Let’s be honest — we’ve all had to deal with a smelly fridge at least once in our lives. Whether you’ve forgotten to throw out the lettuce before leaving for a week or let the milk go a few days past its expiration date, fridge smells are inevitable. And while you would be tempted to just turn it off and forget about it, doing so will only make things worse.

However, many people don’t know that the nastiest part about odors is that they are caused by bacteria or mold. These microbes are invisible and usually thrive with moisture, which makes your fridge a perfect environment. In fact, condensation and outside humidity, which are common for fridges that are turned off, are the biggest culprits.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to get rid of and prevent foul odors when you turn off your fridge. Let’s check them out!

Empty Out the Fridge

As a rule of thumb, you should never leave food in your fridge if you want to turn it off. As a matter of fact, bacteria from leftover food can make your fridge smell in no time. So make sure to empty your fridge before you turn it off, regardless of how much time you plan to keep it off.

Deep Clean

Unfortunately, not every type of cleaner works on a smelly fridge. For instance, dish soaps have a fragrance that will mask but not eliminate food odors. Similarly, scented cleaning sprays can affect the taste and smell of food, even weeks after using them. Therefore, you should stick to the bacteria cleaning bleach and odor-absorbing baking soda.

Baking Soda

When cleaning a smelly fridge, you’ll first want to wipe away any crumbs and spills with a damp cloth. Next, you should mix one-quarter cup of hot water with two tablespoons of baking soda. Then, use it to sponge down all drawers, shelves, door seals, and fridge walls.

You can also use the mixture to remove caked-on residue by allowing it to soak for a couple of hours before scrubbing it with an old toothbrush. Don’t forget to wipe the entire fridge with fresh water after using baking soda.


Bleach is great for removing bacteria and foul odors, especially after your fridge has been turned off for a long time. All you need to do is mix one tablespoon of bleach with a gallon of warm water and wipe the fridge’s surfaces with it. Then you should rinse with fresh water and a damp sponge. And finally, use a dish towel or rag to dry your fridge.

Air Out the Fridge

If your fridge is clean yet still smells funny, you should open its doors and let the air circulate for at least an hour. Why? Because more often than not, odors get trapped and soak into the shelves and walls. Also, don’t forget to remove any perishable food before you air out your fridge so it doesn’t go bad.

Clean the Evaporator

The evaporator coil is responsible for the cold air inside your fridge and freezer. However, it can get permeated by foul odors, which is exactly why some smells won’t go away. As a result, you should locate the coil on the back wall of the freezer and clean it thoroughly.

You can do so by removing the screws that anchor the panel, unplugging the electronic controls, and completely removing the panel. Use a spray bottle to apply soapy water to the coils and capture the dirty water with a rag. Repeat the process, using fresh water to rinse and then allow the coils to air dry before putting the panel back together again. Remember to also give the panel a quick scrub, especially if it has traces of moisture.

Deodorize the Interior

Sometimes, no matter how hard you clean your fridge, the smell will persist. That’s when you should give commercial fridge odor cleansers a try. Alternatively, you can also use natural methods to deodorize the interior of the fridge.

The Natural Methods

The easiest way to deodorize a fridge is to place a box of baking soda on one of the shelves. But if you don’t have any baking soda, you can rely on other items that naturally absorb odors, such as active charcoal, fresh coffee grounds, and crumpled newspapers. Additionally, you can soak a cotton pad in vanilla extract, which you can use to perfume the fridge.

Commercial Fridge Odor Cleanser and Absorber

If the natural method doesn’t work, you can give commercial fridge odor cleansers and absorbers a try. For example, the NonScents Refrigerator Deodorizer can remove odors within a couple of hours and prevent further occurrences.

Or, you can use the Arm & Hammer Fridge Fresh Air Filters, which are specially designed to absorb and deodorize food odors. But regardless of which product you choose, you should be able to escape unpleasant odors in no time.

Prevent Fridge Odors and Smells in the Future

Once your fridge is clean and odorless, you’ll want to prevent odors from ever occurring again. The following tips should help you do that with ease:

  • Use airtight containers for leftovers.
  • To prevent mold and bacteria growth, change the temperature of your fridge to anywhere between 37 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Label leftovers so you know which ones need to be thrown out soon.
  • Make sure that your fridge has good air circulation by organizing its contents constantly as you consume food.
  • Check your fridge for food spoilage or leakage.
  • Clean your fridge regularly, especially when planning to turn it off for a long period of time.

The Bottom Line

Nobody can argue that the fridge is one of the hardest working appliances in one’s home. As a result, you’ll have to take care of it constantly, even when it’s turned off. In fact, a clean fridge will make you feel better about storing your food. It will also improve the taste of your food and make it last longer.

And while preventing is better than cure, you can always check out our guide if your fridge is dealing with bad odors.

Related: How to Move a Fridge Without Scratching the Floor

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