Refrigerator and Freezer Odors

  To Remove Odors
Odors may be caused by food left too long, "strong" foods not covered or packaged tightly, by a drip pan that needs cleaning, or by food spoiling when power goes off while the owner is away on vacation. A preventive measure is getting someone to check your home every day or so, or after a power outage in your area.

  1. Remove all items from the refrigerator or freezer. Throw out any spoiled foods. Take out removable parts and wash them and the door gasket with mild detergent in warm water. Rinse well and wipe dry.
  2. Wash the interior walls and door liner with a solution of 1-2 tablespoonsful of baking soda and 1 quart warm water, and wipe dry. Leave the door open and let it air out well, with a fan directed toward inside, and opened windows if the climate permits. If the odor still remains, try one or all of the following means of odor removal.
    • Spread baking soda out on shallow pans (like shallow glass casserole dishes, pie plates, or jelly roll pans lined with foil) and put pans on the shelves to absorb odors, or on the bottom and in baskets of chest freezers. Leave open and unplugged.
    • Buy activated charcoal (which is specially treated to remove odor molecules from air) at some department store housewares sections, appliance stores, or pet shops. Spread out on shallow pans and put on the shelves of the refrigerator. Turn the refrigerator on its low setting and run empty for a few days so odors will be absorbed.
    • Spread cat litter in a shallow pan in the cabinet, turn on and run empty a few days. If the odor is disappearing but is not all gone, replace old litter with fresh litter.
    • Pour several ounces of imitation vanilla (not pure extract) in a shallow saucer, put on the shelf and let the refrigerator run empty a few days.
    • Put fresh ground coffee in cereal bowls inside the refrigerator and let it run empty several days. A slight coffee odor may remain, but will disappear after washing again with baking soda solution.
    • Pack each refrigerator shelf with crumpled newspaper. Set a cup of water on the top shelf or sprinkle the newspaper lightly with water. Allow the refrigerator to run for approximately 5-6 days. This method takes a bit longer but has been effective in removal of strong odors.
    • Buy a commercial odor remover, and follow instructions exactly. Several companies manufacture a liquid concentrate which sells for about $4.00 for 1/4 to 1/2 ounce. A couple of drops are put on a piece of cotton and placed in the area to absorb odors, in the cabinet or in a room. Three of many brand names are: "Odor-Away" by Wrap-on Co., available at hardware and hospital supply stores; "Super CD" IBL Household Products by Crackerbarrel Sales, Avenal, N.J., available in pet supply department or special products in grocery; or "Clean-Air" at some appliance repair shops. Hospital supply stores carry Dow Chemical Hospital Disinfectant and Deodorant Spray. Spray into the cabinet and quickly shut the door. Repeat.
  3. If none of these methods removes all the odor, then it has probably penetrated into the insulation. Contact an appliance service company for an estimate on the cost of removing the liner and replacing the insulation. If the cost is too high, you may prefer to get a new appliance. The old refriegerator could be used for occasional cooling of soda pop where the odor will not get into the beverage.

WARNING! If the refrigerator cannot be salvaged and is discarded, remove the door or lid. This is the law in many areas, to prevent deaths of children who may hide in the cabinet and suffocate.

This article has been contributed in part by Michigan State University Extension