How to Get Rid of a Bad Smell in the Refrigerator

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Refrigerators do not smell like roses. Most refrigerators do not smell good inside, but most don’t smell bad either. Your refrigerator should have very little internal smell. Perhaps a faint scent of your ingredients, raw vegetables, and favorite spices, but there should be no smell of old food or mold. If you have a bad smell in your refrigerator, you can get rid of it.

A refrigerator is just plastic and metal. It can be scrubbed out and disinfected. So if your fridge is clean and your food is fresh, then there shouldn’t be a bad smell. Still can’t find the smell? Then whatever’s not clean is hiding behind a cover or inside the concealed parts of the fridge. Today, we’ll help you find and resolve every possible bad-smell source in your refrigerator. 

1) Empty and Scrub the Fridge Interior

The first step is to take care of everything you can see. Start by taking every single thing out of the refrigerator and scrub every surface with soap and warm water. Use a sponge, not just windex and paper, to clean the interior of the fridge.

Go all-out. Take out the shelves and clean them from all sides. Take out the drawers and scrub them out, soaking if necessary. Clean where the drawers have been, the slots and tracks that may be hiding drips. Then do a round with vinegar, wiping white vinegar over every surface, nook, and cranny inside the fridge. Vinegar can kill things that soap and water might now. 

2) Throw Away Old Leftovers

Do an audit of your leftovers and your storage containers. Throw out anything older than two weeks unless it’s an ingredient that lasts. Throw out any leftovers that you would not eat in the next three days. Check dates on packaged goods and make sure that any open packages are still fresh when sniffed. Don’t allow yourself to keep anything that could be creating a smell.

If you have something fresh but fragrant, repackage it into a well-sealed container before it can go back into the fridge. 

3) Clean the Outside of Food Containers

Before you refill the refrigerator, wipe everything down. As it passes your hands, make sure the outside of each food container is clean. Sometimes, drips and spills on the outside can spread a smell even if there are no additional drips or leaks. A damp towel is usually the most efficient tool to quickly wipe down the outside of your containers. If a container is sealed, don’t be afraid to run it under water to break up any dried-on drips. 

4) Clean the Refrigerator Vents

There are two places where your refrigerator has vents. The first is between your freezer and fridge. It circulates cold air and helps keep the air inside your fridge fresh. If this gets blocked, your fridge will have unreliable temperature and can build up a smell. Clean this vent and keep it clear of food containers.

Underneath your fridge is another vent that exhausts heat from the compressor. This vent can get dirty easily and can even host mold that will definitely harbor a lurking smell. Pull out that vent and clean it with both soapy water and vinegar. 

5) Deodorize with Baking Soda

The plastic in your fridge can sometimes hold smells for a short period of time. The best way to pull smells out of the plastic and out of the air in your fridge is with baking soda. They now sell special refrigerator baking soda packs with a screen you can open. Grab one of these and open it up in your fridge. In a few weeks, your fridge will have a distinctly controlled smell and many people report the improvement occurs within the first three days. 

6) Change The Water Filter

Your water system may be another possible avenue for bad smells in the refrigerator. If the water lines have mold or other contaminants, then that smell can be carried over into the fridge and certainly into any dispensed water or ice. The first step is to change out the water filter. If you can’t remember the last time you changed that filter, then this is a much-needed step either way. If your last change was recent, test the water first. 

7) Flush the Water Lines

Water lines in your fridge are plastic tubes that carry water from the valve to the filter to the ice maker and water dispenser. If mold gets into the lines, it transitions into the water and can create a smell in the fridge. You can clean the lines by removing them and flushing vinegar and hot water through each line with some pressure. Then wipe down the valves with vinegar and reinstall each line. 

8) Scrub Out the Drip Pan

The drip pan is a pan underneath your refrigerator. The condenser coils that create cold drip water as part of their process. In order to avoid puddles, the drip pan catches the water and allows it to evaporate. The evaporation is why you don’t have to empty your drip pan. However, if something starts growing in the minimal moisture there, then it’s smell can permeate through and around the entire fridge.

Pull out the drip pan and clean it thoroughly. Scrub and disinfect before returning the drip pan to its place. 

9) Clean Behind the Fridge

Last but not least, clean out behind the fridge. Food and lost who-knows-what can build up back there and has the potential to create smells. There’s no telling what has been growing or decaying behind your fridge until you look. Pull your fridge away from the wall and sweep it out. Then mop and scrub anything that remains. This should be the final possible enclave of dirt and grime that might be causing a bad smell in or around your refrigerator.

—Is your refrigerator creating a bad smell? If you can’t find and resolve the problem on your own, we can help. Contact us today and we’ll happily send out a professional appliance technician to make it right.

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