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Say Goodbye to the Stink: How to Get Rid of Rotten Meat Smell

Have you ever opened your freezer or fridge and been hit with a gag-inducing rotten meat smell? Our old garage beer fridge, which also doubles as a second freezer for meat, suffered a power outage in a storm while we were away on vacation last month. We had no idea the meat rotted for days until I went to grab some meat from the freezer and was hit with the putrid stench. This led me down the Google rabbit hole trying to find out how to get rid of rotten meat smell.

The nauseating stink of decay was enough to let me know there was no saving the meat. I held my breath, put on some gloves to remove the rotting meat, and quickly threw it all into the trash can. Luckily for us, the next day was garbage pick up day so the can went straight to the curb. 

This article outlines the steps I took, and some other options I found, to remove the rotten meat smell from my fridge freezer. To begin, let’s understand why rotting meat can smell so bad.

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Why Does Rotten Meat Smell So Bad?

When meat is left at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for over 2 hours, it begins to decompose. Bacteria and other microorganisms break down the proteins and fats in the meat and release stinky gasses, including sulfur compounds.

As the proteins in the meat break down, they release sulfur-containing amino acids. Bacteria further metabolize these amino acids, producing hydrogen sulfide, which releases that putrid rotten egg smell. Other organic compounds like amines and fatty acids also contribute to the nauseating odor. 

The combination of these compounds, along with the strong presence of bacteria and mold, creates the offensive gag inducing stink associated with rotten meat. It warns us of foodborne illnesses and deters us from eating spoiled meat.

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How to Get Rid of Rotten Meat Smell

Remove Rotten Meat 

The first step in getting rid of the rotting meat smell is to remove the source of the odor. This means getting rid of any spoiled meat that may be causing the smell. If the meat is in the fridge or freezer, remove the rotten items and throw them away immediately. If the meat is in a trash can, take the trash out and dispose of it properly.

I also threw away everything else that was in the fridge as the smell had permeated everything over time and I didn’t want any of it to linger.

Thoroughly Clean All Surfaces

Once the source is removed, fill a bucket with warm water, a cup of vinegar and some Dawn dish soap or other detergent to make a cleaning solution. Use a clean rag saturated in the cleaner and wrung out to scrub the stinky surfaces. Rinse the cloth frequently and mix a new cleaning solution if the water gets dirty. Pay attention to grooves or cracks to make sure all food, blood and other fluids are removed. 

If you are dealing with a fridge/freezer combo like I was, cleaning the entire unit is a good idea as the strong odor will disperse throughout the space. It’s also important to flush the drain hole with the cleaning mixture to push any liquid into the drip tray at the back of the fridge freezer. Then thoroughly clean the drip tray. This will help eliminate any lingering odors.


Once you have ensured that all dirt, food remnants, blood, and other liquids have been completely removed from all surfaces, it’s important to disinfect and kill any remaining bacteria. This is important because any remaining bacteria will continue to be the source of the smell and the odor will return.

Mix a solution of 1 cup of chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water (lukewarm – not hot). You want a strong solution to ensure it kills all bacteria.

Wear gloves to protect your hands and wash all surfaces with the combination of bleach and water, including any grooves and cracks. If surfaces are rough, scrub them with a stiff brush. You should also flush the drain hole where odors get trapped, and disinfect the drain pan with the solution.

You can also put the mixture in a spray bottle and generously spray all surfaces. Let it sit for a couple of minutes and then wipe with a clean rag. If you choose this option, don’t forget to flush the drain hole.

Rinse all surfaces with clean water once they have all been disinfected.

Pin text reads "how to get rid of rotten meat smell in coolers." Image is a red cooler with a white interior and shows graphic puffs of putrid odor emanating from the cooler before using these DIY home hacks to clean, disinfect and deodorize coolers.


Another important step in getting rid of the rotten meat smell is ventilation. When meat goes bad the gasses can linger in the air and make the smell worse. Opening windows and turning on fans can help circulate fresh air and reduce the odor.

I opened the garage doors and aimed a fan at the open fridge/freezer and left it like that for 24 hours. Unfortunately, I could still smell it when I went out to close everything up, so I had to move on to other deodorizing methods.

Change Air Filters

If your fridge or freezer has air filters, now is a good time to change them. If you are removing a rotten food smell from a car, the cabin air filter should be changed.


My fridge/freezer had been off for several days which allowed the odor to really permeate the plastic. Cleaning and disinfecting made sure that no new odors would form from bacteria, but I had a few tricks up my sleeve to remove the odor.

Make sure to turn the unit back on before using any of these methods to remove odors, as you will need to close the door. Turning the unit on engages the cooling fan to provide ventilation.

Related Post: DIY shoe deodorizer: 16 ways to refresh stinky shoes


You can use activated charcoal, but I used lump charcoal because it was already handy in the garage. Charcoal is a powerful odor absorber that can help eliminate the worst odors, like the smell of rotten meat. I used lump charcoal that doesn’t contain any lighter fluids. Then I placed a bowl full of charcoal on every flat surface of the fridge and freezer – 2 bowls if there was enough room. I left it for a few days, and the charcoal absorbed the odor.


Vinegar is a natural deodorizer that can help remove rotten meat smell. Fill a few bowls with pure white vinegar and place them on the flat surfaces inside the fridge or freezer. Leave them there for a few days to absorb the odor.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is another natural deodorizer that can help eliminate the rotten meat smell or odor. To use baking soda, sprinkle a generous amount on a plate or shallow bowl and place it inside the fridge or freezer. Leave it in place for a few days, and the baking soda will absorb the odor and freshen up the space.

Coffee Grounds

Unused coffee grounds are an effective deodorizer that can help eliminate the smell of rotten meat. Pour fresh coffee grounds on a few shallow plates or aluminum foil pie plates and place them inside the freezer and fridge. Let them sit for a few days. The coffee grounds will absorb the smell from your fridge and inside of the freezer.

Ozone Machine

An ozone machine is a powerful tool that can help remove rotten food odor. It’s important to remove any pets, plants, and people from the room for at least 4 hours after the timer is over. To use an ozone machine, place it inside the fridge or freezer and set the timer according to the manufacturer’s instructions – make sure to read all the instructions. Ozone totally destroys the offending gases that are the source of the smell.

Crumpled Up Newspaper

Crumpled-up newspaper is a great odor remover. To use newspaper, crumple up a few sheets and place them inside the fridge or freezer. Leave them in place for a few days; the newspaper will absorb the odor. If the odor still remains, use fresh newspaper and repeat the process.

Kitty Litter

Kitty litter is a powerful odor absorber that can help remove the smell of rotten meat. To use kitty litter, pour a generous amount into shallow bowls or plates and place them inside the fridge and freezer to absorb odors. Leave them in place for a few days, and the kitty litter will absorb the odor and leave the space smelling fresh.


Sunlight has UV rays which eventually kill bacteria by altering the DNA of bacteria. This is an excellent deodorizing option if you left raw meat in a cooler and forgot about it, or if it was left in the trunk of your car. After cleaning and disinfecting, simply expose the stinky surface to the sunlight for a few days to dissipate any remaining odor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Get Sick from Smelling Rotten Food?

While the horrible smell of rotten food can certainly cause some people to vomit, the smell itself does not usually contain any bacteria that can cause any disease that can make you ill. But when you see moldy food, don’t sniff it as moldcan cause respiratory illnesses. 

How to Get Rid of Rotten Smell in House?

If you have a rotten smell in your house, you need to identify the source of the odor and remove it. Clean the area thoroughly and disinfect it. Open windows to let fresh air circulate throughout the house. If the strong odor remains after these steps, use one of the above odor-absorbing ingredients if odors linger in your home. You can also use air fresheners or odor eliminators to mask the smell.

PRO TIP: If you can’t figure out where that rotten smell is coming from, check your potatoes. Rotten potatoes are the most frequent cause of phantom odors in my house!

How to Get Rotten Meat Smell Out of Fridge?

To get the rotten meat smell out of your fridge, start by removing all of the spoiled food. Then, clean the interior of the fridge and disinfect it as described above. Change the air filter if your unit has one. You can also use one of the methods listed above to absorb any remaining odors.

How to Get Rotten Meat Smell Out of Deep Freezer?

To get the rotten meat smell out of your deep freezer, the first step is to remove all of the spoiled food. Then, clean the interior of the freezer and disinfect it as described above. If your freezer has an air filter, replace it. If any odors remain after the freezer is cleaned and disinfected, the odors should dissipate using one of the deodorizing methods described above.

How to Remove Rotten Smell from Cooler?

Usually, it’s easiest to remove the rotten smell from a cooler rather than a fridge or freezer. To remove a rotten smell from your cooler, start by emptying the cooler and cleaning it with warm, soapy water. Then, spray the cooler with a mixture of water and bleach to disinfect it. Place the open cooler in the sun for a few days until the odor is removed.

How to Get Rid of Rotten Food Smell in Car?

To get rid of a rotten food smell in your car, start by removing any spoiled food. Then, clean the interior of the car with a mixture of vinegar, water and detergent. The next step is to disinfect the area, although this can be tricky when fabric and carpet are involved and bleach is not an option. In this case, disinfect the area with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcoholTest the area first to make sure your choice of disinfectant doesn’t damage the fabric or carpet.

Soak the affected area with the peroxide or alcohol and blot it up with a clean towel or paper towel. Repeat this process a few times to make sure the affected area has been completely saturated with disinfectant before allowing it to dry.

Change the cabin air filter if air was circulating with the odor. If the odor still remains after following these steps, try one of the deodorizing options listed above to remove the odor. My choice in this case would be the ozone machine as it’s an enclosed space with lots of materials that can hold odor.

How to Get Rid of Rotten Meat Smell in Garbage Can?

If you have a rotten meat smell in your garbage can, the same principles apply. Wash the trash can with a mixture of soap, vinegar and water, ensuring you get into all the nooks and crannies of the can. Then disinfect the can with a mixture of bleach and water. Let the garbage can dry in direct sunlight for a few days to get rid of the odor using the UV rays of the sun as a deodorizer.

TLDR; The smell of rotten meat is caused by gases released as the meat decomposes. To get rid of the smell, it’s important to remove the source of the odor and disinfect the area to kill any remaining bacteria. Ventilate the area and, if the smell persists, use deodorizers like vinegar, baking soda, or charcoal to help reduce the smell.

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