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How to Get Rid of Funky Fridge Smells For Good

Full refrigerator.

​Nothing makes you lose confidence in a fridge full of food like a foul smell, and unfortunately, it’s one situation that’s bound to arise more than once in your lifetime. 

Forgotten leftovers, spoiled veggies, and hidden mold happen in almost any household. No matter the source, it’s crucial to get the smell out sooner rather than later if you want to spare your food and your appetite.

When refrigerator odors have time to worsen, it’ll take more than a bowl of baking soda to fix the problem. Find long-term relief with these helpful tips to get rid of stinky fridge smells and stop them from coming back!

How to Get Rid of a Fridge Smell: 10 Techniques that Work

The long-form fridge cleaning process consists of 10 techniques, but at its core, there are only three basic steps:

  1. Remove spoiled and smelly food items
  2. Clean the bad smells out of the refrigerator
  3. Stop foul smells from coming back

When you’re quick to address fridge smells as soon as they appear, removing the bad food could be all it takes to solve the problem. But over time, that smell can dominate the space, and you’ll be dealing with a rotten refrigerator odor long after you clean out the offender. 

If that’s the situation you’re running into, follow these 10 steps to remove those persistent refrigerator odors. 

1.Empty the Fridge

You’ve removed the expired food, but the bad smell won’t quit. It’s time to move onto phase two of your refrigerator cleaning journey.

Start by emptying your fridge. Toss old food or anything showing signs of spoilage. Place the good refrigerated food in a cooler or a second fridge if you plan to air out your refrigerator overnight. Remove the shelves and crisper drawers to wash separately.

Clean a smelly freezer out the same way. Throw freezer-burned or moldy food away. Toss the old ice cubes in the sink, and pull out the ice tray to wash separately.

2.Clean the Refrigerator Walls

Your refrigerator can absorb bad odors, so eventually, you’ll need to wash the interior to remove the lingering smells. Bleach is an effective cleaner, but it can also potentially degrade your fridge’s plastic lining. Instead, take a gentler approach with our favorite DIY cleaners — baking soda and vinegar.

When working with baking soda, you want to create a smooth paste to scrub around the fridge wall. Baking soda is a mild abrasive and deodorizer. It is strong enough to buff out food stains without scratching the plastic while also helping to remove refrigerator odors as you spread it around. Put some dry baking soda directly on a damp sponge to give stuck-on grime a healthy scrub.

To use vinegar, mix an all-purpose DIY cleaner of distilled white vinegar and warm water in a 1:1 ratio. Add the mixture to a spray bottle, spray the fridge’s inside surfaces, and wipe down the walls to remove any bad smells. Many people may find the vinegar has an unpleasant smell itself, but it dissipates almost immediately as it evaporates.

3.Wash Removable Bins and Shelves

The same baking soda and vinegar solutions that clean the inside of the refrigerator can also work on your removable bins and shelves. But since you have the option to take them to the sink, the easiest path is to wash them with dish soap and warm water.

Clean your refrigerator and freezer before cleaning glass shelves. That will give your shelves time to warm up. If you wash the cold glass with hot water, you’ll risk shattering them.  

4.Air Out the Fridge

At this point, you may be ready to refill your refrigerator. It’s a judgment call and a tough one at that sometimes because while you have a fresh fridge now, those unpleasant smells could return in a matter of days if you failed to remove them entirely. Then, you’re back to square one with a brand new fridge cleaning project.

Extra-foul refrigerator smells need a little extra effort. That typically means unplugging your fridge and airing it out. Open the refrigerator and freezer doors, and leave them open overnight or for 24 hours.

After airing out the fridge, plug it in and let it cool with the door closed. It takes most refrigerators at least 12 hours to reach the proper temperature for storing food. While it is empty, take the opportunity to add an odor eliminator as an extra measure. 

Baking soda, fresh coffee grounds, or unscented cat litter on a baking sheet work well to remove bad smells. You can add as many trays as you like with the fridge empty.

Even better, you can stuff the fridge loosely with newspaper, an effective tool for deodorizing around the house. As it runs and circulates air, the baking soda or newspaper will absorb odors as they pass.

5.Add a Refrigerator Deodorizer

Baking soda, coffee grounds, and newspapers are excellent household deodorizers, but the most effective options will actively draw in odors. Activated charcoal and zeolite are two materials that use their high surface area to adsorb odors of all kinds. They present arguably the best blend of safety and effectiveness of any household odor remover.

You have two options to take advantage of a fridge deodorizer — use a commercial product or make a DIY odor destroyer. Consumer odor-eliminating products are mess-free, take up little space, and can often allow your produce to last longer.

Odor-eliminating products are convenient and dependable, but you can get similar results with a homemade deodorizer. Activated charcoal is inexpensive and available at most pet stores. 

You can spread loose activated charcoal on a plate or bowl and put it in the back of your refrigerator. But this often takes up space and can make a mess if someone bumps it. 

Rather than put charcoal in a bowl, make an out-of-the-way fridge deodorizer with a coffee filter. The filter will hold the charcoal but provide enough breathability to let odors through. Fill the coffee filter with charcoal, tie it off, and toss your DIY deodorizing pouch anywhere you like.

6.Change the Filters

Depending on the style of your fridge, you will likely have air and water filters that require regular replacement. Filters can become overly dirty and ineffective if you leave them in the refrigerator too long. When you can’t find the source of a bad smell in old or expired food, it could be a moldy filter that needs a swap.

Refrigerators often need their filters changed once every six months. Check your filters, and follow your model’s manual to ensure you replace them at the proper interval with the correct product. 

7.Check the Drip Tray

The drip tray sits at the bottom of the unit to catch water coming from the evaporator. You typically don’t have to worry about the drip tray because the moisture usually evaporates. When it doesn’t, stagnant water can accumulate and develop mold, leading to bad odors in and around the fridge.

You can access your fridge’s drip tray from the kickplate in front or a panel in the back. Some models don’t provide access, so reference your user manual if you have trouble getting to it. Take the drip pan out to clean it, or leave it in place and soak up lingering moisture. Spray a damp cloth with your vinegar solution to wipe off any leftover mold on the pan.

8.Add Vanilla for a Refreshing Fridge Scent

When the smell is gone, try vanilla or your favorite essential oil to refresh your fridge’s interior with a pleasant smell. Apply a few drops of vanilla, essential oil, or lemon juice to cotton balls, and place them carefully around the refrigerator. If you like the smell of coffee, you can toss some coffee grounds on a plate for a similar effect.

9.Check Your Fridge Temperature

The USDA advises that refrigerators must be set at 40°F or lower to prevent food spoilage. It only takes two hours for foods stored above that temperature to begin to spoil. Meanwhile, freezers need to stay at 0°F to keep food safe. If your fridge doesn’t have a built-in thermometer, buy an inexpensive one and keep it inside the door.

10.Keep Your Fridge Smelling Fresh

If your fridge is smelling fresh, you still have some work ahead of you. Now, it’s time to prevent odors from returning. Follow these handy tips to keep your fridge fresh for the long term:

  • Date leftovers and purge your fridge regularly to keep food from spoiling
  • Swap filters out according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Store food in airtight containers to stop odors from migrating and keep your food fresh longer
  • Add an odor eliminator to the freezer and crisper drawers if they cause you recurring issues
  • Keep door gaskets clean, and inspect them to ensure they keep the door shut

Hire a Professional to Clean Your Fridge!

It’s all too easy to accidentally leave an open container of leftovers in the refrigerator, but dealing with the fallout can be a massive challenge. It takes some effort, but with these 10 essential tips to remove bad smells from your fridge, you’ll ensure your hard work doesn’t go to waste.

Sometimes, a foul-smelling refrigerator is only one task on a laundry list of cleaning tasks. If you need relief from the stress, book a specialty cleaning with Anita’s. It only takes a few seconds to tailor cleaning services to address your unique needs. Book a cleaning today to find the best local cleaning professionals for the job!


Anita's Housekeeping Editors