Ew, that smell! How to get odors out after a power failure
October 30th, 2012
04:15 PM ET
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The worst of Superstorm Sandy's wrath may have passed, but in towns where the power has gone out, it may leave an unpleasant reminder for days or weeks to come. No matter how diligently you've been about discarding spoiled food and cleaning up after, foul odors can linger.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service offers these tips for ridding refrigerators and freezers of rank smells from flood waters and rotten food:

Removing odors from refrigerators and freezers:

If food has spoiled in a refrigerator or freezer and odors from the food remain, they may be difficult to remove. The following procedures may help but may have to be repeated several times.

Dispose of any spoiled or questionable food.

Remove shelves, crispers, and ice trays. Wash them thoroughly with hot water and detergent. Then rinse with a sanitizing solution (1 tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water).

Wash the interior of the refrigerator and freezer, including the door and gasket, with hot water and baking soda. Rinse with sanitizing solution as above.

Leave the door open for about 15 minutes to allow free air circulation.

If odors remain, try any or all of the following:

Wipe inside of unit with equal parts vinegar and water. Vinegar provides acid which destroys mildew.

Leave the door open and allow to air out for several days.

Stuff both the refrigerator and freezer with rolled newspapers. Close the door and leave for several days. Remove paper and clean with vinegar and water.

Sprinkle fresh coffee grounds or baking soda loosely in a large, shallow container in the bottom of the refrigerator and freezer.

Place a cotton swab soaked with vanilla inside the refrigerator and freezer. Close door for 24 hours. Check for odors.

Use a commercial product available at hardware and housewares stores. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.

If none of these methods work, you may just have to chuck the whole thing - but do it safely. Old refrigerators and freezers should be childproofed so children can't get stuck inside. The best way to handle this is to remove the door completely, but if that's not possible, either tightly chain and padlock the door or remove or disable the latch.

Previously - Keep your food safe in a natural disaster and Post-Sandy water safety tips

Got resources? Here's how to help people affected by Sandy

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. brendasuebs

    Should the frig be ON or OFF when you put the news paper in it and shut the door for two days ??
    Should the frig be ON or OFF when you leave the door open for two days two let it air out ? ?

    October 14, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  2. Misako

    This must be for a fairly clean fridge already. If my family could just clean up their spills!

    May 2, 2013 at 6:35 am |
  3. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    If it's brown, flush it down.

    If it's yellow, let it mellow.

    November 2, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  4. hungryglobetrotter

    Useful tips. Thanks!

    October 30, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
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