This Hardware-Store Staple Deodorizes Your Fridge Better Than Baking Soda

Our tests show that there's a better and cheaper way to get rid of that stinky fridge smell.

Published Apr. 20, 2021.

Be honest: When was the last time you replaced the square package of baking soda that’s supposedly “freshening” your fridge? I probably rotate my tires more frequently than I rotate that baking soda—far from ideal.

But there’s a better fridge-freshening method, and it doesn’t require baking soda at all.

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Try charcoal, either in briquettes or activated charcoal pellets. The former is sold in the hardware-store bags you’d buy for a backyard grilling session. The latter can be found at pet shops and aquarium supply stores. 

ATK testing has found that both of these inexpensive nuggets actually trap and neutralize food odors better than baking soda—and their freshening power lasts at least a month.

They work for a few reasons. First, charcoal is porous, meaning there are lots of nooks and crannies that trap offending food odors. Second, charcoal is almost entirely made of carbon, a substance that absorbs all organic compounds (aka smelly food particles). There’s a reason that water purification filters are made of charcoal; the material attracts and traps potentially harmful volatile organic compounds.

Compare that to baking soda, which only absorbs acidic molecules. Most foods are slightly acidic, but not all are. Charcoal ensures that you’re neutralizing everything from old milk to . . . whatever is in this now-biohazardous plastic storage container.

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Our testing confirmed charcoal’s efficacy. Over a period of a month, we asked testers to sniff the interior of two refrigerators: one with a cup of baking soda inside, and one with a cup of activated charcoal pellets. Throughout the month, we swapped in various odorous items including chopped onions, canned tuna fish, and Parmesan cheese. Our testers consistently chose the fridge with charcoal inside as the less smelly of the two.

A 15-pound bag of charcoal briquettes costs less than $10 and supplies about a year’s worth of fridge-deodorizing power. For a full-size unit, ATK recommends using two cups of charcoal in an open plastic container, placed near the back of the refrigerator near the air vent. Just remember to buy a fresh bag when it comes time for grilling.

Photo: AndreyPopov, Getty Images

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