What Cooler Color Is Best In The Sun and Heat?

The main factor that most consider when purchasing a new cooler is how well the cooler is able to remain cold on the inside. This will largely come down to the insulating properties of the materials used, the thickness of the insulation, and the quality of the design of the cooler.

But the exterior color of the cooler also plays a role in how long a cooler can keep ice for.

So what color cooler should you buy and is there a color that is going to work better than the others in the sun and the heat?

White colored coolers are the best for the sun and heat and will keep ice longer than darker colored coolers. The darker the color of the cooler the more heat it will absorb from the sun's rays melting your ice faster. Black, dark green and charcoal coolers won't keep ice as long as white, light tan and yellow coolers.

Up until now you might not have considered that the color of your cooler could make a practical difference to its performance but it actually does!

In this article we investigate how different color exteriors affect the performance of a cooler that’s kept in the sun for an extended time. 

Does Cooler Color Affect Ice Retention?

Yes, the color of the cooler you use does make quite a noticeable difference when it comes to ice retention.

Most of the studies I have seen conclude that you can expect your ice to last as much as half a day longer in a white cooler compared to an otherwise identical dark color cooler.

Read here for more about light color coolers vs dark color coolers and other factors that affect how long a cooler is able to hold ice for. 

Why Do White Coolers Hold Ice The Longest?

Yeti Cooler Ice Retention Test

Why exactly do white coolers hold ice longer than those with darker colors? To understand this we need to know a little about the science of light and color.

First of all, white is not technically a color. White light is actually composed of all the frequencies of the color spectrum. Take a rainbow for example.

When rays of white sunlight pass through a raindrop we see a rainbow due to a phenomenon known as refraction. Refraction is defined as: “the change in direction of a wave passing from one medium to another.

Because white light contains all different frequencies of light, each wavelength (or color) refracts at a different angle resulting in the rainbow we observe in the sky.

Now remember that when we see something as a particular color it is because that object is reflecting that color of light to our eyes. The rest of the light spectrum is being absorbed by the object and retained as heat energy.

Therefore when we see a white cooler it only appears white to our brains because the cooler is reflecting the full spectrum of light back to our eyes.

Since all of the light is being reflected, less is being absorbed by the white cooler. This means a white colored cooler is reflecting more light and also more heat – much like a mirror does. In fact, you can create a reflectix cooler cover for your cooler to get even better ice retention that you otherwise would.

On the opposite end of things darker coolers appear darker because the absorb more light and reflect less light to our eyes.

This means darker colored coolers will absorb a larger portion of sunlight and heat up more. This heat will then get transferred into the ice and contents inside the cooler and this will melt the ice and warm things up.

Colors Colors Ranked By Ice Retention

Now that we understand why a white cooler will stay cold longer in the sun, perhaps you are wondering how the other colors compare.

Yeti sells coolers in a lot of different colors. If white isn't your thing but you want to maximize ice retention what color cooler should you get?

The ranking of colors from coolest to hottest might surprise you:

  1. Yellow
  2. Light Gray
  3. Red
  4. Purple
  5. Blue
  6. Green
  7. Charcoal (Dark Grays)
  8. Black

Should You Buy a White Cooler Because It Keeps Ice Longer?

A white cooler will indeed keep your ice for longer than a darker colored cooler but the color of your cooler shouldn’t be much of a concern beyond the aesthetic appeal it has for you.

Keeping ice for half a day longer seems like quite a remarkable difference. But when you consider that the high end coolers they were testing can keep ice from melting for 8 or 9 days, half a day doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

The coolers were also deliberately kept in full direct sun the entire duration of the experiments. If the coolers had been kept in the shade there would have been little to no difference at all.

White coolers also have a tendency to show more dirt, scratches and damage compared to darker color coolers that can handle wear and tear better without it showing so obviously.

While coolers don't lose their effectiveness with dirt of scratches who wants their expensive cooler looking like crap?

You might want to invest in a different color cooler and sacrifice some ice retention in order to get the color you like. There are also a variety of cool cooler hacks that you can do to change the color of your cooler or make it look better.

For example you can paint your cooler with a camo pattern or really any color you want.

In Summary

If you are looking for a cooler that will keep its contents colder for the longest time possible and you plan on keeping it in the direct sun for a significant amount of time then a white cooler is definitely the right choice to make.

But if you prefer other colors the difference in ice retention isn't huge.

If ice retention matters to you then your best bet is buying one of the top performing coolers for ice retention. A higher quality coolers will make a much bigger impact on ice retention than a change in color will.