Unpleasant smells and leaks: common faults with your refrigerator and how to fix them
We often take our fridges for granted, we use them every day to store fresh fruit and vegetables, raw ingredients, leftovers and drinks. As a result of this, your fridge is most likely to be the most used appliance in your kitchen, as it has to stay on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and doesn’t get switched off unless it’s being repaired or defrosted.
This continuous use means that your fridge, freezer or fridge freezer may start to develop faults over time which you may start to notice.
It can be difficult to know whether these faults are the result of something minor that requires you to simply move your fridge or if it is something that is hazardous that means that your need to replace your fridge. We’ve put together this useful guide to help you understand the common signs that something might be wrong with your fridge.
To jump to the problem that applies to your fridge, click the links below:
- Fridge leaking water
- What causes fridges to leak
- How to stop your fridge from leaking
- Common fridge smells
- How to properly clean a fridge
- How to stopping fridge smells from coming back
Why is My Fridge Leaking Water?
When you notice water pooling on the floor in your kitchen, the natural assumption is that this water is coming from your sink, washing machine or dishwasher – but that’s not always the case. Faulty refrigerators can develop leaks – even if the appliance doesn’t have a built-in water dispenser or ice maker. The good news is that the leak will still be water, because the coolant that modern fridges use is a gas, not a liquid.
If you see a puddle of water building up in the fridge, or under it, then this means that the appliance has developed a problem, and you should investigate immediately.
What Causes Fridges to Leak?
There are many reasons your fridge could be leaking. A few of the most common are:
The Defrost Drain is Blocked
The most common reason for a fridge to start leaking water is that the defrost drain is blocked. The defrost drain is a small hole that allows water which accumulates during the defrost process to drain into a pan for easy disposal. If this hole is clogged, water will accumulate inside the fridge itself. The good news is that it’s easy to clear any blockages by cleaning the hole with a piece of stiff wire, and then flushing the hole with hot water.
Cracked Drain Pan
It’s perfectly normal for a small amount of water to build up in the drain pan. That water should evaporate quite quickly, if the fridge is working properly, because the condenser fan in the fridge will be blowing warm air across the pan. If the drain pan is cracked or damaged, then it could start leaking. If you can see signs of damage, replace the pan immediately.
Damaged Ice Maker
If your fridge has an ice maker that connects to the water-supply, then this could well be the cause of the leak. Inspect the ice maker, and check the hoses and pipes attached to it. If there are kinks in the pipes this could cause excess pressure, leading to leaks where the pipes connect to the device. Older plastic hoses may develop cracks or tears, too. Tighten any connections, inspect the hoses, and make sure that all the connectors are sound.
Damaged Water Filters
If there is a poor connection between the water filter and the water supply line, then this could cause a leak. This can happen for many reasons. It could be that when the filter was last replaced, it was not installed properly. Alternatively, the filter could be the wrong type or size for your fridge, or the housing or seal that it screws into may be cracked. If the issue is with the water filter, then you will probably see water running down the outside of the filter itself, and dripping into the interior of the fridge. If you need to replace your water filter, be sure to buy the exact part that is specified in the manual, for a perfect fit.
How to Stop Your Fridge From Leaking
As you can see – all of the issues above are minor and generally easy to fix. It is actually quite easy to keep a fridge in good condition, and with some basic day to day maintenance you can prevent most of the common causes of leaks.
Level the Fridge
One of the most frequent mistakes that people make is to install their fridge on a surface that is not completely level. This means that when condensation from food pools in the refrigerator, instead of running down the drain hole and into the drip pan the way it should, the water will pool elsewhere in the fridge. All it takes for this to happen is for the refrigerator to be slanted very slightly forward. The correct way to install a fridge is to have it tipping backwards just a little bit. Not only will this ensure that condensation drains away properly, it will also ensure that the door swings shut when you release it.
Your fridge has some ‘legs’ on the bottom, and all you need to do to get the fridge at the right angle is have someone lift the front of the fridge slightly so that you can access those legs. Unscrew the front legs slightly (one or two turns should be enough), and then lower the fridge again. Use a spirit level to make sure that both legs are even. Open the fridge door and let go of it. If the door swings shut itself, then the fridge is at the right angle.
Note that fridges are designed to be just slightly off-level. Do not tip the appliance too far backwards, because this could cause other problems, and pose a potential safety hazard too.
If your fridge doesn’t have adjustable legs, then you can use a small piece of rubber or wood as a shim.
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Keep Your Fridge Clean
Be sure to clean the fridge regularly. Get into the habit of wiping the inside down and pay attention to the area around the drain hole. If you see debris or mold building up, remove it immediately. When you go to defrost the fridge, take some time to flush the drain system with a mild solution of soapy water with a little ammonia to kill off any bacteria. Don’t put hot food in the fridge, because this can cause condensation problems (and it could increase your risk of food poisoning, too).
Keep Your Fridge in a Warm (not Hot or Cold) Place
What a lot of people don’t realise is that if you keep the fridge in a place where the temperature is extremely hot or cold it can cause problems. Cold places, in particular, are problematic because as the heat from the motor flows over the exterior of the fridge, it can cause condensation to build up on the exterior of the fridge and drip onto the floor. You can test whether the temperature of the room is a problem by using a space heater near the fridge for a few days. If the condensation goes away when you do this, consider moving the fridge to a warmer room.
Common fridge smells and what they mean
There are many reasons your fridge might smell, and some of them are more concerning than others.
We keep a lot of different kinds of food in the fridge, and it doesn’t take much – a spillage, some forgotten food, or just lingering odours from something strong that you stored in there – to leave a lasting and unpleasant smell. Figuring out what causes those smells can be tricky, and getting rid of them can be even harder. Here’s a quick look at some of the most common causes of smelly fridges, and how to beat them.
If your fridge smells like ammonia there’s a good chance the fridge is leaking ammonia, which is a toxic gas. This is an immediate health risk so you should leave the house and get a technician around to look at the fridge as soon as possible.
Nail polish remover
If your fridge smells like nail polish remover this is another sign that the chemicals within it are leaking – specifically freon. Freon is generally harmless (at least in the amounts you risk inhaling from a leaking refrigerator) but if it’s leaked, your fridge won’t be working correctly, so you will need to get a specialist fridge technician in to look at it.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that freon is rarely used in modern refrigerators (while it’s not very harmful to us, it is terrible for the ozone layer) so if your fridge is reasonably new and it smells like nail polish remover, there’s a good chance something else is to blame.
Strong fishy smell
If there is a strong fishy smell coming from your fridge could indicate a number of issues with your fridge such as problems with the fan, a failed compressor or a burnt start-up relay and overload sensor. This could lead to small amount of stagnant moisture building up that emit a fishy smell.
This can be remedied by cleaning out the inner workings of your fridge and replacing the component that has been worn out from continuous use
Most of the time, however, those bad smells aren’t the result of a problem with your fridge, or parts of it. Generally when fridges smell bad they simply need a good clean.
The most common things that make fridges smell are forgotten, rotten foods (have you checked the back of the vegetable drawer?) and the drip pan. If you find that your fridge smells even though it looks clean, then the most likely culprit is the drip pan. This is located at the bottom of the fridge, just above the condenser coils.
It is supposed to collect and release condensation, but if you leave it unattended for long enough the water in it will go stagnant, and start to smell. If it gets dirty, it becomes the perfect breeding ground for mould.
If you want to eliminate odours in the fridge then you need to not just clean the parts of the fridge that you can see, but also deodorize the drip pan, and throw out any smelly foods in the fridge – note that dairy products – especially things like butter – tend to absorb the odours that they are exposed to, and mould can spread quickly once it takes hold in your fridge, so it may be worth throwing out any fresh foods and any opened containers of food as a part of the cleaning process.
How to Get Rid of the Smell in Your Fridge
If you want to stop your fridge smelling, you should clear it out thoroughly and leave no opportunity for the smell to return. There’s no point mopping up a spill and spritzing a mouldy area with a cleaning solution if you are going to leave the rest of the fridge alone, because even a few spores or a small patch of spilled food left in a corner can quickly become a problem again.
So, the first thing you should do to remove smells from your fridge is clear it out, thoroughly. Inspect all the food in the fridge and throw out anything that has spoiled or picked up bad odours from the fridge itself. Put the food that you want to keep in a cool box, and take out the shelves and drawers, so you can clean the fridge thoroughly. Put anything that has a strong flavour or odour to it (spicy foods, for example) in airtight containers.
Once you have compeletely emptied the fridge, clean the shelves and drawers, wipe down the seal of the fridge itself, and thoroughly clean the interior.
How to properly clean a fridge
Rinse the drawers and shelves in the baking soda solution, and then wipe down the inside of the fridge as well, making sure not to miss the corners. Next, find the drip pan – this is usually located behind a grill or panel. Remove the panel and empty the pan, then clean and deodorize it. This is one part of the cleaning process that you will want to use bleach for. Us a pipe cleaner to thoroughly clean the drain hole, because this can sometimes get clogged up with food or mineral residue.
If there are any stubborn bits of food stuck to the inside of the fridge, you can remove them by spraying a little WD-40 on them, then wiping it away with a soft rag. Be sure to thoroughly wash away the WD-40 before you restock the fridge with food.
Once you have finished cleaning the fridge, pour some baking soda onto a baking tray and leave that in the fridge for a few hours to soak up any residual odours and dampness. Throw out the baking soda when you are done.
What if your empty fridge still smells?
If you’ve thoroughly cleaned the fridge and condenser coil, and you know that leaking refrigerants or electrical faults aren’t to blame, try moving your fridge out of position. There’s a good chance something underneath or behind the fridge is responsible for that bad smell.
How to stopping fridge smells from coming back
Now you have a nice clean and fresh smelling fridge, your next challenge is to keep it that way. Here are a few tips to help with that:
- When you put food back into the fridge, take care not to over-fill it. Over-crowding makes it easy to miss food that is going off.
- Keep fresh and highly perishable foods that you’re likely to forget about in places where they’re visible, instead of putting them into drawers.
- Store leftovers in airtight containers, and label the containers so that you know which ones to use first.
- If you can’t put food in an airtight container, use a Ziploc bag or wrap them in cling film – don’t use paper towels or cardboard containers, because these wrappers are porous, and make it easier for odours to spread.
- Keep the fridge smelling fresh by soaking a cotton ball in vanilla extract and leaving it in the fridge. Keep a box of baking soda in there too, because this will soak up moisture and unpleasant odours.
- If you have a power cut, try not to open the door to your fridge or freezer. The appliances are well insulated, and will keep things cold for a fairly long time if you keep them shut. Opening them unnecessarily will make them warm up more quickly, and make it more likely that the food in them will spoil.
Once your fridge is odour free, be sure to keep it that way by sticking to a regular routine cleaning and emptying routine.
Is your fridge past its best? View our selection of freestanding, integrated and mini fridges here. We also stock fridge freezers and standalone freezers.
Need more information on refrigeration, have a look at guides:
How to choose a new fridge and dispose of you old one correctly
How to dispose of a fridge
How to move a fridge freezer
Why is my fridge leaking water?
Most common fridge fault and how to fix them