I just bought a new top-freezer refrigerator from a respected home appliance manufacturer. The freezer, in particular, has an overwhelming plastic smell. Plastic odors are sufficiently common in new appliances that many manufacturers explicitly address them on their websites, e.g.: Why does my refrigerator smell like plastic?. But the odor from mine is particularly strong, and has not yet dissipated:

I've kept the refrigerator on "shop mode" (the fans run, but the compressor stays off, leaving the interior at room temperature) for the past ≈10 days, leaving both doors open each night while blowing air into the freezer and fridge compartments with a tabletop fan, but that's had little effect. If I shut the doors for a few hours and then open up the freezer, I get an overwhelming plastic smell. There's also a plastic smell from the refrigerator compartment, but it's much less.

I don't believe the smell is coming from the plastic lining the freezer's interior, since I can't smell any odor coming from that. That tells me the plastic smell is coming from the vents, and is perhaps due to off-gassing from the freezer's insulation.

The manufacturer recommends I put a bowl of lemon juice or coffee grounds into the freezer compartment, but I suspect those will only serve to mask the smell. I instead want something that will neutralize the off-gassing VOCs, since I don't want those deposited on my food.

I suppose, to achieve that neutralization, you'd need a food-safe compound that would permeate the off-gassing plastic and bind to the offending organics. I have no idea if such a compound exists.

I could instead try a physical approach—heat up the interior of the freezer by putting an LED lamp inside and closing the door, while monitoring the temp to ensure it doesn't exceed, say, $90 \,\pu{^{\circ}F} = 32 \,\pu{^{\circ}C}$. That would leverage the increase in volatilization rate with temperature, and might sufficiently accelerate the off-gassing that I could significantly reduce the plastic smell in a few days.

On the other hand, a quick calculation with the Arrhenius equation suggests there won't be much benefit. E.g., assuming the enthalphy of vaporization of the offending organics is ≈ $\pu{40 kJ/mol}$ (and that the activation energy of vaporization is about the same as the enthalphy of vaporization), an increase in temperature from $74 \,\pu{^{\circ}F} = 23 \,\pu{^{\circ}C = 298 K}$ to $90 \,\pu{^{\circ}F} = 32 \,\pu{^{\circ}C = 305 K}$ would only increase the volatilization rate by a factor of:

$$\frac{e^{\left(-\frac{\text{Ea}}{\text{RT_f}}\right)}}{e^{\left(-\frac{\text{Ea}}{\text{RT_i}}\right)}} = \frac{\exp \left(-\frac{40\text{kJ}/\text{mol}}{(\text{R}) (305\text{K})}\right)}{\exp \left(-\frac{40\text{kJ}/\text{mol}}{(\text{R}) (298\text{K})}\right)} \approx 1.5$$

[Even doubling the assumed enthalpy of vaporization to $\pu{80 kJ/mol}$ only increases the ratio to ≈ 2.]

My only other idea is to accept that I won't be able to clear out the organics before I need to use the refrigerator, purchase some activated charcoal air filter sheets, zip-tie them to my USB-powered button fan (a 120 mm computer fan that comes with its own enclosure so it can be used free-standing), and run that inside the freezer compartment. It might be sufficient to absorb the VOCs, and should (because of the airflow provided by the fan) be much more effective than simply placing a bowl of activated charcoal in the freezer.

The downsides of that are: (a) I'd have an electrical cord running under my freezer's door seal; (b) the thermal energy generated by the fan would need to be eliminated by the freezer, increasing my electrical bill; (c) I would have to keep that fan running, while I use the freezer, until the VOCs are mostly off-gassed—which could be a long time, given the low rate at which the VOC concentration appears to be decreasing even while the freezer is at room temperature.

EDIT MADE IN RESPONSE TO COMMENT (COMMENT HAS SINCE BEEN DELETED): Yes, I could just simply turn it on and rely on the decrease in temperature to reduce the off-gassing. But if you want to minimize the concentration that is off-gassed at freezer temperature (and is thus deposited on your food), it's far better to have a starting point where the off-gassing at room temperature is low rather than high.

  • $\begingroup$ Have you considered getting the unit replaced by the manufacturer? Surely you're still within the warranty period. $\endgroup$ Apr 4 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ @ToddMinehardt I could, but my suspicion is that this is inherent the to the chemical process control (or lack thereof) by whomever they're sourcing their materials from, i.e., that it's inherent to the product. It would be a lot of work to deal with this manufacturer's CS dept. to get them to replace it with another unit, starting with having a service tech come out to inspect it (who might not even care about the smell and say there's nothing wrong), only to find that the replacement unit had the same problem. Plus when I went to Best Buy, all the ones I checked, from.... $\endgroup$
    – theorist
    Apr 4 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ ...a variety of manufacturers, had this problem to some extent (the one I bought wasn't available to check on the showroom floor). The last time I bought a refrigerator, about 20 years ago, it was possible to find one that didn't do this. I've read that, as the recycled content in plastics becomes higher, they need to incorporate more additives, making it more challenging to avoid this issue. It can be done, but you need to extert strict control over your supply chain. Apple does this (I've never bought a Mac that had this problem).... $\endgroup$
    – theorist
    Apr 4 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ ....Indeed, I went through this very thing with a PC I purchased several years ago. It reeked so strongly of plastic I had to bag it up in a few layers of plastic garbage bags and run window fans to clear the air in my apartment. The manufacturer insisted this was just a bad unit, and convinced me to try another one, which I did. It had the same problem, indicating this is inhernet to how it's made. At the same time, I've used other models from this manufacturer without issue. So it's really just a crapshoot. $\endgroup$
    – theorist
    Apr 4 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ Since whatever causes the objectionable odor is likely embedded throughout the plastic, and evaporation only takes place at the surface, the half-life of that odor may be on the order of years. It is not simply a surface film that will quickly disappear. Many locales have a "lemon law," (though lemons have a more pleasant odor ;-), allowing an item to be returned if unsuitable for its purpose. Perhaps you can return it for refund. BTW, the previous comment on cooling was simply to point out that the odor is unlikely to go away, not meant to be critical. $\endgroup$ Apr 5 at 17:46


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