Smelly Fridge Causes, How to Clean and Deodorize Fridge Odor

Often times, it is possible to experience a smelly fridge despite how faithful we are at maintaining its cleanliness. This may come from incorrect storage, poor hygienic standards as well as going overboard with the leftovers. Other times, an accidental unplugging or power failure could see your refrigerator turn into one smelly mess. Any fishy smell from the fridge should prompt you to take action. We explore the causes of a smelly fridge, how to clean your stinky appliance as well as home remedies to deodorize it.

Causes of a Smelly Fridge

Before putting into place mechanisms to rid your smelly fridge the bad odor, it is important to know what could be causing it. Below are some of the reasons why your refrigerator could be stinking:

Rotten Foods

At times, foods that have gone beyond their expiry dates are the cause of a smelly fridge. Another cause could be improper storage of left overs. These factors contribute to food going bad thus rotting. To get rid of the bad odor and ensure it does not recur, dispose of any food that has gone bad. To ensure that odors are not transferred to other foods within and that every food retains its flavor, always secure all foods. This can be done using cling wraps, aluminum foils or air tight containers.


Spillages tend to be bad for your refrigerator and could be the cause for the terrible odor you are experiencing. The tiniest of spills have the ability to slip into unseen areas. These will with time lead to nasty smells. As soon as any spills occur, thoroughly clean your appliance immediately as delaying it may lead to a smelly fridge.

Over Crowding

When a fridge is overcrowded, it is possible to overlook some things. Overcrowding also leads to leakages and spills which may not even be visible due to the lack of space. With too many items in it, it is also possible for expiry dates to go unnoticed. Another disadvantage of a crowded fridge is that circulation may be limited rendering the appliance inefficient in retaining freshness.

Drain Pan

According to, the leading cause of a smelly fridge is the drip pan. So notorious is a smelly fridge resulting from the drip pan that people have described as smelling “like a dead animal” or like fish even when there is none in the refrigerator.

This is located at the bottom of your appliance just above the condenser coils. Its primary function is to collect any condensation that has been let out from the defrost drain of the freezer.

Drip pan smelly fridge

The drain pan is the leading cause of a smelly fridge

When left unattended for a long time, the liquid collecting in it becomes dirty. Seeing that it is also stagnant, it becomes a prime breeding ground for microorganisms and molds thus developing a bad odor.

To work with this cause of a smelly fridge, you will need to gain access to it, empty its content and clean it. This can be achieved by removing the kick panel found in front of the drip pan which is usually located on the lower extremity of the fridge.

Drain any fluids that may be in it and use a bleach or any other strong cleaning agent to deodorize the drip pan. While at it, remember to check and clean the drainage hole to ensure there are no food residues blocking it.

How to Clean a Smelly Fridge

While cleaning the refrigerator may not entirely get rid of a bad fridge odor, it is a necessary step in the process. It will help in eliminating any spillages as well as sorting out foods in split packaging. In addition, it is during the cleaning process that you will notice decaying foods. Follow the steps given below on how to clean a smelly fridge.

  1. Start by turning off the refrigerator and then unplugging it.
  2. Get all items from the fridge and at the same time discard any that may have gone past its expiry date, is leaking or appears spoilt.
  3. To avoid spoilage of any fresh food, transfer it to an ice packed cooler.
  4. Carefully remove any movable parts of your smelly fridge such as shelves, bins and doors.
  5. Allow time for the appliance and its parts to reach room temperature before embarking on thorough cleaning. You can use regular detergent with warm water for this. Be cautious though when dealing with ceramic and glass parts as these can easily break. Follow normal cleaning procedure on this.
  6. To eliminate any deposits and hard to clean stains, use non-abrasive scrubbers or a gentle scouring brush.
  7. Do not forget to pay attention to the walls and corners of the fridge. The bottom as well as gaps anywhere are where spills rest and should therefore to well cleaned.
  8. Once done, rinse off the interior as well as the parts you had removed with plain water to eliminate any residues from the detergent.
  9. Using a dry cloth, dry out the fridge until all its interior parts are free of water deposits.
  10. Finally, get out the drip tray and clean it thoroughly as discussed above.

How to Deodorize a Smelly Fridge

A smelly fridge is not only repulsive but also not a good place to store your food. Even worse is when the stinky odor is accompanied by fungus or mold. These are indications that your fridge could be a health hazard and requires urgent thorough cleaning.

Cleaning alone though may not eliminate the odor. At times where you are experiencing a smelly fridge after cleaning, you need to put into place mechanisms that will get rid of the terrible fridge odor. With some time and effort, this can be achieved. Below we discuss how to deodorize a smelly fridge using natural home remedies.

Baking Soda Fridge Deodorizer

Baking soda can be used to get rid of bad odor from the fridge. Baking soda for fridge smell elimination works by absorbing the odor leaving it smelling fresh.

  1. Spread baking soda on a sheet and place it inside the smelly fridge.
  2. Keep the door closed for a few hours to allow time for it to work out.
  3. Discard the baking soda used and leave an open box of baking soda in the fridge all the time.
  4. Baking soda can also be used during the cleaning process where it is made into a paste and used on the interiors of the refrigerator.

White Vinegar Smelly Fridge Remedy

White vinegar is known to exhibit odor eliminating properties making it quite effective in fixing a smelly fridge.

  1. Use an equal amount of water and vinegar to make an odor eliminating cleaning liquid. Use this on both the interior and exterior of the fridge.
  2. Use plain vinegar on a cloth to wipe off bin interiors and the inside walls of your appliance to prevent the growth of mildew.
  3. In case you want to use it after the cleaning process is done, put White vinegar into a bowl and place it into the fridge. Close its door and give the vinegar fridge odor neutralizer time to absorb the bad smell.

Activated Charcoal to Stop Smelly Fridge

This too is well known for its odor neutralizing and absorbing abilities. It can easily be obtained from local pet and drug stores.

Activated charcoal fridge odor absorber

Activated charcoal fridge odor absorber

  1. On cookie sheets, spread some activated charcoal. The same can be done in a bowl.
  2. Place this in the refrigerator shelves, shut the door and leave this neutralizing remedy for a few hours.

Coffee Grounds Fridge Odor Absorber

Coffee grounds are also capable of absorbing bad odors in the fridge. Below is how a smelly fridge can benefit from their use:

  1. Place fresh coffee grounds in various bowls or spread them on a baking paper.
  2. Place this in different shelves of the fridge and leave it for a day or more to enhance maximum absorption of the bad odor.
  3. Dispose after the time lapse.
  4. The interiors of the smelly fridge will absorb the fragrance of coffee grounds and leave a pleasant smell at the end of the process

Vanilla Extract Fridge Deodorizer

Vanilla extract can be used to effectively deodorize your smelly fridge.

  1. Soak some cotton balls or a clean wash cloth in vanilla extract.
  2. Use this to clean up your refrigerator.
  3. Once done, place fresh cotton balls saturated with vanilla extract in the fridge for a few hours to give it a fresh scent.

Oranges or Lemons Fridge Smell Absorbents

These are known to get rid of lingering bad odor from the fridge.

  1. Slice an orange or a lemon and place the pieces around the refrigerator.
  2. Leave them in there overnight for maximum odor absorption before disposing them off.

Tomato Juice to Eliminate Bad Odor fro Refrigerator

Tomato juice is a perfect fridge deodorizer especially where the nasty smell is as a result of spoilt food. To get rid of eliminate the smelly fridge menace:

  1. Soak some cotton balls in undiluted tomato juice and use this to wipe around the refrigerator.
  2. Leave it on for 30 minutes before using some warm soapy water to wipe it off.
  3. In case the smell still lingers, repeat until desired results are achieved.

Oats Home Remedy for Bad Fridge Odor

Oats are yet another home remedy known to absorb bad odors. When placed in a smelly fridge, it will such up the bad odor leaving your appliance appropriate to use. Spread some oats in a sheet and leave it in the fridge for a day.

Tips on How to Avoid a Smelly Fridge

A smelly fridge can be a turn off. It can be the source of your agony and if not tackled immediately it could see various foods absorbing the bad smell. Once there is an odor, ensure that you do not take food back into the appliance until it has been eliminated. To prevent this in the future, below are some tips that can help your fridge stay smelling fresh.

  • Always ensure that foods are stored in airtight containers. This will help them stay longer and will keep odors contained in case they go bad.
  • To keep your fridge smelling fresh, keep deodorizers and odor absorbers such as baking soda and vanilla extract in the shelves all the time.
  • Regularly check your fridge and remove any expired food.
  • Label leftovers to make it easy to identify what needs to be consumed first. It also prevents you from opening up containers you do not need.
  • Regularly defrost your refrigerator including the freezer compartment to avoid bad odor in it.
  • Store food correctly. Ensure that every food that goes into the fridge is in the right compartment to keep it fresh.
  • Avoid refrigerating things that should not. Keep the smell of onions away from the fridge by storing them elsewhere.
  • To stop a fridge from smelling when turned off, keep the door open.