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16 best ways to help remove smells from your refrigerator

From storing your family’s favorite foods to housing this week’s meal prep for busy evenings, your refrigerator is essential to everyday care. It’s important that your refrigerator looks and smells fresh to keep your food fresh, too.

Read this guide to learn more about how to get rid of refrigerator smells, from basic cleaning and maintenance to natural remedies like lemons or baking soda.

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What causes a refrigerator to smell?

To eliminate refrigerator odors, it is important to first identify the source. Bacteria, mold, food spills and odors, expired food items and leaking containers can all be potential causes of the smell.

Person removing things from a 4-door refrigerator Person removing things from a 4-door refrigerator

How to clean a fridge that smells

Getting rid of the smells in your refrigerator does not have to be a difficult job. It is possible to remove many unpleasant odors with a few simple steps and natural deodorizers. This guide will provide a step-by-step process for helping to solve a smelly refrigerator.

  • Warm water

  • Dish soap

  • Clean towel

  • Wash cloth

4-door refrigerator open to reveal contents 4-door refrigerator open to reveal contents

Discard spoiled food

The culprit of your refrigerator’s odor may be spoiled or expired food. Throw away anything that has expired or spoiled, and organize your refrigerator and freezer so that foods are easily accessible and not forgotten.

Regularly replace your refrigerator air filter

Select Whirlpool® refrigerators are equipped with an air filter that can be 15 times more powerful than baking soda at reducing food odors. Regularly replacing the air filter as indicated by your refrigerator’s owner’s manual can help to prevent and eliminate odors.

Liquid spilled on the shelf of a fridge Liquid spilled on the shelf of a fridge

Clean the refrigerator’s interior

To begin removing unpleasant odors from your refrigerator, thoroughly clean the fridge. Unplug your refrigerator and carefully remove all food and removable drawers and shelves, then wipe the inside with warm water and dish soap. After rinsing, dry off internal surfaces with a clean towel. Do not put any of your refrigerator’s parts in the dishwasher.

Clean the refrigerator’s drawer and shelf channels

To clean drawer or shelf channels, use warm, soapy water and then thoroughly rinse them. Completely dry the channels with a soft microfiber cloth before returning the drawers and shelves.

If you have spillovers in your refrigerator, it can cause the crisper bins or shelves to stick. Take out all removable parts, and clean spills using warm water, a soft cloth and mild dish soap. Then wipe down the fridge frame. If the spillover is particularly heavy, extra cleaning may be needed.

Refrigerator open Refrigerator open

Clean the refrigerator gasket

Cleaning your refrigerator’s gaskets (the seal on the interior of the door, usually made of rubber, that keeps air from escaping) can help prevent and eliminate odors. Wash the gaskets with a clean sponge or soft cloth and mild detergent in warm water. Then, rinse well and wipe the gasket dry with a clean, soft cloth.

Clean the refrigerator’s drip pan

Cleaning the drip pan regularly can also help prevent and remove smells. To do this, carefully remove the drip pan from the bottom of the fridge and wash it with warm water and dish soap. Make sure to thoroughly rinse and dry it before putting it back.

Air it out

Unplug your fridge and clean the interior with baking soda for extra freshness. Then air it out, leaving the door open for at least a day before plugging it back in.

Refrigerator open to show contents Refrigerator open to show contents

Ways to remove fridge smells naturally

In addition to cleaning your refrigerator’s interior and parts, there are natural ways to help eliminate some odors, such as baking soda and vinegar. Read the section below to learn what to put in a fridge to help remove smells.

Baking soda

Once the refrigerator is thoroughly cleaned, place a box of baking soda on one of the shelves. You can do the same for your freezer. This natural deodorizer will help to absorb and eliminate any remaining odors.

Activated charcoal

Place one paper bowl of activated charcoal inside the refrigerator and one inside the freezer compartment. For particularly powerful odors, multiple bowls can be added to each compartment.

Breath mints

Place a dampened breath mint on a paper plate, and leave the plate on the refrigerator's center shelf to help eliminate food odors and other smells.


Create paper balls using newspaper pages, then place them on a paper plate. Add a drop of cooking vanilla to each paper ball. Put a plate on each shelf in the refrigerator and freezer compartments for up to a few weeks—the carbon in newspaper ink will help absorb unpleasant odors.

4 doors open on a refrigerator 4 doors open on a refrigerator


Lemons can be another helpful tool. Use a towel soaked in lemon juice to wipe down the shelves after cleaning your refrigerator. For maximum absorption, you can leave slices of lemon in a bowl in the fridge for a few hours or up to a week.

Coffee grounds

Coffee grounds contain nitrogen which is great for neutralizing odors. If you’re dealing with refrigerator odors, try placing a small bowl of coffee grounds in your fridge compartment. It will not only help absorb the odor but also leave behind a slight coffee smell.

Person removing things from a 4-door refrigerator Person removing things from a 4-door refrigerator


For very stubborn odors, wipe down the refrigerator’s interior with a mixture of equal parts water and white vinegar. This natural deodorizer can help get rid of persistent smells.


Oats can also help absorb refrigerator odors. Place uncooked oats in an uncovered container inside the fridge to deodorize your refrigerator naturally.

Person replacing removable shelf from refrigerator Person replacing removable shelf from refrigerator

Why does my fridge smell bad even after cleaning?

Depending on how strong the odor or smell is, it may take a few weeks or months for  penetrating odors to go away. Some odors may have been absorbed into your refrigerator's insulation. If odors cannot be removed, it may be time to shop for a new refrigerator or freezer. If that is the case, make sure to discard your old appliance safely.  

Dirty evaporator coils can be another reason the smell may linger. Evaporator coils are located at the back of your freezer and produce cold air for both the refrigerator and freezer. If these coils become clogged with dust and dirt, they can cause your appliance to smell bad and not run properly. Note that not all evaporator coils are exposed.

Four doors open on a refrigerator Four doors open on a refrigerator

How can I keep my refrigerator smelling fresh?

To help make your fridge smell fresh, consider the following tips:

  • Keep foods tightly wrapped or covered.

  • Clean spills immediately.

  • Clean both the fridge and the freezer once a month.

  • Keep the fridge and freezer well-organized to avoid forgetting about food or allowing it to expire.

  • Discard any spoiled or rotten food.

  • Keep the area underneath your refrigerator clean by regularly cleaning up anything that has accumulated over time.

  • If your refrigerator has an air filter, regularly replace the filter based on the indicator tab. 

  • Keep your refrigerator at the correct temperature to help avoid prematurely spoiling your food.

Explore Whirlpool® refrigerators

Whirlpool® refrigerators come in various styles and finishes with select models offering features like spill-proof shelves to simplify cleanup, contain spills and help prevent liquids from leaking below. With a refrigerator from Whirlpool brand, you can fit and find it all with purposefully-designed storage spaces for items you use most, helping you to maintain your fridge’s organization even on the busiest days.

Learn more about refrigerators with Whirlpool brand

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