My refrigerator is the plague beast.
October 25, 2006 11:08 AM   Subscribe

There is an extra refrigerator in my apartment left over from the previous tenants. They neglected to clean it out; it has been unplugged for months. I opened it once and the stench - which rapidly spread throughout the apartment and lingered for several hours - was overpowering. I want to be able to use it: how should I go about cleaning it?
posted by davidriley to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you dead-set on keeping it? Fridge-stink is pretty hard to get rid of... but I'll give my best advice. When my boyfriend started remodeling an apartment with a friend they noticed that the fridge looked like it hadn't been plugged in since the previous tenent moved out (at least two years earlier) - they laid bets on who would have to open it and my SO lost. He opened the fridge and the smell was so overpowering they both threw up. So armed with face masks a few days later, they had a bucket of vinegar and a bag of cat litter. They took a quick breath and threw both in the fridge and sealed it up tight. About a week later it still smelled, but not NEARLY as bad.

To this day, the fridge still has a little bit of a funk to it. I've bleached the inside of it a few times and we've left a different bag of organic cat litter that absorbed the smell really well, but still - the lingering "funk"
posted by banannafish at 11:18 AM on October 25, 2006 [2 favorites]

Yeah, fridge smell is persistent - a friend left some chinese food in an unplugged dorm fridge over a monthlong break, once. We tried oxyclean, vinegar, and bleach before they just gave up and stopped using the fridge.

I would complain to the super to see if something can be done with it. If you really want to salvage it, I would drag it outside and let the sun and wind mitigate the smell a little (I see you are in MA - you'll want to do this before it starts to get un-sunny!). I like banannafish's cat litter idea, but maybe a whole bunch of baking soda would work as well.
posted by muddgirl at 11:24 AM on October 25, 2006

How to get started aside.. (lots of open windows and a plastic sheet on the door?.. i do like the cat litter idea..) I can help with what to use to clean it..My mom runs a janitorial company. I'll share the solution they'd use to clean it:

Use a solution of hydrogen peroxide, about the same stregnth u buy at a drugstore, maybe cut with hot water. It really incinerates and eats organic material, especially the smelly bits... way better then any Mr Clean type.. No chemical smell or residue. It doesn't work on grease at all though, so sometimes they add a bit of citrus degreaser to cut the grease. Use gloves.

My universal answer to "how do I clean X" is to visit your local janitor's warehouse type store.. go where the pros go. I've been totally impressed by their ability to provide the pro solution to pro level cleaning issues. Cleaning-aisle consumer solutions will not help you out here. They once gave me a special enzyme carpet deoderizer... that stuff was straight out of CSI.
posted by upc_head at 11:30 AM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

You won't get rid of the smell — and if you could, the tremendous effort required wouldn't be worth the money you'd save versus just buying a new refrigerator. There are smarter ways to pinch pennies. Get rid of it.
posted by cribcage at 11:30 AM on October 25, 2006

I had a mini-fridge in storage for three months, apparently not properly cleaned, since it had a funk. But there wasn't anything in it other than just general food grime - not actual lumps of food. I dragged it outside into the sun, bleached it, baking-soda'd it, and I mean, just laid down a thick layer of the stuff on all horizontal surfaces, and it still had a funk. The cat litter might work better, but I didn't think to try that.
posted by cobaltnine at 11:33 AM on October 25, 2006

One thing that really really helped us was to get it cleaned out/bleached/etc. very well, then putting several crumpled up paper towels that had vanilla extract sprinkled on them in there while the fridge ran for a few days. After a week or so, the funk was nearly gone. You can also swab the walls with vanilla extract.
posted by Addlepated at 11:36 AM on October 25, 2006

fridge funk is astoundingly difficult to eliminate. seconded on the bleach and hydrogen peroxide, but you should really reconsider trying to reclaim it.

as an object lesson in how difficult it is to reclaim a funked-up fridge, refrigerators were a notable casualty in the aftermath of hurricane katrina.
posted by the painkiller at 11:37 AM on October 25, 2006

I wonder if a more concentrated peroxide, like the 30-volume I use when I dye my hair, would provide better defunkification? Any beauty supply will have it. I don't know that it'd be better than bleach, but it's thicker and would be easier to paint onto the walls. I think it might oxidize metal or rubber, though, so you'd want to stick to using it on plastic.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:45 AM on October 25, 2006

Don't waste your time with arm and hammer. Despite the old wives tales, Baking Soda really is quite poor at absorbing smells. You'd be vastly better off using activated charcoal, if you're willing to shell out for it.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:46 AM on October 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

once the thing is cleaned i would suggest taking a plate, pouring the contents of a jar of instant coffee onto it and placing plate in fridge for a few days
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:07 PM on October 25, 2006

Response by poster: Follow-up question: How does one go about disposing of a refrigerator?
posted by davidriley at 12:07 PM on October 25, 2006

Call your county to see when your large-load dump day occurs, or to see if they have large item pickup for a fee. Make sure to remove the freezer and fridge doors before you dispose of it.
posted by Loto at 12:11 PM on October 25, 2006

Response by poster: Oh, no... Wouldn't removing the doors mean having to deal with the smell?
posted by davidriley at 12:16 PM on October 25, 2006

This is a rental apartment right? Its the property and responsiblity of your landlord. Have him clean/destroy it. Unless the previous tenants gave it to you as a gift personally and you agreed. It shouldnt be your problem.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:23 PM on October 25, 2006

Remove the doors once its outside on the sidewalk.
posted by R. Mutt at 12:29 PM on October 25, 2006

Put an ad on a free classified service

"Free Fridge: Freaky Funk a Factor"
posted by Megafly at 12:37 PM on October 25, 2006

Take it from this New Orleans resident...

don't even try. It's not worth it. Duct tape it up and put it on the curb.
posted by pyjammy at 1:08 PM on October 25, 2006

FYI, the reason you have to take the doors off or duct tape them shut is to prevent kids from getting trapped in there, as I guess has been known to happen.
posted by gokart4xmas at 1:14 PM on October 25, 2006

Turn it on. Cold stuff doesn't smell as bad. Ideally, turn it up really high. Frozen or nearly-frozen stuff doesn't stink much at all.
posted by theora55 at 1:53 PM on October 25, 2006

Get a can or brick of ground coffee, open it up, and throw it in there. Coffee absorbs odors much better than baking soda does.
posted by bink at 2:41 PM on October 25, 2006

There is a product I believe works better than anything anyone has suggested so far: Bac-Out Stain and Odor Eliminator.

Bac-Out is a very unique blend of natural living enzyme cultures and botanical extracts, with more strains of cultures for more effective performance than commercial brands.

It's a cocktail of living bacterial cultures which will eat almost all unpleasant odor molecules produced by other living things. I was able to successfully deodorize a seldom driven car in which a package of fresh fish wrapped in butcher paper which had fallen unnoticed out of a bag of groceries sat for a week and a half during the summer with this stuff. If you want to try it, I recommend the spray bottle.

Don't use bleach or any other biocide before applying Bac-Out. Those will kill the living cultures and make it much less effective.
posted by jamjam at 2:55 PM on October 25, 2006

Clean it out, and put a bowl of amonia in there overnight. That worked for me, but I don't think it was as bad as you.
posted by milarepa at 3:31 PM on October 25, 2006

I always finish a fridge clean with a bottle of vanilla essence. The type that is mostly alcohol is a good one, and it seems to remove / mask cleaning odours and gives a pleasant but not overpowering smell to the fridge.

The last major fridge clean I did, I was able to lug the fridge outside and use a hose to clean quite a bit of it. You might want to consider getting a gas filter mask from a hardware store if the stench is too much to bear while you're cleaning it.
posted by tomble at 5:40 PM on October 25, 2006

I had a similar situation, where my fridge got accidentally unplugged right before I left for 3 months away. Not only did I come back to stench, I came back to maggots. It was seriously the most disgusting thing I have ever had the misfortune of dealing with, and I too, was tempted to junk it. But what I did instead was take it outside, open the doors, and let it sit for days (you might try longer if you can). THEN go in with all the cleaning agents recommended above, and scrub it down thorougly. I think the trick for me was the thoroughness-- I mean, there was maggoty crap everywhere-- inside the plastic lining, inside the vents, inside the hollow wire-frame shelves, etc. If you try and visualize that the stench, in your case, is tangible and inside all these places, and so you scrub diligently in places that might "already look clean," you might have some luck.

It can be done, it just depends on how much time/effort you feel like expending.

Oh yeah, the other thing was that after I brought it back in, I plugged it in but didn't use it for a week or so. Mostly because I was still so completely disgusted by it, but I think that extra week on being on, but empty, might have helped too.
posted by Harvey Birdman at 6:24 PM on October 25, 2006

Fridges are hard to de stink because the worse smells are generated by bacteria which gets into the plastic and foam insulation. Any fridge with expanded poly styrene is the worst.

Fear not though, there are two sure fire remedies.

First clean the fridge of any visible food and mould. Best to do this at a U-Do car wash but outside with a hose works too. You can do it manually with a cloth too but you need to put up with the smell. Once the fridge is physically clean do one of the following:

1) Leave an ozone generator running inside the fridge for a couple days to a week. You can sometimes rent Ozone generators or if your handy you can build your own.

2) Put a bowl of ammonia inside the fridge for a few days. We used to get high strength ammonia from a blueprinting place. Be careful with strong ammonia, chemical goggles and gloves are required for safe handling.

In both cases try to air out the fridge outside after treatment. Ozone and ammonia are both nasty smelling, ammonia especially will linger for days.

As for disposal, it is illegal most places to leave a refrigerator where kids could crawl in without removing the doors.
posted by Mitheral at 8:40 AM on October 26, 2006

Clean the refrigerator and then put a can of open fresh coffee in the fridge and/or freezer; leave it closed for a couple of days with the coffee inside. That may help. When we moved into our house, the previous owners had unplugged the fridge. It stunk, but was otherwise clean on the inside. So my mother-in-law suggested the coffee trick, and it worked.
posted by cass at 9:36 AM on October 26, 2006

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