A female hand using a pink cloth to deep clean an empty refrigerator

A Practical Guide to Deep Cleaning Your Refrigerator

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How often do you deep clean your refrigerator? I’m not talking just wiping the shelves and tossing out moldy stuff.

I mean cleaning it inside and knocking out odors, cleaning the ice maker, scrubbing the gasket, cleaning the exterior and the space beneath and behind it. Maybe even cleaning the water line, too.

Whether I’m doing it as part of Kitchen Spring Cleaning or a random attack of tidiness, I love how much more efficiently it runs. Plus, it’s satisfying seeing the labels all neatly aligned.

Then a family snack attack happens, and it looks like a pack of wild animals tore through it. Just my family? Okay then. Well, let’s deep clean the fridge, anyway. At least we’ll get a sense of accomplishment out of it.

Step 1: Unplug and empty it.

Deep cleaning a refrigerator properly takes an hour or two. Unplug it or, if you can’t pull it out, turn it off at the circuit breaker.

This keeps it from running nonstop while you’re working. Plus, cleaning the coils with it running is dangerous.

Once it’s unplugged, start emptying the fridge. I put some towels down on the counter and move things like vegetables or bottles of juice onto them.

They’ll be fine there for a couple of hours—unless it’s a really hot day, then an hour is pushing it. I also use this as a chance to toss out expired or manky food.

Perishable stuff like milk, yogurt, defrosted meats and leftovers go in a cooler and I usually chuck in a few ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables so I don’t have to race the clock. As long as they stay at or below 40°F (4°C) they’ll be fine.

Step 2: Clean the interior.

You don’t need anything fancy to deep clean the inside of your fridge. I just use warm, soapy water and some baking soda if I need a gentle abrasive on stubborn spots.

Using highly scented products or strong cleaners like bleach can affect the taste of your food and even make you sick. 

The refrigerator shelves, drawers and other removable parts like rails on condiment ledges in the door are easiest to clean in the sink.

I let them hang out on the kitchen counter for a bit because washing cold glass shelves in hot water can cause cracks. Once they’ve lost their cool, wash and rinse them like dishes.

Soapy water works to clean the inside of the fridge, too. Wipe it all top to bottom—literally, clean the fridge ceiling, walls, door and floor. Then rinse it all with a clean, damp cloth then buff it dry.

Pro Tip

To tackle odors, wipe the fridge interior with a mix of 2 tablespoons of baking soda in 4 cups of warm water. Afterward, put an open box of baking soda or a bowl of damp coffee grounds or used tea bags at the back to absorb future smells.

Step 3: Clean the exterior.

With the doors open, reach up and clean exposed hinges with a soapy rag. Then, rinse the rag and clean your refrigerator’s rubber gasket.

Carefully spread the folds of the seal open so you can get in the crevices, too. Wipe it all with a clean, damp rag and dry it with a fresh cloth.

To clean the exterior, stick with soapy water. Start at the top then work your way down the sides and front.

Rinse your rags often, so you aren’t spreading dirt. Buff stainless steel refrigerators dry following the steel’s grain.

Should you clean the water line?

The water supply line to your fridge can develop calcium buildup that blocks the flow. Your owner’s manual will have directions on how to remove and clean it, usually by soaking it in vinegar water annually. 

But you should know: a poor connection between the water line and your fridge is a common source of leaks. If you’re not comfortable doing DIY tasks, have a plumber or repair technician replace the line every 3 to 5 years.

In the meantime, replacing your fridge filter on schedule will remove impurities in your water and keep it safe to drink.  

Step 4: Clean behind and beneath it.

Deep cleaning your refrigerator coils lets them release heat more efficiently, so it stays cool while using less electricity. Use a flexible coil cleaning brush or your vacuum’s dust attachment.

I take this chance to clean the wall behind my fridge and the floor where it usually sits. There’s always so much pet hair it’s kind of embarrassing.

And heads up: after you plug your fridge back in, leave a couple of inches between it and the wall when you push it back in place. This gives the coils space to release heat, so your fridge stays cooler.

Step 5: Reassemble and refill.

Now, for my favorite part: putting everything back! I line the produce and meat drawers with paper towels to absorb humidity and spills—just replace them with fresh ones before every grocery trip.

Next, comes the food on the counter. Wiping containers as they go back in means they don’t leave skid marks on the shelves.

This is the time to be picky about refrigerator organization, like storing raw meats at the lowest point of your fridge and prepared foods at the top for food safety.

It’s best to hold off on putting perishables back in the fridge until it reaches a food safe temperature of 40°F (4°C). This can take a few hours, but patience pays off here by protecting you from food poisoning.

Pro Tip

Avoid overfilling your refrigerator. When your appliance is packed full, air can’t circulate to keep things cool. You’re more likely to forget about foods you can’t see, too, then you’ll have wasted money on them.

Cleaning Frequency

Wipe up spills ASAP to prevent odors and avoid sticky messes. Get rid of expired or rotting foods once a week, so no one accidentally eats them—right before grocery shopping is the perfect time.

Then, aim to deep clean your refrigerator following these steps at least twice a year, or up to every three months if you have a large household.

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