Freezer Week

The Single Best Way to Get Rid of Bad Smells in Your Freezer

updated Nov 30, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Although stinky smells are never enjoyable, they’re especially unpleasant when you’re thinking about eating. Freezer odors are particularly offensive because, for one, you’re not expecting them. (Freezers should just smell like cold!) And two, they hit your nose when you’re looking for something to cook. While you may be tempted to grab the first bag you see and shut the door, that smell won’t go away — and is actually likely to get worse, permeating not only your ice cubes, but eventually, the rest of your food and potentially even your freezer’s gaskets and other plastic components. 

Most of the time, the reason for stinky freezer air is bacteria. While microbes — bacteria, yeasts, and molds — become inactive in freezers set to 0°F, they can live in warmer temps. And freezers can freeze your food, even if they’re warmer than 0°. The bacteria then comes from spoiling food. One way spoilage can occur is if you have a spill that isn’t cleaned up. Maybe you didn’t notice that something spilled, or maybe you thought you cleaned up the mess but the job wasn’t as thorough as you thought. 

Quick Overview

How to Get Rid of Bad Freezer Smells

  1. Empty the freezer.
  2. Edit things out.
  3. Clean the inside.
  4. Absorb lingering smells.
  5. Put everything back in.
  6. Make sure your freezer is set to 0°F.

Another way food spoilage occurs in the freezer is from not sealing things properly. Anything that goes in the freezer should be stored in an airtight container, such as a freezer-safe zip-top bag or an airtight glass food storage container

Which brings us to the single best way to get rid of bad smells from your freezer. It’s not a hack or a trick, sadly. There’s no way around it: The best way to banish odors from a less-than-fresh freezer is to clean it out. It doesn’t sound fun, but it’ll feel so good and smell so fresh when you do it. 

How to Clean out a Stinky Freezer

  1. Empty the freezer: Get a cooler or a few cooler bags. Empty your food from the freezer and put it all into the cooler or cooler bags. 
  2. Edit things out: Toss any food that has freezer burn (you’ll see ice crystals on it), that isn’t properly sealed, or that is an undated mystery item. 
  3. Clean the inside: Make a paste of warm water and baking soda and use it to gently scrub down the interior of your freezer. 
  4. Absorb lingering smells: If odors linger, place a bowl of coffee grounds or baking soda in the interior, close the door, and wait for up to an hour (depending on how frozen you’re able to keep the food you’ve taken out). 
  5. Put everything back in: Put your food back, taking note of what you have and making plans for how to use it. Make sure each item is in an airtight container and dated.

How to Prevent Stinky Freezer Smells

In addition to storing food properly and cleaning up any spills, a key here is to make sure your freezer is set to 0°F. Because food will freeze at even warmer temps, if you’re having issues, the key here is to have a freezer thermometer, which can keep watch for you. This will make sure your freezer is indeed cold enough and therefore help prevent stinky freezer smells. You can also add a box of baking soda to absorb smells before they get too bad.