How to Make a Fridge Smell Better: 8 Methods to Try

Jenna Jonaitis
Written by Jenna Jonaitis
Updated November 10, 2022
View looking out from inside of refrigerator as couple unpack groceries
Photo: Monkey Business / Adobe Stock

Get rid of funky scents to make your fridge fresh and clean

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Imagine this: There's a funky smell lurking in your fridge. You don't know if it's a rotten cucumber, last week's leftovers, or something else, but it’s got to go. 

Well, you're in luck. With a few household products and some elbow grease, you can rid your fridge of any unpleasant odors and keep it smelling fresh. Follow our easy guide on how to make a fridge smell better and prevent future odors. 

Why Do I Have a Smelly Fridge? 

You may have a smelly fridge for a handful of reasons:

  • Bacteria or mold growth due to food spills and extra moisture

  • Smelly foods stored openly in your fridge

  • Produce, meat, prepared foods, bread, and dairy products that spoiled or passed their expiration date

  • Clogged air filter that is no longer able to clean the air properly

  • Mildew or mold growth in the hidden drip pan

How Much Does It Cost to Clean and Deodorize the Fridge?

The cost to hire a house cleaner to clean and deodorize your fridge ranges from $10 to $40, but it’s an add-on expense to regular house cleaning. A house cleaning service generally costs $120 to $235 on average, but costs can be as low as $90 for homes under 1,000 square feet.

How to Prep for Refrigerator Odor Removal

view of open refrigerator with organized food in shelves in a home kitchen
Photo: Andrey Popov / Adobe Stock

Prepare to remove your fridge’s funky odor by clearing counter space for the items you're temporarily removing. Keep your trashcan nearby to pitch old food, and gather your cleaning supplies. 

Gather the supplies necessary for the fridge clean-out, including a microfiber cleaning cloth and a homemade cleaning mixture of distilled white vinegar and hot water or a non-abrasive all-purpose cleaner. Avoid using bleach or other abrasive cleaners that could be toxic.

How to Deodorize Your Fridge Smell Better

You can remove odors from your fridge by taking out the contents, cleaning the fridge, and adding a deodorizer. Follow these steps to take your fridge from stinky to fresh. 

Clear Out Your Entire Fridge

Take everything out of your fridge, from top to bottom, including items stored in the doors. You need to start with a clean slate to determine what’s causing the stench and remove all traces of it.

Set the items on the counter, but discard any spoiled items, such as old vegetables or forgotten leftovers. If an item is expired, past its prime, or has a noticeable smell, toss it. 

Wipe Down Messy Items

If you notice any fridge components with liquid, crumbs, or other residue on the outside, wipe them down with hot water and a microfiber cloth. You don’t want to put messy items back in your fridge once it’s clean. If an item is leaking, pitch it or place the contents in a new sealed container. 

Wash Removable Fridge Components

Take out any removable fridge pieces, such as vegetable drawers, shelf dividers, or the shelves themselves. Wash them in the sink with hot water and dish soap, and then scrub out any sticky residue. Let the components air dry while you work on the rest of the fridge.

Clean Interior Surfaces from Top to Bottom

Work from top to bottom to ensure you catch any crumbs, drips, and residue that falls below.

  1. Spray or apply your cleaning solution on every surface. 

  2. Wipe down the fridge's ceiling, interior walls, drawers, shelves, and doors with a cleaning cloth.

  3. Scrub any spilled contents with a sponge or an old toothbrush. Apply baking soda and scrub again on hard-to-remove spills.

  4. Brush in the cracks and crevices with an old toothbrush to remove hard-to-reach grime or liquid spills. 

  5. Rinse down the interior with hot water and a wet cloth.

Limit Moisture By Drying the Fridge Components

Dry the inside surfaces and removable pieces with a clean towel, or wait for everything to air dry. The goal is to limit excess moisture that’s in your fridge. Put the drawers and dividers back in along with any other organizers or components. Place your food, drinks, and condiments back in the fridge. 

Add a Fridge Air Freshener

Neutralizing the air and adding a fresh scent can help mask odors and give your fridge a delightful aura.

White Vinegar

To make your fridge smell better, add distilled white vinegar to a paper towel and place it in a shallow bowl. Set it in the back of your fridge and replace it with a new damp paper towel when it dries out. Vinegar helps neutralize odors and acts as a DIY fridge air freshener.

Baking Soda, Oatmeal, or Coffee Grounds

Spread baking soda, dry oats, or coffee grounds on a cookie sheet and leave it in your fridge overnight to absorb odors. You can also put one of those items in a cup and place it in the corner of your fridge as a deodorizer. 

Citrus and Cloves

One of the best fridge deodorizers is citrus fruits, such as grapefruits, oranges, and lemons. Cut the fruit in half, and dig out the insides with a spoon. Fill the empty side with salt or cloves and put the fruit in a bowl, facing up. The salt or cloves enhance the citrus smell and make your fridge smell fresh. You can keep the fruit in there until it dries out.

Vanilla Extract

Soak a cotton ball or paper towel with four drops of vanilla extract. Place it in a small bowl in your fridge to let the vanilla scent fill the air.

Replace the Air Filter

Your refrigerator — if it's a relatively new model — likely has an air filter that helps clean circulating air. The filter is typically a small rectangular compartment located on the upper back wall of the fridge or attached to the fridge ceiling. If you can’t find the air filter, check your manufacturer's handbook.

Remove the old filter and replace it if it's been longer than six months or if you notice ongoing smelly air in your fridge.

Check the Drip Pan

Every fridge has a hidden drip pan, often located in the lower back of the refrigerator. The pan collects water and moisture as it comes out of the defrost drain. The moisture typically evaporates back into the air, but sometimes mildew or mold can start to grow, causing an unpleasant smell.

  1. Pull your refrigerator out from the wall. 

  2. Unplug and disconnect your refrigerator from the power (or turn off the power source in your breaker box). 

  3. Turn off the fridge’s water supply to avoid water dripping as you work.

  4. Unscrew the kick plate and remove the drip pan according to your manufacturer’s instructions. 

  5. Slide out the pan carefully, as there could be standing water in it. 

  6. Pour out the water in the sink, then wipe the inside with your cleaning solution and a microfiber cloth. 

  7. If there's mold or mildew, clean it thoroughly before replacing it back in your fridge.

How to Prevent a Smelly Fridge

Keep your fridge odor-free by following these tips:

  • Store your food and leftovers in airtight containers to prevent spills and smells.

  • Clean up spills or leaks as soon as they happen.

  • Check your meat, vegetables, and fruit at least once a week, and clear out any old or expired foods regularly.

  • Clean the inside of your fridge once every three months to keep smells at bay.

  • Organize your fridge with bins and storage containers to prevent spills and messes.

  • Keep a deodorizer in the fridge, such as baking soda, coffee grounds, citrus fruit, or oatmeal.

  • Reduce the number of items in your fridge to ensure there's good air circulation.

DIY vs. Hire a Pro

You can make your fridge smell better yourself by cleaning the inside and adding a fridge air freshener. However, deodorizing a fridge takes time and can be messy. 

You can hire a local house cleaner to tackle cleaning the fridge, saving you time and hassle, and ensuring every nook and cranny is squeaky clean. You’ll likely need to book a one-time house cleaning service that includes the fridge or add it to your weekly or biweekly services.

Frequently Asked Questions

The best deodorizer for a refrigerator is baking soda because it absorbs smells and neutralizes the air. You can also use citrus fruits, oatmeal, vanilla extract, activated carbon, and distilled white vinegar as a deodorizer in your refrigerator. Place one of these deodorizers in a bowl or cup in the back of your fridge to let it absorb odors.

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