Fridge Smelling bad? Here’s Why and How to Fix It


No one likes a smelly refrigerator. Or worse still, having a smelly refrigerator and being unable to work out what’s causing the stink. You’ve probably already thrown out potential foods that could be causing the issue, so why does the odor remain?

If expired food isn’t causing the issue, probably some hidden mold or bacteria is lurking inside, perhaps in the door gasket or the drain pan, causing the smell. Getting rid of the smell is important because if you leave it, it can seep into the plastic lining inside the refrigerator. Once the plastic starts smelling, the odor becomes harder and harder to remove.

Why does the refrigerator smell?

If your refrigerator smells, it’s most likely because of mold or bacteria. Typically, food or drink has spilled and the spill hasn’t been cleaned up, or food has expired to cause the smell.

Refrigerators are prone to mold and bacteria because of moisture from spills, condensation, and humidity from the outside. The refrigerator also has a lot of nooks and crannies where mold and bacteria can grow without being seen.

If you thought bacteria couldn’t grow in cold temperatures, that’s a myth. Cooler temperatures slow the growth of bacteria but they can still grow.

There’s one other reason why your refrigerator might be smelling—a failing compressor or a Freon leak. If the smell is a pungent chemical, burning, or ammonia smell, you should seek professional advice because the refrigerator could be leaking toxic gasses.

How to remove the odor

Removing refrigerator odors means giving it a deep clean. You need to remove all the items from the refrigerator and if the smell is really bad, you need to air it out for 24 hours.

If the smell is coming from underneath the refrigerator, you might want to clean out the drain pan first and see if it removes the odor (instructions below).

What to clean the refrigerator with?

The refrigerator can be cleaned with either white vinegar, baking soda, liquid bleach, or a combination of these.

White vinegar is a safe, nontoxic way to remove bacteria and mold. Baking soda absorbs odors and is great to use after cleaning with vinegar.

Bleach is the best way to remove mold and mildew, but it must be kept away from food. It can also burn or cause irritation if touched or smelled, and it can damage refrigerator surfaces. However, when diluted with water and used carefully, you can negate the risks.

The best cleaning method?

We recommend spraying the refrigerator with vinegar, then spreading baking soda to remove lingering odors. However, if the odor is really bad, or visible mold or bacteria won’t come off, bleach is a much better disinfectant and mold and bacteria remover.

The vinegar cleaning solution is made by mixing one part vinegar with one part water into a spray bottle.

If you want to make the cleaning solution with baking soda, mix two tablespoons of baking soda with 34 ounces (1 liter) of hot water in a spray bottle.

A liquid bleach cleaning solution can be made by mixing one tablespoon of bleach with 34 ounces (1 liter) of water. Clean the refrigerator with hot water and dish soap before spraying it with bleach.

How to clean the refrigerator

Once you’ve mixed your cleaning solution, it’s time to get cleaning.

Step 1: For safety, disconnect the power to the refrigerator.

If the refrigerator is in good condition, you shouldn’t be exposed to any electrical components that present a safety risk. Therefore, you don’t necessarily have to turn the refrigerator off.

However, if the smell is particularly bad, you might have to leave the refrigerator door open to air it out. If you need to air out the refrigerator, turn the power off.

Step 2: Remove all items from the refrigerator, including the drawers and shelves.

Now is a good time to see what needs to be thrown out and potentially find the source of the odor.

Step 3: Spray the drawers and shelves with the cleaning solution.

The cleaning solution should sit on the surfaces for up to 30 minutes to ensure it disinfects. It also helps to let it break down the mold, bacteria, and stains before cleaning them.

Step 4: Spray the refrigerator with the cleaning solution.

Spray the refrigerator surfaces, including the door gasket. The door gasket is where mold and bacteria often form, so don’t neglect it—but don’t cause damage by tearing or cracking it.

Step 5: Clean the drawers and shelves

Scrub the drawers and shelves with a microfiber cloth. Apply warm water and more cleaning solution if necessary.

Before applying heat to the drawers or shelves, make sure they’re at room temperature. Applying heat to the surfaces may damage or crack them if they’re still cold from the refrigerator.

Finish off the cleaning by rinsing the drawers and shelves with running water. Then leave them to air dry.

Step 6: Clean the refrigerator

Scrub the refrigerator surfaces with a damp microfiber cloth. Add more cleaning solution if necessary.

Step 7: Dry the surfaces, drawers, and shelves.

Remember, you don’t want to put moisture into the refrigerator because it can cause mold and bacteria to start growing again.

Does the refrigerator still smell?

Apply baking soda

If the refrigerator still has an odor, leaving baking soda inside it should absorb the odor. Put down baking sheets, and sprinkle baking soda over them. Close the refrigerator door.

The longer you leave the baking soda, the more it will deodorize.

Air the refrigerator

Turning the refrigerator off and leaving the door open for 24 hours should remove all traces of the odor.

Check the drain pan

Most refrigerators have a drain pan that’s located underneath the refrigerator.

You should be able to locate it either behind the front grille or at the back of the refrigerator.

Mold and bacteria can form in the drain pan and cause refrigerator odors, so cleaning it may solve the odor problem.


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