Finding the source of a chemical smell in a refrigerator is important. If it's due to a buildup of chemical cleaners that have been overused, it can be removed and more than likely doesn't pose a problem. If the chemical smell is due to the appliance leaking coolant, it can create bigger issues and needs to be addressed quickly to avoid potential health issues.
Refrigerator Smells Like Plastic
The first sign of leaky refrigerator coolant can be an acrid smell, from pungent ammonia to sharp acetone, according to Reference. If you smell this type of bitter odor coming from the fridge, open the windows and doors to air out the area.
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Signs of a coolant leak include a motor that never shuts off, a small puddle of oil underneath the refrigerator or an overwhelming chemical smell. A leak detection kit can help locate the refrigerator Freon that's escaping from the appliance or other issues.
Leaky coolant can also affect the temperature of the appliance. If the refrigerator is warmer than usual, it may be a coolant leak causing the chemical smell. This will more than likely require a call to a professional repair person to find the leak and secure the coolant lines of the appliance.
Removing Smells From the Fridge
That brand-new appliance smell can be overwhelming and unpleasant. If the chemical smell lingers long after it has been thoroughly cleaned and inspected for coolant leaks, it may be that harsh chemical detergents have leached into the somewhat porous plastic shelving and walls.
Consumer Reports suggests that a persistent chemical smell in a refrigerator needs some work to fully eradicate. Unplug and thoroughly clean out the interior of the refrigerator. Place perishable foods in a cooler.
Make a solution of a cup of baking soda mixed well with a gallon of warm water, and wipe down the interior of the refrigerator. Prop the appliance's doors open for at least 24 hours to allow the interior to be aired out as much as possible. Wipe the baking powder residue away with a solution of one-part vinegar to one-part warm water for extra measure before rinsing and wiping dry.
Persistent Chemical Smell in a Refrigerator
An often-overlooked part of a refrigerator is the hardworking evaporator. The evaporator produces cold air for the appliance in conjunction with the fan that moves the air around. A chemical smell can permeate the evaporator and surrounding panels and be the source of the acrid scent. These areas should be cleaned at least once a year.
Remove the panels from the refrigerator and clean them well. Mix 16 ounces of warm water and a few drops of mild dish soap and pour it into a spray bottle. Spray the coils and allow the soapy water to drip down the coils before wiping them clean with a rag slipped through the tight spaces and around the bends of the coils. Rinse the coils completely or you may get a burnt detergent smell when you plug the appliance back in.