The Right Way to Use Baking Soda to Eliminate Food Odors in the Fridge

published Nov 13, 2023
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Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani/Kitchn

For something that comes in an unassuming little cardboard box, baking soda does a lot to keep your home clean. A sprinkle of it can whiten laundry, cut through grease and grime, and eliminate odors. One of the easiest household hacks that’s been passed down from generation to generation is to stash an open box of baking soda in your refrigerator to absorb food odors. I remember buying that inaugural box for the refrigerator in my first apartment and thinking, “This is adulthood.”

And it’s true that baking soda can prevent your refrigerator from getting stinky, with leftovers commingling with fresh fruit, veggies, and dairy — somewhat. In reality, it’s not going to save the day completely. While it’s largely a set-it-and-forget-it hack, baking soda does need a little help for the best odor-eliminating results. Here’s what you need to know. 

How Baking Soda Works (When Used Properly)

“Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, has a natural ability to absorb odors,” says Ryan Knoll, owner of Tidy Casa, a home cleaning service. “Its chemical structure allows it to neutralize acidic and basic molecules or the source of many odors.” 

Baking soda is non-toxic and inexpensive, so it’s worth using it — but using it properly. Here are some tips to ensure baking soda continues to deodorize your fridge.

  1. Give it a prime spot in your fridge. “It should be placed on a middle shelf where the airflow is consistent,” says Ronnie Kendrick, founder of CompanyClean. “Don’t tuck it away in the corner.
  2. Expand the surface area. Knoll and Kendrick agree to increase the surface area of the baking soda so more of it is exposed to the air. This means opening up that box of baking soda — not just a small tear in the corner — or pouring it into a bowl. 
  3. Clean up odor-causing spills quickly. Knoll says to go ahead and sprinkle some of the same baking soda on a damp sponge to scrub shelves without scratching the surface.
  4. Ditch expired items. Moldy leftovers and bad yogurt are no match for even a fresh box of baking soda, so make sure to purge your fridge regularly to stop odors before they form. While baking soda can work on many odors, Kendrick says that “it won’t eliminate all of them — especially if they’re rooted in spoiled food or bacterial growth that needs to be addressed directly.“
  5. Replace it often. Your nose knows if and when a box of baking soda is still working, but otherwise Knoll and Kendrick recommend swapping out the baking soda about once a month to maintain its efficacy.

Alternative Ways to Deodorize Your Refrigerator

Here are other ways to combat odors in your refrigerator, if you find baking soda isn’t doing the trick or you’d like a backup.

  • Vinegar. Knoll suggests soaking a piece of bread or newspaper in vinegar, then placing it inside your fridge where you would normally put the box of baking soda. “The vinegar will neutralize odors, leaving your fridge with a cleaner scent,” he explains.
  • A sachet with essential oils. Kendrick also suggests a DIY baking soda sachet: Mix the baking soda with a few drops of lavender or lemon essential oil (or your preferred scent) and put the concoction in a breathable fabric bag. “This gives you a pleasant scent while also neutralizing the fridge odors,” he explains. “A fully breathable bag will be more effective than just an open baking soda box, too.”
  • Activated charcoal. “Activated charcoal is incredibly porous and can absorb odors and moisture effectively,” Knoll says. He recommends putting a few chunks in an open container or a breathable fabric bag and placing it on a shelf. 

Right now in my fridge, I’ve got the reusable Moso Natural Air Purifying Bag, which contains bamboo charcoal. So far, so good. It’s supposed to last up to two years — take that, orange baking soda box! It does need reactivating once a month, which requires leaving it out in the sun for an hour. 

Baking soda won’t save the day if you keep the rest of your fridge a mess. But if you keep clean shelves and remember to swap it out for a fresh supply monthly, you’re certainly not harming anything or anyone. When it’s time to refresh your bowl or box, you can always use the old stuff to scrub pots or your sink instead of dumping it in the trash.

“Whatever you do, don’t use that old baking soda in your recipes,” says Kendrick. “Your family will appreciate a fresh box.”