How to Make a Fridge Smell Better and Get Rid of Stale and Foul Odors

These odor-eliminating solutions are the best ways to clean and deodorize your refrigerator.

One food spill or forgotten ingredient can quickly fill your refrigerator with some pretty nasty smells. But even if your fridge is pristine and free of expired items, foul odors can still accumulate and linger inside. These unpleasant aromas are typically caused by bacteria, mold, and other microbes, which can thrive in your refrigerator's dark, moist environment and are often difficult to detect. If you notice a foul odor when you open the door, the first step in how to make a fridge smell better is to identify and throw away any expired or noticeably stinky items. If the smell persists, your best bet is to clear out and deep-clean the interior of your refrigerator to eliminate any residue or spoiled food you might have missed. Otherwise, you can harness the odor-eliminating power of a few natural ingredients and easy cleaning techniques to clear away unwanted smells from your fridge. Try these simple ways to eliminate refrigerator odors and leave your fridge smelling fresh and clean.

1. Clean the refrigerator drip pan.

kitchen with white cabinets and wood tones
Laurie Black

The drip pan is a small tray that captures condensation from your fridge so it doesn't leak into your kitchen. The heat from the refrigerator coils usually causes this moisture to evaporate, but if excess liquid builds up, it can result in a pool of foul-smelling water. The drip pan is underneath the fridge and typically accessed from behind a kick plate in the front or back of the appliance. Check your refrigerator's manual for specific instructions on locating and accessing the drip pan. If you can't find your manual, look online by searching for the model number.

Following the manufacturer's instructions, remove the kick plate or back panel and use a cloth or sponge to clean the drip pan. If you need to pull the fridge away from the wall, unplug the water and power supply before cleaning. Empty any standing water in the drip pan and eliminate mold or mildew using a diluted bleach or vinegar-water solution. Rinse or wipe clean with a damp cloth, then dry the drip pan thoroughly before replacing the panel.

2. Eliminate fridge odors with activated charcoal.

Activated charcoal (also called activated carbon) is a fine, black powder that acts as a sponge to absorb tiny particles that cause bad fridge smells. It's often used in water filtration systems to remove contaminants from the water, and it functions similarly to purify the air. You can purchase activated charcoal sachets ($15, Amazon) from various retailers. Place one on a fridge shelf to help absorb moisture and eliminate odors in your refrigerator.

inside fridge view food organization shelving
Cameron Sadeghpour

3. Air out the smelly fridge.

A humid, food-filled refrigerator provides the ideal environment for growing bacteria and mold. The tightly sealed interior can allow unpleasant smells to seep into the walls and shelves. A tip for how to make a fridge smell better is by airing it out. Empty all items and store them in coolers or, if you have one, a second refrigerator. After unplugging the fridge and wiping down the interior, prop the doors open for about an hour before restocking.

4. Utilize baking soda.

Baking soda is known to catch and absorb odors, but it's less effective if you leave it in the box. To increase your baking soda's surface area and odor-trapping power, sprinkle some on a damp sponge instead of using the whole package. Then, place the sponge on a refrigerator shelf and replenish with baking soda as needed.

5. Make a deodorizer.

For another way to remove fridge odors with baking soda, create a deodorizer with an old spice jar. Use a funnel to pour some baking soda into a recycled spice jar for a stylish way to eliminate odors. The holes in the top allow the smelly particles to come in contact with the baking soda. You can also add a few drops of citrus essential oil for an even better-smelling mixture!

6. Neutralize odors with coffee grounds.

Coffee has a strong, pleasant scent that can help neutralize bad fridge smells. Set a small bowl of coffee grounds in the refrigerator to replace odors with the aroma of a fresh brew. However, you should note that coffee can impart a smell to other items in your fridge, so beware of storing unpackaged foodstuffs near the coffee grounds.

These strategies offer a simple way to eliminate foul refrigerator odors, but if you've tried everything and the smell lingers, you might be dealing with a more serious issue. Consider calling a refrigerator technician who can diagnose the problem and quickly get your fridge smelling fresh again.

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