Sunday, August 11, 2013

How To Fix A Leaky Igloo Ice Chest

We bought an Igloo ice chest a couple years ago. We used it for one trip and it leaked all inside the truck. It was put away in the garage and forgotten about. But I'm doing some more camping, and this ice chest has thicker insulation than my Coleman. It's a very nice ice chest other than the fact that it's leaked from day one. I bought it on the way out of town for our original trip, so the receipt didn't make it home the first time.

The Tools

The tools I used were really basic, and just about every one of them could be substituted with something else or improvised. This is a very easy project, which doesn't happen to me all that often.

Folding Work BenchUsed to set ice chest on. You can set yours on the ground or a table, or wherever
Robo-Grip PliersUsed to take the spigot off the ice chest
Pocket Knife 
(or Box Cutter)
Used to cut the plastic shavings from the drain hole.
Emery ClothUsed to smooth out the drain hole once you cut the shavings off
5 Gallon BucketTo fill the ice chest for testing. Or you can just use a hose to fill it. I don't buy these from the Internet since you'll find them at almost every local store in existence.

The Project

I took my trusty folding work bench because the ice chest didn't fit on my big workbench the way I wanted. But that turned out well, because having it on the Workmate made it really easy to work on. I set the Igloo up on the Workmate and it kind of slid into the position you see it in the pictures. It was stable like that, so that's how I worked on it and photographed it.

Taking A Look

I really thought I would end up just rigging something to plug this thing and stopping this leak in the final sense of the word. But the drain assembly is held in there by a big plastic nut, and it comes off easily with slip joint pliers--I used my RoboGrip pliers.

All the "hardware" looked fine. Looks like I will be fixing a leak today.

...and right away I see the cause of the problem! There's all sorts of plastic debris left over from the manufacturing process. What's worse, a human being probably looked at this, thought "it's fine" and attached the spigot assembly, sending it on its way to ruin someone's camping trip.

It also looks like the plastic washer dug into the side of the ice chest from being mounted askew. But the rubber seal will sit solidly inside that circle, so it won't affect the seal.

This was a nice little setup to work on the ice chest. It put everything at eye level.

There were probably 5 or 6 big pieces of plastic debris that I cut off with my Delica pocket knife. I like to keep my pocket knives nice and sharp, so the pieces came off with no effort and cleanly. You could also probably use a box cutter style knife. The Delica has a long blade so it seemed like the better tool.

In the picture below, I have cut off all excess plastic from the drain hole. The excess bits you see in the picture aren't sticking up, so they don't affect the seal. It's like pulling a loose thread from a sweater and getting the whole sweater, so at some point I just said "good enough."

It didn't use many tools for this job. The RoboGrip pliers were perfect for taking off the spigot assembly. Notice the emery cloth I used to clean up the surface before I put it all back together.

Everything looked to be in good working order. The plastic nut looks really rough around the edges but it's fine. It's only job is to put pressure on the rubber seal, which it does fine. The seal itself looked perfect. Not surprising since I've used this leaky cooler very little!

I sanded smooth the whole area around the drain hole using some emery cloth. I even cleaned the area with some simple green solution just to make double dog sure the rubber seal would not leak. Be sure not to over-do it with the sand paper. You don't want to create a groove or uneven surface. You just want it uniformly smooth.

 I flipped the ice chest over just to make sure everything looked good on the other side. There is no seal on this side, but I wanted to make sure there weren't any cracks or something obvious that would compromise the water-tight seal I am looking to achieve.

I put the spigot assembly back in tightened it good and tight with the RoboGrips. It's a rubber seal so you don't want it too tight--just past hand tight should be sufficient.

I set it on the deck and grabbed my 5 gallon bucket. I put a little more than two half bucketfuls, so about 5 gallons total into the ice chest. I made sure to be careful not to spill any while I was pouring, so not to get the deck wet and ruin my paper towel test.

I put a little piece of electrical tape just above the fill point so I can keep an eye on the water level. If it drops by any noticeable amount, it doesn't get to go camping with me and it'll either be plugged and epoxied or dropped in the trash can .... we'll see !!

I put a paper towel under the spigot to detect even a couple drops of water. In this dry weather, anything on the paper towel should really stand out.


And the results of the paper towel and water level tests ... It hasn't leaked a drop! I bought this model because it had a decent amount of insulation and it would keep ice longer. But obviously leaking inside my vehicles was a deal breaker, so it sat in the garage. Now it is going to be put back in service for my big camping trip in a couple of weeks.

One less thing off my to do list!

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