What Causes a Freezer With No Food to Have a Bad Odor?

By Prev Info - January 19, 2023

Even an empty freezer can have odors

Spoiled food in a refrigerator or freezer can create some nasty odors, and there's no question why it stinks. When the freezer is empty, however, the cause of foul odors seems like a mystery. Unless the unit is brand new, it is likely that the cause of the odors is still food, even if the freezer has been empty for some time. Does this Spark an idea?

What Causes a Freezer With No Food to Have a Bad Odor


Even after it has been removed, food that dripped in the freezer can leave behind a foul odor, especially if the offending food is meat. The drippings can work their way into corners and crevices where they are barely visible, but the odor will become intense if the freezer is defrosted or turned off. These drippings can also make their way behind door seals, gaskets and even into the insulation. What may appear to be odor emanating from the freezer, may be coming from another area.

Freezer Burn

Freezer burn is caused by the loss of moisture in food. This moisture doesn't leave the freezer but instead is redeposited on the walls of the freezer or along the edges of the food. This is what causes the buildup of ice on freezers that require defrosting. Even in frostless freezers, the process still takes place. The moisture drawn out of the food continues to hold odor and puts out a distinctive freezer-burn smell. Even after the food and ice crystals are removed, the freezer will often retain the odor.


Bacteria deposited in the freezer by food can linger, even after all of the food is removed. When the freezer is turned off or unplugged, the bacteria will begin to multiply. This bacteria emits a foul odor. Since the odor builds up in an enclosed area, it is especially noticeable when the freezer door is finally opened.


Since freezer doors have a tight seal, moisture is trapped inside and there is no air circulation. This allows mildew to grow in a freezer, leaving a musty smell. This can happen whether an empty freezer is turned on or off but is more likely to happen when a freezer is left off with the door closed.

Removing Odor

The methods for removing odors from a freezer are the same, regardless of the cause, except in the case of food drips that have made their way into the insulation or under door seals. Clean the freezer with a mild soap and warm water to remove any food drips or particles. Place baking soda or activated charcoal inside the freezer to absorb foul odors.

If these methods don't work, try placing unused coffee grounds in the freezer and running it at the highest setting for three to four days. Alternatively, stuff the freezer with newspaper and put a cup of water on the top shelf, then run the freezer on the highest setting for five to six days to remove tough odors.