Fridge Smells But No Rotten Food? (here’s why & what to do)

Did you open your fridge only to catch a whiff of a foul odour emanating from it?

We know how awful it is to have a fridge that smells bad, but if there’s no rotten food in it, what could be causing the odour?

There are a lot of reasons why your refrigerator may be smelling like rotting waste. Let us go into each culprit and learn about what you can do to make your fridge smell nice again.

9 Reasons Why Your Fridge Smells Like Something Is Rotting Inside + What You Should Do

When your fridge is already starting to smell, the best thing you can do is clean it.

However, your efforts may just be wasted if you don’t know exactly what’s causing it to smell that way.

Here are some of the reasons why:

Reason #1: There’s food that has expired before they’re supposed to

Once the foul smell hits your nose, we already know that you’ve looked into every corner of your fridge trying to find rotten food.

Unfortunately, the ones that are just lying around inconspicuously may be the culprit. We’re talking about food that has spoiled WAY before its expiry date. Since many of us trust the labels on a product, we wouldn’t blame you if you think that the food is still okay as long as it has not yet passed its expiry date.

Due to a variety of reasons, food can go off even if they’re not yet supposed to spoil. This could be due to many reasons like a fridge door not being closed properly, unstable temperature, and more.

A loaf of bread with mold on it

For example, when you look at a gallon of milk, its expiry date may be a week from now. However, you may notice that it has already curdled and upon opening it, it already has that awful smell.

This smell can easily spread in your fridge, causing you to think that maybe something died in there.

What to do: In this situation, the thing you must do is manually check the state of your food, even if the expiry date is still far. Look for visible signs of spoilage, and don’t forget to do a sniff test too!

NOTE: Mould can certainly grow on food, even inside the fridge! Make sure to check your food and when there are signs of mould growth, immediately put the item inside a paper bag and dispose properly.

Reason #2: There’s stagnant water on the bottom of your fridge

It’s a normal occurrence for fridges to produce water due to their cooling process. At times, you may even see a bit of water pooling around its corners.

When this happens, you may think, “Surely, it’s not just the water that’s making the fridge smell.” However, believe us when we say that it can indeed cause a foul smell once the water has mixed with food remnants, bacteria, and fungi.

What to do: If you notice stagnant water on the bottom or insides of your fridge, you can use a paper towel to remove the moisture. You can also use a clean towel to wipe your fridge and get rid of the excess liquid.

Reason #3: There’s smelly food inside your fridge

Smelly food does not always mean they’re already spoiled. Chances are, they may have a strong odour which is the case for some food like fish, onion and kimchi!

When you have food with strong odours inside your fridge, it’s normal for the smell to spread inside your appliance.

What to do: If you need to store food with strong smells in your refrigerator, it’s best to store them properly. You can always make use of Tupperware or air-tight containers to reduce the annoying smell from spreading in your fridge.

TIP: To help reduce the bad smell in your fridge, place a cup of baking soda inside. Baking soda is known to absorb bad odours.

Reason #4: You didn’t clean your fridge after removing rotten food

When you opened the fridge and smelled a foul odour, you may have remembered that there’s food in it that has spoiled and rotten. You already took them out but still, the smell wouldn’t go away.

This probably happened because you didn’t clean your fridge thoroughly after you removed the spoiled food. As we know, food leaves a residue in the fridge where it’ll continue to smell unless wiped away and cleaned.

Unfortunately, the residue from rotten food will continue to smell worse as days go by, even if the actual spoiled food is no longer inside your fridge.

What to do: Remove all the food from your fridge and use a damp towel to wipe the residue away.

Reason #5: There are spills or leaks in your fridge

Liquids from your vegetables, fruits, juices, and other kinds of food that produce moisture tend to spill and leak.

When this happens, you’ll know that the liquid will certainly produce a bad smell if not taken care of.

What to do: Find the source of the spill or leakage, then dispose of or transfer it to another container if possible. For the spillage, use paper towels to absorb the moisture, then wipe with a clean cloth to pat the area dry.

Reason #6: You didn’t clean your fridge trays

Almost all fridge models have trays such as drip pans and bins to catch liquids produced by condensation.

Unfortunately, not many people know that these trays have to be cleaned regularly to keep the fridge smelling fresh. It’s not enough to just drain the water or liquids, either.

What to do: Schedule a day dedicated to cleaning your fridge’s trays and pans. You can clean them by removing the items that may be in your way, then gently removing them from the appliance. Then, run the trays under water and wash them with liquid soap. Once they’re thoroughly washed, make sure that they’re completely dry before reinstalling them back in the fridge.

Reason #7: There’s food or waste under your fridge

Have you raided your entire fridge and you still don’t see anything that’s causing the foul smell? If so, you may want to look underneath.

At times, we may not notice when food or residue gets under your appliance. This could be something small like a tomato, a piece of cheese, or even an egg. Unfortunately, there will come a time when the stuck food rots, which would result in a bad odour near your fridge, causing you to think that the smell is from the inside.

What to do: Shine a flashlight underneath your fridge and see if there is food stuck in it. If there is, use a broom or mop to clean the area.

Reason #8: The filters on your fridge are clogged

You’ve looked everywhere and still did not find the smelly culprit that’s disrupting your fridge. Now’s the time to check out your appliance’s parts.

When there’s a smell problem in your fridge, the filters should be the first thing you should investigate. This is because they’re responsible for circulating air inside, which means that if they’re not working properly, you may notice your fridge smelling musty.

What to do: Start cleaning your filters if you see that they don’t need replacing. Make sure to check your appliance’s user manual to avoid damaging it or putting yourself in danger. If you’re not confident with doing so yourself, get assistance from a qualified repair professional.

Reason #9: Your fridge needs a deep clean

Finally, when all else is checked and your fridge still smells horrible, then it’s now time for a deep clean.

There are many benefits to cleaning your fridge. It’ll make it more energy efficient and in doing so, increases its life span significantly[1]. Unfortunately, it’s not really enjoyable to do, but if you want to fix the smell issue, get those towels ready.

What to do: Read your fridge’s user manual before attempting to deep clean it. Unplug your appliance, take out all items, and store them in a cool area. Using a soft cloth or towel, wipe the interior of the fridge thoroughly. Removable parts such as drawers can be washed in soapy water and dried before being reinstalled in the appliance. Once all parts of the interior are clean, wait for it to dry completely before turning it on again. Wipe the exterior of the fridge using a damp cloth.

Keep your fridge smelling clean

So there you go, we hope that we helped you determine why your fridge is smelling foul and fixed the issue for good!

Do you have some tips to share to keep your fridge smelling clean? Do share them in the comments!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my fridge smell bad with nothing in it?

An empty fridge can still smell bad due to bacteria, mould, and mildew growth.

How do you fix a smelly fridge?

Depending on what’s causing the smell, the best thing you can do is deep clean your fridge to get rid of the foul odour.

How do you deep clean a refrigerator?

Different fridges require different ways to deep clean. For many models, unplug the appliance, remove food items, wipe the interior with a damp cloth, and then allow it to dry before plugging it back in.

How do you disinfect a refrigerator naturally?

You can wipe your fridge with white vinegar or lemon to disinfect it. However, make sure to read the user manual first as these products may corrode your appliance.

Should I turn off the refrigerator when cleaning?

Yes, you should definitely turn off and unplug your fridge before cleaning it to avoid consuming electricity or electrocuting yourself.

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