Banish the Stinkiest Fridge Smells

The next time you're greeted by a pungent whiff when you open the door, deploy our easy odor-stopping tactics.

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Hold Your Nose

A fridge's chilly temps may keep bacteria in check, but you can't say the same thing for odors. Whether the culprit is yesterday's broccoli or last week’s takeout, we’ve got some simple steps to help you get (and keep!) your fridge smelling fresh and clean.

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First, Scan for Spills — and Expired Items

You open the fridge door and are hit with a waft of stink. Before you toss everything in a panic, take a look around to see if you can get to the source of the problem. Leaky containers, spills, takeout boxes and open cans all emit odors. Check for spoiled or expired foods, and put them in the trash. Not sure about that leftover lasagna? Follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture rule: After the fourth day, throw it away.

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Wipe Up Spills Smartly

Spills and stains are a common source of foul fridge smells. Knocked over the milk? Wipe it up immediately with a sponge and hot, soapy water. If the mess is old, sticky or caked on, resist the urge to use a heavy-duty chemical cleaner. (It could contaminate the rest of the food in the refrigerator.) Instead, use a solution of water mixed with some baking soda or white vinegar. For extra-tough gunk, apply a paste of baking soda and water, and let it sit for 10 minutes; then use a nonabrasive sponge to scrub it away.

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Fight Stink That Lingers

No matter how spick-and-span your fridge is, food smells will persist (it is food, after all). You've probably heard that a box of baking soda (replaced monthly) can help absorb funky odors, but there are other "aromatherapy" remedies you can try. For instance, place a cup of dry coffee grounds, a cup of white vinegar or a bowl of charcoal briquettes on a fridge shelf. Or soak a few cotton balls in vanilla and place them in a cup inside the fridge for a day.

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Deep Clean Once a Season

Every three months or so, roll up your sleeves and give your fridge a thorough overhaul. First, remove the food and place it on the counter or in a cooler. Take out the shelves and crisper bins, and wash them in the sink with warm, soapy water. Wipe down the walls and doors with a baking soda or vinegar solution. Wipe down food and jars, then return them to their shelves. Don't put anything back that you aren't planning to eat soon.

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Nip It in the Bud

Commit to some ground rules to keep unwanted odors from forming in the first place. Never store food in open containers or paper takeout containers, as smells can seep out into the fridge. Instead, use glass or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. Label and date leftovers so they don't hang around too long. Keep highly perishable items on the top shelf, where you'll see them and remember to use them before they go bad. Wipe down messy jam jars, ketchup containers and drippy syrup bottles before you put them back. Place plastic lids under bottles and containers that are prone to leaking. A little extra effort now can prevent a smelly problem later.

Photo: FotografiaBasica/iStock