How to Clean a Smelly Fridge
Use these steps for a sparkling interior and stainless steel exterior

If you have a refrigerator that has an unpleasant odor that you just cannot get rid of, we’ll give you some tips on how to properly clean your refrigerator and remove those nasty smells for good. A bad smell in a refrigerator is almost always caused by food that is past its prime, or spills that were never dealt with. The very first step should be to remove all the spoiled food items from your refrigerator. Now before we get into how to clean your refrigerator, we are going to go over how a refrigerator works, as this will help in getting rid of those gross smells.

How Your Refrigerator Works

Whether you have a side-by-side model, bottom freezer or top freezer, all refrigerator styles circulate air from the freezer through the fresh food compartment and back into the freezer continuously as long as the refrigerator is running. This means that any odors that occur in the refrigerator typically get distributed in both the freezer and the fresh food compartments. The plastic lining of your refrigerator can absorb those smells if they are severe enough.

Steps for Cleaning Your Smelly Refrigerator

Gather The Materials Needed to Clean the Smell:

  • Mild soap
  • Soft sponge
  • White vinegar
  • Lemon juice (optional)
  • Odor absorbent (baking soda, coffee grounds, activated charcoal)
  • Small plate

Give the Interior of Your Refrigerator a Thorough Cleaning

Once you’ve removed the spoiled items from your refrigerator, the next step is to do a thorough cleaning. To begin the cleaning process, start by removing all of the shelves, and clean those individually with warm soapy water, rinse, and then let them completely dry. Next, you will want to clean the interior of the fridge. The plastic liner of the refrigerator and the doors can absorb some of those smells so they will also need a good deep scrub. You can use a warm soapy water and a soft sponge or rag. Be sure to get into all the little cracks and crevices. All shelves, bins, door gaskets, and handles in your refrigerator are parts that can easily be replaced if they are beyond the state of cleaning, and can give your appliance a "like new" look.

How to Get Rid of That Smell in Your Refrigerator - Clean Shelf

Rinse Your Refrigerator

Now that the interior part of the fridge is clean it will need to get a good rinse. You can just use water, but we recommend using water with a bit of cleaning vinegar or white vinegar mixed with it, about a ten to one water to vinegar ratio. You can also add a few drops of lemon juice to give it a nice refreshing smell. Once everything has been washed and rinsed completely, allow it dry before reassembling the shelves back in.

Clean With Vinegar - How to Get Rid of That Smell in Your Refrigerator

Add an Odor Absorbent

To get rid of any of that lingering odor, one of the best and most simple solutions is to use baking soda. Simply sprinkle some on a small plate and let that sit somewhere in the direct airflow inside the refrigerator. Fresh coffee grounds work much the same way, simply place them on a plate and set them somewhere in the direct airflow inside the refrigerator on a shelf. Alternatively, you may choose to use some activated charcoal, which can be found in local hardware stores or grocery stores.

Refrigerator Odor Absorber - How to Get Rid of That Smell in Your Refrigerator

What to do if the Smell in Your Refrigerator Will Not go Away

If after a few days you have not noticed the smell disappear, the problem may be a little deeper. The odor could be coming from the evaporator area in your freezer, in which case we suggest using a professional to do a proper cleaning on that component. We also suggest checking your air filter, as some models come equipped with one built right into your appliance. Generally, these need to be replaced every 6 months, so you may be in need of a replacement.

Refrigerator Evaporator Coils - How to Get Rid of That Smell in Your Refrigerator

How to Keep Your Refrigerator Smelling Fresh

There are a few simple things you can do to ensure your refrigerator continues to smell fresh:

  1. Keep your refrigerator at the ideal temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This will reduce food spoilage and prevent the growth of bacteria.
  2. Use airtight containers when packaging up leftovers.
  3. Mark the date on the leftovers and throw-out if not consumed in a few days.
  4. Never over-pack your refrigerator because this can impede on proper air flow inside the appliance.
  5. Do a weekly check of food items and throw out anything past-due on a regular basis.
  6. Keep the refrigerator air filter up-to-date if your refrigerator model uses an air filtering system.

How to Clean a Stainless Steel Refrigerator

Now that the inner part of your refrigerator is sparkly clean and smelling fresh, it is time to tackle the outside. Stainless steel refrigerators are a super trendy look these days, and we do not think that trend is going anywhere, any time soon. They require very specific maintenance to ensure you don’t damage the stainless-steel finish.

What to Avoid When Cleaning Stainless Steel:

  1. Avoid materials that may scratch the surface, such as sponges with a rough side or scotch pads. We suggest a microfiber cloth if possible.
  2. Avoid cleaning in a circular motion. Stainless steel has a grain, much like wood does, so cleaning in a circular motion could create scratches. Make sure you clean with the grain.
  3. Never use chlorine bleach on stainless steel. This chemical will cause a reaction with the stainless steel material, causing rust.
  4. Avoid anything that has a sticky substance, such as post-it notes or tape. If a mark has formed because a sticker has been left for too long, try using a mixture of soap and water or a product specific to removing adhesive film.
  5. Never use paper towel. They are often too coarse and can scratch the surface.

Now it’s time to give it a good thorough clean with a mild soap and water solution. Once it has been cleaned thoroughly, you will want to give it a good rinse with just pure water to get rid of any soap residue. Next, use a stainless-steel polish over the entire surface, working with the grain.

Cleaning a Stainless Steel Refrigerator - How to Get Rid of That Smell in Your Refrigerator

We hope these cleaning tips helped you solve your smelly fridge and left the outside shining like new! If you come across any parts that look like they are beyond the state of cleaning, we sell millions of OEM refrigerator parts, and have thousands of repair videos to support you along the way. Check out our YouTube channel for more tips and tricks for around the house.