Cleaning your refrigerator after a power outage

After an extended power outage, your refrigerator and freezer may develop unpleasant odors from spoiled food. To get rid of these odors, remove all food items and clean the inside, including drawers and bins, with a mild cleaning solution of dish soap and water.  You also can use a solution of 2 tablespoons baking soda and 4 cups warm water.  Strong cleansers may affect the taste of food or ice cubes or damage the interior finish. Rinse with a bleach solution of one tablespoon unscented chlorine bleach per gallon of water to sanitize. Lemon juice and water solutions are not strong enough to sanitize effectively. Leave the unit unplugged with the door open for 1-2 days to air out.  Spray disinfectant around hinges, locks, and into any openings.

If odors persist, try one of these methods:

  • Spread activated charcoal, clean cat litter, or baking soda on trays and place on refrigerator or freezer shelves.  Activated charcoal is extra dry and absorbs odors more quickly than cooking-type charcoal.  It is available at drug or pet supply stores.  Run the appliance empty for 2-3 days.  If the odor remains, replace with new charcoal and repeat.
  • Place trays of freshly ground coffee on appliance shelves and close the door.  Run the appliance empty for 2-3 days.  If a slight coffee aroma remains, wash and rinse shelves and the aroma should dissipate.
  • Pack each shelf with crumpled newspaper. Set a cup of water on the top shelf or sprinkle the newspaper with water.  Allow appliance to run for approximately 5-6 days.  While this method is time-consuming, it is effective in removing strong odors.
  • Use a commercial product designed for refrigerator and freezer odor removal.  These products are available at hardware, grocery, discount, and variety stores.

Once the odor is gone, rinse and dry the appliance.  Don’t forget to clean gaskets with a mild cleaning solution and warm water; rinse and dry.  Dirt and spills can prevent the gasket from sealing well, resulting in a loss of cold air and higher utility bills.  Also, clean the coils and front grill with a brush or vacuum cleaner to remove dirt that can hinder air flow to the condenser.

Use an appliance thermometer to check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer.  The refrigerator should be between 33˚F and 40˚F and the freezer at 0 degrees or below.

If there is still an odor after trying these steps, it is possible meat or fish drippings have seeped into the insulation.  An appliance service technician may need to remove the liner and replace the insulation or the appliance may need to be replaced.

Sources:
My Florida Home Book – University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Solving Odor Problems in Your Refrigerator or Freezer – University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cooperative Extension

When the Power Goes Off – Clemson Cooperative Extension

Cleaning the Fridge – North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension