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fridge odor removal tips

Nothing says "ick" quite like a nasty fridge odor.

Whether the sushi went south last month or you need to neutralize the everyday accumulation of bad smells in your refrigerator, odor removal starts with a quick cleaning out and cleaning up of your fridge's interior.

Here's how to bring back a fresh, clean smell to your refrigerator, and how to keep the foods inside from spoiling.

Naturally, the process begins with a basic - but thorough - cleaning.

Remove All Food From the Fridge

Examine everything inside the refrigerator carefully as you remove it, even if you've already identified the cause of the bad smells.

Keep what appears to be edible; toss what's gone south.

Clean All Interior Surfaces

Dissolve four teaspoons baking soda in one-quart water. With a soft, clean cloth, wash all interior surfaces of the refrigerator, including the top, bottom, drawers, and walls.  

Rinse surfaces with warm water. Dry with a soft, clean cloth. 

Pack the Fridge with Newspaper and Charcoal Briquets or Coffee Grounds

Pack the refrigerator, including the doors and drawers, with crumpled sheets of newspaper. (Black and white only - no color pages.)

Place charcoal briquettes or coffee grounds randomly throughout the newspaper to soak up those bad smells.

Close the Doors and Let Stand 24 to 48 Hours

Remove charcoal briquets, coffee grounds, and newspapers. Wash all interior surfaces with a rag moistened with liquid dishwashing detergent mixed with water.

Pay special attention to corners and crevices to remove any lingering bad smells.

How Long Foods Keep

Refrigerating foods helps keep them fresh, but they still won't last forever. Here are some examples of how long it's safe to keep some comm foods inside:



  • Eggs
  • Hot dogs
  • Meats, deli
  • Meats, Fish, Poultry
  • Meats, other
  • Milk
  • Pies
  • Sour cream
  • Vegetables, cooked
  • Vegetables, fresh
  • 3 weeks
  • 2 weeks unopened
  • 3 to 5 days once opened
  • 2 days cooked; 1-2 uncooked
  • 3 to 5 days
  • 5 to 7 days
  • 1 to 2 days
  • 4 weeks
  • 3 to 4 days
  • Ranges from 2 days for soft veggies like asparagus or okra to 2 weeks for hard vegetables like radishes or carrots

Best advice: When in doubt, throw it away. A little thriftiness is not worth a tummy ache, or worse.

How to Prevent Future Fridge Odor

Used correctly, your refrigerator will keep food safe from spoilage and bacteria, and all your fridge smells should be of the positive (dinner!) variety. Misused, it could cause big trouble of the tummy kind.

Essentially, no food benefits from storage. You want to eat everything as fresh as you can. But since we can't all tromp out to the garden to harvest produce for each meal, here are some guidelines for making your fridge function at its best.

  • To keep food from spoiling in the refrigerator, the temperature needs to be between 34 degrees F and 40 degrees F. You can't depend on the little gauge (1-5) in the fridge. Buy a refrigerator thermometer. 
  • Some parts of your refrigerator are colder than others. The meat compartment at the bottom is designed to store meat, so put meat there. Not only is this the coldest area, but if a package leaks, it won't contaminate other foods - and cause odors.
  • The door is the warmest part of the refrigerator. This is the best place for nonperishables (sodas) - not perishables like eggs.
  • Don't put hot food in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature before refrigerating it. Hot food can cause refrigerator temperatures to drop.
  • On the other hand, don't leave food out too long, either. Refrigerate prepared food within two hours of cooking (one hour in the summer).
  • To prevent future odors, remember always to wipe up spills immediately to keep bacteria from growing. It's those growths - furry or otherwise - that cause bad smells here. Wash spilled areas with soapy water; then disinfect with a solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach in 1 quart of water.
  • Don't store bread, cookies, or most types of cakes in the refrigerator; they will become stale.
  • Don't overload the refrigerator. Parties are a dangerous time because you cram a lot of food into the refrigerator, and then you're continually opening the door. Turn the temperature down during these occasions to keep the food cold.
  • Cover foods tightly. Leave meats in their original packaging to prevent spreading bacteria.
  • If you lose power, do not open your refrigerator or freezer. If the door is not opened, food should keep eight hours in the refrigerator and 48 hours in the freezer.
  • Weekly, do a more thorough cleaning. Examine the contents inside and check expiration dates. Toss those items past their prime. Rotate food and condiments so that the oldest of any item (milk, for example) is front and center when little hands are searching.
  • Deep clean monthly. First, unplug for safety. Remove all food. Dissolve four teaspoons of baking soda in 1 quart of water. Use a soft, clean cloth to wash all interior surfaces. Be sure to hit the top, bottom, drawers, and walls. Pay special attention to corners and crevices.
  • Finish by rinsing surfaces clean with warm water. Dry with a soft, clean cloth, and place an opened box of baking soda on low shelf as your first defense against future bad smells here.

You might like these

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  • Food Shelf Life Guide: How Long Foods Last

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  • Food Safety Tips

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› Fridge Odor Removal Tips


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