November 8, 2022  

How to Clean A Smelly Fridge

A smelly fridge is a sign of bacteria and germs lurking in bins and out-of-sight corners of your refrigerator. Learn how to deep clean your refrigerator and prevent the smells from returning.

A stinky fridge wafts every time you open the doors. It’s annoying, smelly, – not to mention, it’s a sign of something gross hiding out where you store your food. The refrigerator is one of those kitchen spaces that gets the most use on a daily basis and is also the most neglected in terms of cleaning. 

One afternoon I made a plan to organize our fridge from top to bottom and a stink stopped me in my tracks. I knew it was time to give the refrigerator a complete deep cleaning.

Deep cleaning the fridge was also the perfect opportunity to finally organize our refrigerator. The bins and organizers are ideal for maximizing storage space, including using different “zones” for foods. Be sure to take a tour of our refrigerator after you learn how to clean your fridge with the steps below.

Looking for more cleaning tips? Take a look at these blog posts:


This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure policy for details.

How to Clean Your Fridge

1. Remove Everything

First things first: completely empty your refrigerator. That’s right – every bottle and leftover needs to come out so you can get every inch and crevice clean, especially if you are dealing with an odor. Take this time to clear out any expired items, too.

Once the fridge is empty, remove drawers and shelving so you can really get all the yuck out!

2. Vacuum Crumbs & Debris

Then, use a handheld vacuum to suck up all the crumbs and debris hiding out in the fridge. Be sure to get inside the compartments and shelving areas. A handheld vacuum with different attachments is really handy for this part.

(By the way, this little Brigii vacuum is one of my favorite purchases of the year! The attachments are awesome for hard-to-reach areas and I find myself using the vacuum all over the house.)

3. Wash the Fridge Interior

After all the debris has been removed, wash the shelves and drawers with bar mop towels and a cleaning solution of warm water mixed with a drop of dish soap. If your fridge is particularly stinky, add a little baking soda to the cleaning solution to absorb odors as needed.

I tend to lean more toward natural cleaning options whenever possible, but feel free to use any household cleaner or solution you are comfortable with.

I find that this set of OXO Appliance Cleaning Brushes comes in handy for scrubbing crevices and stubborn messes. The set has two different brush styles plus two scrapers.

4. Wipe Down Bottles & Jars

When the fridge is completely washed down, quickly wipe down your refrigerator items (sauce bottles, juice containers, etc.) to remove any sticky residue that could contribute to another stinky situation.

5. Fill Your Fridge Back Up

I like to organize my fridge into categories, using drawers and various bins to keep things neat. You could put sauces and dressings on the left side door, juices and milk on the right; cheeses and sandwich meat in the left drawer, and produce on the right – whatever makes sense for your family.

Take a tour of my organized fridge for some ideas on how to make the most of your fridge space!

6. Do A Quick Fridge Cleanout Once A Week

Now, add a reminder to your calendar to clean out old leftovers and do a quick wipe-down before grocery shopping every week. I’ve built this into my grocery shopping routine so I automatically pull out the old leftovers and wipe down any sticky spills before I start putting away the groceries.

A few minutes of regular maintenance weekly will keep your fridge smelling fresh between deep cleanings!

How to Get Rid of Refrigerator Smells

If you’ve done your deep cleaning and there’s still an odor lurking somewhere, we need to do a little more investigating.

Before hauling the fridge to the curb, check for these items in your refrigerator:

  • Expired fruits, veggies, or meat – This shouldn’t be an issue since we emptied everything, but do a quick double-check inside the drawers and compartments to be sure you didn’t miss something.
  • Crisper drawers – If you weren’t able to do this during the cleaning, find a YouTube video on how to remove these drawers. The smelly culprit is likely something that has spilled and festered below.
  • Dirty filter – Since the filter comes into contact with moisture, this can get nasty if neglected too long. Add a reminder to your calendar to check the filter on a regular basis and replace it as needed.
  • Drip tray – Most of us aren’t aware there is such a thing, but the drip tray can become a petri dish for stagnant water and bacterial growth. Reference the manual to find out where this is located and empty it. Then, give it a good scrub with hot, soapy water. Add a little hydrogen peroxide if the tray is especially dirty.
  • Under the fridge – With little ones, small food items can fall and get swept under the fridge never to be seen again! This is probably unlikely with chips and crackers, but fresh foods can rot and fester creating a foul odor. Carefully move the fridge, vacuum, and mop to eliminate this area as a culprit.

Fridge Odor Absorbers

If the odor is still present, it’s likely something that has seeped into the plastic of the refrigerator. In order to remedy this situation, you will need something to absorb the pesky odors. 

Here are five odor absorbers you can try immediately:

  1. Baking Soda – Add a fresh box of baking soda and leave it inside the refrigerator for about 3 days. Alternatively, add a little baking soda to a few bowls and place one on each shelf and inside each drawer.
  2. Lemon Juice – Grab a cloth and soak in the juice of half a lemon. Then, wipe down the inside of the fridge really well. Leave the remaining lemon wedge on a plate inside the refrigerator for a day or two.
  3. Coffee Grounds – Add a cup of coffee grounds to a plate in the refrigerator for a few days.
  4. Vanilla Essential Oil – Soak a cotton swab in vanilla essential oil and leave it in the refrigerator.
  5. White Vinegar – White vinegar is known for its food-safe disinfecting properties, too. Wipe down the refrigerator surfaces with newspaper or cloth and white vinegar.

How to Keep Your Fridge Clean

Now that your refrigerator is squeaky clean and odor free, let’s keep it that way! As with any home area, maintaining the area is much easier than embarking on a complete deep cleaning project each time something begins to smell or a project becomes too overwhelming.

Here are a couple of ideas to keep your fridge clean between deep cleanings:

  1. Wipe down bottles and jars after every use. As you are shutting down your kitchen every evening, give each condiment container a quick once over: wipe away sauce from the bottle mouth to prevent dried gunk, wipe the outside of each jar to remove the sticky and germs, etc.
  2. Quick-clean weekly. Before a weekly grocery run, remove expired leftovers and give the fridge a quick wipe-down. This way, you know what you need from the store and have plenty of room for the new groceries.
  3. Store food properly. Use the right airtight containers for leftovers, marinating meats, etc. Avoid wrapping things in foil as they can leak. Plus, these items are more likely to get shoved to the back as they are not clearly visible. Storing in clear containers keeps the food visible and noticeable when they begin to go off.
  4. Create food zones. I used small plastic baskets to organize our refrigerator. These are handy for storing the ingredients for meals or categorizing items like salad dressings, sauces, drinks, snacks, and more.
  5. Remove the clutter. There are likely a bunch of items in your fridge that don’t have to be refrigerated, like potatoes, tomatoes, onions, etc. Move these items to baskets or cabinets to make room for the items that require refrigeration.

Tackling a deep clean of a refrigerator or freezer can be daunting, but I hope these tips will help you maintain a clean, fresh fridge.

Looking for more cleaning tips? Take a look at these blog posts:

Have a fantastic day!

You May Also Like...

About the author

Emily Counts is the founder of Small Stuff Counts, a home and organization blog she created in 2013. Her goal is to help moms make home life easier so they can create beautiful, organized, and thriving homes. She shares life at home as a mom juggling two young kids and being a working mom with a corporate job. The Iowa-based blogger lives in the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband, two children, and rescue dog. Emily has collaborated with brands including The Container Store, Cricut, Command Brand, Bissell, Sam's Club and Rubbermaid.

12 ways to automate your to-do list

(that won't cost a dime)

Discover practical, easy-to-implement ideas for automating some of the recurring tasks on your to-do list. Subscribe to have the free guide sent straight to your inbox.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}