Burnt Popcorn Funk? Fishy Smell? Odor Solutions!

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Ugh, microwave smells are the WORST! From lingering fishy odors to that haunting burnt popcorn scent, microwaves can trap some seriously unpleasant stenches. But don’t worry – we’re tackling it all.

Whether it’s a week-old garlic explosion or a mysterious lingering funk, we’ve got the solutions to banish those odors and get your microwave smelling fresh again.

cropped view of woman looking at microwave in kitchen
cropped view of woman looking at microwave in kitchen

😫 “What’s That Smell?!?” Common Culprits & Why They Linger

The most common microwave stinks usually come from leftovers, burnt food, or ingredients that have a naturally strong smell. These smells linger for a few reasons:

  • Grease=Smell Magnet: Tiny food particles covered in grease get splattered inside your microwave. Grease traps and amplifies odors!
  • Humidity Haven: Microwaves create a warm, humid environment – perfect for smelly stuff to grow.
  • The Nose Knows(Less): Our noses get used to smells quickly. You might not notice that microwave funk, but a guest sure will!

Behind the Stink: The Science of Smells

Understanding why things smell is the first step to making your microwave fresh again.

Here’s a quick science lesson to help you fight those funky smells:

  • Our Noses Adapt: We quickly become used to the same smells, and that’s why we might not notice an ongoing smell, but a visitor will. It’s an evolutionary mechanism to protect us from being overwhelmed by our environment!
  • Bacteria Loves Moisture: Microwaves make a warm, damp place that odor-causing bacteria love. That’s why it’s key to clean and dry your microwave often.

How to Get Rid of Microwave Smells: The Basic Toolkit

Before we bust out the big guns, let’s start with the cleaning basics. Even mild smells need a good wipe-down to get rid of the source.

Hand in glove wipes the microwave inside
hand in glove wipes the microwave inside

💨 Step Zero: Clean It Out!

Before busting out the big odor removal guns, do a basic wipe down of the microwave’s interior and exterior.

  • Remove the turntable and any other removable parts. Wash these in hot, soapy water.
  • Wipe out the whole microwave interior with a damp cloth and a mild all-purpose cleaner. Don’t forget the top, sides, and door!

Pay special attention to the window, walls, turntable, and the underside of the microwave, where splatters and spills accumulate but often get missed.

Microwaves should be given a regular basic cleaning like this anyway to keep things hygienic – doing so prevents odors from getting out of control.

🍋 Household Heroes: Vinegar, Baking Soda & Lemon

As a chef and chef and barista at Boat Basin Cafe for years, I often had to deal with strong smells in the kitchen from cooking ingredients like fish, and spices, or accidents burning food in the oven.

The same principles apply to getting odors out of microwaves!

My top odor-fighting heroes are common household staples: distilled white vinegar, baking soda, and lemon.

But hey, not everyone keeps those on hand. If you need alternatives, try citrus peels for freshness or even a splash of hydrogen peroxide for its odor-busting action.

Let’s take a look at how each can help banish smells and refresh your microwave:

Cleaning AgentHow It WorksIdeal For
Distilled White VinegarAcid in vinegar breaks down odor molecules and dissolves grimeTough grease splatters, fish smells, general odor cleansing
Baking SodaAbsorbs and neutralizes odors naturallyBurnt popcorn smells, absorbed smokey and burnt food smells
Lemon (juice or peels)Pleasant citrus smell overpowers musty odorsFreshening up microwave, leaving a clean scent behind

Vinegar is the go-to choice for tackling microwave smells, praised for its grease-cutting and anti-odor properties.

Enhancing its effectiveness, combining absorbent baking soda and fresh lemon creates a powerful trio for neutralizing odors.

According to cleaning experts like Melissa Maker, author of Clean My Space, these simple ingredients can tackle almost any lingering smell. They effectively combat odors from burnt bagged popcorn to reheated fish dinners, all without the need for harsh chemical fumes.

Vinegar: The All-Purpose Odor Buster

Doing housework chores by cleaning the microwave in the kitchen
doing housework chores by cleaning the microwave in the kitchen

My go-to microwave cleaner:

  • Plain distilled white vinegar with some water in a spray bottle (equal parts each).
  • Spray the vinegar solution liberally inside your microwave.
  • Let it soak for 2-5 minutes.
  • Wipe clean with a soft cloth.

💁🏻‍♂️Why it works: The acid in vinegar dissolves grease and breaks down odor molecules, cutting through nasty burnt or rotting food smells.

For tougher odors and stains:

  • Fill a microwave-safe bowl with undiluted vinegar.
  • Microwave on high for 5 minutes, letting it simmer. (This creates steam for extra cleaning power!)
  • Carefully remove the hot bowl.
  • Wipe the inside of your microwave – smells should be gone!

Baking Soda to the Rescue

baking soda
baking soda

Baking soda is a natural odor absorber and neutralizer – perfect for banishing microwave smells. Its porous texture soaks up odor molecules like a sponge.

How to Use Baking Soda in Your Microwave:

  • Paste Power: Mix baking soda and water into a paste. Apply it with a sponge to the smelly spots in your microwave.
  • Microwave Boost: Place baking soda in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1-2 minutes. This helps it absorb even more odors.
  • Let it Work: After applying (either way), leave the baking soda for several hours or overnight before wiping it away.

💁🏻‍♂️Expert Tip (from Melissa Maker): Baking soda paste is THE solution for stubborn burnt popcorn smells and even lingering fish odors.

Quick and Easy Prevention:

  • Place an open box of baking soda in your microwave while cooking to stop smells before they start.
  • Some people leave a box in their microwave all the time as a constant odor absorber. Replace it every 3 months.

Lemon or Citrus for Freshness

Cleaning products flat lay, baking soda, lemon vinegar and bamboo brush
cleaning products flat lay baking soda lemon vinegar and bamboo brush

Citrus fruits like lemons are amazing microwave fresheners because they:

  • Smell Fresh: Their natural scent masks unpleasant odors.
  • Chemically Neutralize: The citrus acid breaks down odor molecules.

How to Use Citrus in Your Microwave

  • Lemon Rubdown: Cut a lemon in half and rub it all over the inside of your microwave, squeezing out some juice. Zest the peel and let the bits fall inside for extra freshness.
  • Citrus Simmer: Add leftover peels to a bowl of water with vinegar or baking soda. Microwave on high to release a powerful, clean scent.

💁🏻‍♂️Quick Tip: Throw leftover lemon or orange halves in your microwave with some baking soda while it’s heating to get rid of food smells.

Smell-Busting Beyond the Basics

Woman's hand crumbles coffee grounds into wooden bowl.
woman s hand crumbles coffee grounds into wooden bowl

☕️ Cafe Owner’s Secret: Fight Odors with Coffee Grounds

Their intense, smoky aroma makes coffee grounds surprisingly effective at overpowering bad smells in microwaves and even ovens!

How it Works:

  • Place fresh or slightly used coffee grounds in a microwave-safe bowl.
  • Microwave for 1-2 minutes. This releases oils and aromatic compounds that neutralize other odors.

Pro Tip: Leave a bowl of used grounds inside your microwave for several hours after heating them for lasting odor protection. Especially helpful for lingering fish or curry smells!

Real-Life Rescue (from my Cafe):

“Burnt fish smell took over our oven? Espresso grounds to the rescue! Sprinkled them inside, left overnight – smell gone!”

Why Coffee Grounds are Awesome:

  • Budget-friendly and all-natural
  • Clean the air while leaving a pleasant coffee scent
  • Perfect for microwaves and other kitchen appliances

💪 Activated Charcoal: When Things Get Serious

Charcoal and powder (activated carbon) on white background.
charcoal and powder activated carbon on white background

Sometimes, even vinegar and baking soda aren’t enough – that’s when it’s time for activated charcoal!

Why it Works: Activated charcoal is ultra-absorbent, with a huge surface area that traps odors and stains. Think of it like a super-powered sponge for smells.

How to Use It:

  • Paste Power: Mix activated charcoal powder with water or vinegar for a targeted attack on smelly stains. Let it sit, then wipe away.
  • Airborne Assault: Place some powder in a microwave-safe container. Heat briefly, then leave it inside to absorb odors over time.

Cafe Rescue Story:

“Badly burnt popcorn filled our cafe with a lingering smell. Activated charcoal saved the day, absorbing those stubborn smoky molecules!”

📝 Key takeaway: Activated charcoal is a must-have tool for serious microwave odor battles.

💨Restaurant Kitchen Secret: The Power of Drying Out Your Microwave

Modern built-in microwave microwave oven with open door. Empty microwave concept
modern built in microwave microwave oven with open door empty microwave concept

Moisture is the enemy of a fresh-smelling microwave! Here’s why:

  • Trapped moisture + food particles = lingering odors
  • Even after cleaning, the remaining water helps those smells stick around

How to Dry & Deodorize:

  • After cleaning, prop the microwave door open overnight (or for several hours).
  • Place it near a window or vent to increase airflow.
  • This allows full drying and helps push smelly molecules out.

📝 Pro Tip: I air out my microwave weekly after cleaning – prevents smelly buildup!

Speed Drying Option:

  • After cleaning, place a fan in front of the open microwave for 30 minutes.
  • Wipe away any condensation. This quick boost of airflow makes it harder for smells to linger.

❓ The Burning Plastic Panic – Is My Microwave Ruined?

cropped view of woman putting meat into microwave in kitchen
cropped view of woman putting meat into microwave in kitchen

One smell scenario that can set off alarm bells for microwave owners is the disturbing stench of burning plastic.

This usually happens if a plastic container touches the interior walls while cooking. The high heat warps and melts the plastic, leaving behind a nasty chemical odor.

As soon as you detect that harsh melted plastic smell, stop the microwave immediately!

Make sure to carefully ventilate the area if possible. It’s not a healthy scent to be breathing in. The pungent odor tends to stubbornly cling to the cavity too.

That harsh, chemical smell of burnt plastic is alarming!

Here’s what to do:

  1. Safety First:
    • Stop the microwave immediately.
    • Ventilate your kitchen well.
    • Inspect the microwave closely for damage or leftover burning plastic. Check your manual or get it professionally inspected if you’re unsure. In the worst-case scenario, you might need to consider if your microwave is beyond repair.
    • Our guide on [how to dispose of a microwave] can help with that difficult decision.
  2. Tackle the Smell:
    • Burnt plastic odors are stubborn. You’ll need:
      • Activated charcoal (for serious absorption)
      • Lemon steam (intense cleaning power)
      • Plenty of drying time
    • You might need to repeat these cleaning steps several times.

Good News: Even bad burnt plastic smells can usually be removed!

📝Key Points:

  • Don’t panic – Your microwave might be salvageable.
  • Focus on safety first – then address the odor.

🐟 Banishing the Fishy Funk: Chef Tips

Grits with fried fish
grits with fried fish

Fishy smells are among the worst microwave offenders.

Here’s why:

  • Fish oils and compounds cling to surfaces when heated.
  • These oils are tough for regular cleaners to fully remove.


  • Vinegar Power: Diluted vinegar dissolves those stubborn fish oils. Spray, let it soak for 5+ minutes, then wipe away.
  • Activated Charcoal Attack: For intense smells, make a paste with charcoal and vinegar. Apply it to the worst areas, then wipe clean. Or leave a small container of charcoal inside to absorb odors over time.

💁🏻‍♂️Personal Experiment: Coffee vs. Fish

As a chef who has cooked hundreds of pounds of fish over the years, I know firsthand how pungently fish odors cling to surfaces, clothes, and yes – microwaves!

Reheating leftover salmon, tuna or sardines is convenient but almost guarantees a lingering stench.

And if all else fails, set out a bowl of fresh coffee grounds or used espresso grinds in the microwave for an hour.

The intense coffee aroma overpowers lingering whiffs of fish! It becomes a battle of smells – and in my experience, coffee always wins.

🔥 The Burnt Smell Battle: Pro Tips (especially for burnt popcorn!)

Caramel Popcorn in rustic bowl. Black background. Top view
caramel popcorn in rustic bowl black background top view

The Problem: Burnt popcorn leaves a particularly stubborn odor. Carbon molecules cling to the microwave interior.

Solution 1: Activated Charcoal:

  • Make a thick paste with activated charcoal and hot water.
  • Coat the entire microwave, especially the ceiling vent.
  • Let it sit for at least 1-2 hours to absorb those deep-set odors.

Solution 2: The Coffee Ground Surprise:

  • Microwave a bowl of used coffee grounds to release steam.
  • This targets burnt popcorn molecules specifically!

💁🏻‍♂️Chef’s Note: I’ve used this coffee trick countless times to combat burnt food smells in my ovens. It works in microwaves too!

📝Quick Tip (from Melissa Maker): Keep an activated charcoal odor absorber inside your microwave at all times to prevent burnt popcorn smells. Replace it every 3-6 months.

🌶️ The Curry Conundrum (and other strong spices)

Delicious chicken curry
delicious chicken curry

Strong spices like curry and chili leave lingering smells that basic cleaning can’t always fix.

Here’s how to fight back:

  • Secret Weapon #1: Hydrogen Peroxide
    • Dilute hydrogen peroxide and spray it inside your microwave.
    • Let it sit for a few minutes, then wipe clean. The bubbling action helps loosen spice stains and odors.
  • Secret Weapon #2: Baking Soda Paste
    • Make a thick paste with baking soda and water.
    • Coat the entire microwave interior and leave it overnight.
    • Baking soda is especially good at absorbing stubborn spice smells.

As a lover of bold, highly-seasoned dishes, I rely on my microwave to reheat leftovers like curries, chili, and Cajun spices regularly.

But pungent flavors like cumin, turmeric, and cayenne pepper can be surprisingly stubborn, leaving lingering scents behind no matter how vigorously I scrub with lemon or vinegar.

The smell seems to seep into the plastic and metal lining itself!

For extra-stubborn cases: Follow up with activated charcoal to conquer those spice smells!

🧄 Banishing Garlic and Onion Odors

Organic garlic and onion on wooden table
organic garlic and onion on wooden table

Garlic and onion add delicious flavor… but their smells are stubborn! Here’s how to fight back:

  • Lemon Power: Rub the inside of your microwave with lemon slices to combat oniony aromas.
  • Vinegar Soak: Diluted vinegar water helps loosen garlic and onion residue – follow up with a wipe-down.
  • Coffee to the Rescue: For serious garlic situations, place a small bowl of coffee grounds inside your microwave for an hour. Coffee’s powerful aroma helps mask stubborn smells.

Pungent alliums like garlic and onion make tasty additions to meals, but their strong scents stubbornly cling to surfaces.

Rubbing down the microwave interior with either lemon slices or diluted vinegar water helps lift these clinging smells from repeated garlic bread or onion ring reheats.

For heavy garlic duty, try leaving a small bowl of coffee grounds inside for an hour after heating – coffee overpowers almost any food aroma surprisingly well!

🍲 Burnt Food: Activated Charcoal to the Rescue

Burnt food leaves a nasty, complex odor that lingers in your microwave. For this, you need heavy-duty absorption power:

  • Activated Charcoal Paste: Mix activated charcoal powder with water to form a paste.
  • Apply Generously: Coat the inside of your microwave, especially stained areas.
  • Let it Work: Leave the paste for at least 1-2 hours to absorb those deep-set burnt odors.

💁🏻‍♂️As a chef, I’ve burnt my fair share of dishes! Activated charcoal is my secret weapon for getting that harsh, smoky smell out of ovens. It works just as well for microwave mishaps.

🔑Prevention is Key

Woman heating food with microwave machine
woman heating food with microwave machine

💦 Regular Wipe-Downs Win

  • A quick wipe with hot, soapy water after each use goes a long way.
  • Target corners, the ceiling vent, and the turntable.
  • For extra freshness, add a spritz of diluted vinegar to your cleaning routine.

✨I learned that regular wipe-downs make a world of difference compared to letting messes build up over time.

👃 Don’t Forget the Filter!

  • Many microwaves have a removable filter above the door. This traps grease and food particles that cause odors.
  • Check your manual for cleaning instructions. Usually, it’s a simple soak in soapy water.
  • Clean your filter every 2-3 months to prevent it from circulating smells.

💡 Splatter-Free Strategies

  • Use microwave covers or vented plastic wrap to reduce splatter and contain smells.
  • Avoid overcooking or scorching foods.
  • Ventilate your kitchen well after heating up strong-smelling dishes.

❄️ Proper Placement With Airflow

Where you put your microwave affects how well it airs out between uses. Here’s why airflow is important:

  • Under Cabinets = Trapped Smells: Enclosed spaces restrict airflow, so odors hang around longer.
  • Open Counter with Ventilation: This is the best spot! It allows smells to dissipate quickly.
  • Window Bonus: Fresh air whisks away food odors even faster.
  • Above the Stove (if possible): This provides ventilation if your stove has a powerful exhaust fan.

😌 Conclusion: Sweet Smelling Success

  • We tackled those microwave smells with everyday kitchen staples!
  • The key is cleaning quickly before odors set in.
  • Baking soda and activated charcoal are your heavy hitters for tough smells.
  • Vinegar, lemon, and coffee are also powerful deodorizers.

💁🏻‍♂️Chef’s Tip: Stay ahead of the game!

  • Regular wipe-downs
  • Air drying
  • Splatter prevention
  • Clean that filter!

As a chef, keeping kitchen appliances fresh is a point of pride.

Sometimes, though, appliances do reach the end of their lifespan. I’ve dealt with problem of broken microwavesin my kitchens before, and it’s not always an easy fix.

Whether it’s burnt popcorn, reheated fish, or mysterious grime smells, I’ve learned that strategic cleaning pays off for sweet-smelling success.

Now you have the tools to banish those microwave odors. Enjoy your tasty leftovers without the stinky side effects!


How do you get a bad smell out of your microwave?

The most effective way to get bad odors out of your microwave is to thoroughly clean the interior with diluted white vinegar. Spray vinegar solution over all surfaces and let it soak for 2-5 minutes to break down grime and odor molecules. Then wipe clean. You can also boil a vinegar-water mix inside to release cleaning vapors. For extra heavy duty odors, make a baking soda or activated charcoal paste and coat heavily soiled areas.

How do you freshen the inside of a microwave?

The best way to freshen up a microwave is to wipe down the interior with lemon juice. Simply rub half a lemon all over the walls, squeezing a bit as you go, then scrape over it with a lemon zester. The citrus oils in lemon rinds help neutralize odors chemically, leaving behind a clean, fresh scent. You can also place lemon peels and baking soda in a microwave-safe bowl, then heat for 1-2 minutes. This releases fresh and deodorizing steam.

How do you get a burnt smell out of a microwave?

Burnt food smells are extremely stubborn inside microwaves. To tackle them, make a thick paste with activated charcoal powder and hot water. Coat all interior surfaces, especially the ceiling vent, then let it set for 1-2 hours minimum to absorb those complex smokey and carbonized molecules. You can also microwave used coffee grounds or espresso grinds in a bowl for 1-2 minutes – the strong coffee aroma helps overwhelm and neutralize burnt food smells surprisingly well.

Does baking soda get rid of smells in the microwave?

Yes, baking soda is highly effective at absorbing odors inside microwaves. To use it, mix baking soda with a bit of water to form a spreadable paste. Coat the interior of the microwave, focusing on stained or smelly areas. Let it set for several hours, up to overnight, then wipe away. You can also microwave baking soda in a bowl for 1-2 minutes to activate the powder’s deodorizing properties. The natural porous structure of baking soda traps smelly particles.

How to get rid of smell in microwave with lemon?

Lemon is a great odor eliminator for microwaves. Rub half a lemon all over the interior cavity, squeezing some juice out as you scrub. Then take the zested side of a grater and scrape it over the peel, letting the aromatic yellow bits spread. The citric acid in the juice breaks up grime and smelly residue while the strong lemon scent overpowers unwanted odors. For an extra kick, place leftover used lemon halves in a bowl with some baking soda and microwave for 1 minute.

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