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What to do about a fridge of rotten food?
July 28, 2014 3:03 PM   Subscribe

I own a house in TX that currently doesn't have a resident. Due to some issues that don't really matter for this question, the power got disconnected July 1. 4 weeks later, I assume the situation is dire. What is the best thing to do? Dispose of the whole fridge or get someone to clean it?

The fridge and freezer had food in them (including frozen meat), and it is Texas (with no a/c) so I am confident that the situation is terrible. The power has now been turned on again, but I will not be back in TX for a month or so.

What is the best thing to do? There are local friends/family that have a key, so they can let someone in that I hire, but I don't want to ask them to *do* cleaning because that seems terrible.

In whatever case, I have no idea what kind of service to call to perform such a job. Advice?
posted by emilisha to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I would search for "extreme home cleaning." If you can't find any in your area, call regular housecleaning services and ask who they would recommend.
posted by KathrynT at 3:05 PM on July 28


There are cleaning companies that specialize in cleaning up crime scenes. I imagine your ghastly fridge wouldn't pose a problem for their normal chem/bio operations. "Crime scene cleanup" is one way to search for these companies.
posted by janell at 3:26 PM on July 28


Would you want to use a fridge that had rotten meat in it for 4+ weeks, even if it had been "cleaned"? Please get a new fridge.
posted by sacrifix at 3:26 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Is the fridge turned back on now too? Cleanup will be far less gross if everything is cold/frozen.
posted by teremala at 3:28 PM on July 28


Fridges are notorious for not ever releasing the horror of a rotting situation like this. No clean-up will be effective enough. Tape the whole thing shut and dispose of it and buy a new fridge.
posted by quince at 3:29 PM on July 28 [6 favorites]


You need to pull the fridge and have the exterminators come. (Bugs...they are everywhere.)

A good search term is biohazard clean up + location. Your cleanup is on the low end of the things they do. They will be able to arrange the disposal of the fridge for you.
posted by 26.2 at 3:30 PM on July 28


my place flooded in the summer and the power was pulled and we were evacuated for like.. 5 days in a little heat wave. we were told that it would be unsafe to open appliances and that we should strap them shut and have them hauled away.

seriously.. it's probably worth it to not have to deal with that. especially for a rental or something, just see if you can find a clean secondhand fridge.

probably cheaper than crime-scene cleaners, too.
posted by euphoria066 at 3:51 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


You'll want to get rid of that fridge without opening it. Source: Texan whose family has been through hurricanes with no power and a full fridge.
posted by immlass at 3:52 PM on July 28


Replace the fridge and freezer. Do not open them to check the situation.
posted by erst at 4:09 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Four weeks ago I cleaned out a fridge that set for a month unplugged.
It wasn't that bad. Granted it had a horrible smell, but I've smelled ripped open dead bodies. it wasn't as bad as that, but it did make all others around me vomit.
I took four kinds of cleaners and a whole can of air-freshener and went to town.
After I cleaned it, I left the doors to the fridge open to open outside air for a day. Good as new after that.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 4:33 PM on July 28


Buy a new fridge. (ask me how I know!)
posted by ramix at 5:16 PM on July 28


It's certainly possible to save these appliances; whether the effort (or money) is worth it is debatable depending on replacement cost.

First thing is to restore power to the appliances to reduce the extreme funkyness. The freezer will be easiest as once the rotted food has been frozen it will barely smell at all. The freezing process will take a long time both because of the sheer mass of the food and because there are no cooling coils on the bottom of the freezer. Unfortunately it may also result in the food being frozen in a solid mass depending on the amount of fluid that escapes it's containers. A hammer can help separate items at the plastic bag discontinuity. Once all the food is out allow the freezer to warm up and then give it a good scrub with a disinfectant cleaner.

The fridge however will be horribly nasty. Open only outside preferably during a heavy wind on your garbage day so that the contents can go immediately into the trash and be taken away. Do this someplace you can hose down (driveway?) as liquids are likly to escape and they'll smell nasty for a long time.

The best thing to do at this point is to load the fridge into a pickup and haul it down to a u-do car wash and wash the crap out of the inside. Spend a good 15-20 minutes just washing and rinsing the inside of the fridge with the wand.

Now comes the hard part. Large parts of the cooling structure of your fridge is made of expanded foam (like the ubiquitous white foam packing material). This foam is quite porous and will have soaked up the horrid smell of the decomposing food. And because it is inside your fridge you can't wash it. I've used high concentration ammonia (like 30-45% solutions) to kill these odours. It requires full chemical splash gear (goggles, gloves, impermeable jacket/apron) to handle safely. Let a cup or so evaporate inside the closed fridge for a couple of days and then air out in full sun for a couple days. I used to buy waste ammonia from blueprinters but I have no idea where you would buy it now.

I also had some success with a commercial ozone generator which are available for rent. Leave running inside the cleaned fridge for a couple days. Ozone however can embrittle the plastic so use with moderation.

Both ammonia and ozone can be hazardous (ammonia especially) so keep the fridge outside during treatment.

The same techniques can be used on the freezer if the smell has got into the lining.
posted by Mitheral at 5:22 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]


Agreeing with Mitheral that is IS possible to clean and remove all odor from a fridge.

Our power was turned off for a few months with fish in the fridge (we had squatters while we were out of the country - they were kicked out and the power shut off) and although it was horrid to clean properly the fridge was usable and non-smelly and used for some years after the event. Note: as well as cleaning all crevices you have to get all the little drainpipes cleaned out, which was very tricky but do-able.
posted by anadem at 6:19 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]


There's a glut of reasonably priced, gently used mid range and up fridges on craigslist from people who buy houses and go "Ewww, not stainless? EWW". In several fridge failure situations i've spent $75-200 and just gotten a new fridge.

This will be a pain in the ass, and not worth dealing with unless your time is worthless. You'll spend more paying someone else to clean it than you would just junking it and buying a nice used one.

And seriously, the best fridge i ever had in every way was a $200 craigslist special that was a higher end, but maybe close to a decade old(but had spent most of its time powered off in a garage) nicer kenmore.

Anyone who would try and clean this instead of just replacing it, also, would fall into the category of miserly cheap landlord i loathe. I mean, i'm trying my hardest to not pass judgement but these really feels like a beyond the pale "Yes, replace it, what the fuck?" situation.
posted by emptythought at 8:33 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Agreeing 100% with emptythought: the trending fixation on stainless steel appliances is your friend. Go to Craigslist, buy some two to five year old mid-to-upper range white or black model for a fraction of its value and be done with it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:45 PM on July 28


How much is it gonna cost you to get it cleaned, vs. How much is it gonna cost you to get a new one. Factor in for your time and effort finding someone.

I've been through something similar but not as bad. We hired someone from CL to clean it. Who quit. Then we had to hire someone else. Etc, etc. Would have been faster and cost just a bit more to get a new one entirely.
posted by vignettist at 9:22 PM on July 28


I have no issue with replacing the fridge. If I do want to just strap it up and dispose of it, then who would I call to take it away? I assume places that do regular appliance removal wouldn't do something like this. The biohazard people again?
posted by emilisha at 10:37 PM on July 28


We've been through Katrina so feel qualified to remark on this--please, just spend your effort in arranging to have it hauled away. A friend who is a surgeon thought he could salvage his relatively new refrigerator but even his level of microscopic scrubbing proved inadequate; after a few weeks of trying to kid himself, he joined the rest of us and got a new fridge.
posted by Anitanola at 7:18 PM on July 29


For my city it seems promising simply to google "disposal of refrigerator (city)"--worth a try.
posted by Anitanola at 7:28 PM on July 29


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