Why Does My Pantry Smell Bad? [And How To Fix That]

If you smell something putrid in your pantry, then something is going wrong. Since this area of your home contains a great deal of food, it's extra important you regularly check for funny odors. For your health and safety, we encourage you to read all of the research we've compiled on pesky pantry odors.

There are many potential reasons your pantry could smell bad, but here are the most common explanations: 

  • Mold or mildew
  • Mouse droppings
  • Bugs
  • Food spoilage
  • Dead animals

If you want to learn more about getting rid of pantry odors, then you've got to read this post. Below, we'll reveal simple tips to keep your pantry smelling fresh all year round.

A contemporary classic kitchen renovation remodeling featuring a pantry storage shelf and maple cabinet, Why Does My Pantry Smell Bad? [And How To Fix That]

Why Does My Pantry Smell? Five Common Explanations

To help you determine what's behind that stinky stench, let's run through the five most common reasons for pantry odors. We'll also share a few tips to help prevent your pantry from ever attracting these nasty issues.

1. Mold or Mildew

Mold and mildew are some of the sneakiest reasons behind bad kitchen odors. Often, it's difficult to see these fiendish fungi until they ravage your entire pantry. Once mold has established itself in your home, you'll probably notice musky odors that could resemble stinky gym socks.     

The most important thing to understand about mold is it thrives in wet, humid environments. So, if you live in a state like Florida or Texas, you have to be extra vigilant about mold in your kitchen.

To prevent mold from gaining a foothold, be sure to always wipe away any spills in your kitchen. It's also a great idea to frequently clear out your pantry and spray a 1:1 mix of white vinegar and water. You might also want to consider investing in a compact dehumidifier like the one below.

Click this Amazon link for more info.   

2. Mouse Droppings

If mice or rats somehow get in your house, you're most likely going to notice strong smells near your pantry. Although poo pellets don't often have a potent smell, you will pick up a sickening ammonia scent wherever rodents pee. Since these pellets have serious adverse health effects, you must handle this situation ASAP.

Although mice could invade your home at any time of the year, it's most common for them to seek warmth during the winter. It's crucial to seal up any holes in your house with good caulking to keep mice out. It would help if you also placed all of your pantry items in airtight containers to make it impossible for rodents to chew their way through packaging.

If you already have a rodent infestation on your hands, then we always recommend getting in touch with a certified exterminator for professional advice. You could, however, try a few bait devices to help deal with this situation.

Find out more on this Amazon link.

3. Bugs

Just like with mice, most pests infest your pantry for free food—especially grains. Not to freak you out, but frequently grains already contain weevil larvae that are impossible to see. It often takes weeks before these eggs hatch and weevils appear.

If you want to prevent pests from getting into your pantry, you need to inspect grain packages for damage or tears. It would help if you also kept your pantry free from any crumbs, so you don't attract any unwelcome weevils.     

Once you bring your grainy goods home, you might want to consider tossing them in the freezer for two days. Interestingly, this is the most effective way to kill any remaining weevil larvae in your food packages.

For extra protection, it's always best to place your grains in pest-proof airtight containers. You could also put a few fresh bay leaves around your grains to deter common pantry pests.    

4. Food Spoilage

Although many pantry staples have a long shelf-life, that doesn't mean food spoilage can't occur. Indeed, items such as brown rice, potatoes, and tortillas can give off some pretty funky odors if they're in your pantry for too long.

The simplest way to prevent food spoilage is to make a list of what's in your pantry and plan recipes that use these ingredients. Indeed, some families schedule "pantry weeks," so they focus on making recipes with what's available in their pantry. Not only is this a great way to declutter your pantry, but it could also save you a serious chunk of change!   

Of course, you could also place your pantry goods in airtight containers to help preserve their freshness. Alternatively, you could put a few foods like brown rice in the freezer to extend their shelf-life even further.   

Another easy way to prevent food spoilage is to download the USDA-approved FoodKeeper app. This free app has loads of information on average storage temps and times to help you avoid food spoilage.  

For even more tips on rice storage, be sure to check out this previous KitchenSeer post.

5. Dead Animals

One of the most noxious odors you'll ever have experience in your house is that of a dead rodent. Wherever this poor critter dies, it will give off extremely foul odors you can't ignore.

Although rodents could die anywhere in your house, they're often found in tight crawlspaces or the attic. However, since mice and rats often feed in the pantry, it's not impossible for them to pass away near the kitchen.

Unfortunately, the only way to get rid of this odor is to remove the carcass from your home safely. Even if you have a strong stomach, it can be difficult to properly dispose of a dead mouse, primarily if it's located in a cumbersome area. You also have to take extreme precautions (e.g., gloves and protective face mask) when disposing of your dead mouse.         

For your safety, we always recommend speaking with a professional exterminator before attempting to deal with mice infestations or dead rodents.     

How Do I Keep My Pantry Smelling Good All The Time?

Now that you know the common reasons pantries smell bad, it's time to explore how you could eliminate those foul odors. In this section, we'll review some of the best ways to remove all those awful aromatics from your pantry.

What Is The Best Thing To Absorb Odors?

Baking soda is the most effective odor absorber in your kitchen. Indeed, many pro chefs pour a bit of baking soda onto a dish and leave it in their pantry for one to two months. For particularly foul odors, consider mixing warm water with a bit of baking soda and spraying the affected area.

Although baking soda is the tried-and-true odor absorber, activated charcoal is quickly gaining some mainstream press. You might've already heard about how this compound could whiten your teeth. Since activated charcoal is so good at absorbing plaque, it should come as no surprise; it's also one of the world's best odor absorbers.

There are loads of activated charcoal products on the market designed to eliminate bad odors. For instance, take a look at these bamboo charcoal odor absorbing bags:

For more info, click this Amazon link.

Even though baking soda and activated charcoal are excellent odor absorbers, they aren't the only options. Here are three other fantastic odor absorbers you could use in your pantry.

  • White vinegar
  • Coffee grounds or beans
  • Sea salt

Can Airtight Containers Prevent Pantry Smells?

Airtight containers are fantastic at preventing nasty pantry smells. Since these containers don't give off odors, they significantly reduce the odds of attracting pantry pests or rodents. Plus, unwelcome intruders like weevils can't sink their teeth into these pest-proof containers.

As a bonus, airtight containers help preserve your food for longer than the original packaging. By avoiding spoilage, you cut out another risk for bad pantry smells.

Airtight containers are now available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes that are sure to fit everyone's pantry.

Find out more on this Amazon link.

You could learn more about the benefits of using airtight containers in this previous KitchenSeer post.

What's A Good Pantry Cleaning Routine?

Although odor absorbers and airtight containers are great ways to keep your pantry fresh, that doesn't mean they should replace routine cleanings. Indeed, housekeeping experts recommend giving your pantry a thorough cleaning at least twice per year.

After you remove all of the food in your pantry, mix one teaspoon of bleach with one quart of warm water in a spray bottle. With a clean sponge and toothbrush, apply a light layer of this mixture on your shelves. Be sure all of the bleach has dried before putting any food back into your pantry.

For your safety, please make sure your kitchen is well ventilated when applying this bleach mixture. You should also wear protective eyewear, a face mask, and gloves when you're cleaning.

As far as bleach goes, Clorox is always a reliable brand.

Find out more on this Amazon link.

By the way, you might want to consider adding liners to your pantry shelves while you're giving it a good clean. Read more about the benefits of lining pantry shelves on this KitchenSeer post.

FAQs On Specific Stinky Smells In The Pantry

If you're smelling a particularly odd odor in your pantry, you might want to check out these final sections. Many people online have questions about the two pantry smells listed below.

How Do You Get Rid Of Rotten Potato Smell In The Pantry?

Potatoes are a pantry staple, but you have to monitor these starchy spuds for spoilage. Once these potatoes go bad, you'll notice a noxious odor that could be hazardous to your health. If you ever notice this smell in your kitchen, you must remove these putrid potatoes ASAP for your family's health.

After removing the potatoes from your pantry, you should examine the area you stored your spuds for stain marks. Use dishwashing detergent, water, and a clean towel to scrub away any remnants of these terrible tubers.

To get rid of lingering odors, you should fill a spray bottle with a 2:1 mix of water-to-white vinegar. Once you have your container ready, spray the mixture on the area where the potatoes were and let it soak up the odors while you sleep. The next morning, you could wipe away any remaining marks with a clean washcloth.

Alternatively, you could get rid of bad potato odors by mixing baking soda and a dab of water into the affected area. Scrub this mixture in with a clean sponge and let it sit for about 15 minutes before wiping it away.

FYI: potatoes generally last a maximum of five weeks in the pantry.

Why Does My Pantry Smell Like Fish?

Unless you're using a bottle of fish sauce, you shouldn't smell fishy odors anywhere near your pantry. A fishy smell is often a warning sign that something's not right with your home's electricity.

Interestingly, many plastic materials around electrical units can give off a fishy odor once they start melting. These kinds of issues are particularly common in the winter as Americans use heating units. So, the moment you detect a fishy odor, it's a good idea to check all of your electrical outlets and call an electrician for an inspection.

Although electrical issues are the most common reason behind mysterious fishy odors, here are a few other potential causes to keep in mind:

  • Dead rodent in the ductwork.
  • Sewage water seeping through your pipes.
  • Water quality issue.
  • The refrigerator's drip pan is dirty.

Say Sayonara To Smelly Pantry Shelves

As long as you incorporate the above tips into your kitchen routine, you probably won't have an issue with smelly pantry shelves. Of course, if you suspect something serious is behind your pantry's odor, you should get in touch with the proper professional. Electricians, plumbers, exterminators, and professional home cleaners could all help diagnose your smelly shelf issues.

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