Refrigerator Smells Bad ? Being confronted with an unpleasant odour when you open your refrigerator door is not a nice experience. There can be various different causes for bad smells. It’s important to take action early to both avoid bacteria spreading and detect any faults your appliance may have developed. In this troubleshooting guide, we detail the various things that can create bad odours in your fridge.
Why Does the Refrigerator Smell Bad?
The refrigerator is not clean
The number one cause of bad smells in refrigerators is the presence of food debris in the fridge’s interior. This is why it’s important to regularly clean your refrigerator, and this should ideally be done prior to each time you fill it with groceries. After first emptying the appliance completely, clean it using a sponge soaked in white vinegar or a mild detergent specially designed for cleaning refrigerators. Don’t forget to clean the door seals, the inside of the handle, and all the little nooks and crannies where bits of food can lodge, such as in the corners of the drawers.
Important: do not clean the surfaces of your refrigerator with bleach or toxic detergents of any kind. Products such as these, which must not be swallowed, could come into contact with foodstuffs and damage plastic parts, or turn them yellow.
There is a build-up of mould present
Mould can build up in all kinds of environments, and is particularly fond of dampness. It can contaminate foodstuffs and is not always immediately visible to the naked eye. It is therefore important to always throw products away as soon as they expire or are past their best-before date.
The refrigerator temperature is too high or too low
One of the first things to do to combat bad smells and build-up of bacteria in your refrigerator is check the appliance’s temperature. If your fridge is not sufficiently cold, the foodstuffs inside it will not be properly preserved and could quickly become mouldy. The foods may even become contaminated with dangerous bacteria such as salmonella. If the temperature is too low, on the other hand, a damp smell could be given off by the frost that may build up.
To check that fridge’s thermostat is working properly (if it’s getting too cold), extract the thermostat bulb from its mounting, place the end of the thermostatic sensor in a glass of very cold water with ice cubes in it, and adjust the thermostat setting using the dial. If you can’t get it to switch on, you will probably need to replace it. You can also check the thermostat by testing it for continuity when on or off using a multimeter in ohmmeter mode.
The refrigerator needs to be defrosted
If a refrigerator is not properly defrosted, the accumulated frost can impair its operation: the temperature inside the appliance is no longer even and consistent, which means the cold chain is no longer being maintained. Check that the layer of frost on your fridge’s evaporator is no more than 2 mm thick and is homogeneously distributed across the interior back wall of the appliance. If this is not the case, either your thermostat is set too high or the door seal is not sitting tightly and evenly in place when the door is closed.
Also check that the light is not staying on when the door is closed: the light gives off enough heat to cause temperature problems (such as making the fridge too cold or causing excess frost to build up). To check whether the light is going out properly, one thing you can do is place a smartphone inside the fridge with its camcorder filming and close the door.
The defrost drain pan needs to be cleaned out
Can you smell a musty odour throughout your house? Check the drain pan that sits just above the motor (compressor) on the back of your appliance. It serves to collect the water that results from the defrosting process. If the condensation dripping into it is full of bacteria (the foods in your fridge produce bacteria), particularly the kinds that come from meats, the drain pan will give off a very pungent, powerful odour.
The compressor is defective
Is your refrigerator giving off a burnt or hot smell? It’s possible the compressor (motor) is not working properly. To avoid it overheating, make sure there is a gap of a couple of inches between your refrigerator and the wall. It’s a good idea to regularly clean off any dust that may have built up on and around the compressor and condenser (the black grill) using a dry cloth and a soft brush. Additionally, check that the plastic smell is not coming from the box fitted to the motor. If it is, remove the cover and check the condition of the start relay. Always disconnect the electricity to your refrigerator before cleaning this area.
The fan is no longer working
Refrigerators are fitted with fan systems that keep the motor cool and improve the air circulation around the condenser. The fan itself is positioned close to the condenser. If it fails to operate, the condenser can overheat and the fridge will no longer get cold enough to keep food properly preserved.