How To Fix a Smelly Fridge

December 11, 2023
Refrigerator Repair

Does your fridge have a lingering smell that won’t go away, no matter what you do? Don’t give up—there are some easy solutions that will have your fridge smelling fresh and clean in no time. Read on to find out our top tips for fixing a smelly fridge!

Check for spoiled food

The first thing to do is to check whether there is any spoiled food in your fridge that could be causing the smell. Things like jars of sauces and forgotten containers of leftovers are common sources of unpleasant smells. 

Remove everything from your fridge and carefully check the use-by dates for expired products. Then, take a whiff to check for any strong odors before putting each item back. 

Deep clean the fridge and freezer

If you find the source of the smell and throw it away, you may notice that the odor still lingers. This can be caused by spills on the bottom of the fridge or on the shelves, or can just be due to the plastic of the refrigerator absorbing the odors. To deep clean the appliance, follow these steps:

  1. Remove everything from your fridge and freezer, throwing away anything that smells bad or looks off. Be ruthless—you want to ensure that the bad smell is completely eliminated.
  2. Remove all the trays, shelves, and drawers and wash them with a mild detergent and warm water. If your kitchen sink is not big enough, you can wash them in the bathtub.
  3. While the trays, drawers, and shelves are drying, clean the interior of the fridge. For this you can use a milder detergent mixed with water—just take a soft cloth and carefully wipe the fridge’s interior.
  4. After cleaning, dry the interior with a dry cloth or towel
  5. Put the shelves and drawers back in, then return all of the food items to the shelves. 

Clean the seals

One area of the fridge that can often be neglected during a deep clean is the seals. The seal, or gasket, runs all the way around the refrigerator door and ensures that the fridge is airtight. The seals can be particularly prone to mold buildup, so cleaning them is essential. 

Use a cloth dipped in detergent and warm water to thoroughly clean the seals. Once they’re clean, make sure to dry them thoroughly so the mold doesn’t grow there again. 

Check the drip pan

Some refrigerators have drip pans attached near the bottom, and a dirty drip pan can be the culprit behind a smelly fridge. If your fridge has a drip pan, it will be located at the back of the refrigerator.  You may have to remove the rear access panel to get to it. 

The drip pan can grow mold, accumulate food debris, and even attract insects! Once you’ve located it, use a paper towel to soak up any liquid, then use a cloth with detergent and warm water to thoroughly clean up any residue.  

Wipe down surfaces with vinegar

If your fridge is still smelly despite a deep clean, the plastic surfaces of the interior may be infused with odor. In this case, you can try to use a natural deodorizer to get rid of the unpleasant smell. 

  • Once again, remove everything from the inside of your fridge.
  • Take a spray bottle and fill it with 100% white vinegar—don’t dilute it with water.
  • Spray the vinegar on every plastic surface inside your fridge. Let it sit for a few minutes.
  • Wipe away the vinegar with a dry towel or cloth. Don’t wash it off, just dry it. 
  • Replace all the food back into your refrigerator.

You may notice your refrigerator now smells like vinegar. Don’t worry, the vinegar smell will dissipate within a couple of days, and you should find that the unpleasant smell will be gone as well.

Use natural deodorizers

Sometimes the best method is to use a natural deodorizer to absorb the unpleasant smells. Deodorizers don’t just mask smells—they absorb and neutralize them. Here are some of our favorites:

Baking soda

Also known as sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is a natural odor neutralizer. Thanks to its alkaline nature, it’s particularly good at neutralizing acidic odors, and most of the odors caused by spoiled food are acidic. 

To use as a deodorizer, just place a bowl or box filled with baking soda in the bottom of the fridge and wait for the odors to disappear. The baking soda should ideally be replaced every three months for optimal results.

Activated charcoal

Activated charcoal is famous for its ability to absorb smelly compounds from the air. It is incredibly porous, which makes it perfect for trapping odor-causing particles. 

To use as a fridge deodorizer, place activated charcoal in a porous container or fabric pack, and place it in the bottom of the refrigerator. Like baking soda, the activated charcoal should be refreshed every three months for optimal results.

Coffee grounds

Fresh, unused coffee grounds can absorb odors thanks to their nitrogen-rich chemical makeup. The coffee scent is also strong yet pleasant, masking any odors that are not absorbed. 

To use coffee as a deodorizer, place the grounds in a shallow bowl and place it in the refrigerator. You’ll need to replace these a little more frequently than the other options—every few weeks is best. 

Ensure proper temperature setting

The final thing to check when dealing with a smelly fridge is the temperature setting. For ideal results, your fridge should be kept between 36 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Check your thermostat to ensure it is set to this temperature, and if it feels too warm to you, test it yourself by using a thermometer. If the thermometer shows a drastically different temperature than the thermostat, you may need to replace your thermostat—you can purchase a new one online.


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