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Removing Spoiled Food Odors from Refrigerator

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Photo of a woman holding her nose in front of her refrigerator.

There's nothing worse than opening your refrigerator and smelling spoiled food. Even after the food is removed sometimes the smell still remains. This is a guide about removing spoiled food odors from your refrigerator.


Solutions: Removing Spoiled Food Odors from Refrigerator

Read and rate the best solutions below by giving them a "thumbs up".

Tip: Getting Rid of Bad Odors in the Fridge

Getting rid of bad odors from the fridge is no joke. Luckily I know of the complete way to do it. I have tried cleaners, odor control products, and, like everyone, have opened a box of Arm and Hammer. Some work a little, while some not at all. After many quests at attempting to solve this problem I finally can assuredly say I've "got it down".

Clear out everything, throw away any left overs, wash any containers that hold odor (mainly plastic), all fruit, opened packages will and have absorbed the odor you want to get rid of. I feel that if it isn't in a glass container, it likely to have absorbed the odor.

After the fridge is cleared you clean, start by wiping anything that may have dripped, spilled or spattered under drawers, in egg slots, crisper. If these things can be pulled out, you should do that, leaving you with as free area as possible to work in. The racks, drawers, and crisper needs to be cleaned also. Doing them separate works much faster, and gets everything cleaned. They can soak if you have room, if not take a spray bottle of apple cider vinegar and wipe these things down. Let them remain wet (this eats through bad odors) and set aside.

Do the same solution on inside of the unit, and let stand for several minutes. Go back and completely wipe entire appliance down. Same with everything you pulled out; wipe it, rinse and dry.

Next you want to take baking soda if extremely bad (rotten things or has set closed not being used). Use a entire box, if not a 1/2 box, per bucket of water is fine. Wipe as before this neutralizes the smell of the vinegar as well as absorbs any odors left.

By now, you should be noticing a huge difference in the smell of refrigerator. Put it back together, wipe entire unit down once its back in place, shelves, etc. As well as baking soda (depending on what's made the smell), I like putting coal in the back. You will be surprised how effective this is. Make sure you replace both from time to time.

When I discovered this, it was a serious problem. I had been at the hospital, with fish rotting for several days. If yours is that bad, there is one last secret I used; make a box of unflavored gelatin. Make according to instructions, put in middle of refrigerator opened, yes opened. It will NOT be eaten but absorb any lingering odor. You can do this from time to time for regular cleaning. The gelatin picks up any little odor in the closed space as it's setting.

One last freebie; you can take gelatin afterwards (do NOT eat) and put in bucket, using warm water it will melt. Use it to give your outside plants, trees or garden a boost of energy. It's great for plant food. Why waste it the plants won't mind at all it smells.

This should do it. If it got rid of a week's worth of "fishy" yuck from mine, it will work on anything! Get all of the things together. The rags you first use should be ones you can just throw out. Do it in this order, and it really will be spic an span leaving you feeling great. Being able to keep the fridge will make losing the food a little easier to swallow.


By Luana M. from San Diego, CA

Tip: Prevent Food Odors from Developing in Your Refrigerator

One of the best ways to deal with odors in your refrigerator is to prevent them from happening. Here are a few tips to keep your refrigerator smelling fresh:

  • Keep an open box of baking soda inside and replace it every 3 months.

  • Clean up any spills immediately.

  • Always store food in a covered container and dispose of food as soon as you suspect that it's bad.

  • Make sure that your refrigerator is kept at the proper temperature. It is important to keep the temperature low enough to slow bacteria growth.

  • Periodically empty your refrigerator of all food, dispose of any spoiled food, and thoroughly scrub down the interior and exterior.

Tip: Removing Persistent Refrigerator Odors

So you have cleaned your refrigerator and removed any spoiled food and there is still an odor. Here are some solutions to removing persistent odors:

  • If possible, unplug your refrigerator and leave the doors open. Letting fresh air circulate through your refrigerator can help replace stagnant air.

  • Fill multiple containers with baking soda and place them on the shelves, in the drawers, and in the compartments. Baking soda is a great deodorizer.

  • Empty your refrigerator of food and place a few dishes filled with activated charcoal inside. Activated charcoal can usually be found at your local pet store. Leave the charcoal in your refrigerator for a few days.

  • Another natural odor absorber are coffee grounds. A few container of coffee grounds placed throughout your refrigerator may remove unwanted odors.

Tip: Finding the Source of Refrigerator Odors

There are many reasons that your refrigerator may smell. It is important to locate the source so that you can get rid of the odor. Here are some tips for investigating the cause of your refrigerator odor:

  • Put a fresh box of baking soda in your refrigerator. Having a box of baking soda in your refrigerator will help absorb odors from the foods inside. Leftovers can be a big culprit in smelly odors. Your box should be replaced about every 3 months.

  • Periodically cleaning out your refrigerator is a good idea. Spills and old leftovers can create odors after awhile. Cleaning and sanitizing your refrigerator will remove any bacteria and mold that can cause odors too. Both of these cleaning solutions are natural and safe ways to deodorize and clean:
    • 50/50 blend of baking soda and water
    • 50/50 blend of vinegar and water

  • Make sure that you look in all of the drawers and compartments of your refrigerator. Spoiling food that has been pushed to the back of the fridge will eventually cause an odor.

  • Check underneath your refrigerator. A spill on the outside of your refrigerator may sometimes end up under the front or sides too. If that part of the spill isn't cleaned up it may develop an odor that is then carried into the refrigerator by its external fans.

Tip: Baking Soda in My Refrigerator

I always keep a fresh box of opened baking soda in my refrigerator. I try to remember to change it out every two months. If I get a sudden odor from a bag of cut-up onion or something like that, I put a slice of bread on each shelf in the refrigerator. That pulls the odor out pretty quick. When I wipe the shelves and drawers in it, I also put a little baking soda in the water.

By Debbie S. from McAdams, MS

Tip: Newspaper for Refrigerator Odors

Free your refrigerator from odors by placing a folded section of your newspaper on a shelf for five minutes. The newspaper absorbs all the odors and doesn't cost anything.

By Sherry

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Here are questions related to Removing Spoiled Food Odors from Refrigerator.

Question: Removing Spoiled Food Odors from Refrigerator

I just came home from vacation to find the refrigerator breaker had tripped. Two refrigerators are completely thawed. How do I get rid of the odor in them?

By Marie from Fort Worth, TX


Best Answers

By Danialle [3]11/12/2010

Make a semi thick paste of baking soda and vinegar. Mix it in a large bowl, as it will foam. Make it just thick enough that it will cling to a dish cloth. Ring it out just enough that it doesn't drip a lot. Wipe down the entire refrigerator including the racks and drawers. Sprinkle more baking soda on all flat surfaces. Close the door and let set over night if possible. Rinse and dry. I hope this works for you. You may have to repeat the process.

Best Answers

By metroplex [81]06/15/2010

I got this from this site. Crumple up lots of newspaper and stuff your refrigerator completely. Change it every day until the smell goes away. This worked for me when I had fish juice spillover. It didn't take long to work, even though I didn't have black and white newspaper to work with. I used the colored advertising newspaper and it worked for me. I can't remember if I used it in my freezer too, though. Sorry.

Best Answers

By kitkatk100 [6]08/06/2009

I've heard that crumpled up newspaper and charcoal briquets put in the refrigerator absorb odors. Arm & Hammer baking soda works too. I had to clean a refrigerator in a rental recently that had a lot of spoiled food left in it (the electricity had been disconnected). I used bleach to wipe down the inside, and then left the doors open for a few days to help remove the odor. I don't know what to do with the linoleum floor, though. Perhaps vinegar will help. Good luck!

Best Answers

By Pam Rose01/26/2005

First you should wash the whole inside down with a strong baking soda and water solution. I would make sure to rinse the cloth or sponge separately. Then put a bowl of white vinegar in your freezer and fridge. Leave at least overnight. This works well on kitchen odors, pet odors, and closed up smells. We had this problem this past year after several hurricanes in Florida. Hope this helps.

Question: Refrigerator Odor

How do I eliminate a smelly odor in my frig?

By Rosie


Best Answers

By Silk06/25/2012

You can use a box of baking soda in the refrigerator. Just open the top of the box & place it on a shelf or on a door shelf.

Best Answers

By mama holiday [1]06/25/2012

A small plate with some charcoal in it will absorb the foul odors. A piece of scrunched up newspaper will work also.

Question: Getting Rid of Refrigerator Odors

There is an awful smell coming from my refrigerator! I've cleaned the food out; scrubbed it out with bleach and even put some coffee grounds inside the frig to absorb the odor. Nothing works! I don't think the model has a drip pan as I don't see it under the frig. Anyone have any ideas as to what else I can do?

By Melissa

Most Recent Answer

By Elaina Monteiro [1]01/11/2011

My husband is a retired appliance repair man and, please don't freak, but you probably have a dead mouse caught around the fan blade or defrost motor. Take the front and or back panel off and look around the inside of motor with a flash light. This is common even in the most expensive of homes! Mice just want to be warm, too.

Question: Rotten Meat Smell in the Refrigerator

We have a dorm size refrigerator in a place we moved into. The landlord said the people left meat in it and it rotted. I've tried bleach, air freshener, coffee grounds, Comet, baking soda, and cat litter. But the smell isn't even dying down, it is still strong. Any more suggestions?

By Michele from Grannis, AR

Most Recent Answer

By Di [12]05/12/2010

Have you checked the drip pan underneath?

Question: Removing the Odor of Rotten Meat

I run a commercial kitchen that caters to people in large quantities. Recently I had stopped visiting the kitchen for around 2-3 weeks, since the kitchen is not operational currently. At that time I had approx. 20kgs of beef in 1 chest freezer (100Ltrs) and another 20Kgs of fish in another chest freezer (100Ltrs).

Someone had accidentally switched the main power off so electricity was cut off to the freezers during these 2 weeks. I returned to my kitchen a few days back to find this horrible stench that literally smelled like death. At one time I almost puked. The meat and fish was so badly decomposed that 90% of it had turned into purple water. It was a huge task just getting rid of the decomposed liquid and remaining meat. Now most of the smell has gone from my kitchen after thoroughly wiping the fridges and floor with bleach one time. I returned after 2 days to check up on the kitchen, but there was still a 10-20% smell. How do I get rid of it?

By Manav

Most Recent Answer

By Christine08/05/2013

Put a number of charcoal briquettes in an open container in the freezer and close the door. The number of briquettes will depend on the size of the freezer. Leave for several days and then check for any lingering smell. If there is still a smell, leave and check again in several more days. Once the smell is gone and you're ready to either store or use the freezer, change the used briquettes for unused ones and close the door. The briquettes absorb order just the same as a charcoal filter would.

Question: Removing Sauerkraut Odor from Refrigerator and Freezer

I put a bowl of sauerkraut in my frig and didn't put a tight lid on it. Now my refrigerator and freezer smell like sauerkraut. What can I do to get rid of this smell? It's a side by side refrigerator/freezer. Thank-you.

By sherrylw from Purvis, MS

Most Recent Answer

By Marg [1]04/19/2011

Yes. I agree. The vinegar and baking soda should work. Try wiping over with Vanilla essence/extract afterwards. Leaves the fridge smelling lovely.
Good luck Shamar

Question: Removing Odours from Under Fridge

How can I get rid of the odours under the fridge? The odours resulted from various foods that went bad following a power failure to the kitchen and we were not at home for more than two weeks. The foods consisted of some frozen processed fish like fish fingers, vegetarian foods, milk, various jams, and French polony sausage.

By Dingani M

Most Recent Answer

By Dinah Ackerson [2]02/22/2015

Do you mean rotten food odor from the floor under the fridge? If so, need to know what type of flooring, etc.

Question: Rotten Meat Smell in Refrigerator

We just acquired a camper that had been abandoned for the last two years. My husband opened the fridge/freezer and found that there was meat that had been left in there. The smell was horrific. We have tried bleach, Pinesol, and soap and water. Nothing seems to help at all. I don't know where else to turn nor what else to try please can you help?

By Yvette H.

Most Recent Answer

By Janette [87]05/27/2013

Try using plain old charcoal. The kind you use to grill with. Do not get the kind that has a starting fluid in it. Place several bricks in a bowl or any container. Charcoal is an odor remover. Also along with the charcoal it wouldnt hurt to use some crumpled up newspaper just for an added boost. This method works wonders. Hope this helps.

Question: Removing Smell of Moldy Fruit from Fridge

I found a very moldy grapefruit in the drawer of the fridge. I noticed an odd odor and it was affecting the taste of food (butter, bread, tea, etc.). I also smell it in the freezer (side by side). Do I need to throw out all the food and clean to remove the odor/taste?

By Stacey from Douglasville, GA

Most Recent Answer

By Carol Swanson [17]12/26/2012

I wouldn't throw away the food, but be sure to put a box of baking soda in your refrigerator to absorb the foul odor. You might need a box on each side if the smell is really bad. Try to cut the box of soda so there is a large surface area. Sometimes its a good idea to just put it in an old oleo container.

You are right to be concerned because the odor indicates there is mold growing elsewhere. You might need to clean the refrigerator. But I'd probably not throw away the food.

Good luck,
Carol in PA

Question: Cleaning a Musty Smelling Refrigerator

How do you get rid of a musty smell in a refrigerator?

By Randa W


Thrifty Fun has been around so long that many of our pages have been reset several times. Archives are older versions of the page and the feedback that was provided then.

Archive: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoiled Food

Recently my husband and I returned home after a few weeks away. The thermostat in our refrigerator had blown some time while we were away. The freezer had defrosted all over the kitchen floor and the food had subsequently gone rotten. It was a lovely welcome home surprise in the middle of summer (we live in Australia).

Despite many days of scrubbing and disinfecting and wiping it with vanilla, much of the smell remains in the freezer. I cleaned all the seals and trays, etc. Any ideas on how to remove the smell from the freezer? Many thanks for any suggestions.


RE: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoiled Food

Lisa, I know what you are going through and I sympathize with you. Several years ago I rented an apartment and the previous tenant had left a package of chicken in the freezer and bologna in the fridge part. Well, the electricity was turned off while the apartment was empty for two weeks. So you know what I found when I opened the doors on that refrigerator.

It took about two weeks to get rid of the smells, but what I did was place 2 boxes of baking soda in the freezer and 4 boxes in the fridge. I replaced them every 2-3 days until the smells were gone. Of course I couldn't use it all that time, but the odors did eventually go away. Good luck.

Barbara (01/25/2005)

By hugmehugs

RE: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoiled Food

You might try getting a couple of knee high nylon stockings (2), like long stockings only short. Fill them half way with unused coffee grinds. Hang in the freezer for a week with the door closed, no peeking. Hopefully, when it's time to open the freezer door you should smell the wonderful aroma of coffee. Let us know how you do. Rio Lady (01/25/2005)

By Rio Lady

RE: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoiled Food

You could try Odo-ban that I think can be purchased at Wal-Mart. (01/25/2005)

By Alleen

RE: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoiled Food

My brother-in-law is in the appliance biz. He uses crumpled newspaper to absorb the odor (replace several times) and activated charcoal. Wipe with a citrus cleaner, then put charcoal and newspaper in it. Have you discussed this with your insurance? It's possible you may be covered for lost food and also the fridge. (01/25/2005)

By beanygurl

RE: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoiled Food

I just went through this same thing. The person that fixed my fridge told me to not turn it back on until I thoroughly washed the inside, otherwise the smell would be trapped in the condenser and continue to circulate. If you have a way to turn off the fridge, let it cool, then clean it, you may be successful. As well as placing a bowl of vinegar in the compartment to try and absorb the odors. Good luck. (01/25/2005)

By rachndall

RE: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoiled Food

My dh is a refrigerator/ac repair man, and he always turns on the appliance and lets it run and believe it or not, all smells disappear. Strange but true. (01/26/2005)

By justmyimagination2002

RE: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoiled Food

First you should wash the whole inside down with a strong baking soda and water solution. I would make sure to rinse the cloth or sponge separately. Then put a bowl of vinegar (white) in your freezer and box. Leave at least overnight. This works well on kitchen, pet, and closed up smells. We had this problem this past year after several hurricanes in Florida. Hope this helps. (01/26/2005)

By arose58

RE: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoiled Food

Plain bleach in a spray bottle. Its nasty stuff, take the fridge outside if need be. Sometimes you can find cleaner with bleach. Dollar store has a "cleaner with bleach" for real cheap.

I had 3 lbs of rotten hamburger in a dorm fridge, where they turned the electricity off on Christmas break. Very nasty, but bleach did the trick. Like I said, it works perfectly, but very nasty stuff. Wear old clothes, do in a well ventilated place along with taking the appropriate precautions. (07/28/2007)

By boogieman

RE: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoil

I had the same problem. My husband and I went away for a month and our food got all rotten. We had over 300 dollars worth of meats and fish inside, the smell wouldn't go away. So we called this refrigerator guy and he popped the back of the freezer out and maggots and bacteria were all bunched up in there.

You need to clean it out thoroughly because bacteria grows in the cold. I suggest you pop the back of the freezer open and clean it. After that keep dumping bleach throughout the freezer and the fridge. Then let it dry or even wipe it down with a cloth. It should work. Good luck.

Shelly (09/25/2007)

By Shelly

RE: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoiled Food

We came home from a fantastic month in Atlantic Canada to the smell of "dead animal". The fridge had quit and all the beef, pork, and shrimp had rotted to a gooey mess. We tossed the spoiled meat and the fridge, cleaned with bleach and then sprayed with Febreeze, but still had a lingering odor. Local store owner said to sprinkle lime on the floor where the fridge had been (luckily in basement) just watch the kids and pets. Within 24 hours the smell was gone. She told us the local undertaker had told her that was the only way to really get out the smell of "dead animal". Guess he should know. Good luck. (07/22/2008)

By Peggy in Plymouth

Archive: Removing Spoiled Food Odors from Refrigerator

I was on a 2 week vacation when my side by side refrigerator/freezer went out. When I returned I cleaned it out, but it still smells and the linoleum floor and subfloor smell of rotten blood. Help.

By nursy from Bunker Hill, IL

RE: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoiled Food

As far as the fridge goes, I had that happen to me at the trailer one summer. I cleaned the fridge well with Javex and water, then left the door open to air it out for a day or 2. The sub floor? Wow. Rip the linoleum up and paint the wood under it with oil paint, but not before cleaning the wood and letting it dry. (08/05/2009)

By Lorraina

RE: Refrigerator Stopped Working - Removing Odors From Spoiled Food

I've heard that crumpled up newspaper and charcoal briquettes put in the refrigerator absorb odors. Arm and Hammer baking soda works, too. I had to clean a refrigerator in a rental recently that had a lot of spoiled food left in it (the electricity had been disconnected). I used bleach to wipe down the inside, and then left the doors open for a few days to help remove the odor. I don't know what to do with the linoleum floor, though. Perhaps vinegar will help. Good luck. (08/06/2009)

By kitkatk100