloth in the cleaning solution and wring it out. Wipe the inside of the cooler. Do this step as thoroughly as you can. Make sure to cover every inch of the inner surfaces.

Step 3: Also, clean the cooler’s lid by wiping it. You can repeat the steps above while wiping the lid’s surface.

Step 4: Place a container of baking soda in the cooler. You will need to leave the container in there for at least 24 hours for you to see some positive changes in reducing the smell.

Step 5: Also, place the freshly ground coffee beans on a plate and leave it together with the container of baking soda for 24 hours. Both coffee beans and baking soda work to absorb the bad smell coming from your cooler.

Step 6: Roll up four cotton balls. Dip them in vanilla extract and place them within the four corners of the cooler. This should be done after you have removed the baking soda and coffee beans. The cotton balls will infuse a sweet scent into your cooler thus getting rid of any bad smell that is still remaining.

The method above also works great for removing bad odors from an ice chest. You will also need to follow the same procedures or steps above, making sure you don’t leave out any step. The good news is that most of the supplies are readily available at home.

And in case you don’t have them, you can always source them from a nearby store. To prevent future bad smells, you will need to always clean your cooler or ice chest immediately after the tailgate party. Besides, you will be preventing the breeding of odor-causing bacteria by promptly cleaning out your cooler.

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5. How to get rid of bad odors from an ice chest

Stale water, rotten fish and onions can create a strong smell in your ice chest. Such substances begin to stink when they sit in your ice chest for a few days or longer. But how do you eliminate the smells and deodorize the ice chest once the inside starts to stink?

A picture of a nicely packed ice chest
A picture of a nicely packed ice chest

The answer to the question is very simple. First, you will need a few items on standby before proceeding with the cleaning spree. So, what supplies do you need? They include the following:

● An old toothbrush.
● An old rag.
● A garden hose with a spray nozzle.
● Warm soapy water.
● A soft brush.
● Spray bottle.
● A pair of rubber gloves.
● Chlorine bleach.

Once you have all the supplies gathered, you are ready to rock and roll. Simply follow the steps below:

Step 1: Take the ice chest outside where there is plenty of fresh air. The first order of business is removing any food particles from the ice chest. You can use the water from the garden hose for this step. Make sure you are reaching all the corners of the ice chest.

For hard to reach areas such as the corners and crevices, use the old toothbrush to dislodge any food particles. You can then wipe away all the food particles that have settled on the bottom of the ice chest with the old rag.

Step 2: Make a cleaning solution. You can simply add dish soap to warm water. And this will be your cleaning solution in this step. Thoroughly clean the inside of the ice chest with this cleaning solution. Also, don’t forget to clean the lid and the drain plug as well.

Use the toothbrush to scrub the drain plug. Remember that some food particles get stuck inside the drain plug. Scrubbing it is then very important if you want to get rid of all the odors in your ice chest.

Your ice chest should be free from the bad odor after step 2. But in case there is still some offensive odor, move to the following steps.

Step 3: Deodorize with some baking soda. Simply dampen the bottom of the ice chest and the sides with some baking soda. Then use a soft brush to work the areas with baking soda. This is to make sure that baking soda gets deeper into the material of the ice chest.

You can also do the same for the lid. Close the lid and leave the ice chest for at least 2 hours. This is to give the baking soda enough time to absorb all the remaining bad smell.

Step 4: Rinse the ice chest once the waiting time has expired. You will simply use the spray nozzle on your garden hose in this step. Check to see if the offensive smell has been removed. Your ice chest should be smelling fresh at this point. But in case it is still emitting some smell, proceed to the final step below.

Step 5: Spray the ice chest with a bleach solution. You should mix 1/3 cup of chlorine bleach with 2/3 cup of cold water in a spray bottle. Saturate the inside of the ice chest with the bleach solution. Make sure you are also doing the same when it comes to the drain plug (also saturate the drain plug).

You should carry out this step in an open space. Outside is excellent since you might inhale chlorine gas if you are in a closed space. Also, remember to wear rubber gloves to prevent any skin burns while cleaning and deodorizing your ice chest.

Leave the ice chest for 30 minutes. During this period, the bleach solution will be killing any odor-causing bacteria. Also, the solution will remove any stains on the inside walls of the ice chest. Use plenty of water to rinse the inside walls of the ice chest.

Also, do the same for the lid and drain plug. This method is the best ice chest cleaner if you strictly follow the steps above.

How should you pack a cooler? 

Packing a cooler can be challenging sometimes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can pack your cooler like a pro if you have the right tips. Don’t let the summer camping season arrive before you know how to pack a cooler. To get ready for camping season, you need to be armed with some of the most effective ways of how to get smell out of cooler as we have discussed above.

A cross sectional picture of a packed cooler
A cross sectional picture of a packed cooler

There are a few techniques that will help you pack your cooler like a pro. Simply follow the steps below:

Step 1: Select the right cooler. Today’s coolers insulate foods, drinks, and alcohol better than before. There are tons of cooler brands out there on the market. You will need to find the best one. But in case you’re looking for some recommendations, consider trying out  Yeti Tundra 35.

Step 2: Consider having two separate coolers for drinks and foods. There is a high chance that the cooler that contains drinks will be opened a lot more. And as a result, the drinks won’t stay as cold as long. And that calls for the need to have separate coolers for drinks and alcohol.

Step 3: Pre-chill the coolers. In this step, your goal is to lower the temperature of the inside walls of the cooler. Use ice blocks or frozen water just to get the walls and the cooler’s floor cold. If you don’t carry out this step, your cooler might warm your foods or drinks instead of cooling them.

Step 4: Choose ice blocks for your cooler. Some people use ice cubes, which is ok. But the reason why you should choose ice blocks is that they last longer. That means foods and drinks will remain cold for a long time.

Step 5: Organize the food in the cooler. When packing food into a cooler, you should do so by order of meals. That is to say, the last day’s meal should be at the bottom of the cooler. And have your next meal closer to the top of the cooler.

You want to make sure you’re not exposing your last days’ meals to unnecessary disturbance and movements that might cause them to lose their cold temperature.

Step 6: Insulate the cooler. There are a few ways to insulate your cooler so the foods can remain cold and well-preserved. One way is to fully pack your cooler. The air causes foods to lose their coldness fast. Packing the cooler to its capacity leaves little or no room for the air.

Also, put a layer of crushed aluminum or plastic at the bottom and sides of the cooler. Then cut  a piece of cardboard to the shape and size of the lid and place it on top of the lid. These materials will prevent a rapid melting of the ice in the cooler. And this will mean your foods and drinks will be cold for longer periods.

Step 7: Place food inside plastic containers. Avoid using plastic bags while packing food inside coolers. But if you’re looking to pack some meat, you can use a plastic bag and don’t forget to double bag the meat. For fruits and vegetables, be sure to use wire baskets. They should not directly touch the ice.

How often should you clean a cooler?

If you want to keep the bad odors at bay, you should keep your cooler as clean as possible at all times. That means cleaning it right after use or as soon as possible. Assuming you don’t leave stale drinks or beer and food remnants in your cooler, you shouldn’t have an offensive odor coming from your cooler.

A close up picture of a man cleaning his cooler
A close up picture of a man cleaning his cooler

And this means less cleaning time. But it is a great idea to thoroughly clean the cooler after 3-6 months. Also, you can clean it before your next barbeque or tailgating party. For people who love fishing, you should make sure to clean it regularly since fish causes bad odors within a short time compared to other food substances. Deep cleaning once in a while is very important. First, you will be eliminating the chances of bacterial growth in your cooler or ice chest. Secondly, you will be getting rid of odor-causing bacteria. You have every reason to make your cooler as clean as possible.


Having a clean ice chest or cooler is healthy for a number of reasons. First, you will be reducing the chances of getting sick. The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that dirty ice, left alone the cooler, is among the leading causes of gastrointestinal illnesses.

That’s one reason to always keep your cooler clean. Second, you will be reducing the bacterial growth in your cooler by regularly cleaning it. Besides, some bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli can breed and grow inside dirty coolers and ice chests.

Also, you will be preventing mold growth in your cooler. You should always clean your cooler, and there is no way around it. Fortunately, you are now armed with the right knowledge regarding how to get odors out of your cooler. 

All you need to do now is follow the easy steps for a sparkling clean cooler or ice chest. The methods in this guide are cost-effective since the supplies are easy to source from the market. Plus, you will only need to spend a few minutes while cleaning your cooler.

Take some time and give your cooler a thorough clean once in a while. You deserve to live a healthy life and enjoy tailgating or camping without fear of getting sick.

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