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How To Get The Smell Out Of Your RV Refrigerator

fridge in RV - feature image for how to get smell out of rv refrigerator
Are there odors lingering in your fridge? Here’s how to get the smell out of an RV refrigerator.

How To Get Rid Of RV Refrigerator Smells

There are a number of ways to get the smell out of your RV refrigerator. I can personally say that some might work on light odors, but it takes an army of products and effort to get the really bad smells out. Let me tell you how I know.

I’m sure this has happened to others, but my husband and I were doing a work camping job in Tennessee in October and November of 2019. We were putting up high-end Christmas lights with a company called Christmas Décor of Knoxville.

We anticipated our end date to be a few weeks later than it actually was, so we thought we would be staying a bit longer. We had just gone grocery shopping and found out we would be leaving earlier. We left our trailer as we would be coming back after the holidays to take down the lights we had just put up.

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No worries, we had planned to head home to Kansas City for Christmas to visit relatives, so we just got there a little bit earlier.

When we arrived back at the trailer in January, we opened the door to a very rank smell. Remember, we had just purchased groceries before we left. Well, apparently the electricity in the park had gone off and our refrigerator switched to propane. We were gone about three weeks and the propane ran out.

I can’t remember exactly why it didn’t switch back to electric, but at that moment, the only thing we could focus on was the smell. Even in winter, it was bad. Imagine fish and burgers and chicken…you get the picture.

After holding our noses while we dumped everything in a big garbage bag, there was nothing I would even have considered keeping, so we set about trying to get the smell out.

Cleaning it all only helped slightly. The sparkling white walls still stank to high heaven. I started with baking soda, which started to help the smell dissipate, but every time we would open the doors, we would still get that rotten meat smell.

So, here are several ways to help get rid of the worst smells in your refrigerator. Read on and I’ll reveal what actually worked for us.

Baking soda

While keeping a box of this in your refrigerator may work for everyday odors, it didn’t really help a lot for the really bad stuff. You can try taking it out of the box and sprinkling it on the bottom of the unit or use a pan with baking soda spread liberally (which is less messy).

orange and white box of generic baking soda
I buy baking soda in a large package because it’s great for cleaning as well as for removing odors.

Charcoal briquettes

I don’t recall that I tried this one, but some people have used charcoal briquettes to get rid of smells, and it does make sense. From my understanding, the more porous the briquettes, the better it works.


After a fiasco like ours, wiping down the refrigerator with vinegar was a great idea. You can also pour vinegar in a bowl and leave it inside with the doors closed.

Baking soda and vanilla

This is also supposed to be a great solution for refrigerator odors. Again, it’s not one I tried, but when the smell is bad, anything is worth the try.

Use a half cup of baking soda and two tablespoons of vanilla. Cotton balls soaked in vanilla are also said to do the trick. I’m not sure it would do anything but cover up the smell.

Lemon, oatmeal, newspaper, bread

Some people have found success in items like lemon, oatmeal, newspaper and bread. While they would absorb odors, I’m not sure how great these items would work for intense odors.

Essential oils

In my mind, these might do well to cover up the odor, but you still need something to actually absorb the smell.

For us, trying a number of these different methods did work to get the worst of the smell out, but we would still get a whiff every time we opened the door. What really worked to finally get rid of the odor was…drum roll please…

Coffee grounds

Finally, this is what worked for us. We don’t generally have coffee grounds in the house, we use a Keurig, so we went out and bought the smallest container we could find because frankly we were desperate and the internet said it would work. Always believe what you read online, of course. Now, when I opened the door, I had the pleasant smell of coffee greeting me.

How long did this process take?

For us, this process took a matter of weeks to completely get the smell completely out of the refrigerator. Obviously, the worst of it was gone in a few days, but the plastic absorbed the odor and held it there for a while.

We didn’t have the option of going somewhere else, so the quicker things went back to normal, the better. We scrubbed it on a daily basis and then were so glad when the coffee finally did the trick.

Lessons learned

I would hope this won’t happen again, but you never know when the perfect storm might occur. Looking back, I will certainly clean out my refrigerator before I leave for an extended period of time, even if I get the call at the last minute. That’s a no-brainer.

Through this experience, I also learned that you can really get used to smells after you have been amid them for a while. Having someone new come in and do a sniff test is always a good idea.

Occasional bad smells are a given whether you are in a house or an RV. But, as most RVers know, life on the road is always an adventure.

While the video below is not an RV refrigerator, it demonstrates some of the same techniques I’ve suggested and one that I didn’t know about. Check it out.

Let me know in the comments if you have a great idea to absorb smells in your RV.

One of the best parts about RVing is engaging with the community of traveling enthusiasts. iRV2 forums allow folks to chat with other RVers online, and get other perspectives on everything RVing, including products, destinations, RV mods, and much more.

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