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Electricity failures, accidental unplugging, and food overstays may result in your refrigerator emitting a bad odor. It’s human instinct to store away leftovers after a party, holiday celebration or special dinner. There’s a pang of guilt associated with throwing away fresh and eatable leftovers and they end up sitting in the shelves of the refrigerator for days or even weeks.
If you opened the refrigerator one fine morning only to be greeted by a stinky waft of cold air, that leftover fish or forgotten salad is to be blamed. It can be quite frustrating to hold your nose and dig into the shelves to look for the source of the smell.
Even after you get rid of that moldy, frosty, and slimy culprit, the bad odor may linger for longer. If the refrigerator cleanup has been pending for a long time, there could be other reasons contributing to that odor. Hence, only removing the source of smell may not enough. Depending upon the severity of the smell, you may need to deep cleanse and deodorize
Read on to find the ways to remove odor from the refrigerator.
A Quick Fix For Busy Bees!
Before I start with the homemade remedies, let me tell you that they are effective but may take days to show desired results. If you are a busy person hard pressed for time and need a quick fix for the nasty smell, I recommend this Refrigerator Deodorizer on Amazon.
This compact and leak-proof deodorizer can control bad odor in the refrigerator or freezer for 6 months. As per the manufactures, it works 6 times longer than baking soda. It not only produces a non-toxic smell but can keep your fruits and veggies fresh for longer by inhibiting moisture and mold growth.
12 Ways To Remove Odor From Refrigerator
At times, when do not have the time for a thorough clean-up, these homemade remedies may be applied to get rid of the bad odor. In some cases, even after deep cleansing the entire refrigerator, the stinking smell may remain and this is when these homemade remedies come handy
#1. Baking soda:
If you have baking soda in the kitchen, you can put it into various uses and one of them is removing bad odor from the fridge. Keep an open container of baking soda inside the refrigerator to let it absorb the stinking smell and the odor will be gone in 24 hours.
Alternatively, you may spread baking soda on a cookie sheet and leave it inside the refrigerator overnight to dispel the smell. Discard the baking soda after use.
#2. Fresh coffee grounds
Take freshly ground coffee beans and spread them over a tray or baking sheet. Keep it inside the refrigerator overnight to get rid of the bad smell. It may leave behind a subtle odor of fresh coffee but it will disappear soon.
Alternatively, you may mix coffee ground with baking soda and keep it inside the refrigerator overnight to get rid of the bad smell. Instead of throwing away the coffee, use it as a fertilizer for house plants.
Vinegar acts as a neutralizing agent to get rid of the bad odor coming out of the refrigerator. You may use a mix of water and vinegar to deodorize the interior of the fridge. Another way of using vinegar is to place a bowl or cup filled with white vinegar in the refrigerator to remove bad smell. Discard it after use.
Well, you know oatmeal as a healthy breakfast but that packet of oatmeal in the kitchen may also be used as a deodorizer. Put some oatmeal in an aluminum bowl and store inside the refrigerator to get rid of the bad smell. Throw away the oatmeal after the smell is removed.
#5. Vanilla extract
Vanilla extract has a fresh and lingering smell that can trap bad odor and dispel it immediately. Take some cotton balls and soak them in vanilla extract. Put the soaked cotton balls in a small bowl and store inside the fridge for a few hours to produce a refreshing scent.
#6. Essential oils
You may know essential oils for therapeutic effects such as bringing upon a sense of calm, relaxation, and other healing benefits. For their mild and lingering scent, they may also be used as a deodorizer to get rid of bad smell.
Make a few cotton balls and soak them in essential oils. Put inside the refrigerator overnight or leave the fridge door closed for a day so that the smell properly diffuses in the air. Some of the common types of essential oils you may find in a store near you are lemon oil, jasmine oil, lavender oil, sandalwood oil, and so on.
#7. Lemon and orange slices
Citrus fruits are not only known for their great taste but also their refreshing smell that lingers for long and helps in removing bad odor. As lemon is readily available in the kitchen, it is one of the easiest ways to remove odor from refrigerators.
Take a sharp knife and cut an entire lemon into thin slices and put them in a small bowl. Place this bowl inside the refrigerator overnight to dispel the bad smell. You may repeat the same process for other citrus fruits such as oranges and limes.
#8. Activated Charcoal
You can buy activated charcoal like this from any pet store. Put some charcoal in a bowl and keep inside the refrigerator or spread a layer on a baking sheet and place on the shelf. Adjust the refrigerator’s temperature and set it to a minimum. Keep the refrigerator closed for 3-4 days or until the bad odor completely disappears.
#9. Unscented cat litter
This may sound gross but the unscented cat litter is capable of absorbing bad smell like no other. Spread a layer of unscented cat litter over a baking sheet and keep it inside the refrigerator for a few days, until the bad smell is gone.
Take several loose newspaper sheets and stuff them into the shelves and drawers of the refrigerator. Keep the door closed for 2-3 days. Remove the papers and cleanse the fridge with a mixture of one gallon of water mixed with one cup of white vinegar.
#11. Peeled Potato
Potato acts as an excellent absorbing agent and it can easily take up the odors in its surrounding. Peel a potato and cut it into four halves. Put it in a bowl and keep inside the refrigerator to get rid of bad smell inside the premises. Replace the potatoes in every 2-3 days until the odor disappears.
Cloves are also capable of removing the bad smell and they leave behind a lingering good scent. Put a good number of cloves with some lemon slices in a small bowl. Let it sit for a few days or until the bad smell disappears.
Steps To Deep Clean The Refrigerator
This is a daunting task for sure, but it’s the first and most important thing you need to do to get rid of the bad odor. Just spot cleaning the area where the soiled food had been sitting for days may not enough and the situation may call for a thorough clean up.
Before you start, turn off the appliance and remove everything from the drawers or shelves. Throw away anything that is about to go bad soon or honestly you don’t plan to eat. Store the vegetables, fruits and other food items on the balcony if it’s cold outside or keep them in a cooler and cover with ice.
The refrigerator door will be open while you clean and until the interiors are completely dry so it’s important that you store the perishable food properly. Put the removable drawers, bin, ice trays and shelves on the sink and soak them in water to loosen debris. Next, clean with hot water and liquid dish wash soap, use a scrubber if needed.
Alternatively, you may make a thick paste of baking soda and water. This will not only clean the food stains but also deodorize the shelves. Now, dip a microfiber cloth in a solution made of water and a few drops of liquid dish wash, wring out excess water and clean the fixed parts inside the fridge.
Don’t forget to clean the rubberized seal on the door and also the outside surface of the fridge. Accidental food dripping on these areas as you take them in or out of the fridge may also contribute to bad smell. Clean again with a damp cloth to remove any soapy residue.
You may also use a solution made of 1 gallon of water and 1 tbsp chlorine bleach. Use the mixture to clean and sanitize the fridge walls, ceiling, base, inner door, and gasket. Dry with a soft towel to remove any traces of moisture.
Let the Refrigerator Air-dry Completely
After you have washed the shelves and drawers thoroughly, allow it to air-dry completely before use. You need some patience for this step. Unplug the refrigerator to avoid electricity wastage and leave the door open for at least an entire day.
If the smell still persists, wash one more time. When you have thoroughly cleaned the refrigerator, use one of the 12 ways to remove odor from the refrigerator mentioned above to sanitize and leave behind a nice aroma.
Put Everything Back Into The Refrigerator
After the bad odor is gone, place everything back into the refrigerator but be careful about storing them correctly. Avoid keeping food in open containers as the smell of different foods can blend together to form bad-smelling chemicals responsible for the stinkage.
Set the refrigerator to the right temperature because a higher temperature will result in spoiling food faster and a lower temperature will result in money wasted in utility bills. Ideally, the temperature inside the refrigerator should be between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and that inside your freezer should be between 0 and 4 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are unsure about the settings, check the guide/ manual or contact the service center for help.
Technical Defects Causing Bad Odor
If the stinking smell does not go away despite your various efforts and above methods, the problem is probably deeper than you think. It could be that the rotten smell has permeated into the evaporator coil that is responsible for producing cold air for the freezer and fridge.
The evaporator coil and the fan for distributing the air are situated at the backside of the freezer. The steps for a standard refrigerator with a top freezer are the following:
- Removing screws that hold the panels
- Disconnect all the electric plugs
- Take out the washing panel and rinse it
- Apply warm soapy water to the coils using a spray bottle
- Use an old cloth to collect the dirty water running out of the coils
- Repeat the process with clean water to rinse the coils
- Let air dry completely before you replace the panel
The steps for cleaning the evaporator coil will almost be the same for different types of refrigerators. Some new models may have two sets of evaporator coils – one for the fridge and the other for freezer. For odor coming from the fresh food compartment, you will only need to check that coil. If you have doubts, check the user manual to find the specific instructions or watch Youtube videos.
Tips To Prevent Bad Odor In Your Refrigerator
As they say, prevention is always better than cure so it pays to be a little extra careful to avoid bad odor from getting into your refrigerator. Here are a few tips to keep your refrigerator organized and free of disgusting smell:
1. Store fresh food in visible areas
If you have the tendency to store and forget, make sure you keep the perishable items like vegetables and fruits in visible areas. I would suggest that you keep them on the top shelf so that you are aware of their condition and consume them before they go bad.
2. Always keep food in airtight containers
The mix of different food smells can cause a lot of stink inside the refrigerator. Avoid keeping the leftover pizza, sandwich or sushi in lose cardboard boxes or wrapped in napkins. Make sure you store all leftover food in airtight containers so that one food does not spoil the other. You would not want your vanilla cake to smell like salmon, would you?
3. Keep a marker to date leftovers
Keep a marker close to your refrigerator to label and date the food leftovers. This will not only prevent spoilage but also save you from the assault of unbearable stench. You will no more have to think hard to remember when you stored that sushi – is it safe to eat or should it go to the trash?
4. Good air circulation
Make sure there is adequate air circulation within the refrigerator to preserve the leftovers stored inside. Do a quick test by placing a thermometer at different corners of the fridge to record the temperature. If there is a massive temperature fluctuation in different spots, your appliance may need some repair.
5. Sift items within the fridge regularly
To keep yourself aware of the food contents within the refrigerator, sift through the items at least once a week. When you notice that food is nearing its expiry date, eat it or throw it away before it creates a stinking smell.
6. Clean the rubber seals
The rubber seals are often forgotten when cleaning the refrigerator and these can turn into breeding grounds for bacteria if neglected for long. As a result, I suggest that you clean the seals at least once every month to prevent bacterial growth in these areas.
7. Become a vegan
One of the biggest steps you may take to reduce your carbon footprint and fridge smells is going green or vegan. Remember that a fridge will stink as bad as the contents it has inside. That does not mean that vegetables and fruits do not stink, but nothing smells as bad as rotten meat or dairy products. So, take care to choose your food wisely.
How to get rid of dried and caked-on food on shelves?
If there are stubborn food stains on the refrigerator shelves, let it soak in water for a few minutes. When the food particles loosen up, make a mixture of baking powder and a small quantity of elbow grease. Take a damp sponge and gently rub the mixture on the area to clean the stain and sanitize it too. Avoid using any abrasive cleaners or scrub pads as they can scratch the refrigerator.
What should I do if the bad smell persists?
If the odor persists even after following the above methods, contact the manufacturer. If the fridge is still in warranty, you may get assistance from the company. Remember to keep the model number and date of purchase handy when you make the call. If the smell is due to a manufacturing defect, a free repair or replacement may be the solution.
How often should I clean my refrigerator?
Be diligent to wipe away spills and remove soon-to-rot food before they start giving out a bad smell. Sift the food contents once a week and toss away expired items before they grow mold that can spread over to fresh foods. Deep cleanse and deodorize your fridge before the onset of every season and replace the water filter every six months if your fridge has an ice-maker.