Coming back from 10-day vacation, we found that our fridge was off the whole time. Fruit and packaged ham in the fridge, veggies fruit and meat in the freezer. Oops.

Obviously everything has thawed and became really smelly. Even tbough the meat was in bags, some of the "juice" may have still leaked. There was quite some liquid in the freezer drawers, though most of it probably from fruit/veggie.

What nasty things could have grown in there? How do I clean up this mess without throwing away the fridge?

We've already applied both the steam cleaner and boiling hot water (the latter only to plastic drawers and glass shelves). What else should we do? What chemicals?

I'm concerned that something may have gotten into all the platics or air circulation. In case it matters, the fridge is a 2-year fairly expensive bosch - probably not the most vulnerable thing, but not all glass and stainless steel either.

  • 2
    Smells can get pretty embedded in plastic. I had to put some furniture in store after a flood, including my freezer. Somehow a bag of herring got left in... 4 months. I scrubbed with detergents and disinfectants, I made pastes of baking powder to apply to the surfaces, closed up up with halved lemons in it...Had to chuck the appliance. Things might not be so unsalvageable after 10 days!
    – Spagirl
    Jul 16, 2018 at 14:23
  • 1
    I concur with spagirl ... I got a friend's hand-me-down fridge when I first bought my own house. It had been sitting for months, and was a bit musty. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that my brother decided to 'help' and put mouthwash all over the inside. Everything was vaguely minty for months.
    – Joe
    Jul 16, 2018 at 22:34

3 Answers 3


you don't have to throw out the fridge, you just need to clean it. Forget steam and boiling water, just get a bottle of spray surface cleaner and a bunch of rags, or a tub of soapy water (use dishwashing liquid). Take out the shelves and drawers and clean them separately, then clean the inside thoroughly with your spray cleaner and/or soap. If you've used soap then rinse with clean water and let it dry. Air it out for a few hours.

There's nothing you can do about the air circulation, but you probably don't have to. It's not as if you actually put food in there, the worst that could happen are maybe some mold/fungus spores and they won't like the dry and cold environment of the fridge. You may have some residual smells in the air ducts, those should work themselves out fairly quickly, a plate of baking soda will help absorb these although there are purpose made fridge deodorizers which are better.

  • 3
    As an added measure you could also add some white vinegar to the cleaning solution. It should help to kill any mould/germs and remove any unwanted lingering smells. Jul 16, 2018 at 11:03
  • 5
    A rub down with a vinegar solution might help if there's an odor problem, I wouldn't mix it in with anything else though @yetanothercoder, you don't know what it might react with in a spray cleaner.
    – GdD
    Jul 16, 2018 at 11:06

I've had this happen to me a few times (had a vacation house in hurricane country), and I refroze everything to kill the smell, and make cleanup less nasty, then chucked it all away.

Once it was empty, I shut it down and cleaned it out with the usual non-abrasive cleaners with bleach.

I cannot recommend re-freezing enough for reducing the nastiness. If you have a bunch of stuff that turned to liquid in the bottom of the freezer, be careful about chiseling it out: you don't want to puncture anything. I usually have very little of that in mine, and usually it all comes out in one block.


10% bleach solution. It will kill any lingering nasties, and replace the nasty rotten smells with a less nasty chlorine smell. Then scrub everything down with a paste of baking soda to further de-odorize.

If you haven't already, figure out whether there's a drip pan in the bottom of the freezer, to collect the water from the defrost cycle, and how to remove it. Clean and sterilize that too. The owners' manual (which you should be able to find online) will tell you how to find this, and googling with the model number may even find a helpful video of someone doing this for your exact fridge.

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