What’s That Smell? Repairs that Get Smells Out of Your Refrigerator

Authorized Service
December 14, 2020
Refrigerator Repair

Your refrigerator is where you keep your fresh food. Ideally, your fridge smells like nothing, or very faintly of the spices and foods you like best. Most people’s refrigerator has a faint familiar odor that is neither noticed nor minded by the family. But no one likes a fridge with a strong smell. Whether your fridge smells overpoweringly of food, chemicals, or something less pleasant – it’s important to resolve issues of odor before your perishables are contaminated.

The smells coming from your fridge can tell you a lot about the problem. A strong smell of fresh food is obvious – there is likely an open container aromatically treating the whole refrigerator compartment. Sour food can often be hunted down and the offending container disposed of. But what about more elusive or more unusual smells that won’t go away? As appliance technicians, that is what we are here to help with today. Troubles with your fridge are our problems to solve. 

Sickly Sweet Smell from the Refrigerator

One of the first smells to know about from a fridge is that incredibly sweet syrupy smell of coolant. Coolant fluid of most varieties has a unique smell that reminds every person (and most pets) of dessert. Extremely sweet dessert. If you can’t find the syrup spill or icecream slick in your fridge, then a mysterious sweet smell might be a coolant leak from the condenser coils.

Coolant needs to maintain a certain pressure inside the coils to expand and contract in a way that creates cold. Even a small leak is not only a dangerous chemical spill, it also damages your fridge’s ability to stay cold. This is a repair that needs to be seen to by a coolant specialist right away. 

Scorchy Dust Smell Under or Behind the Fridge

Your refrigerator should never smell like burning, but there are components that get quite hot as part of the cooling compressor system. When dust builds up on these components, sometimes that dust will burn on the hot metal surface or when it gets inside to hot electrical leads. A scorch smell of dust is the first sign of a serious problem – and a potential fire hazard.

Fortunately, the solution is simple: clean away the dust. With the right cleaning implements and a guide, anyone can clean the dust out of the back of their fridge to prevent further problems with burnt-dust smell or potential dust fires. 

Scorching Metallic Smell from Fridge Components

However, if the scorching smell has a metallic tinge to it, pay attention immediately. The smell of hot metal is a very bad sign for any electrical fixture or appliance. Hot metal smell usually means a wire has shorted or is burning out. For this to happen, a wire must either be dangerously overloaded with electricity or has already taken critical damage. There may be scorch marks, melting or damaged wire insulation, or other burnt-out components that are no longer functional.

If you smell hot or burning metal or the smell of melting plastic behind your fridge, call for appliance repair immediately. We also advise you load your fridge items into a cooler with ice and unplug your fridge until it can be serviced. 

Spoiled Food Smell that Won’t Go Away

Usually, the smell of spoiled food in your fridge is easily dealt with. Remove the one or two items that were stored too long, clean the area, and place a packet of baking soda. The fridge will be good as new within the hour. But sometimes, the sour smell lasts longer than it should. There are a couple of reasons why this can happen.

The first reason is that there is a hidden slick of spilled food that is rotting out of sight. It may have fallen behind the shelves and drawers or lurking at the bottom of a drawer. Remove everything from the refrigerator, including the drawers. Make sure you can see 100% of the plastic and glass surfaces. This will help you scrub out whatever is lingering.

The second reason is that the rotted food smell soaked into the plastic, as can happen with anything aromatic in the fridge. For this, you will also want to empty the fridge – this time scrub every surface even if it looks clean. Scrub with vinegar, baking soda, dish soap, and/or Borax. Any combination of these or washing in layers should dissolve and clean away any residual smells. 

Sour Mold Smell

Mold is a serious problem in some homes, and it can even get into your refrigerator. If you smell mold somewhere around or inside your fridge, it’s a real problem that you will need to solve quickly. Mold can form inside the refrigerator compartments or hidden in any moisture-containing chamber. The first place to look for mold is inside the fridge. Just like an other bad smell, clear the fridge, then scrub everything with vinegar and borax.

The second place to look is the vent grate – usually located at the bottom of the fridge beneath the compartments. Clear this space out and sniff for mold. If you smell mold growing on the compressor coils or the vent, you will need a repair technician to safely clean it without damaging the components.

The third place to look is in  your water lines. The water lines run from the valve to the fridge, then from the intake to the filter, then from the filter to the ice maker and water dispenser. Any point in these lines could become infested with mold with only a tiny point of exposure. If your ice or cold water smells moldy, you will need to flush the lines. Run vinegar and borax through the water lines, then rinse them thoroughly with a few gallons of clean water.

—Your refrigerator should smell like nothing, so that the food you store there smells and tastes only like itself. If your refrigerator is creating an unpleasant or dangerous smell, it’s important to act fast and know what to do. Some smells mean that you need appliance repair immediately before a critical failure, some smells just mean you need to do a little sponge-work. Contact us if your refrigerator needs maintenance and repair to clear away the smell.


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