You vs. refrigerator: Who wins?

Home » You vs. refrigerator: Who wins?

So you’ve avoided a refrigerator clean out for a few weeks…or a few months. Years? It’s okay, I don’t judge.

You appreciate your refrigerator – that workhorse of an appliance, talented remover of heat to keep your perishables fresh and cold. But when not regularly maintained, refrigerator cleaning is a time-consuming, tedious job. It has a primo position in the list of chores we collectively loathe – between ironing (read our advice about how to keep clothes from wrinkling to avoid ironing), lawn mowing (for some!) and removing bathroom tile grime.

Perhaps you swing open fast your refrigerator’s door, grab the Parmesan cheese and erase from your mind the image of the jungle of spills, drips, crumb trails and long-expired cans of this and that.

Refrigerator, how you intimidate.

So, who wins – you or the refrigerator?

It’s time to take on the pickle juice stains, the sticky jar of salsa from last spring and the three half-full bottles of Hidden Valley that aren’t so hidden – and win.

Here’s the easy way to clean an embarrassingly dirty, messy refrigerator:


1.)    Schedule two to three hours to dedicate to the project. You’ll regret a sub-par job on this one.

2.)    Wear rubber gloves.

3.)    Clear your kitchen’s sink and ready the garage disposer. (You may need biodegradable disposer freshener pellets after you’re done with this job)

Garbage disposal pellets 00666036

4.)    Line your trash can with a durable bag.

5.)    If you have a recyclables bin, bring it inside. If you don’t have a recycling service, contact your local township or city services for recycling options.

6.)    Turn off power to or unplug your refrigerator.

7.)    Relocate freezer items to another freezer and perishables to another refrigerator or a cooler with ice.

The cleanout

8.)    Start with the door shelves and compartments. Check expiration dates and toss out as needed.

9.)    Dispose of food, including condiments, in your garbage disposer but don’t overload it or put in fibrous food like celery and/or corn husks. Read more disposer care tips.

10.) Wash out glass bottles and jars. Most glass containers are dishwasher safe. Re-purpose them as storage for buttons, spare change, cotton balls and other small items. If you’re already stocked on storage containers, move them to the recyclables bin.

11.) Clean shelves one by one.

Cleaning refrigerator shelf

12.) Wash removable crisper drawers in your kitchen sink with warm water and a small amount of dish soap. Rinse and then dry thoroughly with a clean cloth before returning to the refrigerator. Have broken drawers or shelves? Find easy-to-install replacements on

13.) Use a cloth dampened by warm water to wipe down and remove crumbs and spills from shelves and walls. An all-purpose cleaner will make the job easier and take on stains and sticky spills without a lot of elbow grease. This Goo Gone cleaner is also helpful for extremely sticky messes.

Refrigerator Cleaner

14.) Freshen and remove odors with a deodorizer that’s specifically designed for refrigerators. According to the manufacturer, this deodorizer is up to 50 times more effective than baking soda for eliminating food gases. It lasts up to six months.

Fridge Aid deodorizer

How to clean the outside of a refrigerator

While you have your refrigerator powered off, take this time to clean the outside, too.

1. Check to make sure that the gasket (door seal) is free of tears. The gasket is important. It keeps warm air out so the refrigerator doesn’t have to remove it. Gaskets are inexpensive and should be replaced if they’re worn or torn.

2. Clean the doors and handles with a cloth and an all-purpose, appliance-cleaning spray.

3. For stainless-steel units:  This cleaning solution and these wipes are specifically designed to remove dirt and fingerprint marks on stainless-steel refrigerators.  While wiping, it’s best to follow the direction of the unit’s grain.

Stainless steel cleaner 01260508

01588671 stainless steel cleaning wipes

4. Clean off the condenser coils. These are the large, radiator-like coils located at the back or beneath the unit. They’re responsible for removing heat from refrigerators and freezers. When dust and dirt cling to the coils, it’s harder for the refrigerator to remove heat. More work = more energy used and higher bills for you. Also, without regular cleaning, those neglected coils can lead to costly refrigerator repairs. Use this long-handled bristle brush and a vacuum to easily and efficiently clean off the coils.

Long-handled bristle brush

Final steps

  • Restore power to the refrigerator.
  • Wait until the freezer and refrigerator compartments have reached their set temperatures.
  • Return food.
  • Declare victory.

Do this for ongoing victory:

Daily care: Quick and easy ways to keep your refrigerator clean

  • Check for spoilage and toss as needed.
  • Use a marker to note the dates leftovers were stored.
  • Before storing jars, bottles and containers, wipe off rims and sides.
  • If an item is weakly packaged (i.e. fruit cartons) or simply likely to leak (i.e. defrosting meat), place it on a plate before storing.
  • If spills happen, wipe them up immediately before they dry.
  • Use airtight containers to seal in odors and keep food fresher longer.

Three-minute weekly maintenance

  1. Dampen a cloth with mild dishwashing liquid and warm water or use an all-purpose, appliance-cleaning spray.
  2. Wipe down edges and shelves, door handles and the top of the refrigerator.

Twice per year

  • Clean off the condenser coils. See steps earlier in this post.
  • Check the gasket for wear and replace as needed.
  • Replace the water filtration system filter at least every six months.


Who wins? You!


Related information

Three ways to reduce the cost of powering your refrigerator or freezer

How to kill a refrigerator

Refrigerator maintenance tips

Refrigerator troubleshooting and repair help information

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