How to clean a stinky fridge
November 1, 2012 4:30 PM   Subscribe

My friends just got power back after Sandy, and their fridge stinks. We've thrown out all the food. What's the best way to clean the fridge?

The food was primarily fruit and veg, with a few prepared dishes like casseroles (no meat). Some of it may have gone bad even before they lost power.
posted by Ash3000 to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Warm water and vinegar, then turn it off and le it air out.
posted by mhoye at 4:33 PM on November 1, 2012

Response by poster: If we turn it off, how do we deal with the freezer melt? The bottom of the freezer is full of ice.
posted by Ash3000 at 4:36 PM on November 1, 2012

Wipe down all surfaces with baking soda on a clean sponge or cloth. Clean the walls, shelves baskets, and drawers. Go over everything again to remove most of the soda. Leave the remaining soda in the open box in the fridge. Soda will not harm or discolor plastic, and it is edible so not dangerous to have around food.
posted by Cranberry at 4:37 PM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ash, re: freezer melt: use a hairdryer (optional) and put buckets under it in the fridge part. The freezer should drain into the fridge. That's how every modern fridge I've seen works.

Make sure the fridge is open to air it out. Next time, they should unplug it and make sure it is open if they know it won't have power for awhile.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 4:40 PM on November 1, 2012

Seconding the advice Cranberry gave. Pretty much the only way. I have heard the charcoal can help to take the smell out (the kind without any of the weird chemicals on it), but I tried that once and it didn't seem to really do much the soda didn't.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:43 PM on November 1, 2012

Do not try to chip out the ice! You could do damage. How does the fridge defrost? Can you set it to get rid of the ice in the freezer? That ice probably needs to be removed too because of possible contamination. Ordinarily, the melt runs down into a tray at the bottom of the unit. Once the freezer is defrosted, you might want to pull that tray out and clean it too.

If your machine is not equipped to self-defrost, then use a hair dryer to melt the ice and towels or sponges to mop up the melt. Not fun, but the fridge will be all nice and clean.
posted by Cranberry at 4:47 PM on November 1, 2012

Bowls of boiling water in the freezer and/or fridge to hasten the melting of ice. Lots of towels to mop the water.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:53 PM on November 1, 2012

Oh, and turn off the unit while you defrost it.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:53 PM on November 1, 2012

Response by poster: How do we access the tray?
posted by Ash3000 at 4:54 PM on November 1, 2012

The website Get Smell Out is great for suggestions about getting smell out of just about anything. They offer six different methods of deodorizing your fridge.
posted by netbros at 5:07 PM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone.
posted by Ash3000 at 5:17 PM on November 1, 2012

Vinegar + baking soda. Powerful by themselves, but in tandem, a force that is to be revered.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:38 PM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

nthing the hairdryer / baking soda / vinegar trick. We just had to have our freezer de-iced by a repairman and he used a handheld steam cleaner, but a hairdryer should also work just fine. Keep towels handy to mop up the water.
posted by evolvinglines at 8:12 PM on November 1, 2012

I once worked with a person who had this happen to them and they had to deal with a whole salmon that had thawed and rotted (YUCK). She told me that after cleaning the fridge out, they spread dry ground coffee on baking sheets and placed them on the fridge shelves and in the freezer. Apparently this worked well to take away the smell.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:22 PM on November 1, 2012

An amusing anecdote.

My sister lost power for a couple of days and had to throw away the contents of her fridge. Her dog became FRANTIC as she threw away DELICIOUS PEOPLE FOOD!

I just came to say bleach and water for the first pass, baking soda and water, and defrost per manufacturer's instructions.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:33 AM on November 2, 2012

Once you've used the aggressive methods above to clean it, putting fresh coffee grounds in a bowl in the fridge works excellent for removing any lingering odors.
posted by ifjuly at 8:25 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Clean out and wash the interior surfaces with your household disinfectant of choice. You probably won't have a substantial hidden mold problem but if a mustiness smell persists after the fridge has been plugged in a few days then you'll need to kill that mold. Empty the fridge again and the a bowl of ammonia (as strong as you can get) to evaporate inside the fridge. Then let it air out. Best if you can do this outside.

Be careful when melting the ice with the hair dryer. Many of the plastics inside the fridge are low temperature thermo plastics and can deform readily even under the relatively gentle heat of a hair dryer. Also if at all possible plug the hair dryer into a GFCI outlet.

OnTheLastCastle writes " freezer melt: use a hairdryer (optional) and put buckets under it in the fridge part. The freezer should drain into the fridge. That's how every modern fridge I've seen works."

Usually the freezer drains through the fridge and then out to a tray under/behind the cabinet. Usually you'll only get water in the fridge from the freezer if either the drain tube is obstructed or the flow overwhelms the capacity of the drain.
posted by Mitheral at 2:40 PM on November 2, 2012

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