How to Clean a Refrigerator

November 15 is National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day, so to commemorate this occasion we’ve decided to post a short guide as to how to properly clean a refrigerator. At least, that’s what we assume the day is for. Perhaps it’s “clean out your refrigerator” as in stuff yourself with food?

The refrigerator is one of the more important appliances in your home to keep clean. While the cooler temperatures inside the refrigerator do help to keep bacteria and other health hazards from developing as fast, it’s not a sure-fire solution. Every day we store our food in them, yet often we can go months without properly cleaning out the interior. We wouldn’t dream of going months without cleaning the counter-tops or utensils, or even the floor for that matter!

So here’s a guide to cleaning up your fresh and frozen food storage …

Preparing to Clean Your Refrigerator

This may be the most important step when cleaning a refrigerator. Most of the time the cleaning portion of the process is rather straightforward. Where you may run into trouble is that leaving all your food out may end up spoiling a lot of food.

The best way to prevent unnecessary spoilage is to plan ahead. If you’re going to need to clean out the freezer compartment(s), ensure you have an ice chest on hand to keep things from thawing out while you work. A good time to clean your refrigerator is going to be before you go shopping at the grocery, as then your food stocks will be lower.

Another thing to make sure of is that you have a block of time to spend cleaning where you won’t be interrupted. If you start cleaning just before you need to pick up the kids, you might end up letting all that food set out for an extra hour or so. That can be a very costly mistake!

Types of Cleaners You Can Use

When working with stainless steel cleaners, remember that they may contain oils that help to repel fingerprints. These oils can stain other surfaces, such as hardwood floors and natural stone countertops.

Sometimes the simplest cleaners are the most effective. Baking soda and water makes a great cleaning solution. The baking soda is food safe, so you don’t have to worry about harmful residues tainting your food. Mix about a cup of baking soda per gallon of water. This solution will work great on most refrigerator surfaces.

Stainless steel exteriors are the most problematic to keep clean. If you do have a stainless steel exterior on your refrigerator, you may want to look into using cleaning agents that are specifically formulated for this type of application. Not only do most of these agents do a great job at streak-free cleaning, they also can help to repel future fingerprints. We recommend Stainless Steel Magic or Zep Foaming Stainless Steel Cleaner.

Remove the Food from Inside the Fridge and Freezer

Most larger refrigerators are going to have a fresh food and freezer compartment. Some may even have multiple compartments for either or both storage types. Use this to your benefit in situations where you can leave the refrigerator running while you clean it. Usually you can safely clean a refrigerator while it’s plugged in, as they are designed to resist fluid spills.

Turn the thermostat off for the compartment you are working on, and if you have multiple compartments for the same type of food, consider temporarily moving food from the other compartments to one while cleaning the other.

Often though you’re going to want to just turn the fridge off. This will allow you to let the compartments all air out sufficiently after cleaning them.

Throw Out Expired Food Items

Over time bottles and containers can get pushed to the back of the refrigerator where they go unnoticed for weeks or months. Often these are the sources of bad smells and health hazards. Take time when removing the food from the refrigerator to check if the food has gone bad. If it has, now is the time to throw it out.

Remove Drawers and Shelves

With most wire or glass shelves you can simply wash them with dish-washing liquid. Plastic and glass storage bins and produce drawers can also be washed with dish-washing liquid. Allow glass items to warm up before washing them in hot water, as this will reduce the chance of the glass cracking.

In some cases you may have to pull the refrigerator out to remove the drawers. This sometimes happens when the clearances on the hinge side of the door(s) is not sufficient to allow the door(s) to open all the way.

Wipe Down the Interior

Use the baking soda and water solution on a rag or wash cloth to wipe down the interior of the refrigerator. Refrigerator compartments are designed to handle liquid spills, but still make sure to take care not to use too much of the cleaner. You don’t want to have to towel up the bottom of the compartment.

If you’ve left the refrigerator plugged in, take special care when wiping down around the light fixture(s). Often because the lights are on the top of the fridge compartment, they aren’t as well protected against liquids and there is risk of electrical shock. It’s a good idea to unplug the refrigerator while cleaning that area at least.

Pay special attention to the seals around the doors. These often build up a lot of dirt and grime, and are often darker so aren’t as obviously dirty.

Let the Refrigerator Air Out

Airing out the refrigerator after cleaning is especially important when using chemical cleaning agents on the interior. It’s good to allow the fumes to disperse before adding the food back and closing the door. If you’ve used the baking soda solution this isn’t as necessary, though it still may be a good idea to allow bad odors to disperse as well.

Add the Food Back Into the Refrigerator

Now is a good time to organize a bit. Always use common sense when storing food in your refrigerator. Having open liquid containers on wire shelves over other non-sealed food items is asking for a disaster. Keeping commonly used items up front or in the door bins can help save time and energy.

Cleaning the Exterior Surface

For freestanding refrigerators, you may have to pull the fridge out to properly clean the sides and back. Most built-in models should be ok in that regard.

If your refrigerator is a stainless steel model, be careful when cleaning it. As noted before, make sure you protect your floor and adjacent counter-tops and cupboards from being stained by the stainless steel cleaning agent you are using. Hardwood floors, stone, and even tile floors are those that are most likely to be at risk. While other types of flooring are less likely to be damaged by these cleaners, better safe than sorry. Lay down a towel and be sure.

Now you can enjoy a healthy, clean, and well-organized refrigerator. Happy National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day!

One Response to How to Clean a Refrigerator

  1. I never would have thought that cleaning my refrigerator could possibly damage my hardwood floors. Thanks for the heads-up!

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