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By Mary Beth Breckenridge

RISMEDIA, Sept. 25, 2008-(MCT)-Folks who lose power, after a storm or from another outage, are left with a lingering problem: refrigerator odor. 

The smell from spoiled foods can remain even after the food has been removed and the electricity restored. A good cleaning and some odor-removal methods may solve the problem.

Start by cleaning the refrigerator compartment thoroughly. Anne Field, an emeritus extension specialist with the Michigan State University Extension, suggests this method: Unplug the appliance, remove all food and removable interior parts, and wash the interior with a solution of 1 to 2 tablespoons baking soda in 1 quart warm water. Rinse and wipe dry.

Leave the door open and let the refrigerator air out well, with a fan directed toward the inside. If weather permits, open your kitchen windows.

Field recommends washing removable shelves and other parts in a warm detergent solution. Don’t put glass or plastic parts in hot water, she cautions. They may crack, especially if they’re cold.

Clean the door gasket with a detergent solution, too.

Be careful not to use very hot water on the plastics used for interior parts of the refrigerator, because they may soften from the heat, Field says. Some household cleaners can damage the plastics, too.

Next, clean the freezer compartment following the instructions that came with the appliance manual. If you don’t have a manual, contact the manufacturer. Some can be found online.

Ways to Absorb Odors

If odor remains, Field suggests trying one or all of these removal methods:

– Spread baking soda on shallow pans and place them on the shelves of the empty refrigerator to absorb odors. Leave the door open and the refrigerator unplugged.

– Spread activated carbon, also called activated charcoal, in shallow pans and place the pans on the shelves. Turn the refrigerator on low and run it empty a few days till the odors are absorbed. Activated carbon is often available with the aquarium supplies at pet stores. It’s also sometimes sold in the housewares section of mass merchandisers and at appliance stores.

– You can also try the same method with cat litter spread on shallow pans, several ounces of imitation vanilla (not pure vanilla extract) poured into a saucer or fresh ground coffee in cereal bowls. With the coffee method, a slight coffee odor may remain, but it can be removed by cleaning the refrigerator again with baking soda solution, Field says.

– Pack each shelf of an empty refrigerator with crumpled newspaper. Set a cup of water on the top shelf or sprinkle the newspaper lightly with water. Allow the refrigerator to run for five or six days. This method takes longer, but Field says it can be effective in removing strong odors.

– Buy a commercial odor remover and follow the instructions exactly. One brand Field suggests is Odors Away by Wrap-on Co., available at some hardware and hospital supply stores. GE recommends Smells BeGone spray from Punati Chemical Corp., which can be purchased at some Bed Bath and Beyond stores as well as some Ace and True Value hardware stores. If it’s unavailable, the hardware stores can order Smells BeGone for you, a customer service representative said. She recommended asking for the manager, not a sales clerk, to inquire about ordering.

If none of the methods removes all the odor, Field says it probably has penetrated the insulation. You can contact an appliance service company for an estimate on the cost of removing the liner and replacing the insulation, but replacing the refrigerator may be a better choice, she says.

© 2008, Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.