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Refrigerators

Your refrigerator is filthy—here's how to clean it

Bye bye bacteria

A person wearing a yellow rubber glove wipes down the shelves in a fridge with a pink cloth Credit: Getty Images / AndrewRafalsky

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Considering it’s where we keep our food, we should all be cleaning our refrigerators more thoroughly and more often.

According to the FDA, most bacteria grow quickly between 40°F and 140°F. That’s not a huge surprise, but some bacteria can still grow at cooler temperatures, just more slowly. To play it safe, make sure your refrigerator temp is always under 40°F. Chilling to 37°F is even better. A refrigerator thermometer can help you maintain the right temperature.

Even with proper temperature control, food can still spoil. Moldy food can spread spores inside of your refrigerator, impacting your health. Don’t ever consume moldy food—unless it’s blue cheese, of course.

Cleaning your refrigerator isn’t particularly difficult, though it can be tedious because, in addition to the cleaning, you need to deal with unloading and reloading all your cold food. The best time to clean the fridge is before you go grocery shopping or anytime your fridge is nearly empty. Once you’re ready to get started, follow our directions to clean your fridge.

What you need:

A person stands in front of an open fridge, cleaning the moulding of the wall with a sponge and spray bottle.
Credit: Getty / AndreyPopov

Be sure to clean any place where 'plastic meets glass'—where the shelves attach to the side of the fridge—as those cracks and crevices can collect grime and bacteria.

Time needed

About an hour (Time can vary depending on your refrigerator.)

Difficulty

Easy

Step-by-Step:

  1. Move all the food from the fridge to a cooler.
  2. Remove the door bins, crisper drawers, and shelves from the refrigerator.
  3. Wipe the inside of the fridge with two tablespoons of baking soda dissolved in a quart of hot water. Baking soda absorbs odors and doesn’t add scent, but you can use a few drops of dish detergent instead.
  4. Rinse with clean water and dry with towels.
  5. Bring the bins, drawers, and shelves to the kitchen sink and clean them with the baking soda solution. (You’ll probably have to make more of it.)
  6. Rinse everything with clean water and dry with towels.
  7. Repeat the steps above for the freezer compartment.
  8. Unplug the fridge.
  9. Use a coil brush to dust the coils. (Check your user manual. Your refrigerator might have its coils on the bottom, the back, or the top.)
  10. Vacuum up any dust and dirt that ended up on the floor.
  11. Wipe the rubber door gasket with more warm water and baking soda.
  12. Rinse with clear water and dry with a towel.
  13. Put all the shelves, drawers and bins back in the refrigerator and freezer.
  14. When the refrigerator temperature is under 40°F and the freezer temperature is 0°F, you can load the food back in.
  15. Wipe down the outside of the fridge. A few drops of dish detergent in a quart of water will work for a white finish. For a stainless steel fridge, use a few drops of vinegar in the water instead of detergent.
  16. Rinse and dry. Note that a stainless steel finish may require polishing to remove any remaining fingerprints.

Keep your refrigerator clean

A point-of-view shot where the subject is wearing yellow rubber gloves and cleaning the inside of a fridge with a sponge.
Credit: Getty Images / Andrey Popov

It's recommended to deep clean your fridge once a month.

Once you deep clean your fridge, it’s easier to maintain it that way. Wipe up any spills immediately. (Some refrigerators have spill-proof shelves that contain liquids to make cleanup easier.) And always toss spoiled and moldy foods as soon as you notice them, so they don’t contaminate the rest of the fridge.

Microban technology can create antimicrobial surfaces for better health and peace of mind

One of the newer technologies creeping into the fridge space is Microban, a substance that helps stymie mildew growth. We first saw it in 2020 when we reviewed the GE GFW850SPNRS front-load washer that has a Microban gasket, though the've since made even more models that use the technology.

In fridges, Microban can be worked into the fridge's sides and trim, as well as the air filter, which can retain its antimicrobial properties for its entire lifetime. The Microban then inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria on the surface of the filter, which can cut odors by up to 90% within a few hours. It also lowers the odds of bacterial cross-contamination between surfaces in the fridge.

Based on what we've seen and read, Microban is a perfect fit for refrigerators. Fridges are notorious for picking up (and holding onto) smells, and some can be very difficult to clean. Antibacterial surfaces means parents can rest slightly easier, knowing their kids will be safer from infection, even if they aren't scrubbing their fridge's shelves on the daily.

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