How to Get Rid of an Awful Smell in Your Fridge


Once upon a time, all fridges smelled fresh and clean. All lawns were perfectly devoid of weeds, green and carefully manicured and housewives, after cleaning the fridge and the oven (daily) and doing laundry, vacuuming, dusting, carpooling, and preparing a delicious five course dinner would greet their tired hubbies at the door with a kiss and the evening newspaper.

Sure they did, in many commercials– and such stories were shared in private by word of mouth conversations held over elbow-resting fences that most appropriately segregated and delineated one backyard from another. In a perfect world, all fridges would smell like nothing, other than air, with maybe an occasional whiff of lemon or the temporary zest from last night’s dinner.

But far too often, that’s simply not the case. The fridge is far from fresh. Unpleasant odors run rampant or at the very least, food comes out with smells and tastes from other items in the fridge.

Somehow, it’s the Bad Odors That are Shared

There are different types of foods that need to be stored in the climate-controlled environment of the fridge, however they must be carefully wrapped tightly so that their trademark odors are not allowed to intermingle with the fridge air that is best devoid of perceptible odors altogether. Some cheeses have pungent odors that can immediately permeate every cubic inch of the internal refrigerator space, and those odors will somehow penetrate all the way into the core of every other food contained within the fridge.

This means if you weren’t careful to wrap up that half-used onion in an airtight sealed package, all of your Christmas baking or maybe your hopeful prize-winning entries in the county fair will reek and taste of the dominating onion flavor. This is something the best caterers have learned, often the hard way.

But there’s one thing that is certain: once learned, this lesson is never repeated. When you put anything into your fridge for safe storage that has a strong odor, always make sure you have completely sealed it up in order to prevent everything else in the fridge from smelling and tasting just like it.

Food as the Source of the Offensive Smell

Assuming you’ve done a fairly thorough inventory of edible contents in your refrigerator (and don’t forget to check all those little sauces, condiments and salad dressings hanging out in the door of the fridge, too) you should be able to eliminate food from the equation. While meats and dairy products tend to be the bigger offenders, never rule out anything, even if it means taking each item and giving it a quick sniff before returning it to its storage site.

Typical First Response

Many times, the first reaction to an offensive odor is to cover it up or mask the odor by layering some artificially scented “air freshener” on top of the odor. Then, there’s always the tried and true baking soda, which isn’t always totally effective in absorbing bad smells as much as it advertises. First of all, the term “air freshener” is truly a misnomer, as there is nothing “fresh” about any such product that is formulated from chemical compounds.

There all natural means to chance the olfactory focus like orange peels, lemon or coffee that soak up the odor. Using coffee is may be a good option if you have a garden, as instead of throwing it out you can use it as fertilizer. But still, you aren’t really dealing with the source of the problem.

What NOT to Do

Somehow, there is something inherently wrong about making a choice to cover up a bad odor, and especially when it comes to anything to do with food and what we put into our bodies. By covering up or masking a stinky situation, what we are really doing is ignoring the problem. Let’s say, for instance, that there’s a bad odor permeating from the fridge, and in haste, the problem is addressed by putting open boxes of baking soda throughout the inside of the unit.

Then after some time has passed, the odor seems to have disappeared. Problem solved, right? Well, what if that odor had been coming by something like a small mouse that happened to crawl up under the refrigerator and died. Obviously, at some point the decay process would be over and there would be no more offensive odor, but–are you really OK with not dealing with the problem?

Everyone needs to understand that when a bad odor manifests, the only responsible way to deal with it is to get to the source of the stench and deal with it. Covering up a bad odor is like putting a bandaid on a headache. Also, if your fridge stinks, it’s not a good idea to keep placing good food in it for storage, as whatever you place in the fridge will pick up the bad odor.

What to Do: The Drip Pan

First, check the drip pan on your fridge. This is where condensation occurring from the unit’s defrost cycle collects, and is located just beneath it. Usually, the amount of water that is collected there is almost undetectable and evaporates quickly. Sometimes, however, especially in older models after years of use, the amount of water can be more. If it stands long enough, it will stagnate. Pulling out the drip pan and cleaning it out will do the trick. And if this is the problem, start to regularly check the drip pan on a monthly basis, to avoid a repeat occurrence.

What to Do: Check Seals and Gaskets

There are several areas on all appliance doors, and especially refrigerators, where moisture can tend to collect, like gaskets, seals and insulated areas. And if that happens, Gerhardsapplicance says they can become a perfect environment for the growth of mold and mildew. With a flashlight, perform a thorough visual inspection for any black spots of mold. If you find any, clean and disinfect all such areas. Be sure to check and clean the gasket from time to time.

The problem could even be with an adjacent area to the fridge, like a wall or the floor under it. Sometimes drips or leaks occur from damaged or crimped water lines that run to the fridge for ice makers and water dispenser. Unnoticed water can pool under the unit, and with sufficient time, spores can begin to grow. You may have to replace the water line, which is a quick and easy fix.

Veronica Davis