Family and Consumer Sciences Education: Removing Odors from the Refrigerator and Freezer

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   The refrigerator and freezer are two of the most important appliances in the home and are key to keeping food safe. However, some of us may have experienced a failure or malfunction of these appliances. This can happen because of a power outage, a door left open, or flooding. When the refrigerator or freezer fails the food in them can spoil and leave an unpleasant odor. In many situations, the unit will still operate properly once power is restored. But, how do you remove the strong, unpleasant odors that can linger in the unit?

   Follow these steps to help remove odors from spoiled food from the refrigerator or freezer. In some conditions, the odors may be difficult to remove, and actions may need to be repeated.

   First, remove food from the unit and discard any spoiled food. Remove the shelves and drawers and wash with hot water and dish detergent. Rinse the items with clean water and sanitize with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of warm water. Allow these items to air dry before placing them back into the unit.

Wash the interior of the unit with hot water and baking soda. Rinse with clean water and then wipe with the sanitizing solution. Leave the door open for 15 minutes to allow air to circulate.

   For stubborn odors it may be necessary to place trays of activated charcoal or baking soda on the shelves of the unit. Run the freezer or refrigerated empty for 2-3 days. Activated charcoal can be purchased from pet or retail stores that sell aquarium supplies.

   Freshly ground coffee is also effective at removing unwanted odors from a refrigerator or freezer. Place coffee on a cookie sheet and leave in a closed unit and allow to run empty for 2-3 days. Note that the scent of coffee may remain in the unit but will dissipate after the unit is washed and rinsed.

   If you find that odors remain after using these methods try wiping the unit with equal parts vinegar and water. If none of these methods work to remove the smells, consider working with an appliance technician.

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