Gross Ice Baby
September 19, 2013 3:38 PM   Subscribe

The freezer (and only the freezer, not the fridge) smells. We have done everything we can think of and the freezer still smells. Help.

Something in the fridge made a really gross smell. It didn't smell exactly like something went bad, but close enough. We cleaned out the fridge, wiped it down, got a little thing of baking soda. The smell was still there, and turns out it was the freezer.

So, same thing: we threw out everything in the freezer (it all smelled of that smell, even the ice cubes) and gave it a cleaning with bleach spray. I moved the little thing of baking soda in there too. It still smells. We wiped it down again. Now it smells kinda like that smell, kinda like bleach, definitely toned down a notch but still there. It's been close to a week.

The fridge hasn't smelled since we threw out everything in the freezer.

I am at wit's end. There is nothing in the freezer. Not even frost. Do we need to put the temperature up? Down? Clean somewhere behind a thing? Call in repair people?
posted by griphus to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
1) Do you have a drainage tray? Somewhere the water collects? Our freezer has a tray that you can unscrew and clean under. Some fridges have a drip tray that collects water that can get super smelly.
Drainage trays can also be under the crisper drawer or elsewhere. (Can you look it up by model number?)

2) Pull out the fridge, is there anything under it? Is there anything sticky/icky?

3) Can you leave your fridge unplugged and open to air out? Sometimes the plastics can hold smells.

Our fridge smelled, we didn't have a drainage tray but a tray in the freezer that could be cleaned, but it still smelled. Then we pulled the fridge out and cleaned under it, and magically the smell went away.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:44 PM on September 19, 2013

Seconding that you should check the drainage tray. Look to see if there are any screws in the bottom of your freezer - try to unscrew all of them. In many freezers it's not meant to be removed by the user, so it's screwed into the bottom in several places, and not particularly easy to pull out even after the screws are out.

Be prepared though: what you find under that false bottom may exceed even what H. P. Lovecraft's imagination could conceive. I say this from experience.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:04 PM on September 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

Ugh, i've encountered this a few times.

The only actual solution is to power the thing down and let it air out with the doors open for a couple days. You can accelerate this process by just having the biggest fan you can scrounge(this "industrial" variety if you can swing it/have one laying around. you want a LOT of airflow here). The idea is to completely thaw out and dry out the fridge 100%. Dry things can't really stink, and airflow is also your friend here

I will note that several times i've given up on ever getting the smell out. E.G. the fridge in my office will probably smell like this until it breaks in a few years.

My mom swears by "smells be gone" gel/block packages for this sort of thing, but i can't comment on the efficacy of that.
posted by emptythought at 4:12 PM on September 19, 2013

Thirding check the drainage tray. If that doesn't work try replacing the water filter.
posted by tealcake at 4:12 PM on September 19, 2013

Here is the freezer. I needed to freeze things so I put everything in zip-locs.

If anyone could please point to the possible location of the drip tray (or any other possible sources of smell), that would be awesome.
posted by griphus at 4:19 PM on September 19, 2013

If your refrigerator has a removable drip tray, the owner's manual will have instructions on where it is, and how to clean it. If you don't have the owner's manual, find the make and model # of your refrigerator (usually inside the refrig section on the left hand site towards the top), and go to the manufacturer's web site. Should be a free PDF download.
posted by magstheaxe at 4:33 PM on September 19, 2013

Also check the door gasket. Disgusting things can happen in its folds.
posted by shiny blue object at 5:08 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I once had a chicken breast rot in a closed, unpowered freezer. Not good. Something I learnt then was that rot smells are chemically bases, so bleach is not a good idea. You need something that will neutralise the base: an acid.

Lemon fits the bill, and also smells good. I got the smell out by wiping everything with lemon juice (the fresh kind from a lemon, not bottled). Good luck.
posted by kandinski at 5:40 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good Lord- there are all sorts of "nooks and crannies" in your freezer, griphus. Any one of those little vents might have a rotted something that's clinging on with all its might. Buy a couple of flexible bottle brushes (a baby bottle brush might be a good, cheap choice) and/or some thick pipe cleaners, douse them with some kind of cleaning agent (lemon-based is good) and run them in and out of the vents, along the rubber door seal, and anywhere the smallest morsel of stuff can invade. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of freezer vents?
posted by but no cigar at 5:56 PM on September 19, 2013

I recently had some good results with plain charcoal (without lighter fluid or taste-enhancing additives) left in the freezer. Left it in for a few days while the freezer ran and then put in some ground coffee (which according to internet wisdom also absorbs odors). Pulled the coffee after 24+ hours and left the charcoal in for longer to absorb the excess coffee smell.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:31 PM on September 19, 2013

Okay, here is what I have read (but not tried): make a thick paste of bicarbonate soda and water, cost the interior of the freezer with it, leave for 24 hours, wash out with hot water.
posted by Salamander at 6:32 PM on September 19, 2013

The odor-absorbing properties of baking soda in a box are actually negligible, or at the very least, vastly overestimated.

Freezer stinks are usually fat-soluble molecules, which is why fattier things can take on the freezer funk in a more pronounced fashion than regular we things. Also because water has a hard time carrying anything around for obvious reasons.

I would clean it with something that is either fat based (oil w/baking soda-- I'm just guessing that would help, I don't know) or (more likely) with something that can cut fat. I'm sure you're not excited about filling your freezer with your basic grease-cutting kitchen cleaner, but you're going to have to empty and air-out this thing one way or another, so I'd say go for it. After it's cleaned of greasy funky stuff, then soap and water to get out the last of the cleaner.

Seconding cleaning out under the drip tray and/or false bottom. Yes, it will be a Chthonian void that, when stared into, might just stare back into you, but it should scrape clear with some judicious elbow-grease-application, and then you can live a life of clarity and purpose, in light of your knowledge of the horrors that lie within and without your freezer.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:50 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just so we're clear, the drip tray is probably at the bottom of the overall appliance. If something melts in the freezer, the liquid needs a place to go to end up in the drip pan. Look for a drain hole in the freezer. I don't see that drain hole in your pic...move everything out of the way in there to look for may be behind that shroud at the back of the freezer wall. See if that shroud pulls off, there looks to be fasteners in the corners...let us know.
posted by artdrectr at 1:10 AM on September 20, 2013

Not sure if it will help here, but I've been doing maintenance on the old fridge that came with our house and PartSelect has been a huge help because the parts & solutions are all grouped by the problem type and the user comments (e.g., Did this repair work?), shockingly, can be helpful at times.
posted by yerfatma at 7:42 AM on September 20, 2013

Fresh coffee grounds will absorb the smell.
posted by cass at 8:20 AM on September 20, 2013

I wonder if that back panel comes off, I would definitely try that.

After Sandy my freezer sat off and closed for a long time, so it got pretty gross. I got a screwdriver out and unscrewed anything I possibly could, including the back panel of the freezer and the bottom. I went for the nuclear option and soaked anything I could remove from the freezer (panels, shelves, whatever) in a bleach solution and then ran them through the dishwasher.

I can attest to the horrors of doing this. You will see things that cannot be unseen.
posted by inertia at 12:00 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

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