One of the nicest features about plastic coolers is that they do not rust, although this does not mean that they cannot get rust stains.
Sometimes an empty bottle cap, bottle opener or some other piece of metal left in your cooler can rust and leave rust stains on the inside of your cooler. Leaving rusting things on top of your cooler can also put rust stains on the outside.
So how do you remove rust stains from a plastic cooler? It's actually not too difficult.
To remove rust stains from a cooler use a Magic Eraser with soapy water or soak the rust stains in vinegar or lemon juice then scrub with an abrasive cloth. These should leave your cooler free of stains and looking brand new.
There isn't just one method for removing rust stains, lots of different methods work. Depending on the level of your rust stain and how much effort you want to put into removing it will depend on what strategy you use.
A lot of different things work well so feel free to read through and take your pick.
1. Abrasive Cleaning Cloth and Detergent (For Minor Stains)
For really light rust stains sometimes all you need is a simple clean with an abrasive cloth in order to get the rust stains off.
Just use warm soapy water and a rough sponge or cloth and put some elbow grease into it focusing on the spot with rust stains.
This will only really work for the lightest rust stains or really fresh ones that haven't had time to stain the plastic of your cooler
2. Magic Eraser
Magic Erasers are made from a micro abrasive foam so it kind of polishes away the rust stains. I've personally used these to get rid of rust stains out of my Coleman Extreme cooler.
Use a bit of water and detergent and then apply strong pressure with the magic eraser and rub.
This method works but it's time consuming and hurt my hands after a while because you have to apply such strong force to get the rust to come off.
But its an easy method for stains that aren't too big or too strong and it doesn't require the use of any chemical. Magic Erasers are also pretty cheap. You can buy a bunch of cheap magic erasers here at Amazon.
If you've got more severe rust stains or you want a solution that is more guaranteed and requires less elbow grease then using an acidic solution will help to remove the rust easily.
3. Vinegar and Baking Soda
Hands down I recommend vinegar as the easiest way to clean rust stains from your plastic cooler, or any plastic for that matter.
It's one of the most effective ways of removing rust, also happens to be one of the most effective ways of removing rust and it's dirt cheap and can be used in so many ways to clean your household.
I like to make a white vinegar and baking soda combination, which should resemble a relatively thick paste when combined properly.
This fizzy blend is an effective solution for rust stains. Rub the paste onto the rusted areas and leave to soak.
If you have particularly stubborn rust stains then it can be a good idea to cover the vinegar/baking soda mixture in plastic cling wrap so it can soak the area without the vinegar evaporating away.
After you've left it to soak give it a good scrub with an abrasive sponge and you should end up rust free.
You can also sprinkle baking soda onto the rust stains and then spray the area with vinegar. The fizzy chemical reaction also helps to remove the rust stains.
Lie your cooler on its side and do the walls one at a time if you want to use this method.
4. Lemon Juice
Second to vinegar is lemon juice, which is obviously very acidic itself.
You can simply rub the juice of the lemon onto the rust stain or I like to actually squeeze the lemon and leave a puddle over the rust stain so it can soak.
Let it soak for 20-30 minutes or more and then scrub with an abrasive sponge to clear about the rust.
It'll clean away most rust stains and as a plus it'll leave your cooler smelling lemony fresh.
You can also purchase lemon juice in a bottle which may be cheaper than actually buying and using fresh lemons.
You can also combine lemon juice with baking soda for an even better effect.
5. Liquid Wrench Lubricating Oil
Liquid Wrench Lubricating Oil is one of those random products that is really good at removing rust stains from plastic really quickly.
Simply spray some of the lubricating oil onto your rust stains, give in a minute and then scrub the rust stains with a slightly abrasive sponge.
The rust will start to melt right off. Rinse your cooler when you're done and it'll be rust free looking as good as new
Coca-cola is both acidic and contains phosphoric acid which eats away at rust allowing you to wipe it off more easily.
The problem I have with using coke to clean rust off a cooler is that it's one of the less effective methods for removing rust to begin with and really the rust needs to soak in the coca-cola in order for it to be effective.
If the rust is in the bottom of your cooler then a large bottle of coke poured into your cooler and left to soak can work.
But if the rust is on the walls of your cooler or on the outside where you can't really soak it then I wouldn't recommend coke but one of the other methods mentioned above or use ketchup as mentioned below.
You might be scratching your head at this one just like I was.
How the heck can ketchup remove rust stains? This just sounds like some dumb internet meme.
But nope, it's actually works.
It can actually be really good for spot stains on the walls of your cooler as the ketchup is thick and sticky and won't dry out as quickly as vinegar so you can leave it to soak on the stain for longer.
Leave it for 30-60 minutes then scrub with an abrasive brush. Or leave even longer from super strong stains.
How Acids Remove Rust Stains
While you do not need to know everything about chemistry to remove rust stains from your cooler, it is nice to know the basics of what you are dealing with when it comes to acids.
Rust occurs as a result of a metal oxidizing when the metal reacts with the water and oxygen in the air.
The acid you decide to use, whether it be vinegar, lemon juice or anything else acidic dissolves the rust that has rubbed off from whatever metal object your cooler was next to.
When you use your acid to dissolve the rust stain, the reaction leaves behind a salt, which is why you should wipe off your cooler before putting it away.
Rust stains are annoying, but fortunately there are a variety of solutions to restore your cooler back to its best.
If you've got other tough stains on your cooler click here to learn how to clean other tough stains from your cooler.