Curing offensive odors in the refrigerator requires locating the source of the stink. Remove all the contents and discard anything that has expired, including milk, cartons of sour cream, cottage cheese, sauces, dips or old leftovers. Throw out produce showing signs of mold or rot. Discard any meat that is past its expiration date or has a sweetish, rotten odor. Check the freezer compartment as well, and discard anything that has passed expiration.
While you're taking inventory, it's a good time to give your refrigerator a bath. Remove drawers, shelves and other removable parts, and wash each one thoroughly with warm, soapy water. Give the empty refrigerator and freezer compartments, including the door compartments and gaskets, a thorough washing, also with warm, soapy water. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends rinsing everything in a sanitizing solution of one gallon of water mixed with one tablespoon of unscented bleach, including the refrigerator and freezer compartments.
Baking Soda Is Not Just for Baking
Baking soda has the power to absorb strong odors inside the refrigerator. Keep a fresh, open box inside the fridge, in a location where it won't be knocked over easily. Change boxes at least once every three months and discard the old box.
Soaking Up the Smell
Several materials will help to absorb strong, invasive odors. Fresh coffee grounds, cat litter, activated charcoal and even newspaper soak up smells in the same way as baking soda. Mrs. Clean recommends removing foods, then placing a shallow pan with a layer of grounds, litter, charcoal or baking soda in the refrigerator for one to two days on a low setting. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends stuffing the empty refrigerator and freezer compartments with rolled-up newspapers to absorb lingering odors. Close the door and allow everything to sit undisturbed for one to two days.
If mildew has attacked, wash the compartments, doors, shelves, drawers and other parts with a solution of vinegar and water, in equal amounts. The FDA notes that the acid in vinegar kills mildew.
To prevent offensive odors from developing, you can do several things on a regular basis. Use sanitary wipes to clean shelves, doors and handles. Clean up spills when they happen. Use tightly covered containers, and keep bottles and jars closed to avoid spills. Monitor produce and leftovers, and discard items before they develop mold.