Really bad smell from back of fridge?

Posted 18th Mar 2010
We have a really horrid smell coming from the back of our fridge, where the motor etc is, any one have any ideas what it is or why its doing it?
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Why Does My Fridge Smell?
There are many reasons that a smell can be coming from your fridge and some are easier to fix than others. We’ll take a look at some of the reasons why it might be happening.

Identify the smell
Some smells can be more worrying than others. Particular smells can mean anything from faulty fridges to rotting contents. Here are the most common:

Ammonia (or other strong chemicals like acetone)
This strong smell is a good indicator that your fridge is leaking gases. In this case the advice is to leave the house and to call a technician as soon as possible as it can be very dangerous to inhale these gases.

The first thing you should do is to clean the condenser coils at the back of your fridge as the build up of dust and other debris with the warmth of the coils can cause a burning smell from the back of the fridge. If this doesn’t work, it is likely that there is a problem with the fan or another electrical fault. Switch off and call a technician round.

Assuming there is no fish in your refrigerator at the time, a smell of fish can also indicate an electrical fault. It is wise to turn off your fridge and get a professional to take a look at it.

Rotting smells
This can be a number of things but the first thing to do is to clean out your fridge thoroughly, including all drawers and shelves (see guide below). If the smell is coming from the back of the fridge, check is the drip pan, located below the condenser coils. If this gets clogged or blocked it will make your fridge smell even if the rest of the interior has been fully cleaned.

How to remove smells from your fridge
If you have have ruled out electrical problems and gas leaks then it is time to remove all the items in your fridge, throwing away anything that is mouldy and rotting, and start a thorough cleanse.

1. Remove all food and drink and check for moldly items and rotting produce. Some items, like butter, can hold smells from other sources so if the packets are open, it’s a good idea to throw these out too.

2. Take out all drawers, shelves and storage trays (not forgetting those located on the inside of the door).

3. Clean every part of the fridge you have removed and wipe the internal and external shell of the fridge. You don’t have to use chemical products for this. A good cleaning solution is made up from mixing 4tbsp of bicarb and a litre of warm water. Once you have done this, use a mixture made from equal parts of white vinegar and water to shine the surfaces.

4. Check the drip tray at the back of the fridge for smells. If this is the culprit use the baking soda solution to thoroughly clean it out or try a very diluted amount of bleach. As the drip tray is at the back of the fridge and not near food, using a mild bleach solution won’t cause any health issues.

5. Now your fridge is completely clean, it is a good idea to use a natural fridge odor absorber before you restock your fridge. A tub of baking soda, a tray of coffee grounds, oats or activated charcoal powder left in the fridge for a few hours will eliminate any odours that have been left behind.

What if your refrigerator smells bad outside?
If you have followed all the steps above and there is still a strong smell, then a good idea is to move the fridge out of position to check what is underneath or behind. It is very likely that the source of the smell is coming from something that has got stuck there.

Stopping fridge smells coming back
Once everything is back in your fridge and the smell has been eliminated then the next challenge is to stop them coming back. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Keep food in airtight containers or zip-lock bags, especially strong smelling items like fish or any leftovers.
  • Don’t over fill your fridge, it’s likely you might forget about items at the back which could go mouldy.
  • Keep highly perishable items at the front of your fridge so they are visible.
  • Keep an open tub of baking soda in the fridge to absorb any odors.
  • Regularly wipe down surfaces with the baking soda solution described above.