Fridge Smells but There's no Rotten Food in It

Fridge Smells But There’s No Rotten Food in It – Causes and Solutions

There’s nothing worse than opening your fridge door, only for your senses to be assaulted by a foul smell radiating out of the doorway! 

A rancid odour pouring out of a fridge is really common. And although you may think that rotten food is the most likely culprit, it isn’t always the case. 

So, what else could be causing the evil smell in your fridge? Read on to find out.  

If you’ve removed all the rotten food from your fridge, and the fridge is still a bit pungent, then here are a few more reasons why your fridge could be smelling.

why fridge smells but with no rotten food

1. Not Cleaning After Removing Rotten Food

It’s really not uncommon for fridge users to remove old and mouldy food from a fridge, and then to forget to go back and clean the section where the stale food was kept. 

If you don’t clean the residue that the product has left behind, it will just fester there and it will start to smell.

Here’s an example for you. If you leave a pack of carrots in the veg drawer of your fridge for over a week, the carrots will change colour and will become very watery. You’ll no doubt end up throwing them out. 

However, that same water, that you’ve forgotten to clean up, will fill the bottom of the veg drawer, and it will become extremely pongy. The water may even start to seep into other packs of veg! 

So, don’t fall victim to product residue – clean it away before it starts to smell.

Cleaning fridge after removing rotten food


When you remove mildew-ridden food from your fridge, just take a few minutes to go back to clean the compartment it came from. 

All you need to do in most cases is fill a washing bowl with warm soapy water (washing up liquid) and pop the compartment (for example a shelf) in the water to soak and then clean it. 

Or, take the washing up bowl of warm water over to the fridge, and use a clean cloth to wipe the area down, if the section cannot be removed from the fridge. 

Always dry the fridge and any compartments you’ve taken out before closing the fridge door. 


2. Pongy Food

Fridge smells due to Pongy Food

Sometimes fridges smell, not because they’re dirty but because stinky foods are kept in them. 

If you keep really strong-smelling food in your fridge, that smell is going to work its way around and cause havoc. Especially when you’ve got a couple of strong-smelling foods mixing together! 

Imagine putting a strong cheese next to a particularly pungent fish, that’s also sitting by some boiled eggs! That would cause a pretty hefty stench. 


If you know you’re going to be keeping some very smelly food in the fridge, it’s worth keeping the products in air-tight containers. 

Air-tight containers will help to limit the amount of smell that circulates the fridge. In turn, this should limit too many horrid smells from mixing together. 

Also, follow the guidance written down in your fridge that tells you where to put items. 


3. Stagnant Water at the Bottom of the Fridge 

Fridges will collect water from condensation over a period of time, that’s normal. However, if you see large pools of water under the drawers/lower compartment of your fridge you need to sort it out.

First of all, a little bit of stagnant water is expected, it may smell a little but it can be cleaned away with a paper towel. You can then clean the surface down using warm water and soap. 

If you’ve got a lot of water you need to remove it for a few reasons:

  1. The water will smell bad after a while
  2. The water will eventually flow over the sides of the compartment
  3. There might be an issue with your fridge causing a build-up of water


ice build up in fridge

The first thing you need to do is remove the water. Then you need to check your user manual to see how condensation is drained from your fridge. Can’t find the manual? Just type the fridge’s make and model number online. 

There’s usually a drainage hole at the back of the fridge. This may need to be cleaned or adjusted. Or, there may be a slight ice build-up, typically caused by the fridge being too full.

Either of these reasons could be the cause of your problem, and it’s important that you remove the water and fix any issues before they get worse. 

It’s always a good idea to wipe the fridge down with a clean cloth when you’re done. This will remove any excess moisture. 


4. Plastic Absorbs Smells from Inside the Fridge

The inside of your fridge is probably made from plastic. This hard-wearing material can be very light and practical to use, so it’s no wonder we see so much of it in fridges. 

However, plastic does sometimes have a tendency to absorb smells. 

Given the fact that fridges aren’t always cleaned, and smelly foods are kept in fridges, they’re eventually going to start smelling. 


Cleaning fridge from top to bottom, inside and out

There are a couple of options you can try: 

  1. Clean the fridge from top to bottom, inside and out. This includes removing any compartments and shelving, making sure the door is clean and the seals. You can clean most fridges by just using some washing up liquid and warm water. Just wipe down the fridge and its compartments when you’re finished with a dry towel. 
  2. If cleaning doesn’t help, then you can pop a cup’s worth of bicarbonate of soda onto a plate, and stick it in the fridge. Bicarb is known for absorbing poor smells. 
  3. In addition to this, some people leave a bowl of coffee for 24/48 hours in the fridge and others pop half a lemon in a bowl of cold water overnight in the fridge. They can also help to reduce bad odours.


5. Food Underneath the Fridge

fridge smells due to Food Underneath the Fridge

When something smells in your fridge, the first assumption is that the scent must be coming from within. But that isn’t always the case. 

It’s really not uncommon for a tiny piece of food to roll under the fridge, only to be left there for weeks on end, going completely unnoticed! A tiny chunk of meat, cheese and even milk will start to smell after a period of time.


All you need to do is pull your fridge out and remove the dirt from underneath it. 

Fridges are heavy objects, so you may need two people to move it around. But once it’s out of the way just clean the floor. Either using a mop to clean up the mess or get some paper towels to lift the dirt away. 

You should use a floor cleaner that is suitable for your floor. 

It’s also worth spraying the area with some antibacterial juice before replacing the fridge, this will reduce the chance of bacteria growing once again. 


6. Something Inside the Fridge Has Tipped Over

Sometimes you pop half a bottle of wine or a plate of food into the fridge to keep it for the next day. And while you’re usually pretty careful, spills can occur without you even noticing. 

These little droplets of food and drink can cause an almighty smell in your fridge. And until they’re cleaned away properly, they’ll linger there and get worse.  


The main solution is to keep a close eye on food when you’re putting it in the fridge, so you can clean up spills as soon as possible. Also, if you’re using the fridge door to store goods, don’t slam it shut because things will tip out. 

Additionally, you do need to clean the surface correctly. This can be done by grabbing a damp cloth soaked in washing up liquid and just wiping the surface down. 

Always dry the surface when you’re finished.


7. Something in the Fridge Is Leaking

fridge smells due to something leaking

It’s not uncommon for cartons to start leaking in the fridge. Typically, these leaks are found fairly quickly because they’re usually pongy, and the liquid is colourful! 

If you don’t reach the leaky carton in time, you’ll probably have more than a bad smell to deal with. The liquid will probably have oozed its way into every available corner and it’ll have started to set and get sticky. 


In this kind of situation there’s not much you can do until you notice the leaking item. But as soon as you notice the leak you need to act fast! 

The first step you should always take is to remove the leaking product from the fridge and pop it in the sink. Then you need to grab some paper towels and soak up any moisture. 

If you can, remove the shelf the carton was on and allow it to rest in some soapy water. Make sure you clean the shelf properly, and pay attention to any little crevices. If you leave a small amount of product in these tiny gaps a smell will occur later on. 

If you can’t remove the shelf/compartment, fill a bucket with soapy warm water and take it over to the fridge. Use a clean cloth to wipe the fridge down by using the water in the bucket. Do not pour the bucket of water into/over the fridge! 

As an added extra, you could squirt some antibac around the fridge to make sure all the surfaces are clean. 

Before you pop the carton back, either empty the contents into an air-tight container or bin the carton. If you just put it back, it will leak again and the smell and liquid will return.

Once you’re done, have a final check to make sure that you can’t see any remaining dirt in the fridge, replace the items and close the door. 


8. Food Has Gone Off Before its Sell-By Date

Although this won’t happen too often, food does sometimes go off before its sell by date. 

In this case, a particular item in your fridge may start to smell a bit odd and this will permeate the rest of the fridge. 


If you’ve done all the main checks listed above, then you need to go around the items in your fridge and smell them individually. 

If something’s got an odd whiff it may be time to bin it.  


9. Food Is Rotten, But Doesn’t Look Rotten

It’s easy to throw out food that you can see is obviously rotten through, but what about the food that doesn’t look stale?

It’s very easy to forget that something is past its sell by date and to leave it in the fridge. It’s even easier to forget about it when the product looks okay from one side.

The truth is, items in fridges need to be checked on a regular basis, even if they look fine. When you pick goods up you start to notice blemishes and spots of mildew that you may not have noticed. 

If you don’t notice indicators like this in time, you’ll end up with a stinky fridge that may actually be filled with more rotten food than you initially thought. 


When you’ve thrown out the rotten food, check all the other food in your fridge too. Don’t overlook any item. Turn them around and upside down to make sure they’re still okay to eat! 

If anything does need to be disposed of remember to wipe the compartment it was stored in down. 


Products to Remove the Rotten Smell

It is possible to purchase goods that can help your fridge to stay smelling fresh. However, not many people choose this option because products usually get mixed results, they don’t always last a long time and the smells aren’t always appealing. 

It’s also worth pointing out that you should check your fridge’s handbook before you go using any products, just in case the fridge needs to be cleaned in a particular way. 

Here are some products that may help to neutralise the odours in your fridge: 

  1. Croc Odor is an unscented item that has been made with seaweed extracts. It typically lasts a few weeks and shouldn’t have any effect on the food in your fridge. Some users love this product but others aren’t too keen. 
  2. Duzzit Fridge Freshener smells of lemon and can mask a lot of poor smells in a fridge. Some users have noted that the smell can be a little overpowering at times, and in some cases it has affected the food in the fridge. 
  3. If you don’t mind using a general cleaner that’s scented, then it’s worth considering Method’s Anti-Bac All Purpose Cleaner Wild Rhubarb. It’s super easy to use this item because you just spray the product and wipe the surface down afterwards. It’s also got a rhubarb smell, so it’s not too smelly, but it can mask a lot of the odours in your fridge. 


How Do You Keep a Fridge Smelling Clean?

Using air-tight containers to store strong smelling foods in fridge

Here are a few tips to help keep your fridge smelling as fresh as possible! 

  • Throw out food that has gone off.
  • Clean your fridge regularly – this includes any shelving, sides, seals and floor of the fridge. 
  • Make sure you pull out your fridge and clean under and behind it. 
  • If food looks stale, remove it and clean the area. 
  • Remove any stagnant water, or any other liquid (milk) as soon as you see it. 
  • Use air-tight containers to store strong smelling foods. 
  • Pop some bicarbonate of soda in the fridge to get rid of any unpleasant smells before they get stronger. 
  • Don’t overload your fridge. 


What Products Can You Use to Clean a Fridge?

Before cleaning your fridge it’s worth reading your user guide book to see if you’re told what to/not to use when cleaning. 

Generally, the following products are fine to use when cleaning a fridge:

Always clean any excess product off items in the fridge, and off the fridge itself. And remember to dry all goods before replacing them back in the fridge, and wipe the fridge itself, so it’s not damp too.