HomeKitchenWhy Does My Freezer Smell?

Why Does My Freezer Smell?

Imagine casually strolling over to the freezer in search of an ice cream or some veggies for dinner. As you open the freezer door, you are met by a smell you can’t quite place, a smell you are sure isn’t supposed to be there. What could possibly be smelling in the freezer? 

Here are the potential causes of bad freezer smell, as well as my best tips on eliminating and preventing it. 

Why Does My Freezer Smell?

Unpleasant smells in the freezer are usually caused by microbes, such as bacteria, yeast, or mould. The smell itself is caused by the chemicals produced by food breakdown when the microbes start to grow and fats and flavours from food are released.

Although the purpose of a freezer is to prevent said microbe growth, if the temperature inside has at some point risen above -18°C, microbe growth is possible.

The temperature can rise due to a power outage that has lasted longer than a few hours, a lot of ice buildup, an overstuffed freezer, damaged door seals, or hot foods placed in the freezer before they had a chance to cool down properly.

Bacteria can also start to grow when food has spilled out of a container or bag, or if you have stored an open container. The smells that escape from an improperly sealed item will get absorbed and create a breeding ground for odour-causing bacteria.

Why Does My Freezer Smell Like Freezer Burn?

If your freezer smells like freezer burn, it is likely because your food has indeed got freezer burn. It occurs when frozen food is exposed to air, leading to the dehydration and oxidation of its surface layer.

Freezer burn changes the food’s texture, resulting in a distinct smell in your freezer. To get rid of the freezer burn smell, discard any affected items and thoroughly clean the freezer with a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar.

After cleaning, make sure all food items are stored in airtight containers or freezer-safe bags to prevent further freezer burn.

Why Does My New Freezer Smell?

A new freezer might smell like plastic or metal because most of its components are made from these materials. Some odours can also be caused by adhesives, paint, sealants, and insulation materials used in the manufacturing process.

These odours generally dissipate over time as the freezer runs and cools and when it is aired out. 

If you want to speed the process up, clean the freezer thoroughly with washing up liquid and then a baking soda paste. Then place an open container with baking soda or activated charcoal in the freezer to help absorb any odours lingering inside.

Note that these smells are normal and are no cause for alarm. If you do however notice your freezer still smells weeks after its been in use, or there is something funky about the smell, contact the store to make sure it’s not faulty. 

What Does a Leaking Freezer Smell Like?

A leaking freezer usually smells like vinegar or nail polish. It can also have a sweet smell similar to chloroform. This is because freon gas, the refrigerant used to keep the freezer cold, has this very specific smell, making it easy to detect there is a leak.

Should you notice this kind of smell near your AC unit, fridge or freezer, inspect the appliance for a freon leak and call a repairman if you do locate one. The chemical is highly toxic, and only professionals should handle it.

How To Get Rid of a Smell In Your Freezer

Depending on what is causing the smell in your freezer, there are a few things you can do to rid it of unpleasant odours:

Freezer Burn Odour

If your freezer smells like freezer burn, remove all burnt items and either discard them or repackage them in an airtight container. 

This will eliminate the smell. If it still lingers, you may want to defrost and clean your freezer, as it could have crept into the ice, but this is not very likely. 

Spoiled Food Odour

If your freezer smells like spoiled food, remove all spoiled items to prevent the smell from spreading. Make sure to thoroughly clean the freezer using a disinfectant, such as a mixture of equal parts water and baking soda. You can also use baking soda to help absorb lingering odours – just place an open dish of it in the freezer.

Freezer Leak Odour

If you have detected a freon smell coming from your freezer, call a technician who will address the issue immediately. 

If you are going to remove some of the leakage yourself, make sure to wear thick rubber gloves and a face mask, as freon is highly toxic. Make sure your children or pets don’t go anywhere near it. 

After the leak has been fixed, clean your entire freezer with a mild detergent. Make sure to also clean any areas the freon may have touched very thoroughly, still wearing all of your protective gear. 

New Freezer Smell

Before plugging in your new freezer, air it out by leaving the door open for a few hours. Afterwards, wipe down the interior with a solution of warm water and baking soda.

You can speed up the smell absorption by placing an open container of baking soda or activated charcoal in the freezer to absorb the new appliance smell.

Ice Buildup Smell

Having a lot of ice buildup in the freezer can trap unpleasant odours. To remove them, you will need to defrost the freezer and clean it thoroughly before placing food back. You can prevent the ice from soaking up any unpleasant smells by regularly defrosting your freezer

How To Prevent Your Freezer From Smelling

As the main culprit for bad odours in the freezer are microbes growing on your food, the best way to prevent a bad smell is to prevent their growth. Here’s what you can do:

●  Don’t put hot food in the freezer: always make sure to cool it down to room temperature before placing it in the freezer. Also use airtight containers or bags for storing food in both the freezer and fridge.

●  Don’t put food that is about to expire in the freezer: the freezer is not a magic solution for items about to expire. It is best to use them while they’re still good, because freezing them won’t necessarily kill the bacteria or other microbes that might already be present. They can become active again when the food is thawed, potentially leading to foodborne illnesses.

●  Clean it regularly: a clean freezer is the best way to ensure no food residue or bad odours get trapped in the ice and cause that unpleasant smell. Regularly clean and disinfect the freezer and no bad smell will ever assail it.

●  Defrost it regularly: it is recommended to defrost the freezer at least once a year to remove the ice buildup which may have absorbed unpleasant odours or food residue. Add this task to your to-do list and don’t put it off, especially if you notice there is a lot of ice in the freezer. 

●  Toss anything that has gone over: regularly check your freezer for items that have expired. This will both keep you and your family safe from foodborne illnesses, and your freezer safe from unpleasant odours.

●  Set it to the right temperature: setting the freezer temperature too low can cause freezer burn, while setting it too high causes microbes to start growing. Both can cause unpleasant smells. Avoid them by setting the temperature to -18°C, which is the recommended freezer temperature.

●  Prevent spills and spoilage by storing food in airtight containers or bags: spillage in the freezer can release smells that will get trapped in the ice. The best way to prevent them is to store food in airtight containers or bags, which will also keep the food fresh and safe. 

Wrapping Up 

If you have noticed a weird smell in your freezer, investigate immediately. You don’t want it to spread, infect perfectly good items and turn into a bigger headache than it already is. 


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