Picture of Restoring A Vintage Cooler
I picked up this old cooler at a garage sale for $3, which was a pretty good deal even though it was in pretty rough shape. Time to roll up my sleeves and get to work!

What you'll need:

-Vintage Cooler
-Spray Paint
-Rust Remover (If your cooler is rusty)
-Steel Wool
-Paint Stripper
-Spot Putty
-Body Filler
-Sandpaper (Various grits: 80, 150, 400, 1000, 2000, etc.)
-Rubber Gloves


-Metal Scraper
-Screwdriver (To remove any hardware from your cooler)
-Bodywork Hammer and Dolly (If your cooler is dented)
-Sanding Block (A small piece of 2x4 will work fine.)

Step 1: Remove Hardware, Plastic Inserts and Insulation

Picture of Remove Hardware, Plastic Inserts and Insulation
Grab your screwdriver and just take everything off of your cooler (Hinges, latch, handles, etc.). Then, remove the plastic inserts by just pulling them out and also take any insulation (styrofoam) out at the same time. Also, if your cooler has a drain somewhere, remove that as well. It's a good idea to put all of the hardware in ziploc bags or containers and set them aside somewhere so you don't lose them.
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Nice work!

ctx1985 (author)  sosclosetsandfurniture2 months ago

Thank you very much :)

scc929 months ago
Hello I acquired this cooler and was thinking of restoring it. It still runs. I would like to try a keep the original decal if possible thoughts on this?
ctx1985 (author)  scc929 months ago
Wow looks really cool! Great find! I'm thinking if you're careful, you can mask off the decal with painter's/masking tape. After you tape over the decal, use a hobby knife and carefully trim the tape off around the outside edge of the decal. Since your cooler looks pretty good (minimal rust and no dings), it doesn't look like you'll have to do a complete restoration and could possibly get away with giving the whole thing a good sanding and then just priming and repainting it. If you do want to completely strip all of the paint off, you'll just have to be very careful not to get too close the the decal with any strippers or other harsh chemicals. Remember to change the masking tape over the decal periodically as well, especially if you're planning on taking longer than a week to complete your project (most masking tapes will become more difficult to remover after a week or so and will be more likely to ruin your decal as well). Hope this helps! If there's anything else I can help with, don't hesitate to ask!
GoBen9510 months ago
1947 and it still runs. They really don't make them like they used to.
ctx1985 (author)  GoBen9510 months ago
Wow they really don't. I remember when I was a bit younger, my dad used to rent this cottage every summer and they had an old 40's era fridge out on the back deck for beer and stuff. Sat outside for years and still kept running ice cold!
GoBen9510 months ago

here is that fridge I am not sure how to send images by private message

14, 8:23 PM.jpg
ctx1985 (author)  GoBen9510 months ago

Oh wow that's a really cool old fridge! Looks like it's from the 40s?

GoBen9511 months ago
Thanks I'll keep you posted on my progress. Your instructable gave me the confidence to attempt this.
ctx1985 (author)  GoBen9511 months ago

Thanks so much :). Yeah I'd love to see photos of your progress! If you have any other questions, feel free to pm me as well. Good luck with your project!

GoBen9511 months ago
I just bought an old frigidaire and I want to restore it. Do you think I could follow the same steps or do I need to do something different since it has an enamel finish?
ctx1985 (author)  GoBen9511 months ago

Hi there,

I think that you can follow all of the same steps with enamel paint. Paint stripper should still work to get the old paint off, although it may be a little more difficult.

I have seen replacement vintage COLEMAN decals for sale on the internet. Maybe here? try here:


ctx1985 (author)  brandon.emerson.779211 months ago

Thanks very much for the link!

static1 year ago

Nice. I have an older cooler I inteded to restore Evidently it was in someones way and they sat it outside drirectly on the ground. Bythe time I discovered t the bottom of the steel outer shell rusted beyond repair cost

ctx1985 (author)  static1 year ago

Aww that's too bad that the bottom rotted out. I've seen a lot of people selling the old steel coolers on craigslist and kijiji for pretty cheap actually. Maybe you could find a good one on there :)

bginoza1 year ago
this was awesome. Great tutorial!
ctx1985 (author)  bginoza1 year ago
Thanks so much! I really appreciate the kind words.
howie571 year ago
What a great looking cooler and a really good tutorial. I was just wondring if you could get some decals (Coke,Pepsi,Bud) to put on the cooler to give it a little more personal touch. Not that it needs any. Just a thought.
ctx1985 (author)  howie571 year ago
Thanks! Yeah I actually did look into getting a decal for it. I wanted to get the original brand, but couldn't find one, so I may just get a coke or pepsi one or whatever.
Ramireex1 year ago
What do you do if the insert is not intact?
ctx1985 (author)  Ramireex1 year ago
Do you still have the insert or was it missing? If you still have it and it just has some cracks in it, you may be able to patch it. I would put some masking tape over the crack on the visible side (side your drinks and food will be exposed to) and then perhaps patch it with some fibreglass on the back side. You can usually pick up fibreglass cloth and resin at your local automotive parts store with the bodywork supplies. Just cut the fibreglass cloth slightly larger than the crack and then mix your resin and hardener and apply it over the cloth and crack with a paint brush and wait for it to dry. This should provide a water-proof seal and will not be visible on the side of the insert that is exposed. Failing that, I would say to check eBay for a replacement insert. If it is just cracked though, the fibreglass should do the trick. Hope this helps! Let me know how your project goes!
RayKenn1 year ago
Excellent tutorial ! I have a grandson who is now talking about cars and a project such as this will test his aptitude for body work.
ctx1985 (author)  RayKenn1 year ago
I'm glad I can help! I actually did it the other way around...In high school, I would buy a car for a few hundred dollars, fix all of the rust and dents, etc, drive it for a few months and then sell it for a profit. Took a while to get the technique down though. The really tricky part is when you have to start replacing huge rotted out sections of rocker/quarter panels with new metal!
valkgurl2 years ago
Very nice! How well does this keep things cold? I just got a very vintage "Kola Keeper" that I am going to mount on the tongue of our tow-behind-the-motorcycle-trailer and was wondering if I was going to have to add insulation foam board--mine does not have as elaborate a panel system inside. But for us the size etc is good and we can lose a few sq inches if we need to. Can't wait to get it on there and drive off all retro and such!!!
ctx1985 (author)  valkgurl2 years ago
Haha sounds awesome! Mine doesn't keep things cool for nearly as long as some of the higher end new coolers (about 1 1/2 days before the ice starts to melt), but for my purposes, that's good enough. My wife and I are actually in the middle of our honeymoon right now and we've got it with us! Works fantastic! I would definitely recommend using some better insulation if you want ice to keep for more than a day and a half. The style of these old coolers is awesome though and I wouldn't trade mine for the best new one in the world haha. Thanks for checking out my instructable! Good luck with your project!
Congrats on your honeymoon!

We don;t need to keep raw things cold as we will not be camping but we do need to keep insulin chilled and water beer etc! I am thinking of either getting some insulating foam board or hacking one of the coolers I get meds in so I can remove or add as needed. We have plenty of newer coolers inc a large one on wheels I tow behind my elec motorized wheelie cart but--this one gets big points for LOOKS! We have a fairly large retro look motorcycle (Honda Valkyrie) and altho the trailer as of now is a car topper on a frame we are looking to build a tear drop maybe over the winter. The cooler will go a long ways in keeping the look we like! Husband is learning to weld to build things like a frame for the cooler and a better trailer----Instructables is a BIG help here!

Congrats and have a great time!!!!
ctx1985 (author)  valkgurl2 years ago
Thanks so much and good luck on your project!
tjesse2 years ago
I will now be on the hunt for an old cooler! As for the plastic parts, use Mr. clean magic eraser. It is surprising how well it works. I also can get a cooler back to new by filling it with water and adding bleach. Overnight soak does the trick.
ctx1985 (author)  tjesse2 years ago
Thanks for the tip! Sounds like a good idea. I'll be trying that when we get back from our trip!
ctx1985 (author)  User12 years ago
About updating the insulation...The only way I can think of is to use some foam sealer to seal off all of the cracks where the styrofoam pieces join and any area that isn't covered by it.
ctx1985 (author)  User12 years ago
Thanks! Yeah the insulation removal is pretty straight forward. As far as I know, the majority of these old coolers just used styrofoam. So there's a single piece in the bottom, top, front, back and each side. They come out fairly easily. Just be gentle when removing them because they can break easily.
wrapgirl2 years ago
Beautiful and inspiring!
ctx1985 (author)  wrapgirl2 years ago
Thanks so much!
This is insane. And insanely beautiful. I love obsessions. And spending the time to dismantle, strip, undent, prime, and paint a three dollar yardsale cooler qualifies in my book. I love that you did it. I love how you did it. And I love the result. Bravo.
Exept. I'm wondering why you didn't just sand the old paint flat, fill it, and skip the stripping. You must have a good reason.
And if you can find a way, get some clear vinyl tubing and slide it over the handles to make it easier on the hands when filled with beer and ice. Or failing that, just cut the tubing lengthwise and cram it on.
ctx1985 (author)  Ricardo Furioso2 years ago
Thank you so much for the kind words. Comments like yours really make the time and effort put into projects and the instructables themselves worth it. Aside from the fact that I love doing this sort of thing to begin with haha. I'm going to have to find some tubing like you mentioned. I was even thinking some 1/4" automotive clear fuel line hose may do the trick. I'm actually leaving tomorrow morning for a three week honeymoon driving out east to Newfoundland with my wife and we're bringing the cooler with us! Should work great for the nights we spend camping along the way! Oh, and regarding the paint stripping, that's just the way I do things. I just like to sort of start with an entirely fresh canvas if that makes sense haha.
Ever hear of California?
Weather's better.
At least as pretty.
Plus Yosemite and big red trees.
And more beaches.
And flowers.
ctx1985 (author)  Ricardo Furioso2 years ago
Haha I've always wanted to take a long trip out to California...I've only ever been at LAX there and it was one of the craziest airports I've ever seen! I've actually been wanting to go back to Newfoundland for ages now (the last time I was there, I was 4 years old), as I have a lot of family there and There's actually a lot of beautiful scenery there to see. We live in Ontario, so we're going to drive out there through Canada, spend a week in Newfoundland and then go through Maine, New Hampshire, New York on the way back. Should be a great trip. California is definitely on my list of places to visit though!
Oh. Never tried vinegar. But I've had really good luck with citric acid, which is a scary phrase for dried lemon juice.
Bought some on ebay. Mix it with enough water to cover the part in a bucket. The interesting thing is that it only attacks the rust and turns it into a black powdery coating that you can brush off. Don't understand why this is not more widely known. For bigger stuff I've heard you can remove rust with molasses. Which sounds really weird.
Important thing is that unlike industrial chemicals, you can put your hands in vinegar, lemon juice and molasses and not freak out. Plus, they're all eminently biodegradable as far as I know.
ctx1985 (author)  Ricardo Furioso2 years ago
I'll definitely have to give that a try on my next rusty project! Thanks for the tip!
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