A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Does baking soda really eliminate refrigerator odors?

April 14, 1999

Dear Straight Dope:

Will baking soda really eliminate odors in my refrigerator, or is that just a kitchen myth perpetuated by the Arm & Hammer company? If baking soda can eliminate odors, where is the optimal location for my box of baking soda: the bottom, middle or top shelf of my refrigerator? Do stinky odors rise or fall in a cold environment?

No, it really works. The miracle of baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is in its ability to neutralize pH levels. That is, it takes strong acids and buffers them (it was popularly used as an antacid before the Tums and Rolaids people took over the market), and, while slightly on the base side itself, also stabilizes the pH of highly basic solutions. You got a bad odor? It's almost always the result of strong acids (in the fridge, often lactic acids) or bases (found in in spoiled meats). Speaking of corporate propaganda, Arm & Hammer says you can also use it to deodorize your armpits, feet, or breath, as well as stinky diapers, furniture, trash cans, and of course refrigerators. As for the optimum placement, odors are essentially the same weight as the air around them, and will dissipate throughout the whole fridge if left unchecked, so I say put the stuff closest to the source of the stink to kill it as quickly as possible. If your fridge odors are from veggies left too long in the crisper, put it there, but if you're leaving the milk in the fridge past its expiration date, put it on the top shelf.  If you live in Oklahoma, of course, put it anywhere you like, it's bound to do some good.

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