What Causes a Bad Smell in the Back of a Fridge?

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Unless someone in your family is conducting a science experiment that you're not privy to, the bad smell emanating from the back of your refrigerator is undoubtedly spoiled or spoiling food. It might not be resting – and rotting – on a plate in full view, allowing you to spot it easily and throw it away. You might have to hunt for it in a storage container or wrapped in a piece of plastic or foil. But find it you must: It might be leaking, and the leakage is probably adding to the stench.

Let's assume that you find one of the smelliest combinations possible: a piece of rotting fried salmon, topped with spoiled onions and garlic, that has left a slimy residue underneath it. In the interest of being thorough and preventing the odors from infiltrating the “good” food in your refrigerator, you'll want to clean and sanitize it so that opening the door is once again a path to pleasant gustatory discoveries.

Things You'll Need

  • Mild dish soap

  • Bucket

  • Soft sponge

  • Microfiber cloth or paper towels

  • Baking soda

  • White vinegar, vanilla extract, coffee grounds or crumpled newspaper (optional)

Step 1: Remove the Shelves

Remove the shelves from your refrigerator. Rinse them with warm water. Then place them in the sink so that they can soak in a soapy solution of mild dish soap and water.

Step 2: Clean the Walls

Dissolve 2 tablespoons of baking soda in a bucket with 2 quarts of warm water. Clean the side walls of your refrigerator with this odor-fighting solution, using a soft sponge. Wipe the walls dry with a microfiber cloth, which carries no lint, or paper towels.

Step 3: Wash the Shelves

Wash the refrigerator shelves with a soft sponge. Let them air dry or dry them with a microfiber cloth before returning them to your refrigerator.

Step 4: Unleash Baking Soda

Open a fresh box of baking soda. Place it on the top shelf, in the back of your refrigerator. Give it 24 hours to absorb any lingering odor.

Step 5: Attack Stubborn Odors

Follow your nose in attacking stubborn odors. For example, white vinegar can be an effective odor-fighting remedy, but many people find the smell of it to be offensive. If you don't, remove the food from your refrigerator and wash the shelves and walls with a vinegar-water solution, about 1 cup of vinegar per 1 gallon of water. Alternatively, turn to the sweeter smell of vanilla by placing a small bowl of vanilla extract in the back of refrigerator. If you'd like to wake up and smell the coffee – from your refrigerator, not your coffee pot – place some fresh coffee grounds in a bowl on a shelf in your refrigerator. If you prefer no scent at all, crumple some newspaper and stuff the wads in your refrigerator's drawers and doors. But keep an eye on the newspaper and remove it before it can get wet and drip ink onto the shelves and walls of your fridge.

Consult your refrigerator's owner's manual to ensure that you're making the best use possible of the meat and produce drawers. They should be designed to keep food at the proper temperature and humidity levels so that it stays fresh for as long as possible.

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