Why Your Fridge Smells Bad Even After Cleaning?

fridge smells bad even after cleaning

Lots of people encounter the problem of their fridge smells bad even after cleaning carefully, but what causes the smell may not be obvious at first. Here are some of the factors you can check, as well as how to get rid of the smells.

What makes your fridge smell bad?

The fridge is a very important household appliance used to store food to keep it fresh for longer. There are several possible causes of bad odors that makes the fridge smells even when you finish cleaning it. Once there is a bad smell, your refrigerator may fail to perform its sole job.

Odor from the food itself

Most of the time, it’s the food inside your fridge that causes the bad smell. Some of the factors below may surprise you:

Spoiled food

Fridges can keep food fresh longer than its expected expired date. But once the food is spoiled, it will release an unpleasant smell. Since the fridge is a relatively closed space, the smell will accumulate quickly.

Poorly sealed containers and spilled food

Some food needs to be inside a sealed container before being put into the fridge. If you accidentally spill these types of food or liquid without cleaning, some odor-releasing bacteria can grow.

Strong-smelling food

Some food (typically aromatics) can leave a strong smell in your fridge if not stored in sealed containers. The fridge then absorbs the smell, causing the unpleasant smell.


There are lots of ideal spots in the fridge for mold to grow, such as moist areas in food when not sealed properly, the drip pan under the fridge, or any spots with lots of moisture.

Spoiled or moldy food can release unpleasant smell
Spoiled or moldy food can release unpleasant smell

Dirty fridge

Any type of dirt (especially organic ones) will release a bad smell over time. You should clean your fridge regularly to keep the smell away and keep the food uncontaminated.

Further reading: Best Mini Fridge with Freezer: Top 7 For Small Spaces

Malfunctioned fridge

Have you ever wondered: “Why does my fridge smell like chemicals?”. But no food could possibly cause the distinctive smell? You may have encountered a malfunctioned fridge.

Defective compressor

Most fridges use certain chemicals in the compressor so that it can suck the heat out of the fridge’s interior and maintain a cold temperature. These chemicals are usually well-isolated within the compressor.

However, when the compressor malfunctions, the chemicals can leak into the fridge’s interior and cause weird chemical-like odors. The longer you leave the smell inside, the harder it is to get rid of it.

Clogged filter

Many modern fridges use filters for cleaning the circulating air and the water in the door’s dispenser or ice maker. Overtime, dirt or substances can clog up the filter, which creates an environment for odor-releasing bacteria.

Another notable mention is the fridge could have deeply absorbed the smell. At this state, even if you remove all possible factors causing the smell, it will still persist since the plastic inside the fridge absorbed the smell already.

Bad smell can also comes from the fridge itself
Bad smell can also comes from the fridge itself

How to remove the bad smell?

Carefully store the food

Try to check first what type of food you are storing inside the fridge. Does your food spoil quickly in moist areas or have a strong smell? Seal it in a container first.

Remove bad food

“My refrigerator smells like dead animal!”. It’s probably because something expired, developed mold or even rot inside the fridge. That thing could potentially spoil other stuff in your fridge, so remove it immediately.

Clean the fridge

In summary, any spec of dirt or unwanted food and liquid spill creates a living environment for odor-releasing bacteria to grow and stink your fridge. So you should check and clean your fridge regularly.

Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) clearly guides 5 steps to clean your refrigerator. Briefly, we can do as follow:

Step 1: Empty your fridge

Before starting to clean the fridge, try grabbing some gloves to keep your hands clean.

Now, remove all food from the fridge to get a clear view of the interior. Be careful not to spill any food.

If you want to do even deeper cleaning for your fridge, you can remove the shelves as well. While doing so, you can start inspecting the fridge’s interior for moist spots, dirt, or mold on the fridge’s inner wall and shelves.

Step 2: Clean the fridge

While there are some quick methods for cleaning the fridge, the old-school method of thorough cleaning works the best.

Start by spraying the fridge’s interior using vinegar mixed with water or all-purpose cleaner (try to pick ones that are light on smell). Then, use your towel to wipe everything, and work your way from top to bottom.

Try to clean every corner of your fridge, especially the grooves inside for the shelves. You can use mild soap mixed with warm water to wash the removable shelves.

Furthermore, you removed all the food, you may as well clean all of the fridge so that it stays clean for longer.

Step 3: Inspect the food

Now you can perform all the above steps about dealing with bad or spilled food. Seal the strong-smelling food carefully and remove bad ones.

Regular cleaning keep the smell out of the fridge
Regular cleaning keep the smell out of the fridge

Further reading: How to Prevent Mold in Refrigerator

Check the fridge’s components

After cleaning the fridge, try to smell it again to see if there is any chemical-like smell.

If the smell persist, and you have all the necessary tools, you can remove the fridge components like compressor, filters, etc. to check for faults, or just call a technician to deal with the problems.

You may also like: Which Refrigerator is the Best for a Family with 4-5 Members?

Does baking soda eliminate refrigerator odors?

Yes, baking soda deodorizes the refrigerator by absorbing odors and neutralizing the air. This natural deodorizer has been used in refrigerators for over 50 years and it is one of the most effective ways to remove refrigerator odors.

Further reading:  How to Freeze Blueberries for Smoothies

Just imagine, when you put a box of baking soda in the fridge, it gives those smelly particles something to bond with (other than your leftovers).

As baking soda is best suited for mild to moderate odors, it will have difficulty absorbing the odors of particularly pungent foods. To maximize baking soda’s deodorizing effectiveness, give it as much surface space as possible.

Currently, baking soda boxes are designed specifically for fridges and freezers with large cutouts that expose more baking soda than traditional boxes, of course without spilling.

How do you prevent refrigerator odor?

“Prevention is better than cure”, so you should avoid refrigerator odors before it happens. Keep your refrigerator odor-free by following these tips:

  • Make sure you use airtight containers to store food and leftovers to avoid spills and odors.
  • If you have a spill or leak, clean it up as soon as possible to avoid odors.
  • You need to check foods, meat, vegetables and fruits at least once a week. For old or expired foods, throw them away immediately. Before storing leftovers in the refrigerator, don’t forget to label and date them.
  • Use bins and containers to organize your refrigerator to prevent spills and messes, keep food fresh longer and keep odors away.
  • To remove refrigerator odors, clean the inside of the refrigerator regularly or every three months.
  • Don’t forget to check and clean the freezer because this can also be a source of bad odors.
  • Take advantage of natural refrigerator deodorizers, such as baking soda, coffee grounds, citrus fruits or oatmeal.
  • Don’t cram the refrigerator. You need to reduce the amount of food in the refrigerator to ensure good air circulation.
  • Deep clean the inside of the refrigerator every few months.

You may also like: What are the Best Food Storage Containers for Fridge?


How to remove smell from fridge naturally

Besides cleaning, you can use natural deodorizers to help your fridge free from smells.

1. Orange, tangerine, and grapefruit peels 

Orange or tangerine peels contain natural aromatic essential oils, so you can wash and dry orange, tangerine, and grapefruit peels, then place them in the corners of the refrigerator.

Citrus peels will automatically absorb bad odors in the refrigerator in about 3 days. You can apply this simple method continuously to keep your refrigerator clean of bad odors.

2. Fresh lemon 

You can also cut fresh lemon into thin slices and put them in the fridge. The natural essential oils in lemons will also help absorb bad odors in the refrigerator.

3. Pineapple 

Pineapple is also one of the natural ingredients that effectively deodorizes the refrigerator. You just need to peel it, cut it into small parts and put it in the refrigerator.

Not only does the refrigerator no longer have unpleasant odors, it also smells like pineapple, keeping the air inside the refrigerator always fresh.

4. Coffee grounds 

Wrap the coffee grounds in a cloth and put it in the refrigerator. You can keep this coffee bag in the refrigerator for about 3 weeks, then you can take it out and replace it with a new one.

5. Vinegar 

You can also put vinegar in a glass jar, place the jar in the refrigerator and open the lid. Vinegar will also absorb all odors in the refrigerator without causing any damage to the refrigerator or food.

6. Baking soda 

Baking soda is often used for cleaning, whitening and deodorizing purposes. You just need to put baking soda powder in a small bag or cup, then put it in the refrigerator for a few days or a week to eliminate all odors.

In addition, you can add dried lavender to the mixture and keep it in the refrigerator.

7. Charcoal  

Charcoal can remove smell from your fridge because it can absorb moisture and deodorize the refrigerator quite well.

Take some crushed charcoal, put it in a cloth bag and put it in the refrigerator. After about 1 month, you should replace that charcoal bag with a new charcoal bag.

How to get rid of fridge smell fast

Among the ways to deodorize the refrigerator, traditional methods are most effective and can work the fastest.

  • Baking soda: After each cleaning session, place an open box of Baking Soda in your fridge to eliminate smells. With this method, some of the mild food odors will be neutralized.
  • Vinegar: Add some vinegar to a small paper towel and place in a small bowl or open container. Leave it in your refrigerator for at least 24 hours to get the desired effect. You should change your towel every few days, whenever it’s dry.

The 5 best refrigerator odor eliminators you should try

HOMIKE Refrigerator Deodorizer, Odor Eliminator


  • Last up to 10 years
  • Compact and stylish
  • Best match with stainless steel fridges
  • Don’t need to charge or replace it
  • Can be used for car, closet, shoes cabinet


  • Rather expensive compared to others

Arm & Hammer Baking Soda Fridge-n-Freezer


  • Naturally absorb odors
  • Reasonable price
  • Reputable solution for many years, since 1970s


  • Needs to be replaced every 30 days
  • Not effective with super smelly refrigerators

Chill Bill Deodorizer – Soda Holder for Refrigerator


  • Cute penguin design
  • Compact, easy to clean
  • Simply fill with baking soda


  • Cannot hold much baking soda
  • Baking soda needs to be replaced every few weeks

Fridge Ninja Compact Fridge Deodorizer


  • Reusable, up to one year
  • Can be used in freezers, fridges, lunch boxes, etc.
  • Easily to place anywhere as they are flat and thin


  • Need to be placed in a place with sunlight to “recharge”

NonScents Refrigerator Deodorizer


  • Non-toxic and safe
  • Works effectively within a few hours
  • Compact, easy to use and neutral color
  • Protects fridge from smells for up to six months (helpful when you don’t have time for regular cleaning)


  • Not rechargeable like other organic charcoal products

Final thought

Smelly fridges are caused by bad or spilled food, some moist spots can even develop mold and contribute to the bad smells. Sometimes, it’s the fridge itself that is the root of the problems.

Try cleaning your fridge regularly. Remove everything in the fridge first, then use cleaning solutions and towel to wipe everything, do the same for the removable components. Then inspect and remove the bad food.

Hope that after cleaning the fridge properly with the above-mentioned methods, you will worry about the fridge smells.



Jenny Brown
Hi, I’m Jenny. On my blog, you will find helpful advice about using and organizing the kitchen appliances. You will also receive the recommendations on choosing a compact refrigerator or freezer that best fits your demands. Besides, frozen meals from the freezer bring many incredible benefits because they ensure freshness, deliciousness, and full nutrients. Many helpful tips from experts on frozen meals will also be found.