Especially if you’ve neglected it for a while, motivating yourself to begin a refrigerator clean-out can be a little challenging. Without regular attention to the details, your fridge can accumulate stains, crumbs, food residue, and even dirt and smells. Don’t beat yourself up over it though. It’s an easy cleaning routine to overlook, so we put together this guide to help.
Remember, you don’t have to do a full deep clean like the one we describe below every time you clean the kitchen, but along with a little regular upkeep, a deep clean every few months or so can make a real difference and help you keep your fridge cleaner year-round. Once you’re ready, empty the fridge of all its food. Recycle or trash what you can, and put the rest into a cooler. Then gather your supplies and follow our seven easy steps to keep your refrigerator clean.
Supplies for the job
If you’ve read a few of our previous posts here at Cinch, you know that we’re strong advocates for simpler, planet-friendly DIY cleaning solutions, so it might not surprise you to hear that we recommend doing most of your refrigerator cleaning with simple household staples like vinegar, baking soda, old t-shirt rags and the occasional bit of hydrogen peroxide.
In fact, our favorite all-purpose cleaning solution is a simple 50/50 water and vinegar solution mixed in a spray bottle. It doesn’t contain any nasty chemicals or weird perfumes, and it’s safe for food surfaces. If you have some tougher stains, you might need a scouring pad, but it’s likely that you can skip the hard stuff like bleach or any other toxic cleaners. Aside from these supplies, all you’ll likely need is some dish soap with warm water, and you should be good to go.
Step 1: Cleaning refrigerator shelves and drawers
Once your fridge is empty, you can take out your refrigerator shelves, drawers and any other removable parts and let them warm up to room temperature. Then, spray them down with the vinegar and water solution, let them sit a while, and clean each with warm water and soap, using your kitchen sink and a dish sponge or the old t-shirts.
If you have many components that need a good soak, you could even start by using your bathtub instead. After washing thoroughly, rinse everything well and allow it to air dry. While you wait, you can move on to step two.
Step 2: Cleaning the interior
Here you can still use the vinegar and water solution, but you can also pack a little more punch by dissolving a couple tablespoons of baking soda into a quart of hot water for scrubbing your fridge’s interior. Work your way down from the top, so that as you scrub, rinse and finally wipe each surface clean, you won’t drip all over the parts you’ve already finished.
If you’re having trouble getting into any nooks and crannies, try a scrub brush or even a toothbrush. If you need to concentrate some stain-killing, gunk-breaking-up baking soda and water in a certain section that really needs your help, make a paste and let it sit while you take a break.
Step 3: Cleaning the exterior
Refrigerator doors, particularly those finished in stainless steel, are notorious for showing fingerprints and smudges, streaks and smears. If your model is stainless, there are specific cleaners designed to keep yours looking great. If you’d rather stick with the basics, you can use your water and vinegar spray or a dab of rubbing alcohol on a clean, dry cloth.
Spend a little extra time on the germ-collecting handle for good measure, and make sure you rub in the direction of the grain. Your DIY spray should work well on the exterior sides, but don’t forget to break out the stepladder to clean the top, and do a little vacuuming underneath and behind the fridge.
Step 4: Cleaning the coils and water dispenser
Cleaning refrigerator coils begins with locating them. Use your manual; if you don’t have it, look up the manufacturer’s site online using the model number. After you locate the coils, unplug the fridge and use a cleaning brush to remove dust from the condenser coils. Vacuum up the remainders, and you’re ready to move on to the water dispenser.
Consult the manual again to learn all you can about accessing the various parts of the water dispenser, including when to change the filter. If any pieces of the water dispenser assembly, like the tray, are removable, you can clean them in your sink with hot and soapy water, like you did the shelves and drawers. Any other parts and pieces should be sprayed with your 50/50 solution and wiped clean.
Step 5: Cleaning the gasket and drip pan
The gasket around the fridge door is important for maintaining consistent temperatures and effective food cooling. If dirt and spills are allowed to build up, the seal can fail and will need to be replaced. Clean the gasket with your 50/50 spray and/or a warm water and dish soap mixture. Make sure to rinse it carefully, and add a thin layer of petroleum jelly if you want to prevent the seal from drying and becoming brittle. A little goes a long way.
Sometimes the drip pan under the fridge is removable, in which case you can clean it like you did the interior shelves and drawers. If it’s not removable, you can dunk a cleaning cloth in hot, soapy water, wrap it onto the end of a long-handled brush, and use it to clean the drip pan.
Step 6: Removing odors and mold
Sure, nobody likes a smelly refrigerator, but it happens to the best of us from time to time. The good news is that if you’ve been following these steps, you already have everything you need to fight this battle effectively. After everything has been cleaned as described in our previous steps but before you put any food back in, simply add an open container or box of baking soda to the bottom shelf of your fridge.
The baking soda should do a good job of absorbing odors and should be replaced every month or so. If you’re running low on baking soda, leaving an open container of coffee grounds in the fridge is another great way to absorb odors that are less than pleasing.
Mold, however, is another story. If your mold discovery is a small one, your baking soda solution is a great way to scrub it away before drying it carefully. If your mold problem is more extensive and possibly includes the inside workings of your refrigerator, it may be time to call a pro for an evaluation or consider replacing the appliance.
Step 7: Keeping your fridge clean and fresh
Want to improve your clean routine and keep your fridge fresh and odor-free for the long haul? If so, here are a few parting thoughts, tips and tricks to make your regular deep cleanings easier and hopefully increase your enjoyment of arguably your most important kitchen appliance:
- Temperature shifts: Be careful here, as you can damage parts of your fridge if you take them straight from the cold air into hot water. Glass, and even plastic, can crack. Give your components time to adjust to room temperature before cleaning.
- Bleach: Bleach should be your last resort. If you must go this route, we recommend taking the fridge outside and letting it air out overnight, after cleaning.
- Thaw carefully: When thawing meat from the freezer in your fridge, always use a plate so no drippings make it onto any refrigerator surfaces.
- Keep it simple: Avoid the temptation to pack your fridge full of stuff. A little room for airflow never hurt anybody, and it makes for better circulation and easier cleaning.
- Stay clean: Start paying closer attention to what’s in your fridge, and don’t let things expire, spill, overflow, leak or otherwise make a mess that could lead to a smell or something worse. Clean drippy jars and containers before replacing them on shelves.
Thanks for reading our seven tips on how to keep a refrigerator clean. While we’re on the topic of important tasks that help your home stay clean, fresh and running smoothly, consider reviewing our post on how to make chore charts for kids, check out our summer home maintenance checklist or our comparison of mildew versus mold. While you’re at it, look into our refrigerator maintenance guide, so you can keep your investment running strong.
The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.