My Fridge Smells Bad Even After Cleaning (Main Causes And Solutions)

Think of it this way: refrigerators are large containers full of confined air, all sorts of different types of foodstuffs, and moist surfaces. So when not staying on top of it, it is no surprise to be met with an unappetizing smell or outright foul odor. 

Yet there are times when your fridge smells bad even after cleaning.

Wondering where it came from, you rummage through your fridge trying to find spoiled food – the putrid culprit. 

The reeking odor coming from your refrigerator may be caused by multiple things. Unpleasant fridge odor could be caused by spoiled food, spilled or leaking liquid, bacterial and microbial growth, molds, or even poorly sealed leftovers. 

However, suppose it isn’t from these common issues. In that case, it could be a bigger problem, such as blockage or a build-up in the drainage system, a damaged water filter, or a molding drip pan under the fridge. 

But before we start dismantling our fridge, let’s look at some easy ways to have it smell fresh and clean again. 

Finding And Eliminating Fridge Odors

a woman is looking for what smells in the fridge

In order to get rid of any type of smell from your refrigerator, you need to find its source. So, let’s start with some of the most obvious causes and solutions and then look at a few things you should check if the fridge smells bad even after cleaning it. 

1. Clean Out Your Fridge

The first step to getting your fridge smelling better is the obvious one of cleaning it out. Top to the bottom. Go through all of your food and make sure any expired food is thrown out. 

Did You Know? The food on your refrigerator door shelves spoils quicker due to the constant temperature fluctuation when the door is being opened. So, that would be the first place to check for unwanted smells. 

Read Also: What To Store In Refrigerator Door – If Not Milk And Eggs, Then What?

Additionally, make sure that all of your food, sauces, condiment, and juices are tightly sealed and upright position and are not leaking into other food or into the cracks and crevices of your fridge. The spill-resistant shelves in your fridge also may be holding any bacteria from past spills you thought were already cleaned up. 

After you have eliminated all the potential culprits:

  1. Place all of your safe food into a cooler and turn off your fridge.
  2. Glove up, grab a sponge, and get to work with any of these natural kitchen disinfectants here.
  3. If the smell is too pungent, opt for a bleaching solution for a deeper clean. 

2. Air Out Your Fridge

airing out the fridge to eliminate odors

After cleaning our fridge of out-of-date and rotten foods, and wiping all the nooks and crannies of your fridge, leave the door open and air it out for a few hours. 

If the fridge was smelling quite bad before cleaning, then air it out for at least 24 hours once you have thoroughly cleaned it. 

Be sure that any perishable foods are in a cooler or in another fridge if you have one. If you don’t have one, be aware that most foods can not be left out for more than two hours. 

So, if you don’t have any way to keep them cool while cleaning your fridge, you either have to cook them or discard them.

Here are some useful tips on keeping your food safe when cleaning or defrosting your fridge freezer.

Try These Simple Refrigerator Deodorizing Solutions 

natural fridge deodorizer lemon

We can’t just spray some Febreze into our fridge and call it a day, but there are some safe, natural, and cheap ways to have your fridge smelling fresh in a few days. 

Here are some natural fridge odor eliminators:

1. Baking Soda

baking soda fridge deodorizer

Open a new box of baking soda and place it on a top shelf in your fridge. If you don’t want to ruin a whole box of baking soda, then you could also put a small mound (in a bowl) on each shelf. 

Box of baking soda will be effective for absorbing odors in the fridge for 2-3 months. However, if you have noticed that the baking soda in the box is getting too damp or has developed a smell of its own, you should replace it sooner. 

Alternately, you can use this purpose-made Harm & Hammer double-layer soda filter below. This will last for 30 days before it requires changing. 

Arm & Hammer Fridge Fresh Refrigerator Air Filter

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2. Lemons

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Maybe not with these when you’re done with them, it could come with a curry flavor. 

lemon as a fridge odor absorbers

Cut the lemon in half length-wise and leave it in the fridge, facing up the cut side. The absorbency of this citrus fruit can help eliminate the bad smells, but the lemon should be changed at least once every week.

Also, you can squeeze some lemon juice on a rag or a sponge and wipe your fridge down after cleaning for a fresh citrusy scent. 

3. Activated Charcoal Fridge Deodorizer

Using activated charcoal should have probably been the first option on this list. It is not only the most effective out of all the natural fridge odor eliminators, but it is also the longest lasting. 

Activated charcoal odor remover lasts up to two years, with few recharges required in direct sunlight. 

Refrigerator Deodorizer (2 Pack) - Natural Bamboo Activated Charcoal Fridge Deodorizer - More Effective Than Baking Soda - Refrigerator Odor Eliminator for Fridges, Freezers, Coolers and Lunch Boxes

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Activated charcoal fridge deodorizer is also very versatile. It can be used in the freezer, refrigerator, cooler, lunch bag, trash can, closets, etc. 

Activated charcoal fridge deodorizer is great for absorbing musty odors and keeping the refrigerator smelling fresh. The activated charcoal attracts and hangs on to ammonia molecules, trapping them in its pores and breaking down their bonds. This makes the odor disappear without leaving a scent of its own. 

Refrigerator Deodorizer (2 Pack) - Natural Bamboo Activated Charcoal Fridge Deodorizer - More Effective Than Baking Soda - Refrigerator Odor Eliminator for Fridges, Freezers, Coolers and Lunch Boxes

TAP ON IMAGE TO VIEW PRICE

Activated charcoal also can absorb moisture in the air, which can reduce unpleasant odors caused by food storage or spoilage. Removing the excess moisture will also help prevent bacteria and yeasts growth.

Activated charcoal has a very large surface area, which allows it to absorb more than any other type of deodorizer.

Did You Know? To recharge charcoal deodorizer, it needs to be left in direct sunlight for a few hours. The UV rays from the sun will cause the pores of the charcoal to open to allow it to suck up fresh oxygen and release carbon dioxide, trapped odors, and water vapor. In this process, the bamboo charcoal is recharged and ready to be used again.

4. Coffee Grounds

coffee grounds deodorizer refrigerator

Coffee is no longer just a “pick-me-up” for you in the mornings but a great way to refresh your fridge. Place the fresh, unused coffee grounds in a cup or bowl in your fridge for them to soak up any nasty odors. 

Don’t worry; you can leave your fresh roasted Blue Mountain or Volcanica Coffee for your morning brew and just buy the cheapest ground coffee from the local supermarket. 

5. Rolled-up Newspaper

absorbing stinky fridge odor with newspaper

If you don’t have any coffee grounds, lemons, or baking soda in your house but have an abundance of newspapers, it’s time to put these to work. 

Because the newspaper is more fibrous than some other papers, many people use it to get rid of smells in the kitchen and pantry but also for shoes, closets, storage rooms, and boxes.

Crunch up some newspapers and leave these in your fridge for a few days and change them out as needed. Hopefully, it managed to eliminate or minimize the odor in your fridge.  

My Fridge Smells Bad Even After Cleaning! Now What?

If you have done all of the above, and your fridge still has a rancid smell, it’s time to take a closer look at some other possible offenders. Some common suspects are the water filter, the drip pan, or the drainage system.

1. Lower The Fridge Temperature

the thermometer in the refrigerator

Oftentimes, it’s the simplest solution just to turn down the refrigerator temperature. Ideally, the refrigerator temperature ought to be between 35°F and 37°F (1.6°C and 3.3°C). Keeping your fridge at the right temperature helps to prevent bacteria growth and keeps your food fresh longer.

The easiest solution for managing your fridge temperature and making sure it is constant is to get a simple fridge thermometer like the one below.

Refrigerator Fridge Thermometer Digital Freezer Room Thermometer Waterproof, Max/Min Record Function with Large LCD Display (General, White, 1)

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This electronic LCD display fridge thermometer not only shows you the current refrigerator temperature but also the maximum and minimum temperature you had in the fridge. That could be quite useful if there was a power cut or your kids have a tendency to leave the door open for too long.

If you did leave your fridge door open overnight by accident then read my latest post here: Your Fridge or Freezer Door Was Left Open All Night — Now What?

2. Unclog The Drainage System

You may not even be aware that your fridge contains a drain hole. The purpose of this small hole at the back wall is to catch the excess moisture in a refrigerator, where it then drips down a small drain pipe into a drip tray underneath.

If the drainpipe or the hole becomes blocked, the fridge can not eliminate the build-up of condensation, and that can cause unpleasant odors and smells from your fridge.

If there is no water in the drip dray or you can see that the water is not going down the drain hole, then there is a blockage, and you might have to call a professional for help. 

Alternatively, you could get this simple refrigerator drain clog remover tools kit below, which is super easy to use and suitable for all the makes and models of refrigerators.

Refrigerator Frozen Water Line Tools Refrigerator Cleaning Device Water Line Dredge Drain Cleaning Tools Refrigerator Water Line Unfreezing Kit Fridge Cleaner Fridge Water Dispenser Repair Tool 5 Pcs

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The unclogging process takes no more than 5 minutes. It helps you not only get rid of stuck food and unexplained smell, but it is also suitable for faster defrosting of the water line in your freezer and an icemaker. 

Refrigerator Frozen Water Line Tools Refrigerator Cleaning Device Water Line Dredge Drain Cleaning Tools Refrigerator Water Line Unfreezing Kit Fridge Cleaner Fridge Water Dispenser Repair Tool 5 Pcs

3. Clean The Drip Tray

The drip pan which is located at the bottom of the unit catches condensation. It should be cleaned every three months to prevent mold build-up. If you didn’t know it existed, then go ahead and clean it now to avoid any future odors. It is located under your fridge towards the back. 

4. Check The Water Filter

If you have a water dispenser built in your fridge and it still smells bad, then the water filter could be overdue for a change. In general, your fridge’s water filter should be changed every six months or when the change filter light is on.

Read Also: Does Mayonnaise Belong In The Fridge Or Cupboard?

In Summary

Make it a habit to clean out your fridge before a big grocery shopping to know what you have, what you need more of, and what needs to be thrown away.

The best way to prevent a gross smell and odors from your kitchen appliance is to be active in preventative care. So, let’s quickly go over some of the most effective tips again to keep your fridge smelling good besides baking soda and newspaper. 

Clean out your fridge often.

Keep your fridge fresh by taking out any spoiled or rotten food on a weekly basis. If you want to have fresher food for longer, invest in a vacuum sealer or freeze it. 

Clean your drip tray every three months.

Mark it on your calendar that you have to clean your drip to prevent bad smells and mold build-up. 

Change the water filter.

Look on the package of your water filter to see how often they should be changed, and set a reminder on your phone. Some appliances have a light or an alarm that goes off when it’s time to change the filter. 

Air out your fridge.

Additionally, I suggest airing out your fridge every 3 to 6 months. Be sure to have your food in a safe space to keep it from spoiling. 

Read Also: 20 Innovative Ways To Keep Food Fresh Longer

About Jen Evansy

Nutritionist, researcher, and writer, interested in everything nutrition and food-related. Striving to inform, encourage, and inspire all the readers to make healthy and informed choices when it comes to cooking, food, diet, and nutrition.