The very back of the refrigerator can sometimes be a scary place to look. That’s where you may find the resealable container you haven’t opened since last Christmas, or the source of that odd smell. Because our refrigerators take care of fresh, perishable food, and receive so much daily use, they need a thorough cleaning every so often.
Then there’s the freezer, which can be even more daunting. Digging into the back of the freezer can feel like excavating ancient artifacts. Cleaning it out will open up valuable space, and also prevent frost from building up.
Start by turning off the fridge and freezer. Either switch off or unplug the fridge and freezer. This is especially important for the freezer, since cleaning it while it is running could damage the unit and turning it off will give it a chance to defrost.
Take all the food out of the fridge and freezer. For this step, you might want to use a big cooler or thermal bag to keep your food cool. Remove all the food from the fridge and freezer and place it inside the cooler. This is a great opportunity to throw out expired food or food you know that no one is going to eat. You can also wipe down sticky or oily jars so you don’t have to do it later.
To make things even easier, plan to do the cleaning right before a big grocery haul. There will be less food to take out, and you’ll get to put away new groceries in a sparkly clean and spacious fridge and freezer.
Remove all detachable shelves and parts. Once the food is out of the way, remove the shelves and other detachable parts and set them aside. This might include ice dispensers and ice trays, or detachable drawers and racks.
Wash or wipe down the shelves. If it’s been a while since you’ve cleaned the fridge or freezer, put the shelves and other parts in a sink full of hot, soapy water for more thorough washing. For the freezer parts, let them come to room temperature to prevent any cracking or damage before washing. Try not to use soap with a very strong fragrance, because the scent may carry over to your food.
If the shelves have been cleaned recently, you can simply wipe them down with a mixture of vinegar and water. For this, mix equal parts vinegar and hot water in a spray bottle and wipe them down with a paper towel. For a look at some other things vinegar can clean, take a peek at our article here.
Wipe down the inside of the fridge and freezer. Use a spray bottle with vinegar and water to wipe down the insides of the fridge and freezer with a paper towel. In place of the vinegar and water mixture, you can use baking soda and water instead. For this, mix two tablespoons of baking soda into a quart of hot water and put it in a spray bottle.
Make sure to clean the cracks and crevices, because that’s where grime frequently builds up. Try using a cotton swab or old toothbrush to get into the hard-to-reach places. A toothbrush will also work for the more stubborn food residue.
Make sure to wipe down the door seals. The rubber seals on the fridge and freezer doors — also known as gaskets — help lock in the temperature and keep your food cool. Cleaning them helps keep the seal tight, so it’s important to include them in your regular cleaning routine. Use a toothbrush or sponge to gently remove food then dry the seal with a paper towel. To keep the seal from drying out and shrinking, use your finger to spread a thin film of petroleum jelly over it.
Dry the inside with a paper towel or dishcloth. Once the insides have been wiped down, use a paper towel or cloth to dry the sides thoroughly. This step is especially important for the freezer: Extra moisture will freeze and become icy, causing frost to build up inside the freezer.
Turn the units back on and replace the food and ice trays. Turn both the fridge and freezer back on and replace your food. Say hello to your newly cleaned fridge and freezer!
Try baking soda for stubborn smells. If, even after cleaning, you still detect a funky scent coming from your appliance, try this neat trick: Spread a layer of baking soda onto a baking pan, and leave it in the fridge overnight. Baking soda works to absorb odors, helping to neutralize bad scents.