How to Use Baking Soda in the Fridge to Eliminate Funky Odors

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This kitchen staple has a million helpful uses around the house. Here's why keeping baking soda in your fridge is a must.

Regardless of how often you cook, how obsessed you are with reducing food waste or how rigid your cleaning schedule might be, odds are that you’ve encountered some funk in your fridge at some point in your life. Given the demands of work, family, school and social responsibilities, it’s not surprising that your refrigerator can get seriously smelly. When this happens, you might want to clean your kitchen fast and throw some extra attention toward your refrigerator. But while there are many ways to combat the dreaded fridge stink, one of the most popular is also incredibly easy: Put baking soda in the fridge.

Not only are there a million and one baking soda uses, but baking soda is also cheap, readily available and extremely easy to use. Whether you have one of the best refrigerators on the market or you’re working with a 15-year-old clunker, keeping baking soda in the fridge is a quick and easy way to ensure the appliance smells crisp and clean—even if you have trouble knowing how long food lasts in the fridge before it starts to stink.

Read on to learn why baking soda in your fridge is so effective, how to employ fridge organization tactics that’ll maximize its odor-busting potential and how it can help keep your fridge fresh going forward.

Why do you put baking soda in the fridge?

Most bad smells in the fridge can be attributed to mold, yeast and decomposing foods (which, by the way, could be turned into rich garden compost). As bacteria feed on the foods in your fridge, the food begins to release smelly molecules into the air that are either acidic or alkaline (basic). Baking soda (scientifically known as sodium bicarbonate) is “attractive” to both acidic and base particles, so it has the ability to turn both acidic and strong alkaline molecules into neutral-smelling sodium salts.

Essentially, the smells in your fridge are made from food particles that float around until they make their way to your nose. By putting baking soda in the refrigerator, you’re giving the smelly particles something else to bond with, therefore neutralizing the odor and de-stinking your fridge before you smell the funk.

Keep in mind, however, that part of the baking soda odor neutralization process means that the baking soda absorbs some of the tiny food particles, which can compromise the taste of the baking soda. As such, you should keep separate baking soda for the fridge and avoid cooking with the same baking soda that was previously used to neutralize odors.

Does baking soda in the refrigerator really work?

Yes, it does. And it’s also really simple to use. You don’t need to mix up any funny concoctions or combine it with any other eco-friendly cleaning products. You simply stash an open box of baking soda in the fridge and replace it about every three months or so. If you find it’s losing its effectiveness more quickly (for instance, if you frequently stash pungent food in the fridge and notice the scent isn’t contained), you may need to replace it more often, perhaps once per month.

A simple trick to remember when to replace the baking soda in your fridge is to date the box when you put it in there. You can also put a note in your datebook or set recurring reminders on a digital calendar. If you’re old school, you can just use your nose and swap out the baking soda when your fridge begins to stink.

Also note that while baking soda is a very effective odor neutralizer in your fridge, it won’t thoroughly eliminate every single smell in there. If you’ve stored open bowls of raw fish or pickled onions in there all week, even the biggest box of baking soda will struggle to absorb the smells. You’ll likely have to clean the refrigerator with baking soda to get all the funk out (more on that later).

Where should I place baking soda in the fridge?

Whether you’re flush with fridge-organization ideas or prefer to throw things anywhere they’ll fit, be sure to make room for baking soda. A box of baking soda in the fridge will have a positive effect regardless of where you put it, but to maximize its odor-absorbing potential, it’s best to store it closest to fetid foods. The closer the baking soda is to putrid and pungent odors, the better chance there is that the smelly food molecules will reach and be neutralized by the baking soda.

If your fridge is large or if you tend to keep a lot of smelly foods in there, you may want to keep a box (or bowl) of baking soda on each shelf in the fridge. You can also sprinkle some baking soda onto the bottom of the crisper drawers that store your fruits and vegetables, then cover it with a folded paper towel. As with the boxes of baking soda, the crisper drawer baking soda should also be replaced every three months or so.

If you find yourself constantly replacing the baking soda in your fridge and throwing out spoiled food on a regular basis, you may also want to check what temperature a refrigerator should be. If your foods aren’t staying fresh for long, the fridge may not be keeping them cold enough.

How much baking soda should I put in the fridge?

It’s less about how much baking soda you put in your fridge and more about how the baking soda is distributed. If you fill an old milk carton with baking soda but the only exposed area is the one-inch opening, you’ve basically wasted a gallon of baking soda.

To maximize baking soda’s odor-neutralizing capabilities, give it as much exposed surface space as possible. You’ll get the biggest bang for your baking soda buck by pouring at least a cup of baking soda into a bowl or spreading it over a large plate. By doing this, you’re exposing as many sodium bicarbonate crystals to the air as possible, allowing them to absorb and neutralize odors.

If you don’t want to lose precious space to a plate or bowl of baking soda, simply stashing an open box of baking soda in the fridge will do the trick, particularly if the opening on the box is large. Some boxes of baking soda are specifically designed for the fridge and freezer with large cut-outs that allow odors to flow through the box without any of the baking soda spilling out.

Keep in mind that the amount of baking soda your fridge needs is also dependent on the size of the fridge. Large refrigerators that are stuffed with a ton of food will require more baking soda than smaller refrigerators with sparser selections of food or mini fridges.

Can you use baking soda in the freezer?

Absolutely! Baking soda works the same in the freezer as it does in the refrigerator. By putting a box of baking soda in the freezer, you’re helping to neutralize odors in the freezer and prevent odd smells (and tastes) from seeping into ice or any foods you have stored in the freezer.

What other uses does baking soda have in the kitchen?

This unassuming pantry item is a household must-have. Baking soda works overtime in the kitchen, and not just to keep your freezer and fridge fresh. It’s also a great DIY freezer and fridge cleaner. Simply scrub the inside of the fridge with baking soda and water—and even some vinegar if the stains are really stubborn and the odors particularly persistent.

Considering baking soda’s usefulness, you may want to keep a few boxes on hand. They’re cheap and small, and they can be stored in a cabinet or under the kitchen sink until you’re ready to use them.

What are some odor-eliminating alternatives to baking soda?

Even though good old-fashioned baking soda is like Mary Poppins—practically perfect in every way—we get that you might also want to try some other natural alternatives and deodorizer products. Here are a handful of potential stink removers:

Coffee: While coffee won’t get rid of smells as effectively as baking soda will, it can reduce fridge funk when the dried grounds are placed in a small cup and stored near the smelliest items in the fridge. Note that the coffee method does produce a mild coffee scent, and the grounds may need to be changed up to once per week.

Vinegar: Just like baking soda, vinegar is also a multipurpose item that appears in many recipes, is ideal for cleaning, makes a great fruit wash and can also be used to neutralize fridge odors. Place a cup of it close to the smelly source and wait a few hours for the vinegar’s pungent scent to dissipate as it begins absorbing the smells of the fridge. Be sure you’re using plain white vinegar, not apple cider, balsamic, red wine or any flavored variety. And replace the vinegar every few days.

Activated charcoal: This pure carbon compound traps and neutralizes smells and can usually be found online or even in pet shops, as it’s often used to purify the water in fish tanks. You can purchase it in powder or pellet form and stash a cup of it in the fridge near the smell, or you can buy activated charcoal cartridges that can go not only in the fridge but also in closets, cars, bathrooms and near litter boxes to absorb odors.

Now that your fridge is clean and fresh, make sure to never store these foods in there.

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Cassandra Brooklyn
Cassandra Brooklyn is a writer, guidebook author, and international tour leader based in New York City. She writes regularly about travel, food, health, and tech and has been published in Reader’s Digest, The Daily Beast, Fodor’s, AAA, Lonely Planet, Matador Network, The Culture Trip, Travel + Leisure, Moon Travel Guides, Medium, and Far & Wide, among others. She earned her Master’s degree in Psychology from New York University and her BBA in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.