ATK Reviews

Should You Drain the Melted Ice in Your Cooler?

This hot tip will keep things icy cold. 

Published June 30, 2023.

When you load up a cooler with ice and fill it with food or drinks, that ice will eventually melt. A good cooler will keep ice frozen for longer, but it can’t make ice last forever. 

Eventually, you’ll find some water at the bottom of your cooler. My instinct has always been to dump it out. In my head, it was kind of like bailing out a boat. When I see water where it shouldn’t be, I want to get it out. 

As it turns out, that’s the wrong instinct. 

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When researching and testing coolers, our team discovered that the water—its technical term is “meltwater”—stays quite cool. In fact, in our top-rated coolers, such as the Yeti Tundra 45, the meltwater remained below 40 degrees for a day or two. During that time, the water helps keep the interior of the cooler cold and the food or drinks chilled. 

I haven’t yet sprung for a high-quality cooler, so I can vouch for this working even in bad coolers. I recently had friends over for a cookout and put out drinks in the one cooler I could find in the basement: a small styrofoam box that I must have grabbed in desperation at a gas station sometime.

When we cleaned up for the night, I remembered to bring in everything except that cooler. When I discovered it sitting in the sun the next day, much of the ice had melted—but the water was still icy cold. And so were the cans of seltzer bobbing around in the meltwater. 

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This leads to an important point: It’s no big deal for cans and bottles to slip under the meltwater, but you don’t want sandwiches to get soggy. Conveniently, the Yeti (our favorite large cooler) comes with baskets that are suspended from the top of the cooler.

You can also DIY a tiered system using the same sort of shelf riser you can put in a kitchen cabinet. Drinks and foods with watertight seals go on the bottom level; sandwiches and anything more loosely wrapped goes on the top. And when in doubt, place food inside a sturdy zipper-lock bag

Want more info on how to keep food and drinks cold when the weather’s hot? Check out these 10 tips to get the most out of your cooler.

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