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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Refrigerators

Leftovers aren't making your fridge stink, it's the fridge itself

So you removed all the leftovers, but your fridge still stinks? Here's why.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

It's not those leftovers making your fridge stinky. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

So you've removed all of the moldy takeout containers and that wedge of fancy cheese, but your fridge still smells? Don't worry. There's some simple reasons why your fridge probably stinks and they're very simple to fix.

Likely problem: Your fridge

Problem: What is the inside of your fridge primarily made out of? Plastic, right? Well, plastic absorbs odors, so the whole problem may be the entirety of your fridge.

Solution: Cleaning can only help so much. To absorb the odors, place an open box of baking soda in your fridge (some suggest sprinkling baking soda on a plate to increase the surface area). Baking soda will soak up the bad odors and leave your fridge smelling clean after about three days.

There has been some debate as to whether baking soda actually works to remove odors. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, which works to neutralize odors by balancing pH by buffering acidic and alkaline substances in the air. According to Consumer Reports, you can also mix 1 cup baking soda to a gallon of water and use it to wipe down the inside of the fridge.

Need a faster solution? Try coffee. Place 1 cup ground coffee in a bowl or on a plate and leave it in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours. The coffee will mask the odors while it absorbs them.

The USDA suggests placing a cotton swab soaked with vanilla inside the refrigerator for around 24 hours to eliminate smells.

Other common culprits

Your veggie bins are gross

Problem: When you noticed a funky odor in your fridge, you probably threw out your old vegetables, but did you scrub the bin? Clear vegetable juices could be hiding in the crevasses of the bin, giving it that unpleasant odor.

Solution: Just to be sure that your bins are clean, take them out and wash them with warm water and dish soap.

Check underneath the bins

Problem: Even if your veggie bins are spotless, they could be hiding a disgusting secret. Water and bits of food tends to accumulate underneath vegetable bins. These can spoil and mold, leaving a bad odor.

Solution: Fill a bucket with a gallon of warm water and a quarter cup of bleach. Remove the vegetables bins and clean out the area underneath with the bleach solution and a dish cloth. After it is all clean, wipe down the area with a clean damp cloth to remove any bleach smell.

The drip pan is moldy

Problem: Some refrigerators have pans that collect condensation produced by the unit while it cools. These pans need to be emptied from time to time and cleaned, or else they smell awful and may even overflow.

Solution: First, you need to find out if your fridge has a drip pan. Take a look at the maintenance part of your owner's manual to find out. If you don't have the manual any more, many are online. Just search the brand and model number for your fridge.

If your fridge does have a drip pan, unplug your fridge, take out all of the food and follow the manual's instructions for removing the pan. Then, clean it with warm water and dish soap and reinstall it.

It's not your fridge

Problem: You've tried everything and just can't find the culprit. 

Solution: The smell may not be your fridge at all, but what's under it. It's possible that some food rolled underneath and rotted. Roll the fridge out and clean under it thoroughly. 

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Nov 5, 2015, and has been updated.