Refrigerators are trusty kitchen appliances that make safe food storage possible by keeping perishables cool to prevent the development of illness-causing, food-borne microbes. This is all possible through a complicated cooling system that utilizes a chemical called Freon, the same chemical used in commercial air conditioning units. The gas-based form of Freon is known to emit a strong chemical smell not unlike that of nail polish remover.
Freon has been described as possessing a very pungent ozone or gasoline smell as well as smelling like cosmetic nail polish remover. The amount of Freon contained in the cooling systems of appliances is regulated to be at safe levels, well below any level that presents a threat to your health, but if your sense of scent is sensitive, the Freon smell can be overbearing. Luckily, addressing the issue is as simple as finding the part of the fridge causing the leak. However, leaked Freon needs to be replaced by a technician. In the meantime, open some widows to allow the scent to dissipate.
Finding the Leak
For safety's sake, unplug and scoot the machine out from the wall to gain access to its back or underside, whichever is the location of the coolant tubes that channel Freon throughout the unit. Empty the contents of the fridge (you can place them in the sink for the time being in case they drip) and position yourself where the coolant pipes are. In some cases, depending on your model, these pipes are located underneath the unit, at which point you can tilt it back against the wall. Check your fridge's manual for the exact location.
The DIY Approach
The best way to ascertain the location of the leak is to use your nose; wherever the nail polish smell is strongest, it is a sure bet that the leak is nearby. Use a flashlight if need be to find a nick, cut or fraying in one of the hoses. Once you find the leak, use a patch kit designed specifically for repairing cooling hoses. These kits can be purchased at many home improvement, home appliance or hardware retailers. However, these kits are only meant to serve as a temporary solution; you'll need a professional's advice concerning the extent of the leak and replacing Freon levels.
Call a Professional
In most states and jurisdictions, it is unlawful (not to mention dangerous) for non-licensed persons to obtain Freon. For this reason, only a licensed and knowledgeable repairperson should be contacted concerning assessing the degree of the leak as well as restoring the appliance's Freon levels to standard levels; if this is not done, your unit won't cool your food to safe temperatures.