What Causes the Freezer to Smell?

Whether you experience a horrid odor upon opening the freezer door -- so bad you need to quickly close the door to keep the smell from permeating the entire kitchen -- or you notice your ice cubes taste strange, you want to find out why the freezer smells. There are a few reasons a freezer may smell, and once you identify them, you may take steps to rectify the issue and prevent future problems.

Occasionally clean out the freezer to keep it smelling fresh.

Spoiled Food

When the refrigerator and freezer are connected, the smell spoiled food in the refrigerator generates can travel to the freezer, causing the freezer to smell. Keep track of when you place food in the refrigerator, and place them in properly sealed containers to help prevent spoiling.


When you drink a glass of water filled with ice cubes from the icemaker in your freezer and it tastes or smells funny, the icemaker may be the culprit. This can cause the entire freezer to take on a sour smell. Bacteria can form in the lines or along the walls of the icemaker that can change the way ice tastes and create a slight odor in the area. Sometimes changing the filter for the icemaker can correct the problem; otherwise, cleaning the inside of the icemaker generally takes care of the smell.

Freezer Burn

Many commercially sold meats come in large packages that you end up dividing when you get home, placing smaller servings in the freezer. When you take a bag of steaks out and find it rimmed with ice crystals and slightly discolored, you are looking at freezer burn. This naturally occurs when the water molecules in the food separate to find the coldest parts of the freezer, effectively dehydrating the area on the food. While this poses no danger to consume, it may cause an off odor in the freezer and alter the taste and texture of the food.

Prevention and Cleaning

Prevention is the key to keeping a freezer smelling fresh. Keep foods tightly wrapped in bags or containers designed for the freezer. When the freezer develops odors, remove the odor with a thorough cleaning. After you remove any spoiled food, wipe the shelves and the sides of the freezer with warm water and vinegar. Placing an open box of baking soda in the freezer works to absorb offensive odors.

Stephanie Rempe

After attending the University of Missouri St. Louis, Stephanie Rempe worked as a documentation manager in the finance industry 10 years before turning to her first love, writing, which she's been doing professionally since 2008. She currently divides her time between Missouri and her fiance's hometown in Oregon. In addition to her freelance writing, Rempe is working on a romance novel and short stories.