It’s the middle of the night, and I want to grab a midnight snack; I opened the fridge door, and a chemical smell hit my nose. What should have been a delectable snack turned into a search and rescue mission as I tried to figure out where the chemical smell was coming from and rescue my food at the same time.
It got me wondering why does my refrigerator smell like chemicals?
When a refrigerator smells like chemicals, it is usually due to a gas leak. The gas in a refrigerator is part of a complex cooling system and comes from a chemical called Freon. The gas that comes from Freon smells like chemicals. The smell could also be a build-up of cleaning products.
Figuring out why my refrigerator smells like chemicals have led me on quite a journey. Was it because of the cleaning products, gas, or something else? I called a refrigerator repairman, and I got some useful information.
Here is what I found out about chemical refrigerator smells.
Why Does My Refrigerator Smell Like Chemicals?
The last thing anyone needs, especially in the current economy, is opening their refrigerator and finding a smell coming from inside. The most important thing to do if you smell chemicals when you open your refrigerator is to find the source of the scent.
It’s important to get to the cause of the issue because it can be easily taken care of if it is just a build-up of cleaning chemicals. However, if it’s from a coolant leak, it needs to be fixed as soon as possible, or it will lead to other more serious problems.
Finding the Cause of the Chemical Smell in Your Refrigerator
Because it can be a leak in the coolant system or a build-up of chemicals used when cleaning, you need to find out which one of the two is causing the smell.
Signs that you might have a gas leak include:
- A Chemical smell coming from your refrigerator or a scent that smells like nail polish remover or plastic.
- An oil residue appearing at the bottom of the refrigerator. This is due to the Freon gas leak. Freon gas is odorless, colorless, but the oil is a byproduct and can indicate a gas leak.
- The refrigerator will run constantly and not stop. Because your refrigerator is leaking gas, it won’t get as cold, and the motor will run continuously trying to compensate.
Checking for a Gas Leak
Here are a couple of things you always need to do when checking for a gas leak in your refrigerator:
- Firstly you should turn off your refrigerator and move it away from the wall so that you can easily gain access behind and underneath the refrigerator.
- Take out all the food in the refrigerator and put it in the sink, so you don’t have to worry about dripping packages. Position yourself where the coolant pipes are.
- Look for the expansion valve. The expansion valve is where the refrigerant is forced through a small opening and turns refrigerant into a vapor. It should state in the manual exactly where the expansion valve is.
- If you can’t see it at first, then try to smell where the gas is the strongest. Use a flashlight to pinpoint where the hole is. You can try to find a patch kit specific to your refrigerator, and it’s a cooling system, but you likely won’t find one.
- If you find one, patch the leak until a licensed repair technician can come out and look at the seriousness of the leak.
- Because a Freon gas leak is an environmental hazard, only a licensed repair technician should work on your refrigerator. Most states have regulations or laws preventing unlicensed persons from obtaining Freon.
- If your refrigerator runs on another type of refrigerant, you still need to call a licensed repair technician to assess how bad of a leak you have and if it can be repaired. If not and you decide to dump your refrigerator, the technician needs to empty the refrigeration coils before being sent to the dumps.
- You can also buy a leak testing kit. Follow the instructions on the leak test kit and when you find it, call the licensed repair technician.
Checking for a Build-Up of Cleaning Products
If you and a licensed repair technician have checked your refrigerator and there is no leak, you need to check for a build-up of chemicals used when cleaning your refrigerator. The plastic inside your refrigerator is somewhat porous, and certain chemicals can seep into the plastic over time.
You might have to do this a few times in a month to make sure the smell leaves the refrigerator completely.
Remove the Food and Wipe It Clean
Remove all the food from your refrigerator and place it in a cooler to stay cold overnight. Now mix a gallon of warm water and 1 cup of baking soda.
Wipe down the inside of the refrigerator with this mix and leave the doors open and untouched for 24-hours. This will ensure that the fridge’s interior is aired out as much as possible.
Mix Up the Cleaning Solution
Now make a mixture of one part vinegar and one part warm water. Wipe the baking soda away with the vinegar mixture and leave to dry. Once it is dry, wipe the interior down with a warm, clean cloth.
If All Else Fails, Clean Out the Evaporator
If you have tried this method and it didn’t work, you need to clean out the evaporator. The evaporator is one of the parts of a refrigerator that is usually overlooked. The evaporator works with the fan to produce the cold air that cools the food in a refrigerator.
Chemical smells from harsh cleaning products can permeate the evaporator and the surrounding panels. You should thoroughly clean it out at least once a year or as soon as you smell chemicals.
Remove the panels and mix 1 part vinegar, 1 part warm water, and 1 part baking soda. It will cause a reaction; when the reaction has dissipated, wash the panels thoroughly and leave them to dry.
Mix in some dishwashing liquid, not too much, just a few drops with about 16oz of warm water into a spray bottle. Now spray the refrigerator’s coils and let the soapy water drip down into the hard-to-reach places.
Now wipe down the coils with a warm cloth, or rinse the coils ensuring that you clean up all the soapy residue, or there will be a burned soap smell in your refrigerator.
Leave the evaporator and panels to completely dry out and put it all back together. Put your food back and turn on your refrigerator. Remember to wash your evaporator at least once a year to keep the chemical cleaning product smell at bay.
Is a Freon Gas Leak a Health Hazard?
If you found that the chemical smell in your refrigerator is due to a gas leak, then you’re probably wondering if it is a health risk? A slow Freon leak is not a hazard immediately but poses risks if not taken care of right away.
In most cases, Freon is only dangerous in high concentrations. Freon is not a carcinogen, but it can have a hazardous effect on people with preexisting breathing or heart conditions.
Children and pets are more inclined to breathe in higher concentrations of the Freon gas because it is a dense gas and is at higher concentrations closer to the ground.
There are, however, signs that the gas has built up and needs to be taken care of immediately; these signs include:
- It can cause dizziness and confusion.
- If you have a preexisting breathing or heart condition, it can lead to breathing difficulties.
- If left unchecked in greater quantities, it could lead to nausea and eventually vomiting, but it is highly unlikely.
Freon gas does become dangerous if it gets mixed with heat or another gas. If you have a gas stove, please don’t use it if you have a Freon gas leak in your refrigerator or even suspect you have a gas leak in your refrigerator.
Is Freon an Environmental Hazard?
Freon is not an immediate health hazard, but it is very bad for the environment. That is why it is crucial to take care of a Freon gas leak as soon as possible.
When Freon gas escapes its confines and gets into the atmosphere, it eats away at the ozone layer, protecting the earth from the sun’s radiation.
Because of this, the US Environmental Protection Agency has started to phase out the manufacture of R 22, or as we call it, Freon gas, from January 2020.
You will find it becomes harder and much more expensive to find Freon gas, and appliances that run on it will need to be replaced once Freon is completely out of the market.
Is the Smell in Your Refrigerator Electrical?
There are times when a strong plastic, chemical, acidic, or burning smell might not be a gas leak or a build-up of cleaning products but rather an electrical issue.
Faulty electrical wiring can cause overheating in your refrigerator, which is a potential fire hazard. Here is what you need to do to check if you have an electrical problem with your refrigerator.
- You need to unplug the refrigerator immediately; you can still detect an electrical Issue without the refrigerator being plugged in.
- The smell is important, so when you open the door, take a deep breath; if you smell burning, a strong warm chemical, or acidic smell, it could be an electrical problem.
- Next, you need to look at the food you have in your refrigerator and check to see if the food may have spoiled too quickly. Move the food out of the way and check to see if you feel warmth in the same spot as the spoiled food.
If you find a warm spot, it might indicate a wiring problem behind that part of the refrigerator.
- If there is no warmth, you need to look for burn marks or places where the plastic seems melted.
If you encounter any of these things in your refrigerator, you need to call a licensed repair technician. Electrical fires are the cause of 310 deaths and 1100 injuries in America each year.
Tips for Getting Strong Smells Out of Your Refrigerator
Sometimes there can be lingering smells in a refrigerator, and sometimes you get a problem with smells seeping into your food and giving it a bad taste.
So how do you remove bad or strong smells from your refrigerator? Here are a few hacks that you might find helpful to get rid of and keep strong smells out of your refrigerator.
- Using Baking Soda: One thing you can do is take a bowl of baking soda and place it on an open shelf in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, so it has time to work. Keep the door closed. It’s said that baking soda will absorb the bad smell.
- Washing your refrigerator with vinegar: The first thing you need to do is clean out your refrigerator. Then you make a mixture of 1 part vinegar and four parts water in a spray bottle. Spray your refrigerator down with the mixture and let it sit for 15 minutes.
- Using lemon slices: You can cut a lemon into slices and place that into the refrigerator, keep the door closed for at least four hours. It will help eliminate the smell as the lemon will absorb the bad smell.
- Using essential oils: You can soak cotton balls in essential oil and place them at the back of your refrigerator for a few hours and keep the door closed.
After using any of these products, remember to wipe the refrigerator off with a warm, clean cloth and leave it to dry. Throw all the expired or rotten food out and see if the smell has disappeared.
It is important to keep an eye on your refrigerator and do regular check-ups. It is better and safer to use natural cleaning products like baking soda and vinegar when cleaning your refrigerator.
It will help eliminate the chemical build-up of cleaning products while keeping your refrigerator clean and smelling great. Remember to call a licensed repair technician if you find a gas leak or suspect a gas leak.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard.