Dear Home-Ec 101,
Help! Due to a series of unfortunate events, my small chest freezer (that sits under the house) was left unplugged for 3 WEEKS! Of course the entire inventory was a total loss, but the real problem is the SMELL. It really smelled like something died down there, and it permeated the house for a couple of days.
I have cleaned, bleached, Lysol-ed and baking soda-ed, all to no avail. It sat open and unplugged for a couple of weeks to air out. It’s not as bad as it once was, but now that I have plugged the freezer in and closed the lid, the once (finally) faint smell seems stronger. I’m afraid the odor will attach itself to any new food I put in. I am almost ready to throw in the sponge and just get a new freezer, but my inner tightwad is having a hard time with that! Can this freezer be saved?
I have good news, there is a very good chance your freezer can be saved. There is a product called activated charcoal, which is charcoal that has been treated with oxygen to make it very porous. This means that it has a ridiculous amount of smell grabbing surface area.
There is a term called adsorb, don’t mix it up with absorb. To absorb means to take in and adsorbing means clinging by chemical attraction. See? SCIENCE! (Do you have any idea how hard it is not to do a Jesse Pinkman reference right now?)
Those funky odors are the result of organic chemical compounds, which thankfully activated charcoal is super good at attracting and trapping. It’s thankfully much better at grabbing bad odors than the plastic in your freezer.
You can find activated charcoal in the aquarium supply sections of some large box stores and it is also on Amazon under the name activated carbon. Some people complain about the cost of activated charcoal, but compared to the cost of a new freezer, it’s pretty reasonable. It’s really going to come down to how much time and disposable income do you have to invest. If you’ve got enough money to replace the freezer and your time is at a premium, that may be the route to take as I also suggest completely dismantling the freezer to clean it.
Think of the freezer as a plastic box wrapped in a Styrofoam or other insulating material and wrapped in another box with a motor and freezer coils attached.
You’ll want to dismantle your chest freezer as much as possible, without disturbing the coils or messing with the motor. You’ll want to be really sure none of the liquid from the thawing meat filtered is still inside the freezer insulating materials of the unit. Look for screws, unscrew them, and gently pull the plastic liner out. In most cases, the insulating material is nonporous.
Once the freezer has been disassembled and any missed leakage cleaned up -use an enzymatic cleaner or dilute vinegar OR dilute bleach. Let the material dry fully, reassemble, and plug it back in. Now place the activated charcoal in the interior of the freezer and turn it on to its lowest setting. You’re not going to want it to run a lot, but you do want the fan circulating the air.
Close the door, cross your fingers, and give it 24 – 48 hours and I bet you’ll be surprised by the difference.
I have heard some people have had success with regular charcoal briquettes, but please just NOT the kind with lighter fluid as those have their own smell and you’ll just be trading one funky odor for another. You could also crush the briquettes to increase the adsorbing surface area, too.
For those of you out there who have noticed their ice cubes taste like onions or other strong cooking odors, you may find that keeping a mesh bag of activated charcoal in the freezer really improves the taste and smell of your ice.
Best of luck, what an aggravating experience that had to be.
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