Refrigerator Smells [Issues Solved]

The nature of a refrigerator’s job means it will smell sometimes. But there are different refrigerator smells that you should take care of as soon as you smell them.

Refrigerator Smells

Cleaning a Refrigerator that Smells – Guiding Steps

The following are guiding steps to cleaning a refrigerator that smells:

Step 1: Remove Expired Food Items

Sometimes, removing old and expired food items takes care of the foul smell coming from the refrigerator. So, remove every item, sort through them, and dispose of any that is expired or is hardly recognizable anymore.

Putting food in the refrigerator does not mean it won’t go bad eventually. Different foods go bad at different rates; some last longer than others even when they are not refrigerated. Therefore, it is crucial to check stored food from time to time and dispose of those that have stayed too long.

Now, give the refrigerator some run time and check again for foul smells. You will be able to tell if you have solved the smell problem when the refrigerator smells better after about an hour. If the odor remains, go to the next step.

Step 2: Disconnect the Refrigerator

Plug the power cord of the refrigerator from the wall outlet. Leave the doors open, so the refrigerator airs for about half an hour. It may not completely eliminate the smell, but it will help reduce it so you can efficiently clean the refrigerator.

Step 3: Gather Your Supplies

You can opt to use a household cleaning agent, but the risk here is that the smell may adhere to the refrigerator. And it will get into the food if you don’t do anything about it. The best option is to clean with natural agents that won’t leave a lingering smell.

Use baking soda with water or a mixture of vinegar and water. Vinegar may have a lingering smell, but it does not last long, and it smells like food. Besides, these agents may do a better job of cleaning the refrigerator.

Also, get clean towels and an old toothbrush for scrubbing hard-to-clean areas. Ensure you have all your supplies close to you before you begin.

Before you begin, soak the drawers, shelves, and racks in hot water. They will be easier to wash if the dirt loosens. These refrigerator parts tend to store dirt and, particularly, bacteria. So, you should take care when cleaning them.

Step 4: Begin Cleaning

First, wipe the surfaces to remove stains that are not stubborn. You can use water and a little soap for this job. Then, dip one of the towels in the cleaning solution and begin cleaning. Start with the refrigerator’s interior parts, and start from the top. You don’t want dirty water dripping onto clean places as you clean.

Another way to go about using the cleaning solution is to pour it into the spray bottle, spray it on the refrigerator, and clean it as you go.

If there are stubborn stains, place the cleaning towel over them for a few minutes to soften them. Then, scrub them firmly with the old toothbrush to loosen them. Ensure you reach every crack and crevice.

Furthermore, clean the door gasket. That is one part of the refrigerator that hides dirt that can smell. Food crumbs find their way into the gasket folds, and over time, begin to smell. You can use the cleaning towel, but the old toothbrush will do a better job of cleaning the gasket.

Step 5: Wipe Down

It is crucial to do a thorough job of cleaning every inch of the refrigerator’s interior. But when you are done, get a container of clean water, soak another clean towel in it, and wipe the refrigerator down. 

The cleaning solution will leave a residue, and if you allow it to dry, the refrigerator will look worse than before you started. Besides, the rinse will reduce the smell of the solution. Afterward, allow the refrigerator to air-dry before closing it. Leftover moisture will form frost in the appliance.

Step 6: Wash the Refrigerator Parts

While waiting for the unit to dry, use dishwashing soap to wash the shelves, drawers, and racks soaked in the sink. So, clean them thoroughly with hot water, and afterward, rinse them with warm or cold water. Hot or warm water will do a better job of loosening dirt than cold water.

Dry them with a lint-free towel and leave them out to air-dry. Returning the parts to the refrigerator while still wet will cause a frost buildup.

Step 7: Restore Power and Store Food

After the refrigerator dries completely, put the shelves, racks, and drawers back to their positions inside the refrigerator. Then, reconnect the refrigerator to the wall outlet. Give it about an hour to cool considerably before putting food back into it.

Preventive Measures

Put a box of baking soda into the refrigerator after cleaning it. Baking soda absorbs smells but has no smell. So, it is one of the best ways to eliminate unpleasant odors. Also, throw out food items, especially cooked food, that stay too long in the refrigerator.

Keep the refrigerator as cold as possible to keep food preserved for longer. While some foods don’t last so long, preserved or not, it is best to store them in the proper temperatures. Therefore, keep an eye on the refrigerator.

In addition, quick-cleaning your refrigerator from time to time saves you the stress of deep-cleaning it. It also reveals sources of foul odors before they get out of hand. In other words, it helps to do a quick of your refrigerator once a week or twice a month.

Refrigerator Smells Even After Cleaning – What to Do

If you find that your refrigerator still has a foul odor even after you have deep-cleaned it, try any of the following:

Disconnect the refrigerator from electric power and leave the doors open for about an hour. The foul air trapped inside the refrigerator escapes, and the clean air outside cleanses the interior part. It works differently when you air the refrigerator out before cleaning and after cleaning. After cleaning, you would have removed the odor-causing item.

Another way to fix this problem is to use absorbent substances. Place odor-absorbent substances such as baking soda and lemon in the refrigerator. The cause of the lingering bad odor may be that the foul odor has deeply adhered to the plastic parts of the refrigerator. So, no matter how much you clean and remove bad-smelling food, the refrigerator will still smell.

Pour out baking soda into different bowls and leave them on the refrigerator shelves. If this method is not an option for you, simply open a new pack of baking soda and leave it open in the refrigerator for about three days.

For lemon, squeeze some of the juice on a towel or rag, and clean the interior of the refrigerator. Then, place the remaining lemon in the unit for a couple of days.

You can also use newspapers, vanilla, and coffee to eliminate bad refrigerator smells. For newspapers, clean the plastic parts first with vinegar, preferably the white type. Then, roll some newspapers in the refrigerator and leave them there for a few days.

For vanilla, get a bottle of vanilla essential oil and soak a wad or two of cotton wool in it. Then, place the wads in the refrigerator and leave them for one day.

And for the coffee, get new grounds of coffee and leave them on a plate inside the unit for a couple of days. If the smell remains, replace the coffee. But not that coffee tends to have a strong smell that may linger. Therefore, only use coffee if you don’t mind the smell.

Clean Other Parts…

Take a look at the condenser coils and fan. Debris is quick to get trapped behind the refrigerator, and over time, some of it may rot and begin to smell. Move the refrigerator and clean the fan and coils. Ensure you remove every dirt there and clean the floor under the refrigerator.

To clean the coils, unplug the refrigerator from the wall outlet. Then, use a vacuum cleaner as it is the best equipment to remove dust. If you have a condenser coil cleaning brush, it will better clean the coils. Then, clean the condenser fan and compressor with a rag; a vacuum cleaner won’t work on these components.

Afterward, clean the drip pan under the refrigerator. The drip pan collects condensate water during the defrost cycle. But over time, food crumbs and other debris can accumulate in the pan due to its location. And with time, they rot and cause a foul smell.

Cleaning the pan is not difficult unless it is not the removable type. If you can remove it, take the pan from under the refrigerator and empty it. Check it for cracks and replace it if it is leaking.

But if it is not, pour some dishwashing soap into it and scrub with a soft-bristled brush. Rinse the pan afterward with lots of water. Then, sanitize it with vinegar or bleach and put the pan back under the unit.

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Refrigerator Smells After Power Outage – Solved

If your refrigerator smells terrible after a power outage, there is likely rotten food in it. Remove every food item in the refrigerator and dispose of rotten ones. Then, clean the refrigerator with a mild cleaning agent or baking soda/white vinegar.

If the smell lingers, place baking soda or activated charcoal to absorb the lingering odor. Also, vanilla and coffee grounds work at absorbing refrigerator smells. So, if you have any of these handy instead of baking soda or activated charcoal, use them.

Ensure you keep the refrigerator temperature low for some time. It needs to cool enough for food to last. So, after cleaning and eliminating the bad odor, lower the temperature setting until the temperature is cold enough. Store food and adjust it to the correct point.

It also helps to check the drip pan. Dirty water may have dropped and filled the pan during the power outage. Empty and clean the pan, then clean under the refrigerator. Some water may have pooled under it, causing a bad smell.

Refrigerator Smells Like Ammonia – Quick Fix

Disconnect the refrigerator from power if you smell ammonia coming from it. Then, contact the manufacturer or hire a licensed refrigerator technician to check the appliance. The smell of ammonia, or any other type of chemical, indicates a gas leak, and it is not safe for humans. It is also not safe to ignite a fire while you smell ammonia. Find a fix for it immediately.

Refrigerator Smells Bad Outside – What to Do

Check the drip pan, condenser coils, and compressor. Also, check under the refrigerator. These are areas that cause the outside of a refrigerator to smell bad. If you are not sure, clean everything – drip pan, condenser coils, and compressor. Then, move the refrigerator and clean under it.

Refrigerator Smells Like It Is Burning – How to Fix

Disconnect the refrigerator from electric power and move it away from the surrounding walls. Check the seals around the doors, and if they are hot, they may be producing a burning smell. You may have to replace them.

But if the seals are not the origin of the smell, check the condenser fan. Debris around the fan’s motor may cause a burning smell if the motor heats up due to inability to operate. So, clean the fan and the motor, ensuring no debris is around it or the coils.

However, if the burning smell is not from these parts, there may be an internal wiring fault. Look inside the refrigerator for signs of burning. Check the light fixture and plastic parts. You will know if the smell is coming from the internal part if the plastic parts are too hot and some of the stored foods are not cooling at all.

The internal lights may have a fault and not turn off when you close the refrigerator door. Over time, the lights heat the foods and plastic parts, causing them to burn and melt. It may be a design fault that only the manufacturer can fix.

Contact the refrigerator’s manufacturer if you notice any of these signs. Be as detailed as possible when explaining what you see. If you cannot reach the manufacturer, find an experienced and licensed refrigerator technician or electrician. Whatever you do, don’t touch any electrical part and don’t plug the refrigerator back into the wall outlet.

Refrigerator Smells Fishy – Solution

There may be an overload or start relay problem. The condenser fan or compressor may also have become defective. Whichever is the problem, it will cause an accumulation of condensate water that becomes stagnant and gives. Consequently, the refrigerator smells fishy.

Troubleshoot the start relay or overload protector. Pull the relay out and shake it; if it rattles, replace the relay. If it smells burnt, replace it. But if you are not sure, run a continuity test. Place the probes of a multimeter on the terminals of the relay. If there is no continuity, replace the relay.

For the condenser fan, you will be able to tell if it is faulty by looking at it while the compressor runs. If the fan does not run, disconnect the refrigerator from power and clean the blades. Ensure nothing is obstructing them before turning them with your hand. 

If the blades turn well, then the fan may just need some oiling. But if the blades don’t turn well, take a multimeter to check the motor for continuity. If the motor shows no continuity, replace it.

You will need the services of a licensed technician to check the functionality of the compressor. It is a pretty complex test, and it may be outside the capacity of a DIYer.

Refrigerator Smells Like Chemicals – What to Do

If a chemical odor emits from a refrigerator, it is a freon leak. To fix it, disconnect it from the wall outlet. Then, remove the contents and store them elsewhere. Next, move it to gain access to the back or wherever the coolant tubes are. Particularly, look for the expansion valve’s location. You can sniff to find out where the smell is strongest.

If you find the point of the leak, get a patch kit and use it to seal the hole. It is unlikely you will find the leak or a patch kit for sealing it even if you do. Besides, it is not legal to try fixing a freon leak if you don’t have the license.

The best step is to hire a licensed professional to check the refrigerator, find the leak, and fix it. Use a professional even if your refrigerator does not use freon. The technician will tell whether or not you need a new refrigerator; sometimes, fixing a freon leak is not feasible and the only solution is a new refrigerator.

Refrigerator Water Smells Like Rotten Eggs – How to Fix

If you find that the water from your refrigerator smells like rotten eggs, do the following:

1. Check the Water Filter

The refrigerator’s water filter could be a home filtration system or a refrigerator filter. If it is the typical refrigerator filter, it may be old and clogged, thereby letting dirty water enter the refrigerator. It is crucial to replace the water filter as quickly as possible because it may affect your health.

If it is an in-house filtration system, have a plumber come out and check it. It may have a problem somewhere. And the water should be tested from the source to ensure safety.

2. Check the Water Source

The water source may be contaminated by sulfur. While this element occurs naturally, it smells like rotten eggs. The filter in the refrigerator may remove or make the smell, but sometimes, it fails especially if the amount of sulfur in the water is high. In such a case, it makes the water unsafe for consumption.

Find a safe alternative source of water while the filtration system is fixed. You may try a water tank to store water, or use water softeners to eliminate or reduce the smell.

3. Check the Water Lines

Mildew may cause a rotten egg smell in the water if a specific spore grows inside the lines. The same applies to the water pipes that supply water from the main source to the house. Therefore, replace the water line and water pipes, or find other safety measures when you report the issue to the appropriate authorities.

Ice Maker Smells Bad – Solved

Empty the refrigerator or freezer of all contents. Sort through them to find those that are freezer-burned or spoiled. If you find any, dispose of them. Get a freezer wrap and the foods that are leftover so that they don’t give off smells that easily adhere to the water and ice maker.

Next, run manual defrost on the freezer. It may have an automatic defrost function, but if there is ice in it, it is necessary to get rid of it. At this point, the ice may already have odors that affect the ice maker.

Now, turn the ice maker off and dispose of any ice in the ice bucket. Place the bucket in the sink and wash it with water and baking soda. The baking soda will remove any bad odor from it. Afterward, rinse the bucket thoroughly with clean water and dry it with a lint-free cloth before putting it back in the unit.

Clean the interior parts of the freezer with water and baking soda. While doing so, clean the shelves and racks, as well as the ice maker itself. The baking soda will neutralize the smell on the ice maker and freezer parts, leaving the water and ice devoid of taste.

For better and long-lasting results, leave an open box of baking soda in the refrigerating and freezer sections for a few days. It will eliminate any leftover odor or new ones.


Refrigerator smells are usually a part of everyday life. Foods have different smells and some are stronger than others. The stronger ones tend to stick to the refrigerator’s internal parts and give off an odor. 

When you should worry, however, is when the refrigerator smells rotten, like it is burning, like chemicals, or any other foreign smell. It is important to find a solution quickly, especially when the smell is like chemical or burning.

Fortunately, there is usually a fix. Cleaning your refrigerator eliminates most foul odors. But when it smells like burning, disconnect it from power. The same applies when it smells like chemicals.

Contact the refrigerator brand manufacturer for assistance. Alternatively, use the chatbox to your right to reach us. We will connect you to an appliance technician for immediate assistance.

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