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Michigan State University Extension
Home Maintenance And Repair - 01500029

Removing Refrigerator and Freezer Odors

Odors may be caused by food left too long, "strong" foods not covered or packaged tightly,by a drip pan that needs cleaning, or by food spoiling when power goes off while the owner is away on vacation. A preventive measure is getting someone to check your home every day or so, or after a power outage in your area.

To remove odors:
1. Remove all items from refrigerator or freezer. Throw out any spoiled foods. Take out removable parts and wash them and door gasket with mild detergent in warm water. Rinse well and wipe dry.

2. Wash interior walls and door liner with solution of 1-2 tablespoonsful of baking soda to 1 quart warm water, and wipe dry. Leave door open and let it air out well, with a
fan directed toward inside, and opened windows if climate permits.

3. If odor still remains, try one or all of the following means of odor removal.

a. Spread baking soda out on shallow pans (like shallow glass casseroles, pie plates, or jelly roll pans lined with foil) and put pans on shelves to absorb odors, or on the bottom and in baskets of chest freezer. Leave open and unplugged.

b. Buy activated charcoal (which is specially treated to remove odor molecules from air) at some department store housewares sections, appliance store, or pet shop. Spread out on shallow pans and put on shelves of refrigerator. Turn refrigerator on low setting and run empty a few days so odors will be absorbed.

c. Spread cat litter in shallow pan in cabinet, turn on and run empty a few days. If odor is disappearing but is not all gone, replace old litter with fresh litter.

d. Pour several ounces imitation vanilla (not pure extract) in a shallow saucer, put on shelf and let run empty a few days.

e. Put fresh ground coffee in cereal bowls inside the refrigerator and let run empty several days. A slight coffee odor may remain, but will disappear after washing
again with baking soda solution.

f. Pack each refrigerator shelf with crumpled newspaper. Set a cup of water on the top shelf or sprinkle the newspaper lightly with water. Allow refrigerator to run
for approximately 5-6 days. This method takes a bit longer but has been effective in removal of strong odors.

g. Buy a commercial odor remover, and follow instructions exactly. Several companies manufacture a liquid concentrate which sells for about $3.00 for 1/4 to 1/2
ounce. A couple drops are put on a piece of cotton and placed in the area to absorb odors, in the cabinet or in a room.

Three of many brand names are: "Odor-Away" by Wrap-on Co., available at hardware and hospital supply stores, "SuperCD" IBL Household Products by Crackerbarrel Sales, Avenal, New Jersey, available in pet supply department or special products in grocery, or "Clean-Air" at some appliance repair shops.

Hospital supply stores carry Dow Chemical Hospital Disinfectant and Deodorant Spray. Spray into cabinet and quickly shut the door. Repeat.

4. If none of these methods removes all the odor, then it has probably penetrated into insulation. Contact an appliance service company for an estimate on cost of removing the liner and replacing the insulation. If cost is too high you may prefer to get a new appliance. It could be used for occasional cooling of soda pop where the odor will not get into the beverage.

If refrigerator cannot be salvaged and is discarded, remove the door or lid. It is a law in Michigan, to prevent deaths of children who may hide in the cabinet and suffocate.


This article was written by Anne Field, Extension Specialist, Emeritus, with references from Mary Ellen Delsipee, and Isabel Jones, previous Extension specialists.

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This information is for educational purposes only. References to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or bias against those not mentioned. This information becomes public property upon publication and may be printed verbatim with credit to MSU Extension. Reprinting cannot be used to endorse or advertise a commercial product or company.

MSU is an affirmative-action, equal-opportunity employer. Michigan State University Extension programs and materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or veteran status. Issued in furtherance of MSU Extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Thomas G. Coon, Director, MSU Extension, East Lansing,MI 48824. This information is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by MSU Extension or bias against those not mentioned.

This information.was reviewed as of June 2008.  For more information about the contents please contact for webpage problems .