This past week, I noticed an unpleasant odor coming from our refrigerator every time I opened the door. Admittedly my sense of smell is much more sensitive than Alex's, but even after a few days he began to notice it too. I moved items around, checked the milk, and looked for rotten vegetables, but came up empty handed. I was at a bit of a loss as to the source of the smell, so after a night of celebrating a friend's birthday into the wee hours, I woke up on Saturday morning and, still in my pajamas, groggily ventured downstairs to resolve this lingering odor once and for all. The fridge stank was goin' down. (It also helped to know that my in laws are coming this week, so I used that to act as a little extra motivation.)

The refrigerator I started with was relatively full of items largely consisting of condiments and beer. 

I suppose by week's end we had eaten most of the meals we had prepared and were left with the items we don't consume on a regular basis (at least that's what I'm going to tell myself). 

In hopes of easily eliminating the odor by tossing some rotten jarred or canned good, I started by removing all of the items in the refrigerator, sorting them into keep and discard piles. If something was expired, looked suspect, or I had no recollection of the last time we'd used it, it went into the discard pile. Judging from the number of expired dressings, I think we're not eating enough salad in our house. 

With all of the items removed, I had a clear picture of how thoroughly disgusting our refrigerator was. I was tiptoeing the line that bordered on a bad episode of Hoarders, particularly when I noticed the gag-inducing grime that had accumulated underneath the lower glass shelf. If you're squeamish...look away. well as a nauseating sticky film that coated an upper shelf.

How thoroughly grossed out are you right now? As a self professed neat freak, I'm mortified that such filth existed in our home. I'm actually so shocked and grossed out by it that I've decided to share it with the whole Internet. Cleaning out the refrigerator is something we do an a semi annual basis, but clearly we've let this chore go unchecked too long. 

No wanting to risk the chance that the sludge might animate and morph into the Toxic Avenger, I donned rubber gloves and started to scrub the shelves within an inch of their lives. 

I removed all of the items that could be taken out of the fridge, such as the plastic door shelves, proceeded to let them soak, and then washed them with warm, soapy water.

After scrubbing, wiping, soaking, and more scrubbing, the inside of the refrigerator now looked like this.

Remember the gross grime on the lower shelf? Gone!

The entire cleaning process took about an hour, but loading the contents back in was a snap. Here's a look at the end result. It's clean, organized, and scuzz free.

The condiments are better organized, and we even have extra room on the door!

And in case you're wondering what item was causing the stench in the fridge, it was the leftover black beans in a glass storage container. (Thanks to my dear husband for taking care of disposing those bad boys so I didn't have to revisit what I ate for dinner last night. I'm telling you, I have a gag reflex like no other!)

Even though it was really embarrassing to share my disgusting refrigerator with you all, I'm happy to say I'm one step closer to checking off "do a thorough purge of our closets and drawers" from our New Year's Resolutions List for 2012. (I know, organizing kitchen cabinets or a refrigerator isn't exactly a closet or drawer, but it's the same basic idea if you think of it as a climate controlled closet for our food.)

I'm sure I can't be alone in putting off cleaning an area or appliance. What's the dirty little secret in your home? I promise I won't tell. 

Comments 32


3/15/2012 at 10:43 AM
My fridge is just as bad, if not worse. I guess I know what I'm doing this weekend.
Phew! I'm not alone. Good luck Katie!
3/15/2012 at 10:59 AM
My mother in law had a similar smell problem, although she could not smell. I cleaned her fridge and still smelled the smell. After searching we found a dead mouse under the fridge. That's when my gag reflex's kicked in.

Keep up the great site.
Oh man, that's nasty. We've had similar issues where we smelled something really bad in the kitchen, and we believe there must have been a dead mouse under the floorboards. (Our kitchen is built over dirt without a foundation.) Luckily this time it was just rancid beans. I'm not sure how I'd handle it if I found a dead mouse in or near my fridge.

So glad you like the site, Cher, and thanks for your comment!
3/15/2012 at 11:08 AM
Cleaning out our frige was the first thing I did when I got back from BC after Christmas! We soaked everything in the bathtub too. Why oh why do fridges get so gross?!
I can't quite figure that one out either, Ashley. You'd think with a closed and sealed door, I wouldn't find pet hair inside. Yep...disgusting.
threadbndr (Karla)
3/15/2012 at 11:45 AM
Hint for in the future - if you can't find the offending party inside the fridge itself, check the seals and the drip pan. Some serious mold can grow in either ::phew::

On my list - defrosting the chest freezer in the basement. The upstairs kitchen freezer is a frost free, but the monster in the basement can become a solid chunk of ice if I'm lazy. Oh, and it's SO much fun because I'm so short that I can barely reach the bottom.
Ick, but thanks for the tip, Karla. Bring out the bleach!
Maureen Brady Johnson
3/15/2012 at 11:55 AM
I am in awe of your courage and esp. your hilarious comments!!!! This column is so true!!!! With four children, 36 years of marriage AND two refrigerators, I can tell you some incredible stories...
3/15/2012 at 12:17 PM
OMG, this post is AWESOME! After work today, I'm going home straightaway to clean mine out! It's def a dirty lil diddy I've been putting off. Luckily I don't have any stink associated (yet), but I did notice when unloading groceries last night it could use some loving. Thanks for the motivation!
Thanks Rachel! So...did you clean out your fridge last night?? ;-)
Cheryl in Wisconsin
3/15/2012 at 1:35 PM
Love your blog. You guys are awesome.

Your frig wasn't too bad. I've got myself a boxed wine thing going on lately. You should see the damage that the drips from the spiggot of a box of fine chillable red can make. If I was really ambitious I'm wipe them up every night when I do this dishes. But I like to let them collect until it looks like an attempt at abstract art.
Hahahaha! Fridge wine art. I love it.

I'm so glad to hear you love our blog. Thanks so much Cheryl!
3/15/2012 at 3:47 PM
Thanks for keeping it real! I'm ashamed to admit it, but our fridge has looked like that too in the not so distant past. Glad I'm not the only neat freak that let this happen.
Admittedly, I had some reservations about sharing my dirty little secret with y'all. :-) But it's so comforting to know we're not the only ones with (well -- "who had") a nasty fridge!!
Kelly C.
3/15/2012 at 6:46 PM
You can just imagine what the fridge of a mom that loves to cook with a husband & 3 teen boys who love to eat looks like. The rotten produce that can fall to the back can stink to high heaven in a totally overcrowded fridge! Best feeling ever to clean that puppy out!
Wow, my imagination is running wild. If I think about my brother's mess x 3...that's pretty scary! :-)
3/15/2012 at 8:34 PM
Hmmmmm. Brings back memories of Christmas 2011. Just cleaned out my fridge yesterday finally. Knew that would gross you out.
Hahahaha! I was wondering if you'd see this Margie. As I was pulling expired after expired item out, I was thinking about you and my obnoxious compulsion.

I'm so glad to hear that you cleaned out your fridge. Maybe I won't overstep my bounds again this year...assuming we're invited back. :-)
3/16/2012 at 8:08 AM
Almond Milk... mmm, mmm, mmmm.

My wife and I are both lactose intolerant and Almond Milk has been our savior; plus it tastes good too.
I LOOOVVEEE almond milk. Alex is a vegetarian, and we also try to limit our intake of animal products in general, hence the switch from cow's milk to almond. I also love that a cup is only 40 calories, and it tastes great!
Old Town Home
3/16/2012 at 6:44 PM
:-) Thanks Maureen Brady Johnson!
3/16/2012 at 10:36 PM
it's march... how do you still have shipyard pumpkinhead in there?!?!?!
Haha! You're totally right. We don't drink much beer at home, so this is just left over from our Halloween party.
3/22/2012 at 9:21 PM
....Yeah my fridge is just as bad, or slightly worst. I also need to wash the kitchen floor. I just never seem to have the time.
Hey, welcome back, JC!

Yep, we totally know what you mean. With Lulu's crazy jowls, our kitchen floor could stand to be washed daily. But let's face it -- that ain't happenin' any time soon. :-)
3/23/2012 at 5:48 PM
I've been too busy with work and helping out with my friend's bathroom reno. I have something like 200+ posts to catch up on in my Google Reader, as well as about 3 hours worth of various YouTube videos. I also plant to write-up at least 3 new posts for my blog shortly (this weekend). I also have to find time to do my taxes on Sunday. Ugh.

But yeah, I'm a pretty bad housekeeper at the moment.
11/1/2012 at 12:43 PM
Came across this post while looking for fridge cleaning tips since mine is rather stinky. Used your process and now the stink is gone! I never found the culprit though which means the grime was actually what smelled! Gag...
Dead from black beans
12/13/2015 at 4:47 PM

Holy.. moly.. I couldn't figure out what that awful smell was in my fridge, pulled out this container of black beans and took a smell of it without my defenses up because I never dreamed it could be these harmless looking little beans making this stench. Worst smell.. I have ever smelled, I almost died.

3/18/2018 at 10:19 PM

Wow Wendy, my roommate and I are actually facing a very similar problem with the black bean stench! Just curious, did you notice a white film over top the beans?
XOXO Lex & Linds


Hey Lex & Linds. The black bean incident occurred quite some time ago but if memory serves me, I do think they had a white film over them. They had long since turned into a science experiment.Alt smile

10/11/2018 at 12:59 PM

My daughter made some pinto beans in the crockpot. She put them on last night. When we went to eat dinner she removed the top off the crockpot and the smell was absolutely disgusting. It smelled like poop. Ligit poop. Why would they smell like that?

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