How To Deep Clean Your Refrigerator

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Follow these steps to deep clean your refrigerator every 3 or 4 months, or immediately after a food recall to protect the rest of your food from contamination.

Interior view of an empty refrigerator with two hands in rubber gloves using a spray bottle to clean it

Most of the time, you can keep your refrigerator clean by tossing out expired foods and wiping spills off of your shelves with a warm, soapy cloth. Those regular efforts will keep your fridge free of grime and odors. But there are times your refrigerator needs a deep cleaning.

When to Deep Clean Your Fridge

A great place to start your kitchen Spring Cleaning is your refrigerator. That way, you can clean behind the appliance, too, without messing up your other efforts.

It is also important to give your fridge a thorough deep cleaning when something you’ve stored in it has been the subject of a food recall. If that happens, it’s crucial for your family’s health and safety that you get rid of the food and anything it touched, then deep clean and disinfect your entire fridge to get rid of harmful bacteria and pathogens.

How To Spring Clean Your Refrigerator

The fastest way to deep clean your refrigerator is by emptying it of everything, so you can wash the interior as well as the shelves and drawers. If you have a small kitchen or you need to work on it a little at a time, you can work shelf-by-shelf. In that case, start with the top shelf and work your way down, removing everything to clean and disinfect the shelf and its contents.

Step 1: Safety First

Unplug the refrigerator. This is not only so you can save energy, but also because you’ll need to pull the refrigerator away from the wall while you clean behind it. 

Food needs to remain cool to prevent bacterial growth — otherwise, we wouldn’t need refrigerators at all. If it’s a warm day, or if you aren’t confident you’ll finish the job in an hour or two, transfer your food to coolers so it stays at a safe temperature. Be sure to keep raw meats in a separate cooler than other food items.

Step 2: Clean the Interior

Remove all food items from your refrigerator, tossing expired things as you go. Now is also a good time to get rid of leftovers you know your family won’t eat, too.

Now, take out the shelves, baskets, and drawers and wash them in a sink of hot water with a squirt of dish soap. Let glass shelves reach room temperature before washing, or they may crack. 

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Use a spray bottle filled with equal parts warm water and white vinegar to clean the inside of the refrigerator. Vinegar is a natural deodorizer that also helps kill germs. Don’t forget non-removable parts like butter caddies and egg holders. A sponge or old toothbrush can help you get into any nooks and crannies. 

Rinse things well and dry them with a fresh cloth. After they’re dry, disinfect them with a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach in 1 gallon of water or spray them with 3% hydrogen peroxide until saturated. Let them air dry — this gives the disinfectant time to work.


Step 3: Clean the Outside

Clean the door seal and hinges. Food residue and dust can keep the gasket from forming a tight seal, so it’s important to keep it clean year-round, not just when you’re ready to Spring clean your refrigerator. Gently open the rubber seal with your fingers so you can get into the crevices to wipe it with warm, soapy water. Rinse with a clean, damp microfiber cloth. Use the brush to scrub the hinges then wipe them dry.

Clean the appliance exterior. Close the fridge door and spray the exterior with all-purpose spray. Clean the top first, then wipe the rest of the surface from top to bottom. Be sure to get the underside of the handles, too. (Check out my tips to keep your stainless steel refrigerator shiny and free of fingerprints.)

Clean the coils. Depending on your model, the condenser coils may be on the front at the bottom, on the back, or not accessible at all. Using your vacuum’s brush attachment, suck away all of the dust bunnies that have built up there. 

Don’t forget the area around the refrigerator. Dust the wall and baseboard behind the fridge. Hand mop the floor beneath it with a cleaning cloth and warm, soapy water. Use baking soda to scrub any stubborn food spills or stains you find.

Step 4: Reassemble

Return the refrigerator to its proper location. Put the shelves and baskets back inside. Now is a good time to line your produce and meat drawers with paper towels to make future clean-up easier. (Note: fresh meats should always go on the bottom of the refrigerator!)

Plug the fridge back in and let it run for at least an hour before putting food back into it. Skipping this step may mean your food does not stay at a safe temperature! Once a half-hour has passed, return the contents of the fridge, wiping each bottle or jar with warm soapy water as you work. Now, enjoy your clean fridge!

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2 Comments

  1. Hello,
    I found your website while browsing. You have an interesting writing style, and I found your blog “HOW TO SPRING CLEAN YOUR REFRIGERATOR” both informative and amusing! However, as a professional repair technician, I thought I’d make a few comments:

    1) Refigerator gasket: I prefer to use an old toothbrush. I also feel that 409 or Fantastic works better than soapy water to clean the grime. The gaskets are especially good at trapping mold & mildew. For those who are sensitive to either cleaners or mold/mildew, I recommend gloves and a painter’s respirator, with the canister(s), not a painter’s mask.

    2) Most modern refrigerators don’t have exposed coils; they are insulated & covered by a cardboard or plastic cover in the back. However, by carefully removing the bottom-front grille, and using a crevice vacuum attachment, you can access & clean some of the components, and maybe even the compressor.

    3) If your ‘fridge has an ice-maker, check for frost. If there’s a frost buildup, unplug the ‘fridge, and transfer the food to a cooler, while the frost & ice buildup melts. Most of the time, the ice-maker mechanism is separate from the freezer, so you can leave the freezer door/drawer shut. Use a hair-dryer to blow warm (not hot) air into the unit to facilitate melting. Clean everything with vinegar, and dry *completely* before plugging the unit back in.

    4) Most manufacturers recommend letting the ‘fridge cool down for 2-3 hours before returning food, and most say not to expect the ice-maker to produce ice for 24 hours.

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