You've done everything to deep clean your refrigerator, but it STILL SMELLS!
There may be several reasons your fridge smells bad even after cleaning. Some of those reasons are more obvious than others but luckily a lot of these issues are easily fixed and you can get your fridge smelling amazing again.
If you fridge still smells after cleaning the plastic in the fridge may have absorbed odors. You may need to do a deeper clean with bleach or vinegar or you can place an open bowl of baking soda in the fridge to absorb smells. Check your fridge's draining system, clean the coils and check for any leaks.
Before spending hundreds of dollars on repairs or even a new fridge, let’s look at some obvious and not-so-obvious culprits and solve the mystery of that smelly fridge!
1. You Missed a Spot
Often when people clean their fridge they do the basics, wiping down the shelves and walls of the fridge with some soapy water or a cleaning spray.
But there are some overlooked spots in the fridge that are often missed that could be the source of your odors.
Underneath the vegetable baskets is an often overlooked spot and so are the shelves on the door of the fridge (especially the ones with covers).
My fridge somehow got water and grew mold inside the magnetic strip on the fridge door (the one that creates a seal and keeps the door shut).
Make sure to check EVERYWHERE that you haven't missed a spot.
2. Stinky Leftovers Still In The Fridge
If you clean your fridge and then put stinky leftover back in it then your fridge is still going to smell as odors are still being emitted from these foods.
It might that garlic roast or it could be some forgotten milk or leftovers that has grown it's own microbiome at the back of your fridge.
Make sure that when you clean your fridge you also check all your food and pull out any smelling food or items that have gone off.
3. The Smell Is Actually In The Freezer
Most people don't realize that air is circulated between the fridge and the freezer. Most fridges only have a single compressor that cools both the freezer and fridge.
This means that bad smells from your freezer can get blown into the fridge compartment and can make it smell.
It might be time to defrost your freezer and melt the excess smelly ice or time or maybe there is smelling food in the freezer or it just needs a deep clean too.
You should clean the freezer at the same time you clean the fridge.
4. Smell Has Absorbed Into The Fridge Itself
If you know you've given the fridge AND freezer a solid clean, haven't missed any spots and removed all bad food and your fridge still smells it could be that the walls of the fridge itself has absorbed the odors.
Plastic can absorb smells and then remit them and if you've had moldy food in your fridge at some point this smell can get into the plastic.
If you've got this problem you should tackle it with a 2 part solution.
First, clean the fridge with vinegar or bleach. This will kill any unseen mold and will also remove most bad odors.
After you've done this place some baking soda in an open bowl in your fridge for 2-3 days. This can absorb bad odors. You can then discard the baking soda or you can put some fresh baking soda in there to continue to absorb smells.
You can also purchase fridge deodorizers that work even better than baking soda and last longer.
This deodorizer helps to keep your fridge or freezer fresh from bad smells. It doesn't have a strong fragrance itself but absorbs bad odors from the fridge. Food safe and non-toxic this is effective for 6 months (6 times longer than baking soda).
5. You Only Cleaned with Soap Water
While soapy water is often enough to do the trick, if smells are lingering it might not be enough.
Plastic absorbs odors and the bacteria that cause them and often these bacteria aren't killed or cleaned away with soapy water alone.
You can use bleach and other antibacterial products to clean your fridge, or you can go a more natural way with a simple mix of vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice.
After thoroughly spraying, scrubbing, and wiping down every area of your fridge, try airing it out for 24 hours if you can (Make sure your food is stored in a safe place to keep from spoiling).
This tip isn’t for everyone, but it sure does help: Place your fridge in the sun.
After washing it with some vinegar, letting your fridge dry out in the sun for about 2-3 days will have the smell gone completely! The UV rays from sunlight are the heroes in this case.
You can also use UV lights to kill microbes in your fridge. Just make sure you don't expose your skin to these lights.
6. There Is Food Under The Refrigerator
If your fridge is still smelling after a deep clean, the problem may not be what was in it but what’s outside of it. You’ll need an extra hand or two, but move the fridge and see what’s under it.
You may discover rotting food rolled underneath it or a spill from the drip pan. This can be especially true if you have kids who just let stuff go if it disappears under the fridge (and of course they don't tell you).
Make sure you clean it up with a cleaner that won't damage your floors, and carefully move the fridge back and go to your next area of investigation.
7. The Fridge Temperature Is Wrong
A sneaky possible culprit to your fridge's smelliness is your fridge's temperature. The temperature inside your fridge may be why bacteria are growing, and your food is not staying fresh longer, constantly releasing unpleasant aromas.
Keep your refrigerator temperature between 35°F and 37°F (1.6ºC to 2.8ºC). If your fridge is above 40ºF (4ºC) then bacteria can grow at a rapid rate.
Track your temperature with a simple fridge thermometer. Let’s move on to the rest of the scene if your temperature is acceptable.
8. The Drip Tray is Dirty/Moldy
Your drip pan may be the culprit. The drip pan is usually missed when deep cleaning…I often forget this is something I need to clean.
Remember, that tray holds moisture which is the perfect breeding ground for mold, bacteria, and as a result, nasty odors.
Get your fridge’s user manual out to pinpoint where your drip pan is located and remove it.
Clean it thoroughly with soapy water and, for an extra kick, add a cup of vinegar to the soapy water. Make sure your drip pan is completely dry, and reinstall. Do this every three months to prevent mold.
9. The Drainage System Is Clogged
Every fridge has a drain hole that captures the excess moisture and then drips it into your drip tray. However, the condensation build-up will create a foul smell if that drain hole is blocked.
If you notice that your drip tray is dry or that water isn’t going down your fridge’s drain hole, don’t panic.
Check your fridge’s make and model, and see how you can use easy tools to unclog the clogged drain before calling the professionals.
10. The Water Filter Needs To Be Changed
Is the nasty smell around your fridge sulfury? Does your water or ice taste a little weird? Your water filter may be the culprit.
Check out the filter packaging to see if you’re due for a filter replacement.
If so, clean around your water filtration with a mixture of water and vinegar, and replace your filter. You might want to set a reminder on your calendar to keep you on track for your next replacement.
11. Your Coils Are Dirty
Your fridge’s coils are one of the places you might’ve missed when cleaning your refrigerator. The dust and grime from things like dirt and pet dander easily cake on the coils and can cause smells.
Vacuum and mop your floor first. Pull out your fridge safely without hyperextending wires, and vacuum and mop the area behind your fridge.
Note: Make sure to unplug your refrigerator before taking the coil culprit on.
Depending on your model, proceed with the cleaning instructions for your coils using a coil brush and continue to vacuum and mop to get any leftover debris. Make sure to do this every six months.
12. You May Have A Freon Leak
We’ve reached the part of the investigation where the big guns need to come out.
If you have deep cleaned, go through all the possible suspects, and still arrive at nothing, you may have a freon leak. If your fridge smells like chemicals this could be the cause of it.
Freon is the component that modern fridges use to keep the inside nice and cool. Freon cooling is an internal closed system, but it can have leaks. Freon is harmful not only to your food but to your health as well (when it's in high quantities).
If you notice any of these signs, it's time to call the professionals:
- Odd smells
- Your fridge motor is constantly running
- Your food is warm
- Your electricity bills are suddenly higher
- Unexplained illness (such as nausea, headaches, fainting from freon exposure)
Remember, there are a lot of factors to a smelly fridge, no matter how much you deep clean it.
Try these solutions before calling the professionals. If it costs too much, it might be time to trash your old fridge or possibly keep it as a back fridge in the garage.