While refrigerators keep our food fresher longer, they can’t stop the rotting process completely. In other words, if you leave fresh meat, produce, or dairy products in the fridge long enough, they’ll eventually spoil and start to smell bad. And, as it turns out, the traditional method for keeping foul refrigerator odors at bay—leaving a bowl or open container of baking soda inside—doesn’t really do much.
Fortunately, most newer refrigerators come equipped with a built-in air filter to help minimize strong smells. And like the hidden-but-hardworking filters inside your washing machine and dishwasher, your fridge’s air filters also need to be cleaned or replaced on a regular basis.
What does an air filter do in a refrigerator?
Like any other air filter you have in your home, the one in your refrigerator also removes contaminants from the air—in this case, mineral buildup, as well as food, dust, and mold particles. A refrigerator air filter’s most noticeable function, however, is deodorizing the air inside the appliance. If you’ve ever opened a refrigerator door to grab a drink, only to be hit with a wall of stinky, stagnant air, you probably understand the air filter’s appeal and necessity.
How do I know if my refrigerator has an air filter?
Most refrigerators manufactured in the past decade have air filters, although they began appearing in some models years earlier. The easiest way to find out whether your refrigerator has an air filter is to check or look up the owner’s manual. If yours does have an air filter, the manual will also show you where to find it, the type of filter it uses, and how and when to clean or replace it.
Where is the refrigerator air filter located?
The location of a refrigerator’s air filter varies, depending on its manufacturer and model, but they’re most frequently found near the rear wall at the top of the refrigerator compartment. Other locations include the inside of the air vent grille, underneath the bin in the door panel, or other spots along the fridge walls.
Can you clean and reuse a refrigerator air filter?
While some refrigerators use disposable air filters, others have filters that can be cleaned and reused. The easiest way to find out which kind you have is to check or look up your fridge’s owner’s manual. If that’s not an option, pull out the current air filter and look up any serial numbers or other markings you can find, or call the manufacturer’s customer service line, and a rep should be able to help you determine what kind of filter you need, and whether it’s reusable.
How to clean or replace a refrigerator air filter
Once you’ve figured out where your refrigerator’s air filter is located, and whether the filter is reusable or disposable, you can get started. Keep in mind that the process may differ slightly depending on your refrigerator’s manufacturer and model, but here are some general instructions:
Here’s how to clean a reusable refrigerator air filter:
Locate the compartment housing the air filter, and then pull, turn, or lift the filter out, removing it completely.
Gently tap the filter on a garbage can to dislodge and remove as much of the debris as possible.
Use a vacuum attachment and/or soft-bristled brush to carefully remove any remaining debris.
Fill your sink, or a bucket or basin with warm water and a few squirts of a mild dishwashing liquid. Place the filter in the soapy water so it’s submerged completely. Let it soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
Pull the filter out of the water and rinse it off with warm water from the sink. If there’s any remaining debris, use a soft-bristled brush to gently remove it, then rinse the filter with clean, warm water.
Allow the filter to air dry completely.
While the filter is drying, use a clean, damp cloth to wipe down the area inside the refrigerator surrounding the air filter, as well as the inside of the housing compartment.
When the filter and the compartment are completely dry, pop the filter back into place, and replace the housing compartment.
Here’s how to replace a disposable air filter:
Locate the compartment housing the air filter, and then pull, turn, or lift the filter out, removing it completely. Dispose of the used filter.
Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe down the area inside the refrigerator surrounding the air filter, as well as the inside of the housing compartment.
Look at the new air filter, and locate the side marked “front.” If you still have the packaging from the new filter, you can check for installation instructions if it’s unclear which side is the front.
Place the new filter inside the housing compartment with the side marked “front” facing outward.
Replace the housing compartment.
How often should a refrigerator air filter be changed?
Regardless of whether you can clean and reuse refrigerator’s air filter or you need to replace it, the general rule is to take care of it every six months. Some refrigerators have a light that turns on when the air filter needs to be cleaned or replaced, so keep an eye on that, as well as the calendar. Lastly, listen to your nose: If you’ve noticed that your fridge smells worse than usual—and there’s no obvious culprit—it may also be a sign to clean or change the air filter.