How to Prevent Refrigerator Smells

Matt Marandola
Written by Matt Marandola
Updated June 23, 2021
View looking out from inside of refrigerator as couple unpack groceries
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Don't lose your appetite over a foul-smelling fridge

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Sometimes that tupperware of taco filling you shoved to the back of the fridge gets its revenge. After a few weeks of festering, your entire refrigerator starts to smell like an abandoned grocery store. But don’t stress—if you tend to forget about leftovers, there are a few other steps you can take to prevent odors in your fridge.

1. Check for Spoiled Food

The first thing you need to do is clean out the fridge. If you don’t find the cause of the odor, chances are the foul scent will continue no matter how much you clean the fridge. 

Check all expiration dates and remove any rotten produce. Even if the foods should still be good, check how they smell. If something smells off, chances are that it’s already spoiled. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as the temperature being too high, the fridge door not closing properly, or the food itself was a bad batch.

Remove the rest of the good food from the fridge and place it in a sink filled with ice. If there’s only one sink in the house, you need to keep it open, so place your groceries in a temporary cooler.

2. Take Out Shelves and Clean Them

From there, remove the shelves and grab a towel. Use hot water and simple dish soap to clean the shelves just like you would with any other dish. You have to remove the shelves so the cold temperatures don’t cause any water to freeze or stick, which may make the smell worse.

Tackle the rest of the refrigerator while you’re at it. This means learning how to clean the top of your refrigerator and how to clean the coils of the refrigerator. These places may also hold onto odors that you’re looking to eliminate.

Once the shelves and the rest of the refrigerator are dry, you can put everything back in its place.

3. Use the Power of Baking Soda

The original “does it all” product, baking soda will also be your savior in helping eliminate those nasty scents. Simply fill a bowl with baking soda and leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours or, preferably, overnight. 

view of open refrigerator with organized food in shelves in a home kitchen
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4. Utilize Airtight Containers

Say goodbye to the days of wrapping aluminum foil over your containers—instead, aim to use airtight, reusable containers. This is your best bet to prevent future smells. 

Use containers that don’t hold onto odors, such as glass. Glass doesn’t hold onto smells the same way certain plastics do, because glass isn’t porous or metal. Though plastic isn’t porous initially, wear and tear from utensils and time in the microwave means it develops pores, which soak up all the nasty smells.

5. Adjust the Temperature of the Fridge

Foods may spoil faster if the friger’s temperature isn’t set correctly. This could be because the fridge’s thermostat is set too high or too low, or it’s broken and needs repairs.

Ensure your thermostat is set between 37 F and 40 F. Set too high and the food will spoil too fast. Set too low and your food may freeze and develop freezer burn.

If your thermostat isn’t working properly, the cost to repair your refrigerator is around $250 on average, depending on the problem at hand. Common reasons why your fridge won’t stay a consistent temperature include a damaged thermostat, compressor, and coils.

DIY vs. Hiring a Professional Refrigerator Cleaner

This is a task you can certainly tackle yourself, as it only costs around $50 total for glass containers, dish soap, baking soda, a bucket, and dish towels. All you need to do is set a timer for around 30 minutes to an hour and you’ll find the task done in no time.

You can hire local house cleaning services to tackle the project for you, including cleaning the top of the fridge, but expect to pay around $175. The extra cost will likely come from them tackling the entire fridge, rather than only the inside.

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