How to clean the refrigerator — and how often to do it

Karen B. Gibbs
·4 min read

When was the last time you cleaned the refrigerator?

Wiping up the occasional drip and opening a box of baking soda doesn't count. We're talking a full-throttle cleaning that disinfects, organizes and restores order to one of the busiest spots in the home. Did you know that a neglected and dirty fridge can also be costing you more money in energy bills and causing food to spoil faster?

If you're unsure how to properly maintain your appliance, then read on as our experts share smart tips and recommended cleaning schedules for making your fridge sparkle both inside and out.

How to clean the refrigerator — weekly

  • Wipe up obvious spills and sticky spots.

  • Wipe sticky residue from containers and bottles.

  • Check out the fruit and vegetable drawers and discard spoiled produce. Wipe down as needed.

  • Wipe down the door and handle with a warm water and mild detergent solution. Dry thoroughly.

How to clean the refrigerator — monthly

Shelves

  • Empty the fridge one shelf at a time.

  • Toss out the old stuff. Check “use by” dates and FDA guidelines to determine what’s “old.”

  • Wipe each shelf using a solution of 1 quart cool water and 2 tablespoons baking soda. (Warm or hot water could crack the glass shelving.) Dry. Return items to the fridge.

Drawers

  • When cleaning out the fridge, remove and empty fruit and vegetable and meat drawers. Discard spoiled produce and meat.

  • Wash drawers in a solution of lukewarm water and mild detergent, then dry thoroughly, says home safety expert Cheryl Luptowski of National Safety Federation.

  • Remove stubborn odors by rinsing with a solution of 1 quart of water and 2 tablespoons baking soda, followed by a plain water rinse and then wiping dry. Instead of detergent, cleaning coach Leslie Reichert uses 1 tablespoon of white distilled vinegar to 1 quart of water to wash and deodorize at the same time.

  • Arrange produce and meat in drawers and return to the fridge.

Related: Give your regular spring-cleaning routine a makeover. Here’s how to quickly and efficiently clean every room in your house — the right way.

Door shelves

  • Remove items from the door shelves.

  • Wipe down all shelves as well as any sticky and drippy containers with baking soda and water solution. Dry and return items.

Gasket

  • Wipe the gasket (the seal on the door) with a mild detergent solution. Dry with a clean cloth.

  • Pro tip from Doug Rogers, the executive vice president and general manager of Neighborly, a home services platform: To test the seal of the gasket, shut the door on a dollar bill. If it slides out easily, the gasket isn’t sealing tightly. Replace it to save energy and wear and tear on the fridge.

Door

  • Wipe down the door, edges, handle and top of the refrigerator with mild detergent solution. Dry.

  • When cleaning a stainless steel refrigerator, apply coconut oil with a soft cloth. Buff to remove excess.

Related: Say goodbye to all those fingerprints, smudges and water marks with this genius hack on how to clean your stainless steel appliances.

Water dispenser

  • Because yeast and mold can build up on the dispenser spout, it should be cleaned every month or as needed.

  • Pro tip from Carl Major, owner of Major Appliance, AC and Heating in Slidell, Louisiana: Major recommends cleaning the spout with a pipe cleaner (or small brush) alternately dipped in warm water, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide (in that order).

  • For added safety, make sure to replace external water filters as recommended by the manufacturer.

Ice dispenser

  • The ice dispenser drawer can actually harbor mold and yeast, according to Allen Rathey, founder of Healthy House Institute, so it should be cleaned regularly.

  • To clean the ice bin, turn the ice maker off, remove the bin and discard the ice. Using lukewarm water and a mild dish detergent, wash the bin, rinse well and then dry.

  • Cleaning option: Substitute distilled white vinegar for dish detergent.

Related: There are two especially important parts you need to clean.

How to clean the refrigerator — every 3 months

Drip pan

  • The drip pan, which is almost always located at the bottom of the refrigerator, should be cleaned seasonally to eliminate bacteria and diminish the potential of mold growth, says Rogers.

  • To clean, remove the kick panel and use a flashlight to find where the defrost drain line empties into the pan. Gently pull the pan out (remember, it may be full of water). Empty the pan and clean it with an all-purpose cleaner or detergent and water. Dry and replace.

How to clean the refrigerator — every 6 months

Condenser coils

  • Condenser coils filled with refrigerant make refrigeration possible, explains Rogers. But, coils that are caked with dust reduce efficiency, raise energy bills and wear out the compressor more quickly.

  • Depending on the location of the coils, either pull the fridge away from the wall or remove the snap-off grille at the bottom to reveal the coils. Using a long-handled brush, clean the coils. Vacuum the debris.

Condenser fan

  • As with the coils, maintenance of the condenser fan will increase the efficiency and life of your fridge, says Rogers.

  • Consult the owner’s manual to locate the condenser fan. Using a soft brush, remove dust, dirt and pet hair. Vacuum the area.

This article was originally published on Sep. 27, 2016.