Toolbox Essentials: Q1 2022 Catalog
9 Ways to Get Rid of Bad Refrigerator Smells

9 Ways to Get Rid of Bad Refrigerator Smells

If you’re like most people, you probably keep takeout and leftover containers in your fridge for longer than you should. While those moldy containers and the rancid smell that lingers afterward might be the reason why your refrigerator smells, it may not be the sole culprit.

Lucky for you, we’ve had the misfortune of dealing with stinky fridges before, so we know exactly how to solve this problem. Below are several ways to get rid of that unpleasant smell and keep your fridge smelling like new.

What Causes Funky Refrigerator Smells?

Many factors could cause your fridge to smell like deadly farts. It could be moldy food, a pungent food item, or something else entirely. Sometimes, power outages can cause foul smells, too. A fridge can only keep unopened food fresh for up to four hours during a power outage, so if you had a prolonged power outage recently, that could be the cause.

Throw the Stinky Leftovers Out

It’s not unusual to have a pile of old leftovers in the fridge, especially if you enjoy takeout a little too much. If you’re guilty of sticking leftovers in the fridge and totally forgetting about them, you’ll inevitably find containers of food that have long passed their best-by date.

So, the first step is to throw whatever is smelly and then check the expiration dates of whatever is left. Even if it’s unopened, if it’s expired, it has to go.

Use a Refrigerator Air Filter

If throwing out moldy, stinky, and expired items don’t help, get an air filter for your fridge. It’s highly effective at absorbing nasty odors, and it can last up to six months depending on your fridge usage. Installation is pretty easy, too—just stick it on your fridge’s interior.

Use an Odor Absorber

Plastic makes up some of your refrigerator’s interior. This is mainly because it can keep the temperature of your fridge’s interior cool for longer periods. But it’s also a bit inconvenient since plastic tends to absorb odors. To prevent your fridge’s interior from absorbing the stinkiness of its contents, you can try putting an odor absorber inside it.


Perfume stores use coffee beans or grounds to neutralize the smell when switching between scents. But did you know that nitrogen in coffee can also help absorb foul smells? If you want a quick and relatively cheap solution, grab some coffee beans or grounds, place them in a bowl and leave it in your fridge.


Lemon juice contains high levels of citric acid that reacts to smells. This is not only effective in neutralizing and absorbing fishy or greasy odors, but it also leaves a hint of refreshing citrus in the air. There are two ways you can use it—either soak a sponge in lemon juice and leave it in the fridge, or place a few slices in a bowl and let it dry out in the fridge.


You may not know this, but vanilla extract has more uses in your home than just as an ingredient in your baking escapades. It can actually be an efficient absorber of foul refrigerator smells. What you need to do is soak a cotton ball—or a few—in the extract, then place them in a bowl or small dish then leave it in your fridge.

Use an Odor Neutralizer

While the odor absorbers above work wonders when it comes to neutralizing funky smells in your fridge, they also come with their own scent, which you may or may not like. If it’s the latter, you’ll be happy to know that there exist a couple of options that don’t smell like anything at all.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a household staple for many reasons. Not only is it a miracle worker when it comes to cleaning the house (combined with vinegar or lemon juice), but it’s also good at absorbing unwanted smells from your refrigerator. You just need to put a few tablespoons of it in an open container and stick it in your fridge. This works because when baking soda reacts with the fatty acids that are causing the rancid smell, sodium butyrate is formed, and this chemical doesn’t have a smell.

Activated Charcoal

a closeup of activated charcoal in a glass bowl

It might be weird to put charcoal in the fridge, but it’s actually one of the best natural ways to neutralize odors. Its composition naturally wicks odors from the air and traps it in the charcoal. And the great thing about it is that it usually lasts for several months. Once you notice that it isn’t as effective anymore, you can just re-activate it by heating it in the oven for an hour at 300°F.

Clean the Drip Pan

Some refrigerators have a drip pan—located on the bottom of the fridge—that catches moisture and liquids that would otherwise pool at the bottom of the fridge. If you’ve already removed stinky food from your fridge and tried one of the odor-neutralizing strategies above, you probably just need to empty and clean the drip pan. We suggest scrubbing it with soap and water to get all the nasty gunk out. You can also use a mixture of vinegar and baking soda to neutralize any odor that’s stuck to it.

Empty Your Fridge

If you still can’t find the source of the smell, it’s probably hiding in plain sight. Take out all the contents of your fridge one-by-one and check for freshness. If something looks a little questionable, just toss it out. And don’t forget the sauces and condiments that have been sitting in there for god knows how long.

Clean Your Fridge

If clearing out your fridge doesn’t solve the problem, it’s time to get your cleaning gloves out. Cleaning your fridge is easy, and it’s a good opportunity for you to become more familiar with its parts.

We recommend using mild soap and water, and finishing off with a lemon and baking soda mixture to neutralize any remaining odors. Make sure you take out and wash the bins and shelves carefully and dry them out before placing them back in.

Alternatively, it might not be the inside of your fridge that is causing the smell. Check the bottom of your fridge. It could’ve been trapping food and other items that might be causing the smell.

Clean Your Freezer

Your freezer is where meat and a variety of other things are stored, so don’t be surprised to find out it could be causing the bad refrigerator smells. Take everything out, and if there’s some ice or frost it’s best to unplug the machine and wait for it to defrost.

Once your fridge is prepped and ready, thoroughly scrub your freezer with lemon and baking soda. Those freezer trays and shelves need to get cleaned too. If you don’t want them to freeze over, make sure you wipe them dry before placing them back in.

Air Your Fridge Out

When all that still doesn’t work, try airing out your fridge. After all, it’s a tight, closed space that keeps a variety of food items with varying odors. Leave it open and empty for 30 minutes. It’s best to do this right after cleaning it. But don’t forget about the contents of the fridge. Make sure they’re kept in an icebox in the meantime.

Chemical Smells

Sometimes, a chemical smell develops over time and it might require the help of a professional to get rid of it. But before you call the closest expert you can find, try changing the water filter first. If it smells sulfury, then the water filter in your fridge’s dispenser might be the culprit. If it smells different, then you should check for a Freon leak.

A fridge that’s leaking Freon has a very distinct smell, but if you haven’t encountered it yet, you may not know where it’s coming from. If your fridge isn’t as cold as it used to be, this might just be the problem. Unfortunately, you will have to call an expert to get this checked.

Preventing Future Smells

Just because you’ve gotten rid of the bad refrigerator smells doesn’t mean they’re not coming back. But don’t fret—there are a few steps you can take to ensure you never have to deal with them again.

First, make sure your fridge maintains a temperature of or below 40°F to keep the contents fresh. Second, try to use airtight glass containers for storing perishables and leftovers. Glass containers tend to absorb odors less than plastic, and they’re also easier to clean. And finally, label anything you store in containers so you’ll know when it’s time to throw them away.