Fridge Smell: 4 Common Reasons And How To Get Rid Of Smells

How many times have you opened your fridge or mini-fridge and you end up holding your nose because of the stinky smell? I’m sure, hundreds of times! There’s nothing to be ashamed of! You’re not alone on this. It definitely happens in most households. And it’s, somehow, inevitable.

A woman with her daugther in front of a smelly fridge

You store fresh veggies, fish, meat and leftovers in the refrigerator. They all have a smell that when mixed with the others, becomes that strange thing that has your nose crying! But, besides that, there are a few other reasons that might cause your fridge to stink. Fortunately, there’s a solution for each one. 

The 4 Common Reasons

Let’s find out what can cause a bad smell in your fridge and how you can get rid of it.

1. A dirty drip pan 

Have you got any clue of what that might be? It’s a pan that most refrigerators have to collect condensation that is produced by the appliance. It’s usually located underneath the fridge below the condenser coils. 


This pan, as its name suggests, collects each drop of your fridge. Even if you believe that you’ve wiped the spilt milk from the inside of the refrigerator, you haven’t cleaned it thoroughly. Some milk will have definitely spilt in the pan, and after a while, it will start to smell. If the drip pan isn’t cleaned regularly, it gets clogged, blocked or full of dirty “things” so it emits a bad odour. 


The first thing you should do is to find out whether there’s a pan or not. You can also check the manual. If there’s a drip tray, then:

  1. Unplug the device and remove everything from the inside. 
  2. Look at the manual to find out how to remove the pan and do it.
  3. Then, use warm soapy water and clean it.
  4. Dry it off and reinstall it. 
A woman cleaning her fridge

2. Microbes 

Microbes are microorganisms invisible to the naked eye. What’s the deal about them? They love moisture. A breeding ground for them can be your fridge because of humidity, condensation and spilt food. Once they come in contact with water, they start to multiply and spread over every surface area. That’s what produces the unwanted smell. 


These bacteria, along with the mould that can be found in the fridge, cause foul odours. Besides the unpleasant smell, you might also face health problems since they may “sit” on your food. 


The first thing you need to do to prevent them from turning your fridge into their new home is to adjust the fridge and freezer temperature. The fridge’s recommended temperature is 3-4oC, and the freezer’s degrees is -18 to -17oC. 

The next thing you need to do if you want to get rid of these “visitors” and their smell is clean your fridge regularly. White vinegar and hot water can help you get the job done. Or, if you want something more powerful, then create a bleach solution to sanitise the surfaces. Mix a tablespoon of bleach and one bottle or gallon of water. Remove everything from inside and clean all the surfaces. Once you’re done, rinse very well. 

4. Plastic 

The inside compartments of a fridge are made of plastic. Plastic is a material that can absorb odours.


Since plastic is an odour absorbent material, it means that even if you clean, sanitise and deodorise your fridge regularly, it’ll keep smelling. So how can you keep odours out of your machine?


Of course, the first thing you should do is to keep cleaning it. But for better results, you can place a box of baking soda or a cup of coffee beans. These two ingredients are great odour killers!

5. Leftovers

We all store our everyday leftovers in the fridge. The cold temperature will maintain them for as long as possible. However, there might be an issue.


The problem with the leftovers is that we don’t store them properly. As a result, the smells get mixed up and create a stinky one. What’s more, plenty of times we forget about old stored food, and as a result, they go bad and start to smell.  

A man looking at the leftovers of his fridge

One solution is to store the leftovers in airtight containers and zip sealed bags to maintain the freshness, flavour and smell of the food inside the boxes and not throughout the fridge. Plus, always check what’s hidden at the back of the shelf. There might be something hidden from way back!

Extra tip: You can label the containers with the date you’ve stored them in the fridge. It will be much easier to consume the oldest first.

How to prevent your fridge from smelling?

Giving your fridge deep cleaning is the step you should take if it smells terrible. You need a way to keep bad smells off your fridge and prevent the build-up of dust and dirt that can enhance the unwanted smell. How can you easily keep your device clean?

Cleaning your fridge

No matter where the smell comes from, you should make sure to clean your fridge regularly. This process doesn’t need special tools and cleaning products. So, you don’t have to clean it by using chemicals. You are going to use natural and simple ingredients you have at home.

What you’ll need is:

  • Warm water
  • Dish soap
  • A damp cloth
  • A dry cloth

Then, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off the appliance and remove all the stored items.
  2. Clean the removable compartments (shelves, drawers, bins) in the sink filled with warm soapy water.
  3. Then use a damp cloth with the water mix and wipe the fixed parts and the walls of the fridge.
  4. Dry all the surfaces with a second cloth and place everything back in place.

There are, though, a few tips and tricks you could do to prevent those foul odours. So, once you have thoroughly cleaned your refrigerator, you can:

Use bicarbonate of soda (or else baking soda)

Hopefully, soda is our faithful ally when it comes to cleaning tasks. You probably use it to clean almost everything in your house, from stained clothes to walls. Now it’s time to use it for one more purpose. 

Beyond the cleaning solution, you can create using bicarbonate soda and warm water to clean the inside of your fridge, you can use it as an odour-killer as well. The only thing you should do is to fill in a bowl with baking soda and place it somewhere inside your fridge. Leave it permanently there. Just remember to replace it every three months.

A jar of baking soda in a fridge

Use lemon

Lemon is another natural odour absorber that will prevent unpleasant smells in your fridge. You probably already know that when you want to get rid of foul odours from cooking, you can boil water with a few slices of lemon, and the smell disappears. So now we’re going to use slices of lemon in the fridge to prevent it from smelling. Place some slices of lemon inside the refrigerator. They’ll absorb any lousy smell.

Use essential oils

Essential oils are widely used in many ways like in aromatherapy, as a pesticide, in food and for cleaning purposes. They’re a natural and non-toxic way to clean your houseA few drops of vanilla extract mixed with a natural cleaning spray can be used as an air freshener and a surface cleaner. 

Due to their strong aroma, they can absorb foul odours and produce a fresh scent. That’s why they’re perfect for preventing your fridge from smelling. Dip a few cotton balls into your favourite essential oil and leave them for a few hours in your fridge or for a day if it’s possible. 

Use charcoal

You can find activated charcoal in different forms, including powder. It can be used for health purposes, skincare treatment and as a deodorant. It’s an extremely good odour absorber and that’s why you may find it as a substance in products for underarms and shoes. Guess what? It works for your refrigerator as well. Just put a bowl filled with charcoal in the fridge, set the temperature to the coolest, keep the fridge door closed for three days, and say goodbye to any foul odour. 

Some charcoal poweder from a jar

Use coffee grounds

Have you ever been to a coffee grinder shop? Isn’t the smell of coffee so pleasant? So, due to that intense aroma, coffee beans are a perfect agent to absorb the unpleasant odours of your refrigerator.

You can spread some freshly – ground coffee over a baking sheet and leave it inside the fridge overnight. However, you can use some coffee grounds and baking soda for an extra boosting effect and let the mixture stay in the fridge for 24 hours. 

Bonus tip: Afterwards, mix coffee with soil and fertilise your plants

Use oatmeal

Strange as it may sound, oatmeal is quite effective in absorbing bad odours. Can you imagine? A handful of oatmeal can make a difference. Leave out in any room of the house some oatmeal and enjoy a natural air freshener. Thus, enjoy the deodorizing properties of oatmeal in your fridge as well. Keep an aluminium bowl filled with oatmeal in your refrigerator, and forget about all the nasty smells.

And some extra tips

Beyond the ingredients mentioned above, you can also prevent smells by following the below steps: 

Set the right temperature

It is very important for the proper functioning of your refrigerator to set the perfect temperature. The right temperature to keep your food in the fridge is 3-4oC. If you set it to something colder than the proper one, you’ll waste energy, and there’s a great chance your food will freeze; if you set it to something warmer, then your items will spoil, and foul odours will be produced. So, be sure to select the advisable temperature.

A woman setting the right temperature in her fridge

Check your fridge occasionally

Storing leftovers in the fridge is something we all keep doing. Most of us also push the older ones at the back of the fridge and store new ones in the front. Unfortunately, the refrigerator can’t maintain food forever. After a while, they go bad, creating a nasty smell. To prevent a smelly fridge, organise and clean up the refrigerator at least once a week. Check all the items and toss the rotten veg and any leftover food that has gone bad. 

Place food in the fridge properly

The way you store food in the fridge is essential in how the fridge smells and how fresh your food will be kept. If you store an onion in the fridge, your fridge will undoubtedly stink. Instead, you can keep it in airtight containers or crispers designed to maintain the freshness, flavour and smell of the food tightly sealed.

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