How to Remove Rotten Food Odor from House

Dorothy asked: How do I remove rotten chicken odor? After a power failure when we were away, the chicken in the freezer defrosted and began rotting. The smell now permeates the whole house. We have already tried baking soda, charcoal and borax. We will be grateful for any help. We are already planning to replace the refrigerator. Thanks!

When odors linger in your home, it’s important to treat the source of the problem first. If the odor is still strong in the freezer, it is reintroduced into the air each time the door is opened. If the freezer has been removed and the odor still remains, it may take some cleaning and intense odor absorbers/neutralizers to completely rid your home of the stench. While there is no single fix for this problem, there are a variety of steps you can take to target the needed areas. Here’s where to begin.

You Will Need:

  • Vinegar
  • Cans of coffee grounds
  • Activated charcoal
  • Bowls
  • Air neutralizer (ex: NeutraAir)
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Laundry detergent
  • Washing machine
  • Vacuum
  • Cat litter

Steps to Remove the Odors from the Freezer/Refrigerator:


  1. Removing odors can be difficult to do when you’re not sure exactly where they are clinging.
  2. The obvious first step is to treat the source of the smell – the freezer.
  3. If the stinky items are still in place, turn the freezer back on and allow them to refreeze. This will lessen some of the smell when it comes time to remove the rotten items.
  4. Once frozen, remove the rotten items and dispose of them immediately. Remove all trash cans from the house. When they thaw, the odor will return, so it is best to complete this task right before the trash will be picked up or taken to the dump.
  5. Once the rotten item(s) are removed, it’s time to clean the freezer/refrigerator.
  6. Begin by mixing bleach with water.
  7. Wash the entire interior with the mixture using a soft cloth.
  8. Rinse with clean water.
  9. Next, clean the surfaces with undiluted vinegar.
  10. Allow them to air dry.
  11. Fill bowls with baking soda, fresh coffee grounds, or vinegar.
  12. Place the bowls inside of the fridge/freezer and close the door.
  13. Allow the bowls to absorb the odors for several days up to a week. Replace them as necessary to keep the odor absorbency strong.

Steps to Remove the Odors from the House:

  1. Once the freezer is cleaned, you are ready to tackle the other areas of the home that may have absorbed the odors.
  2. Curtains and drapes should be removed and washed or dry cleaned.
  3. Sprinkle carpets with a liberal amount of baking soda.
  4. Allow the baking soda to sit overnight.
  5. Vacuum away the following day.
  6. Repeat if necessary.
  7. If the odor still remains in the carpet, use a steam cleaner with vinegar to clean the carpets. They will smell like vinegar for a couple of days, but the smell will quickly dissipate.
  8. Use an odor neutralizer such as OdoBan or NeutraAir to treat the upholstery.
  9. Allow it to dry.
  10. Once all fabric and carpeted areas have been treated, fill bowls with vinegar, cat litter, activated charcoal or coffee grounds and place several in each room. Allow them to remain in place until the odor is removed. Each of these items will absorb odors that are present. You do not have to use all of them, but choose one or two and place one bowl for every 30-40 square feet of room space.
  11. Open all of the windows and place fans in the windows. This will draw the outside air in and increase the air flow.
  12. With these cleaning efforts and some “airing out” time, the smell should be removed. If a strong odor remains, check around to find the source of the smell. Once the source is removed, the other odors should dissipate. The steps listed above will speed up the process.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • If you are unable to rid your house of the odors, it may be necessary to call in a professional cleaning service. Cleaning services that offer fire/smoke clean up have special chemicals and methods that can be used to remove strong, lingering odors from a home.



  1. Betsy says:

    Our freezer had a burnt wire inside the back and it left that smell in the freezer. The food packaging still smells, but the food inside does not. It is fine to eat without the odor, also. Is there something special I could wash out each shelf and the inside with, as I want to remove the food a shelf at a time and put it back in?

  2. Sandy says:

    I was away for five weeks and left limes and lemons in my refrigerator in the crisper. I cannot seem to get rid of the smell. I have thrown out eggs and have put all my other stuff in bowls covered with foil. I have tried everything; baking soda, vinegar, newspaper, and coffee grounds. Is there something I can use to rid my fridge of these odors or is it time for a new fridge?

  3. Lee says:

    It’s taken me four days, but I’ve finally gotten down to only the faintest smell after meat rotted in my freezer.
    I started off with the vinegar, baking soda and water mixture. Word of advice: rinse well and do not let this set because it ate away at the lining.
    Then I washed with soap and water… still a very strong smell.
    Then I sprayed my cat’s enzymatic odor remover in there… better. It seemed to get rid of the smell for a few hours, but I went in the basement and it was right back.
    Today I noticed that though the walls of the freezer were perfectly clean, the baking soda and vinegar mixture was sitting in the corners of the freezer. I wet a rag with the enzymatic cleaner to wipe it out and realized that the rag came out with brown lines from whatever was in the creases of the freezer corner; the meat sludge seeped into the corners and I cemented it in with the baking soda. I got a toothbrush and sure enough; new sludge. I removed the bottom plug… more sludge under the plug. Be sure to clean all of this stuff out, first with a pointy headed toothbrush wet with enzymatic cleaner and then run a wet paper towel in the corner until you no longer see the residue. Let it dry and your closer to a fresh freezer.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for your post. I missed removing a frozen bag of meat that fell down below the bottom drawer in my freezer when I moved. Add three weeks in storage and the smell was indescribable. I cleaned with bleach on day one, vinegar on day two, put coffee in, put active charcoal in, then on day four I cleaned with diluted vanilla and packed it with regular charcoal and packing paper. Let it set three days. It was better but not gone, so I tried tomato juice and it’s gone! I can’t say the juice alone would have done it. I believe the combo is what worked. It took one week exactly.
    If your fridge was moved like mine, check inside the gasket at the bottom of the drawer. Juices from the rotten meat seeped in through a small hole. You have to grab the gasket from the edge that touches the underside of your bottom shelf on your door and pull it away from the door; flip it inside out. I pinched and squeezed from both sides of the hole; toward the hole, the liquid squirted out. I took a utility knife and sliced the inside part of the gasket to get in there and remove it. Thankfully, it was never tilted backwards or the juices would have gotten into the innards of the fridge.
    Thanks so much for posting! It saved me from replacing!

  5. Carol says:

    What is “active” charcoal and where can I get it?

  6. Melanie says:

    Activated charcoal is regular charcoal that was treated so that it has lots of tiny pores (which will trap the odors). Because charcoal is mostly carbon, it is especially good at attracting carbon-based (organic) odors. You can buy it online, at health food stores, and sometimes even at grocery stores or Walmart.

    Source: HowStuffWorks – “What is activated charcoal and why is it used in filters?”

  7. Sylvia says:

    Be sure to check under your refrigerator. A drain collector…it can really STINK!

  8. Tara says:

    We did all of the above, and cleaned out the little drain collector reservoir area with vinegar and found it still sinks. The little reservoir is made of metal and is touching the motor (compressor?) last of the freezer underneath the freezer and both are very get hot when the freezer is plugged in. The heat makes the smell really strong and permeate throughout the garage and through the vents into the house.
    For step 13, when you add baking soda and then let it sit for several days, do you plug in the freezer at that point, or wait a few days to a week to plug it in?

  9. Melanie says:

    The last step, step 13, should help to remove the lingering odor. You can plug the freezer back in and still leave the baking soda in there, or put in the baking soda while the freezer is unplugged. Either way should work. If the odor is particularly bad, you may want to replace the baking soda daily to get the maximum odor absorption. Also, you can use coffee grounds instead of baking soda, and that will not only absorb the foul odor, but also replace it with a coffee smell.

  10. Jennifer says:

    We were away for the weekend, and we had 100lbs of meat stored in a freezer that opens like a fridge. The fridge had died at some point. When we got home, the house smelled horrible. We opened the freezer, and the blood spilled out all over the floor, into the carpet, under the subfloor, and even into the drywall of our finished basement. We have professionals in there now with huge filter fans, but the smell is everywhere…we are having the basement redone, but how do you recommend getting it out of the sofas? One is leather.

  11. Melanie says:

    This article might help: How to Remove Sour Milk Smell From a Leather Sofa. If not, there are some other ideas for deodorizing leather in the article: How to Remove Cigarette Smell from Leather.

  12. John says:

    Nicely written article and very helpful. However, there are a few extra tips for people who have unfortunately dealt with a a failed fridge or freezer. Rotten food permeates into all fabric, making it difficult without removal and washing everything. That being said, many A to Z rental places have “ozone generators” or “air scrubbers” (simply ask if the air scrubber has a HEPA and Charcoal filter installed) that can be rented for dollars a day versus hiring professionals. Renting a steam cleaner with an attachable wand is also great not only for your carpets, but for any upholstery or fabric that can’t be thrown in the washer and dryer as well. Hope that helps.

  13. David says:

    Just a suggestion which I haven’t seen here. You are dealing with the very real possibility of very serious pathogens, like botulism. Please take precautions to avoid direct contact. The first encounter will probably be the worst. Rubber gloves, a face mask, and long sleeves would not be excessive.

Leave a Comment