How to Clean a Refrigerator

Have you ever wondered exactly how to clean a refrigerator? If you have then this step-by-step guide is what you need.

Regular cleanings of the inside of your fridge and the outside of the fridge is an essential aspect of kitchen maintenance that not only helps in keeping your appliance in good working condition but also ensures your food is in a healthy environment. 

Over time, spills and food residue can lead to unpleasant odors, stickiness, and the potential growth of bacteria. A periodic and thorough cleaning can address these issues, keeping your refrigerator clean and odor-free.

View of the bottom inside of a refrigerator before a thorough cleaning.
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Preparing to Clean the Refrigerator

Before starting the cleaning process, it's essential to create a clear workspace by emptying the refrigerator and removing any components that can be cleaned separately. This will make the cleaning thorough and effective.

Empty the Refrigerator

When I clean my refrigerator I remove items from the inside of the fridge in batches.  I do this so that nothing is out of the refrigerator for too long and it's an easier task to handle.

Inside of a refrigerator during cleaning.
  • Check Expiration Dates: It's a good idea to start by examining the food items as you remove them. Look for old food that's past it's use-by date and discard it. I bring the trash can over to the fridge to make this a more streamlined process. Reach all the way to the back of the fridge. No cheating! 
  • Group and Organize: Temporarily group your food into categories, like dairy products, meats, and produce, placing them on a counter or another cool space.
  • Use a cooler: If the process of fridge cleaning will take an extended period of time, keep perishable items in a cooler with ice packs. This is also the best way to handle items as you remove them from the freezer compartment. 

Quick Tip

Keep a paper and pen nearby so that you can write down any items you need to replenish. You can also use a handy Refrigerator Inventory Binder like this one to keep on track and stay organized:

Remove Shelves and Drawers

  • Slide Out Removable Components: Carefully slide out the shelves and refrigerator drawers. They are often designed to be removed easily for cleaning purposes.
  • Room Temperature Adjustment: Allow glass or plastic shelves and removable drawers to come to room temperature to prevent cracking when washed with warm water.

In preparing your refrigerator for a thorough cleaning, these steps ensure a safe space to clean effectively without damaging food or fridge components.

Inside of a messy refrigerator before removing items to be cleaned.

Cleaning the Interior

Before you begin cleaning the inside of your refrigerator, ensure you've emptied it of all food items or the food items in a smaller area where you will be working. Gather the necessary cleaning supplies, such as a fresh clean sponge, vinegar, baking soda, and warm soapy water. Now, let's tackle each component.

Start by wiping down the interior walls and bottom of the fridge. Rinse the rag or sponge often during the entire cleaning process. 

Inside of a refrigerator with a woman cleaning the bottom area before removing the drawers.

Washing Shelves and Drawers

Mix a solution of warm water and a splash of dish soap. For glass or plastic components, immerse them in the soapy water and use a sponge to gently scrub away any residue. Rinse with clean water and dry with a soft cloth or microfiber towels before returning them to your fridge.

  • Dilution: 1 tablespoon of dish soap to 8 cups of warm water.
  • Tools: Sponge, soft cloth, basin for soaking. If you don't have a basin for soaking you can use your kitchen sink, utility room sink, or even your bathtub (but, you'll need to remove soap scum and clean it thoroughly, the act of cleaning your refrigerator may turn into a whole home cleaning spree!). 

Handling Spills and Stains

Confront spills and stains as soon as they occur to prevent them from becoming stubborn and hard to remove. Apply a paste of baking soda and water to the affected areas, and allow it to sit for ten minutes—this will help lift the stain. Afterward, wipe away with a damp sponge preferably dipped in a solution of equal parts vinegar and water for an added clean.

  • Baking Soda Paste: Combine 3 tablespoons of baking soda with enough water to form a thick paste.
  • Vinegar Solution: Mix equal parts of vinegar and warm water.
Close up of a freshly cleaned refrigerator drawer.

Wiping Down Surfaces

After removing shelves and drawers, use a sponge dipped in soapy water to clean the interior surfaces of your fridge. For more natural cleaning, fill a spray bottle with a mixture of vinegar and water, and spray it over the surfaces. Wipe down with a microfiber cloth for a streak-free finish. Ensure all surfaces are dried with a clean towel to prevent mildew and odors.

  • Soapy Water Solution: Mild dish soap with warm water.
  • Vinegar Spray: 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water, in a spray bottle.
  • Aftercare: Dry with a microfiber cloth to avoid water marks.

Cleaning the Exterior and Regular Maintenance

Keeping your refrigerator in top condition involves regular cleaning of the exterior, including the coils and condenser to ensure efficient operation, and proper maintenance of the gaskets to preserve temperature consistency and energy efficiency.

Door of a refrigerator with milk and salad dressing in the door pockets.

Coil and Condenser Cleaning

Your refrigerator's performance hinges on the cleanliness of the condenser coils. Dust and debris can insulate these coils, leading to decreased cooling efficiency and higher energy costs.

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  • Frequency: Clean the coils every six months.
  • Tools: Utilize a coil brush or a vacuum cleaner with an attachment.
  • Process:
    1. Unplug the refrigerator for safety.
    2. Remove the base grill if necessary.
    3. Gently brush or vacuum debris from the coils. It's important to be very careful. You do not want to bend the coils so, caution and a light touch are key.

Remember, blocked coils can cause the refrigerator to work harder, shortening its life span.

*Refer to the owner's manual for full details before attempting this process. 

Gasket Maintenance

Close up of refrigerator door gaskets after being cleaned.

The rubber gaskets around your refrigerator door are critical for a tight seal, but can become dirty or wear out.

  • Cleaning: Wipe gaskets with a clean, damp microfiber cloth and mild detergent.
  • Inspection: Check for cracks or tears that could lead to air leaks.
  • Replacement: If damaged, replace the gaskets to prevent energy waste.

A well-maintained gasket is essential for energy efficiency and to prolong the life of your refrigerator.

Exterior Surfaces

For stainless steel surfaces, it's important to clean with care to avoid any scratches and maintain the appliance's aesthetic.

  • Routine Cleaning: Use a damp microfiber cloth, followed by a dry cloth. Always wipe with the grain to prevent scratching the stainless steel. Use an appropriate stainless steel cleaner when necessary. 
  • Tough Stains: Apply a mild detergent or appliance polish as needed.
  • Maintenance Tip: Regular polishing keeps stainless steel looking new.

Keep your refrigerator's exterior surfaces clean by incorporating these tasks into your regular cleaning schedule.

Organizing and Preventing Odors

To maintain a fresh refrigerator, it's essential to organize your food and containers effectively and adopt deodorizing practices. With the right organization, you can prevent cross-contamination and odors, while deodorizing methods like using baking soda can actively combat an unpleasant smell. 

Arranging Food and Containers

Proper organization of food and containers in your refrigerator is crucial for maintaining consistent temperature and preventing the buildup of odors. Keep your food in sealed containers and arrange them leaving some space in between to allow for air circulation, which helps in maintaining an even temperature. Utilize:

  • Stackable clear containers: to store leftovers and cut produce, which makes it easy to see what's inside and manage inventory.
  • Separate drawers for fruits and vegetables: to prevent ethylene gas produced by fruits from speeding up the spoiling process of vegetables.
  • Labels and dates on all containers: to keep track of freshness and ensure older items are used first to prevent spoilage.

Deodorizing Practices

Deodorizing your refrigerator is essential to keep it smelling clean and to ensure your food remains appetizing. Here are two effective ways to deodorize:

  1. Baking Soda:
    • Place an open container of baking soda in the back of your fridge to neutralize odors; replace it every three months for optimum effectiveness. This method helps to absorb unwanted smells without transferring scent to your food.
  2. Cleaning:
    • Wipe the interior with a mixture of water and baking soda using clean cloths. This simple solution can cleanse surfaces without leaving a strong residue or scent that could permeate your food.
    • A regular cleaning of the interior of the fridge, at least once a month, will help prevent buildup of spills and odor-causing residues.

Remember, the key to a fresh fridge is not just about cleaning but also ensuring your foods are properly sealed and stored to prevent odors from emerging in the first place.

Inside of a refrigerator mid cleaning process with areas shining.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you'll find detailed answers to common queries about maintaining a clean and hygienic refrigerator, ensuring you safely and effectively tackle this vital kitchen maintenance task.

What is the recommended mixture of vinegar and baking soda for cleaning refrigerators?

For a natural cleaning solution, mix equal parts of water and vinegar, adding a small amount of baking soda. This mixture can help to neutralize odors and dissolve grime. Forbes Home has additional insights on using this mixture.

How can you safely clean and disinfect refrigerator shelves?

Remove the shelves from the fridge and wash them with warm soapy water. For disinfecting, you may use a solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid bleach per gallon of water. Always rinse the shelves thoroughly with water and let them dry before placing them back in the fridge. Clorox offers advice on using a bleach solution.

What is the best method to clean the rubber seal on the refrigerator door?

To clean the rubber seal, use a solution of warm water and dish soap or baking soda. Apply the solution with a gentle brush or cloth and ensure you rinse the seal well afterward. This helps prevent damage and maintain the seal's efficiency.

Is it necessary to switch off the refrigerator before cleaning, and why?

It's advisable to switch off the refrigerator to save energy and ensure safety when cleaning. This allows for a more thorough cleaning as you can remove all items without hurrying and prevent electrical accidents.

Are there any cleaning agents that should be avoided when cleaning the inside of a fridge?

Avoid harsh chemicals like ammonia or bleach inside the fridge as they can leave strong odors and residues that can contaminate food. Stick to mild detergents or natural cleaners like baking soda and vinegar. 

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  1. Ha! I currently have a paintbrush in a Ziploc bag on top of my egg carton right nice that I'm not the only one! 🙂

  2. I need to clean mine again. These wipes look awesome, I;ll have to pick some up soon 🙂

  3. SO many great ideas, my fridge is major need of organization after the holidays!

  4. Amy Anderson says:

    You are BRAVE to share a photo of the inside of your fridge. Mine is horrible. You've inspired me to clean it this weekend! Yours looks great!

  5. Ashley @ Simply Designing says:

    Yes I totally needed this today! I need to tackle my fridge! Thanks for the help and inspiration!

  6. Ali Anderson Williams says:

    Absolutely love your tips! I always take everything out at once and it's a huge job. I'll be trying it your way next time with the wipes. Popped over to the sponsor's site and found a coupon too! Thanks!

  7. Steph @ The Silly Pearl says:

    I just bought these Clorox scrubbies today (yup with my Cartweel app!). I'll be putting them to good use cleaning my's gone crazy after the holidays!