Get the
stink out!

Perhaps you forgot about those leftovers in the back of the fridge, or there was a power outage while you were away on vacation. Maybe you have to clean out your college kid's fridge in order to get a security deposit back. Or, if you're like me, you returned home after six weeks to find that your short-term subletters unplugged the fridge before they left a month ago. Oops! Whatever the cause of the smell, there are a number of natural ways to deodorize a stinky refrigerator.

The key to a fresh-smelling fridge is not to mask the bad odors, but to make them go away. You do this by getting to the root of the smell (yeah maybe that home-brewed kombucha wasn't such a great idea after all), cleaning and then finding products that absorb the stench.

Get your refrigerator road map >>

Toss the perpetrator

The first step to getting rid of a bad smell in your fridge is to find out what's causing it and throw it out. Chances are it's just one item, like some lettuce rotting in the crisper or particularly pungent leftovers. Of course, if your fridge lost power for an extended period of time you may need to ditch everything. Use your judgment.

spray bottleClean

Even if you didn't have to purge the contents your fridge, this is as good a time as any to give it a good cleaning. Use your favorite antibacterial cleaning spray and a dishcloth or paper towels to wipe down all the surfaces.


Next, you're going to want to put something in the refrigerator that will absorb the smell. Baking soda is the classic choice, but ground coffee or even tea bags are great alternatives. Leave them in open containers in the fridge for as long as there is an odor (many people opt to leave an open box of baking soda in the refrigerator at all times as a preventative measure).


Once you have the smell mostly gone, you can start to mask it just a little with a few natural kitchen "perfumes." Rub a vanilla extract-soaked cotton ball on the shelves for a fresh vanilla scent or spread a few lemon slices throughout the shelves (just don't forget about them and let them get moldy — you'll be back at square one!).


If the smell persists, give it another thorough clean. That, and some time, should be enough to rid your fridge of even the most persistent smells. To prevent your food from absorbing the odors, be sure everything is tightly sealed in jars or plastic containers. Ice cube trays with covers are great if you can find them.

Learn how to properly store leftovers >>

More tips for keeping your fridge clean

How to clean a refrigerator
National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day
Kitchen fridge clean-up: What to keep and what to nix


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Comments on "In a pickle: How to deodorize your fridge"

Manurack March 15, 2014 | 7:33 PM

I went out on vacation for 3 weeks and I forgot about some bananas... Bread... Old leftovers... Damn packing last minute lol anyways I did all four steps, let baking soda sit in there for a couple hours after a good cleaning, wiped vanilla extract and now it smells and looks awesome. The shelves and vegetable drawers were soaked in hot soapy water and cleaned. My entire fridge is now clean and smells awesome with the vanilla. I'll keep baking soda in there at all times as well as a few tea bags. Thanks for the tips they worked great!

Shannon June 09, 2013 | 4:20 PM

My fridge is usually relatively clean and I am pretty good about not leaving leftovers for long periods of time. However, lately the fridge has had an odd malodorous smell and being pregnant as well has made me completely wanting to avoid the kitchen. I just tried out all these tricks and am hoping for good results!

Katie August 21, 2012 | 3:20 PM

The biggest smell in my fridge is the smell of leftovers. It’s not a particularly bad smell, just a “food” smell that can sometimes permeate everything. I like the tip about using an open container of ground coffee or tea bags to absorb the odors instead of baking soda. I am progressive and I like to try new things, and I also like the smell of ground coffee, so I think this will work for me. I also heard that using dishwashing liquid like Dawn and a wet wash cloth is a good way to clean the inside of your fridge.

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