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Get Rid of Refrigerator and Freezer Odors

  • Synopsis: Published: 2014-02-25 (Revised/Updated 2015-02-07) - Tips and information on how to get rid of fridge and freezer smells and how to dispose of old refrigerator units. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Ian Langtree at Disabled World.

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Quote: "Place a small bowl of fresh non-scented unused cat litter in the fridge and it will take away the odor."

Refrigerator and freezer odors develop when foods are not sealed properly or are allowed to spoil inside the appliances. Sometimes strong scents transfer to other foods as well, affecting both their smell and taste.

Refrigerators and freezers are two of the most important pieces of equipment in the kitchen for keeping food safe. We are instantly reminded of their importance when the power goes off, flooding occurs, or the unit fails, causing food to become unsafe and spoil. The odors that develop when food spoils can be difficult to remove.

If food has spoiled in a refrigerator or freezer and odors from the food remain, they may be difficult to remove. The following procedures may help but may have to be repeated several times.

  • Dispose of any spoiled or questionable food.
  • Remove shelves, crispers, and ice trays. Wash them thoroughly with hot water and detergent. Then rinse with a sanitizing solution (1 tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water).
  • Wash the interior of the refrigerator and freezer, including the door and gasket, with hot water and baking soda. Rinse with sanitizing solution as above.
  • Leave the door open for about 15 minutes to allow free air circulation.

If odors remain, try any or all of the following:

  • Wipe inside of unit with equal parts vinegar and water. Vinegar provides acid which destroys mildew.
  • Leave the door open and allow to air out for several days.
  • Stuff both the refrigerator and freezer with rolled newspapers. Close the door and leave for several days. Remove paper and clean with vinegar and water.
  • Sprinkle fresh coffee grounds or baking soda loosely in a large, shallow container in the bottom of the refrigerator and freezer.
  • Place a cotton swab soaked with vanilla inside the refrigerator and freezer. Close door for 24 hours. Check for odors.
  • Use a commercial product available at hardware and housewares stores. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Clean fridge thoroughly then get a box arm and hammer baking soda and leave it in fridge the baking soda will absorb the odors.
  • Put fresh ground coffee in cereal bowls inside the refrigerator and let run empty several days. A slight coffee odor may remain, but will disappear after washing again with baking soda solution.
  • Clean the fridge inside and out with a non fragrant soap and water combination, and let it dry out with doors open for a 12 to 24 hours, with a fan blowing.
  • Place a small bowl of fresh non-scented unused cat litter in the fridge and it will take away the odor.
  • Wash and rinse using a strong soap and bleach 2-3 times and while the interior is still wet coat the inside with baking soda and reseal for 10-15 hours (but don't turn the freezer on).
  • Pour several ounces imitation vanilla (not pure extract) in a shallow saucer, put on shelf and let run empty a few days.
  • Empty the fridge and turn it off then wipe it down with White Vinegar. There is no need to rinse off.
  • Place an open box of baking soda in the freezer and change it monthly, pouring the old box down the drain and follow it with hot water.
  • Get a small bag of charcoal and a few small disposable aluminum cooking trays. Unplug the fridge or freezer and let it defrost. Place the disposable trays in the fridge/freezer on the shelves, filled with charcoal. Charcoal is naturally a very good filter, and will completely take all the smells out.
  • Pack each refrigerator shelf with crumpled newspaper. Set a cup of water on the top shelf or sprinkle the newspaper lightly with water.

If odors cannot be removed, then the refrigerator or freezer may need to be discarded. If you need to discard the refrigerator or freezer, discard it in a safe manner:

  • "Childproof" old refrigerators or freezers so children do not get trapped inside. The surest way is to take the door off.
  • If the door will not come off, chain and padlock the door permanently and close tightly, or remove or disable the latch completely so the door will no longer lock when closed.
  • It is unlawful in many jurisdictions to discard old refrigerators or freezers without first removing the door.
  • Depending on where you live, your appliance will be picked up by your solid waste provider, a re-cycler, a retailer (if you buy a new unit), or program sponsored by local or regional utilities.

    Related Information:

    1. Freezer Storage Times for Frozen and Refrigerated Food - Disabled World - (Sep 15, 2009)
    2. What Vegetables Can I Freeze- Disabled World - (Sep 14, 2009)
    3. Microwave Food Safety Tips - Health Canada - (Aug 12, 2010)

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