Out of all your kitchen appliances, your refrigerator is one of the most likely items to take a beating. Apple juice spills, soda explosions, tomato sauce leaks, and sour cream turned moldy all wreak havoc on your fridge.
However, because of its awkward shelving and an overabundance of items, the refrigerator is also one of the most difficult items to clean. When that leftover casserole hides behind the milk, it becomes the perfect example of "out of sight, out of mind." You don't see it, so you don't clean it.
But the longer those perishable foods stay in your fridge, the more you put your health and safety at risk. Bacteria from drips and spills can spread through your refrigerator compartments into other foods. This increases the risk of food-borne illness.
Rather than joining the 76 million annual cases of food-poisoning, make it your New Year's Resolution to clean your fridge, and to clean it regularly.
How Often Should I Clean My Fridge?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, it's best to immediately clean spills. Wipe surfaces thoroughly with hot, soapy water right away.
Consider deep cleaning your fridge at least twice a year, and throw out perishable foods on a daily or weekly basis:
- Cooked leftovers after 4 days
- Raw poultry and ground meats after 1 to 2 days
- Unopened hot dogs and lunch meats after 2 weeks
- Opened hot dogs and lunch meats after 3 to 7 days
- Fresh eggs in the shell after 3 to 5 weeks
Further, it's best to keep the front grill clear of dust and lint to allow free air flow to the condenser. Use a vacuum or brush several times a year to remove dirt and debris from the condenser coil.
So what's the secret to cleaning your fridge as quickly and efficiently as possible?
Your Ultimate Cleaning Guide
Ready to see your fridge shine? Use the following steps to attack those stubborn stains and residue.
- Unplug the refrigerator.
- Use a coil brush to remove dust from underneath the unit's kick plate.
- Empty your fridge. Toss any expired items into the trash. When in doubt, throw it out. Keep the remaining food in a cooler until you're done cleaning.
- Remove drawers and place them in the sink. Allow them to reach room temperature before cleaning. Then, dip a sponge or cloth into warm soapy water and scrub away. Allow drawers to air-dry.
- Spray the interior with a mild multi-surface disinfectant spray. Avoid using stronger chemicals, as these tend to linger on the walls and absorb into the food.
- Wipe the walls and each permanent shelf still in the fridge. Use a toothbrush to dislodge stubborn grime.
- Wipe shelf seams and the rubber door seal.
- Plug in the refrigerator, return the drawers, and put the remaining food in your fridge.
If you have an enameled steel exterior, you can use a multi-surface cleaner and paper towels to remove handprints and other debris. For stainless steel exteriors, use distilled white vinegar on a microfiber cloth. Rub the cloth in the direction of the grain.
Preventing Future Messes
While completely cleaning your fridge is a step in the right direction, it's easier to clean smaller messes as they happen before they become larger problems. These tips will help you keep your fridge tidy:
- Wipe off jam jars and salad dressing bottles before storing them.
- Place anything likely to leak (such as defrosting meat) onto a rimmed plate to catch drippings. Also, keep these leaking items on the bottom of the refrigerator so they don't drip onto other foods.
- Keep leftovers in airtight containers.
- Put activated charcoal or baking soda in the back of your fridge to combat odors. Swap out the charcoal or baking soda every 2 to 3 months.
- Keep perishable goods closest to the front of the fridge (but not in the door). You'll have an easier time spotting when these foods go bad.
- Keep a marker next to your fridge, and date items as you put them in the fridge. While some items have a clearly marked best by date, others are less obvious. Marking them yourself ensures you know when to throw out old food.
- Don't overfill compartments. This promotes good air circulation and helps maintain proper temperatures.
- Use disinfecting wipes to clean the refrigerator handle. Do this daily, as people open the fridge multiple times a day.
Don't forget to check your fridge's temperature. For health and safety reasons, make sure your fridge cools food to at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
As you clean your fridge, be on the lookout for any broken parts or cracks. If you notice that the fridge doesn't cool properly, call an appliance technician to have it repaired. This will ensure your fridge stays in like-new condition and your food stays as fresh as possible.