How to Get Rid of Bad Smells in Your Fridge

Over time, its natural for most refrigerators to build up a slightly unpleasant aroma. While the smell can be off-putting, its not doing any harm to your food itself. If youd like to remove lingering food smells before they permanently soak into the interior of your fridge, start by throwing away any bad food. You can also place a deodorizer or 2like coffee grounds and activated charcoalon an upper shelf. To prevent bad smells in the first place, throw out food as soon as it begins to spoil, and always store food in airtight containers.


[Edit]Removing Bad Food and Smells

  1. Unplug your refrigerator from the wall before you begin cleaning it. Follow the power cable from the back of your fridge to the outlet where its plugged in, and pull the plug.[1] If you leave the fridge plugged in as you clean, youll find that your next electric bill is extremely high!
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    • Some newer models of refrigerator have an off button. If yours does, you can just turn the fridge off rather than unplugging it.
  2. Remove all of the food items from your fridge. Go through every storage area within your fridgeshelves, drawers, and door binsand pull out all of the organic food items. Look closely at the food and, if anything is spoiled, rotten, or emitting a bad smell, throw it into the garbage. In most cases, bad smells in your fridge are caused by spoiled foods.[2]
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    • Try to start and finish the entire job within 4 hours. The USDA warns that food left out for over 4 hours may spoil or become unsafe to eat.
  3. Place any food you choose to keep in a cooler while you work. Depending on the amount of food you store in your fridgeand how long it takes to scrub outunspoiled food could be sitting out for quite some time. To avoid ruining good food, place it in a cooler while youre cleaning the fridge. If you keep the lid shut, the refrigerated food will keep itself cold.[3]
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    • Add ice to the cooler if it will be out for over 60 minutes. This will keep the food well preserved.
  4. Scrub the fridge walls and floor with a mixture of baking soda and water. Dissolve 1 cup (128 g) of baking soda into of warm water. Dip an ordinary dish sponge into this mixture, lightly wring it out, and scrub out the interior of the fridge. Wash the fridge walls, ceiling, and bottom. Take the time to soak, scrub, and remove any lingering food stains.[4]
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    • If the mixture loses its potency or the sink fills up with food bits, throw out the batch and mix up a new one.
  5. Take out and wash all shelves, bins, and other removable parts. Remove all of the components of the fridge that arent attached to the walls, including the vegetable drawers and the shelves themselves. Wash and rinse all of the parts with your baking soda mixture before thoroughly drying and reinstalling them.[5]
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    • Also be sure to look underneath the vegetable bins. Sometimes bits of food and old water can accumulate beneath the bins and create a foul smell.
  6. Clean any food scraps from the drip pan under the fridge. The drip pan is a thin plastic tray that clips into place beneath the bottom of the refrigerator. Remove the drip pan from beneath the doors, carefully pull it out and dump the contents. Then, dip your sponge into the baking soda mixture and scrub any food stains off of the drip pan before reinstalling it.[6]
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    • Not all refrigerator models have a drip pan. If yours doesnt, you can skip this step. Do take the time to scrub the bottom of the fridge, though.

[Edit]Using Odor-Removers

  1. Keep an open container of baking soda on a back shelf. Baking soda has no smell itself, but its great at absorbing and neutralizing other aromas. To get rid of odors in your fridge, open up a box of baking soda and store it on the back of the top shelf. When you notice a few unpleasant smells starting to emerge, toss that baking soda and replace it with another box.[7]
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    • If you fridge smells especially bad and youd like to absorb a great deal of odor at once, pour out a full box of baking soda across a baking sheet and place leave it in the refrigerator overnight. Then discard the baking soda.
  2. Remove odors from your freezer with boiled apple cider vinegar. Combine apple cider vinegar and water at a 1:3 ratio. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and bring it to a boil on the stovetop. As soon as the mixture begins boiling, remove it from the heat and pour it into a heat-resistant glass or metal bowl. Place the bowl in your freezer, shut the door, and leave it for 46 hours. This should absorb foul smells from your freezer.[8]
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    • After the 46 hours have passed, remove the vinegar mixture and pour it down the drain.
    • Once its been boiled, apple cider vinegar absorbs unpleasant odors and replaces them with a pleasant fruity smell.
  3. Cover 23 shelves with coffee grounds if you have plenty of time. Coffee grounds can successfully absorb unpleasant odors, but they take a long time to work. If you can live without your fridge for a few days, try this method. Spread dry, fresh coffee grounds across 23 baking sheets. Place each sheet on a different level of your refrigerator. The smells should leave within 34 days.[9]
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    • During this time, youll need to keep your food in a second refrigerator or in a few ice-filled coolers.
    • Once the 34 days have passed, dispose of the coffee grounds, wash the baking sheets, and put your food back into the fridge.
  4. Set 23 baking sheets of unscented cat litter on different shelves. Coffee grounds can leave behind a slight coffee aroma in your fridge. If youd like to absorb foul smells without leaving your fridge smelling like coffee, opt for cat litter instead. Spread a layer of clean litter in 23 shallow baking sheets and place the sheets on different shelves in your fridge. Leave the fridge running and empty with only the litter inside for 23 days to absorb any lingering smells.[10]
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    • Purchase unscented cat litter at any pet store or large supermarket. Some home-improvement stores will also stock cat litter.
  5. Let activated charcoal absorb bad odors if other methods fail. Fill 34 small cloth bags with about 1 cup (130 g) of loose activated charcoal. Then place the charcoal-filled bags on different shelves in your fridge.[11] Set the refrigerator temperature to low and leave the door closed as much as possible for several days. The smells in question should go away within 34 days.
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    • Activated charcoal can be purchased from pet stores or drugstores.
    • Unlike with the coffee grounds method, you can use activated charcoal while your food is still in the fridge.

[Edit]Preventing Bad Smells

  1. Toss expired food weekly to prevent bad smells from accumulating. To prevent odors in the future, make a point to look in your fridge once a week or so and remove expired food. This preventative measure will keep foul smells from building up in the first place. Its much easier to prevent bad odors in your fridge than it is to eliminate them.
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    • Try looking right before you take out the trash. That way, youll be able to get the spoiled, smelly food out of your home as soon as youve noticed it.
  2. Store fresh foods where theyre visible so they dont spoil unnoticed. Fresh items like fruits and vegetables can easily go bad without your noticing if theyre tucked away in a seldom-opened veggie drawer or the back of a bottom shelf. Prevent this by storing them in a location where youll be able to see them daily. Then, if you notice any fresh foods starting to look a little past their prime, dispose of them immediately.[12]
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    • For example, keep meat at the front of the top shelf, and keep fruits and veggies on a lower shelf where theyre easily visible.
  3. Set the temperature in your fridge between . When kept in this temperature range, food will keep without going bad. Since its only when food spoils that it begins to smell, youll keep your fridge smelling fresh and clean as long as the temperature remains in this range. If the temperature in your fridge rises above , bacteria will begin to grow and the food will begin to smell.[13]
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    • Were you to set the fridge temperature to or lower, of course, the food would freeze.
  4. Keep leftover food in airtight containers to prevent it from smelling. If you leave food uncovered in your fridge or leave it in, for example, a cardboard takeout box, itll go bad quickly. The sooner food goes bad, the sooner itll begin to stink up your fridge. By keeping leftovers in a sealed airtight container, youll help them last longer and prevent foul smells.[14]
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    • As an extra measure to keep food from spoiling in your fridge, label and date leftovers when you store them. Tear off a piece of masking tape and stick it on top of the airtight container and write, for example, February 14; chicken parmesan.


[Edit]Things You'll Need

  • Cooler
  • Ice
  • Baking soda
  • Warm tap water
  • Sponge
  • Coffee grounds
  • Cat litter
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Activated charcoal
  • 34 glass or metal bowls
  • 23 baking sheets
  • Airtight containers
  • Pen
  • Masking tape



  • Regardless of which method(s) you choose, don't put the food back into your refrigerator until the stench has cleared.
  • After cleaning the fridge, also clean the condiment bottles and containers of food before putting them back in. Sometimes bad smells can cling to them.
  • If you have to leave your fridge off or unplugged for an extended period of timee.g., if youre taking a multiple-month vacationclean it, take all the food out, and leave the door propped open since a warm, closed fridge can start to smell bad.
  • Do not use charcoal briquettes in the place of activated charcoal. The 2 forms of charcoal cannot be substituted for one another.


  • Never clean a cold glass shelf with hot water. Either allow it to come to room temperature or use lukewarm water. A sudden temperature change can shatter the glass.
  • Avoid using abrasive cleaning items (e.g., steel wool) to scrub refrigerator surfaces clean. These have the potential for scratching the refrigerator surfaces.

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