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How to remove odors from a refrigerator after a power outage

Consumer Reports News: July 03, 2012 03:08 PM

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Hundreds of thousands of people are still without power after their homes were caught in the path of last Friday's destructive derecho that cut a swath across 11 states. By now it is well past time when food can safely be salvaged from the freezer or refrigerator. And unfortunately, the odors that develop when food spoils can be difficult to remove. The Food Safety and Inspection Services recommends a variety of ways to remove the smell, but if those efforts fail the refrigerator may have to be replaced.

Unplug the unit, empty the freezer and refrigerator and dispose of all the food. The watchwords of the FSIS are: when in doubt, throw it out. Here's what the agency recommends:

  • 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 at first you don't succeed, try again

  • Wipe the inside of the fridge or freezer with equal parts vinegar and water. Vinegar provides acid, which destroys mildew.
  • Leave the door open and allow the refrigerator to air out for several days.
  • Stuff both the refrigerator and freezer with rolled newspapers. Close the door and leave for several days. Remove the paper and clean the interior 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 the door for 24 hours. Check for odors.
  • Use a commercial product available at hardware and housewares stores. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Finding a replacement
If all else fails, you may have to replace your old unit. If you've had it awhile, you'll be happy to hear that most of the new refrigerators on the market are more energy efficient and loaded with features that keep your food fresh. In our new reviews of refrigerators, we've found more than 80 to recommend including some CR Best Buys that start as low as $600. Check for sales. Sears, Home Depot and Lowe's are all discounting their appliances over the holiday weekend.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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