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Old 10-25-2012, 05:25 PM
Carol the Impaler Carol the Impaler is offline
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Why does my fridge smell like acetone?

So, about a month ago, my fridge started smelling like acetone (or maybe very strong vinegar, definitely a strong bracing smell). I'm trying to figure out what this is so I can get my landlord to fix it.

The strength of the smell can come and go. If I haven't opened the fridge for a few days, it is overpowering. The smell always dissipates if I have to open the door several times over the course of 30 minutes or so. And then builds back up.

It is worst at the bottom of the fridge by the crisper and in the freezer.

I've taken everything out of the fridge and the freezer and wiped both compartments down with cleansing wipes and then bleach. This was two weeks ago and the smell remains. As I was taking everything out of my fridge I smelled each item, and it is not my food.

There is no smell on around the exterior of the fridge. I can only smell the stench in my kitchen if I open the door, but only briefly and it goes away pretty quickly. But it has gotten worse and now burns my throat and nose if I lean in to take a whiff.

My landlord came and tried to clean out the drip pan, but it's not accessible. He called a repair crew and they came by two days ago. One claimed he couldn't smell the smell. Which is bullshit. The other claimed it must be rancid butter. Again, no. (Imagine me taking a pound of butter out of the fridge and into the living room just so I could smell it away from the fridge. It's not my butter.)

My landlord was told it was not freon as freon has no smell.

What is this smell and how do I get it fixed? I was told to use newspaper or the Arm & Hammer fridge smell remover thingies which I have said would do for a few days just to see if it makes any difference.

In the meantime, my fridge is pretty unusable as I don't want all my food to taste like acetone/gas.

I'm posting this and then I have to run out to work, but I wanted to get this posted while I was thinking of it. I'll answer any questions tomorrow after I get off from my day job.
Old 10-25-2012, 05:30 PM
kayaker kayaker is offline
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Location: Western Pennsylvania
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Do you store your nail polish remover, with the cap off, in the refrigerator?
Old 10-25-2012, 05:34 PM
Michael63129 Michael63129 is offline
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Originally Posted by Carol the Impaler View Post
My landlord was told it was not freon as freon has no smell.
Freon does in fact have an odor; searching Google for "acetone odor refrigerator" gets a lot of hits like this one:

Freon has been described as possessing a very pungent ozone or gasoline smell as well as smelling like cosmetic nail polish remover. The amount of Freon contained in the cooling systems of appliances is regulated to be at safe levels, well below any level that presents a threat to your health, but if your sense of scent is sensitive, the Freon smell can be overbearing.
(the last may explain why the repairman didn't notice any odor)
Old 10-25-2012, 05:41 PM
Carol the Impaler Carol the Impaler is offline
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Nope, no nail polish remover in the fridge. :-)

Yeah, Michael63129, I saw those, too. But I wanted to post here because of the repair people's insistence that it's not freon. I wanted to get the Straight Dope, cuz I trust you guys more than the net in general. If I could get some reinforcement that the way the smell acts (builds up and dissipates, doesn't linger once the door is opened, getting stronger over time) indicates freon or a problem with the fridge, that would be great and would be something I could go back to my landlord with.

It's a GE Model GTS18GBSARWW, btw.

Ok, off to work.
Old 10-25-2012, 05:48 PM
HoneyBadgerDC HoneyBadgerDC is offline
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Location: Torrance Ca
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I would suspect onions rotting but if the fridge is empty you have eliminated that. If freon gas is leaking your fridge would have stopped cooling by now. Fermentation can increase co2 levels enough to burn nose and throat. A carton of orange juice that has started to ferment sounds like the most likley culprit to me, or fruit juice spilled into the drip pan possibly.
Old 10-26-2012, 01:46 AM
Jeff Lichtman Jeff Lichtman is online now
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Since you smell it only when you open the refrigerator door, it seems unlikely to be a freon leak. The fridge compartment is a sealed box, and the cooling system that contains the freon is outside the box, so if it's a leak why wouldn't you smell it all the time instead of only when the door is open?

Have you checked under the vegetable crisper and meat keeper? Have you stuck your head inside the refrigerator and sniffed around (not just the items in the fridge, but the fridge itself)?

Have you smelled the air coming out of the air circulation fan? It's possible that something got in there, or that the insulation on some wiring got scorched and you're smelling the result. To do this, you will probably have to manually close the door switch - refrigerators are designed so the fan doesn't run with the door open.
'Tis a pity that I have no gravy to put upon Uncle Hymie.
Old 10-26-2012, 04:11 PM
icbm icbm is offline
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Has pickle juice ever been spilt in there? A leaky dill pickle jar was the source of my fridge's odour, and I remember it smelled like acetone. Even after cleaning the obvious puddles, I think some of the juice lived on in the seams I could not clean.
Old 10-26-2012, 09:48 PM
Carol the Impaler Carol the Impaler is offline
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Ok, getting back to this.

I'm not sure how to get to the drip pan, and neither was my landlord. We were told that it was accessible by removing the panel on the back of the fridge, but my landlord tried that and wasn't able to access the drip pan that way. I wasn't here when the repair men came out, but I don't think even they tried to check the drain pan. I say this because the smell had diminished the day after they were here and today is back to intolerable levels. I'll have to re-check with my landlord, because that sounds like it would've been one of the things they should have checked.

It's definitely not something that is currently in there and rotting/fermenting. There's basically nothing in there because I won't put anything in there until this mystery is solved.

Good to know about how freon works, that's helpful.

No spilled pickle juice, no fermenting orange juice. There was a spill (that may have been there when I moved in, I only noticed it when I removed the crisper drawers as I was wiping the whole thing down) that I cleaned up.

I'll try the circulation fan thing and see what I find.

I just wonder why it gets better, then worse, then better, then worse.
Old 10-26-2012, 10:42 PM
SeaDragonTattoo SeaDragonTattoo is offline
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Yikes. That sounds thoroughly unpleasant. I take it your landlord is just this guy and not a big company? I'd be thoroughly annoyed if mine hadn't just swapped the dang thing out already, but I know there are both extra fridges and empty units they could swap it with.

At this point, is it truly empty? If it is, I wonder if unplugging it and leaving the doors open would bring anything to light.
Old 10-26-2012, 11:26 PM
Ruby Ruby is offline
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Location: Indiana
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Has the fridge/freezer ever failed allowing food to spoil in it? I've had claims where people's freezer contents melted into the insulation through the seams and there is absolutely no way to clean them after that.
Old 11-03-2012, 11:39 AM
Carol the Impaler Carol the Impaler is offline
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Ok, I'm back. Sorry to take so long.

So, here's the update: checked that the repair men checked the drip pan, and they say they did and found nothing. Landlady came over, took everything out of the fridge and wiped it down with straight vinegar. Put activated charcoal in the freezer, put boxes of baking soda in the fridge and freezer.

So now there's activated charcoal, boxes of baking soda, and two of the Arm & Hammer odor eliminators in my fridge. This has been since... Tuesday?

Just opened the door just now and the smell is still there. Yesterday just barely. This morning strong again. Granted, not as strong as it has been, but there's no mistaking it.

Oh, and there was a mouse in my kitchen awhile back. Landlord tilted the fridge to see if maybe there was a little dead mouse under there, and nope.

I give up. How could something have spilled in my fridge that caused an odor this bad and of varying strength that is impervious to cleaners, bleach, vinegar, baking soda, and activated charcoal? That has lasted for almost two months now?
Old 07-19-2013, 08:39 AM
Steyn Steyn is offline
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1

You will not believe it, but I have the same problem. My fridge does exactly the same. If you open the door u get a strange smell that burns your throat and tends to stick in your salivary glands. It is a taste that stays in your throat and mouth.

I had technicians coming out 4 times now, because the fridge is still under guarantee. Nobody could fix it so far. The funny thing is that the fridge is working perfectly. Therefor it is not the gas leaking, otherwise the motor would have ceased, or it will not be cold.

Somebody said something about a PC board being sprayed with a certain protecting layer that could cause the problem. When I mentioned this to the technician he looked at me as if I was crazy.

Not one technician could pick up the smell. They think I am exaggerating. Point is, sometimes it smells worse that other days.

I think that the technicians are clueless about this one. I hope someone finds the problem soon!!
Old 07-19-2013, 09:11 AM
ombre12 ombre12 is offline
Join Date: Dec 2012
Posts: 278
A defrost heater that is just starting to burn out (they usually burn out right where the wire attaches to the cal rod heater at each end) gives a strange acrid smell. You would only smell it the strongest during and right after a defrost cycle......only defrosts once or twice a day. If it is about to burn out it will eventually do so and really stink things up and leave a lot of black smelly soot behind the evaporator panel.

Have the refrig tech pull the evaporator panel off and check for any signs of burning of the heater. And whlle that panel is off, have him manually turn the unit into defrost and smell what is happening.

It is also possible that the defrost heater was replaced at some time or other and all that stinky soot wasn't cleaned up at the time. If still a black stinky mess behind that cover, it will always stink, especially during and after a defrost cycle.

In any event, it is easy to pull that panel, and you will learn many things....or maybe not...but you will have eliminated an obvious culprit.
Old 07-19-2013, 09:17 AM
ombre12 ombre12 is offline
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Posts: 278
I just noticed this is a zombie thread.

Guess it has long since been resolved.
Old 08-11-2015, 04:54 PM
tmorkal tmorkal is offline
Join Date: Aug 2015
Posts: 1
smelly chemical smell coming from fridge

This my second fridge to do this, the first one I got rid of because it tainted everything in it, I can taste it yuc now this the second one to do this, the evaporator fan went out it took about a month to find it and fix it, never smelt before that but now I do, even frozen bread unopened picked up the smell/taste, I'm going to check the defrost heater kinda makes sense because of the broken fan motor probably caused the defrost heater to work harder causing it to go out, any other ideas will be appreciated thanks in advance


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