7 Habits That Are Making Your Fridge Smell Bad, According to Professional Cleaners

And how to finally get rid of the funk.

<p>Zakharova Elena/Getty Images</p>

Zakharova Elena/Getty Images

The refrigerator gets plenty of attention from your household, but it’s not always the right kind of attention. Sure, you open and close the door throughout the day to stash leftovers, fill it with groceries, grab a drink, and more. But you’re in and out so quickly, it’s easy to ignore—or worse, become nose blind to—any malodors wafting out of the fridge. It ranges from a spoiled stench to a stale scent that just smells off. (And then it just permeates your food so it even tastes like your fridge… yuck.)

There are many reasons fridges occasionally stink up, but sometimes, we don’t even realize some of our own habits are triggering those awful odors. So we asked professional cleaners and cleaning experts to let us know what we’re doing wrong in our refrigerators—and how to get rid of those funky smells.

Related: Boil These Spices to Make Your House Smell Good

Letting Food Spoil and Sit Around

Perhaps the biggest cause of bad smells—to no one’s surprise—is old food. Brandon Pleshek, a third-generation janitor and the content creator behind Clean That Up!, says. “Many times, expired or spoiled food, and even crumbs, can decompose and cause persistent odors.”

So, always get rid of whatever is causing the odor! This may seem obvious, but some people will simply try to mask the scent or toss the smelly offender without properly cleaning the fridge afterward. (You don’t want lingering crumbs to continue decomposing!)

“A thorough deep cleaning is essential,” Pleshek says. He recommends using his favorite DIY mix of 1 cup white vinegar, 1 cup water, and 1 teaspoon of Dawn dish soap to clean and deodorize it.

Not Cleaning Your Fridge Regularly Enough

This is another somewhat obvious one, but be honest, when was the last time you really cleaned your fridge? Pleshek says this can be problematic if you don’t do it regularly—you’re essentially allowing little food particles to fester and rot in your fridge, like he mentioned earlier.

He says, “It's best to give it a quick wipe down and clean about once a week. I really like to do this before we go grocery shopping. That way, I don't have much to clean around.” And the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) agrees with this schedule.

Natalie D’Apolito, ACI’s communications and outreach coordinator, says, “Refrigerators should generally be cleaned out and sanitized at least once a week.” So keep in mind if your fridge is smelling a little stale, it could be that it just needs a thorough wipe-down!

To make cleaning a little easier, Pleshek recommends using a hand vacuum to suck up fridge crumbs before wet cleaning, especially in your produce drawers.

And Lori Williamson, the cleaning expert and content creator behind the brand NowItsClean on TikTok and Instagram, swears by a handheld steam cleaner. She says, “I love using my handheld steam cleaner to loosen grime. It makes it easier to wipe things away without the need for harsh chemicals. It keeps the fridge fresh and odor-free.”

Related: The 9 Best Steam Cleaners, According to Our Tests

Not Cleaning Spills Right Away

Kathy Cohoon, operations manager at Two Maids, says not cleaning up spills ASAP could also be contributing to funky odors. Clean them up immediately with a cloth, then follow up with a multi-surface spray or cleaner of choice to properly remove residue.

Not Replacing Your Deodorizing Baking Soda Often

Baking soda is an excellent deodorizer, but it does lose its odor-absorbing efficacy over time, and there’s a good chance you’re not swapping it out enough. D’Apolito says, “Since baking soda absorbs the odor molecules in the air, make sure it is in a vented container and that you replace it at least every month.”

She also cautions against cooking or baking with baking soda that’s been used as an odor-eliminator. “You’ll also be using the smells it absorbed as well!”

Baking Soda Alternatives

If you'd prefer to reserve your baking soda strictly for cooking, Cohoon recommends a variety of other DIY stink-busting alternatives.

  • Activated Charcoal: Similar to baking soda, activated charcoal can absorb odors. Place a few pieces in a container and leave it in your fridge.

  • White Vinegar: Wipe down the interior of your fridge with a mixture of equal parts water and white vinegar to neutralize odors.

  • Coffee Grounds: Used coffee grounds can help absorb odors. Place them in a bowl and leave them in your fridge for a few days.

  • Citrus Peels: Place orange, lemon, or lime peels in your fridge to add a fresh scent.

  • Vanilla Extract: Place a few drops of vanilla extract on a cotton ball and leave it in your fridge for a pleasant scent.

Using Plastic Containers

We totally get the convenience of plastic food containers, and we’re not suggesting you get rid of them all! But be aware they might be making your smelly sitch worse.

Williamson says, “With the rise of TikTok, people are loving neat and organized fridges using plastic acrylic containers. Aesthetic vibes! However, for storing food, glass containers are superior as they resist odors and seal in freshness.”

Relegate those plastic containers to the non-food-related parts of your home, like for storing craft supplies, or recycle them properly if they’re in rough condition.

Related: This Is How to Clean Those Food Storage Containers

Not Properly Closing Your Lids

On that note, you could have all glass containers in your fridge, but if you’re not sealing them properly, then it won’t matter. D’Apolito points out this is another bad habit people might not realize they’re making.

According to Cohoon, this can really cause trouble if you’re storing strong-smelling foods like onions, garlic, and certain cheeses in them. And many of those silicone covers for veggies like onions and avocados hit the same (smelly) note—they might be keeping your produce fresh, but they’re still letting some stink seep out.

Store food and cut veggies in glass containers with plastic locking lids that are rimmed with a rubber gasket to truly keep odors trapped.

Not Using Washable Mats

Keeping your fridge shelves unlined is not going to help your stinky dilemma. Popping in some washable mats takes zero effort, and according to Williamson, her favorite “reusable, trimmable mats contain spills, prevent odors, and are easy to clean for a hygienic fridge environment.”

Related: How to Make Your House Smell Good—Experts Share 19 Secrets

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