Going away on holiday at times involves a last-minute rush. That’s when you tend to leave an open carton of milk inside your refrigerator or a bunch of veggies tucked away in the vegetable bin. What happens then is that you come back to a foul-smelling fridge.

To get the rotten smell out of your fridge, you first need to empty it. Remove all the food, clean the bins and shelves in hot soapy water, and thoroughly wipe the fridge’s interior. Next, deodorize the fridge and leave it to air for a day or so before replacing the contents.

Other than merely cleaning your fridge, there are several things you can do to keep your fridge smelling nice and clean. If you’d like to find out more on this, keep it here. 

Where Does the Rotten Smell Originate From?

If your fridge emits a bad odor, the most likely cause is strong acids such as lactic acids, from milk and milk products, or bases typically found in spoiled meats. Milk that’s past its expiry date and vegetables long forgotten in the crisper are bound to emit a stinky smell. When left unchecked, these odors dissipate throughout the fridge, making everything smell unfresh.

The rotten smell is because of:

  • A power outage: If left unopened, your fridge will maintain food at safe temperatures for up to 4 hours. However, in case of a prolonged power blackout, the food will start to spoil.
  • The main component: Plastic is the main component inside your fridge, and this material absorbs odors.
  • Mold or bacteria: These invisible microbes thrive in places with significant moisture. Therefore, your fridge is quite ideal for them. What’s more, spilled, expired, or rotten food provides the perfect environment for them to grow and multiply, contributing to a stinky fridge.

While some odors may be more offensive than others, it’s essential to get rid of them all before they permeate every part of your fridge. Let’s dive straight into how you can get rid of the rotten smell once and for all.

How to Get Rid of the Rotten Smell in Your Fridge

Clean Out Your Fridge

This is where you need to start — by tossing everything out. Start with the offending items first (if you have identified them) then take everything out of the fridge. Make sure you discard any spoiled or expired food. Do the same for the freezer.

Move perishable food items to a second fridge if you have one, or keep them in a cooler bag full of ice. Don’t forget to wipe down any sticky jars and containers.

Wash the Bins and Shelves

Remove all the loose components, including ice trays, shelves, crisper drawers, and bins. Wash them with hot, soapy water.

Consider mixing up a sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon liquid chlorine bleach per gallon (3.79 liters) of water if the smell from your fridge is particularly pervasive. Use this solution to wipe down the shelves and bins and afterward rinse in plain water. Once done, allow the items to air dry.

Clean the interior as well. Wipe the empty fridge from top to bottom, and don’t forget the doors and outside the refrigerator since these surfaces can transfer bad smells.

Deodorize the Fridge’s Interior

So, while you might have given your fridge a thorough cleaning, this might not be enough to eliminate the rotten smell. However, baking soda might do the trick. Place an open container in your fridge and leave it there for about 3 days.

Alternatively, make a solution of 1 cup baking powder and a gallon (3.79 liters) of water and use this to wipe down the inside of your fridge for a deeper clean.

Use a damp sponge dipped in baking soda to remove caked-on food. Avoid using abrasive cleaners and pads, as they can scratch the fridge, leaving ugly marks behind.       

Baking soda or sodium bicarbonate, as it’s otherwise known, works because it neutralizes PH levels. It buffers strong acids and stabilizes the PH of solutions with a high base. For best results, place it as close as possible to the source of the stink or sprinkle it all over the shelves.

You can also use a mixture of baking soda and vinegar to neutralize the fridge smells. Besides, they are both natural odor absorbers, plus the resultant fizzing action will lift stains and clean while it deodorizes.

Use warm water to rinse off the fridge. Repeat this process until you wipe off all the cleaning solution. 

Air Out the Fridge

This step calls for a lot of patience. You see, for best results, you want to unplug the fridge, leave it open, and allow it to air for at least a day. Still, if the rotten smell persists, use the baking soda solution to wipe down the interior once more, then let the fridge air out for one more day.

Clean the Evaporator

Sometimes, bad smells can seep right down to the fridge mechanicals. These can be a challenge to remove. The evaporator coil produces cold air for both the fridge and freezer and is situated at the back of the freezer. To clean the evaporator, follow these steps:

  1. Unscrew the panel.
  2. Disconnect the plug to switch off the electronic controls.
  3. Remove the panel and wash it.
  4. Using a spray bottle, wash the coils with warm soapy water and use a rag to capture the dirty runoff water.
  5. Rinse with clean water.
  6. Let the coil air dry fully before you replace the panel.

If you have any problems accessing the evaporator on your fridge, check your user’s manual. Note that if you have a newer model, it might come with dual evaporators and two sets of coils. These cover the freezer and the refrigerator. However, if the foul smell is in the fresh food compartment, only clean the fridge coil.

At this point, your fridge shouldn’t be having an offensive smell. However, if it had been off for a couple of days, the odor could have wandered into the insulation.

Removing such odors requires a lot of work since you might need an air compressor to blow air into this area. Besides, it’s also possible that meat or fish drippings could have leaked into the insulation. In this case, you will need to call in a fridge technician to replace the insulation.

If all of the above fails to get rid of the rotten smell, you may have to discard your fridge as it might turn into a health hazard.

Replace the Fridge’s Contents

Once the fridge has aired enough, you can replace its contents. If you own a fridge thermometer, allow the inside temperature to fall to about 5°C (41°F) first. Again, if the fridge has a fast-cool functionality, you can use it to make the cooling process faster.

How To Prevent Bad Smells in the Future

Now that your refrigerator smells all nice and fresh, you don’t want the terrible odors coming back. A simple way to prevent this is by using baking powder. Spread a thin layer of the stuff on a large pan or cookie sheet, then leave it inside the fridge for the night. Alternatively, you can also use oats to get the job done.

Other measures include the following:

  • Label and date all leftovers.
  • Get rid of all spoilt or questionable food items.
  • Store the right food in the correct compartment.
  • Use glass containers to store food rather than plastic ones.
  • Always keep your leftovers in airtight containers.
  • Check your fridge for food spoilage once a week.
  • Allow proper circulation by keeping your fridge uncluttered.
  • If your fridge comes with a drip tray, clean it immediately if contents appear.
  • Prevent bacteria growth by setting your fridge temperature between 37°F to 41℉ (2.7°C to 5℃).

What You Should Use To Remove Odors From Your Fridge

Below are some things you can use to remove unpleasant odors from your fridge. Some natural home remedies even allow you to introduce a more appealing smell in their place.

  • Coffee: Place a bowl of ground coffee in your fridge for a day or two. The coffee will not only mask the offensive smell, but it will also absorb it.
  • Vanilla balls: For a more appealing scent, soak several cotton balls with vanilla and place them inside the fridge for a couple of hours before you restock. Place a few in the freezer as well.
  • Newspaper: Pack the fridge shelves with crumpled newspaper. Place a cup of water on the topmost shelf or sprinkle it on the newspapers, then let the fridge run for 5 to 6 days. This method might be time-consuming, but it’s quite effective in removing strong odors.
  • Commercial products: There are various products available for removing fridge odors. Check your local hardware, grocery, or discount store.

Final Thoughts

A fridge is an essential kitchen appliance. Furthermore, a clean fridge allows you to consume clean, tasty, and fresh-smelling food. It also helps keep the food safe and stay edible for longer. So, if you find your fridge smelling a little off, follow the above steps to get it back in tip-top shape. 

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