15 Tips for a Squeaky Clean Fridge

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Just in time for Thanksgiving dinner preparations, November 15 marks official Clean Your Refrigerator Day. While not a national holiday, it should be one, because let’s face it—your fridge is gross. It’s okay, everyone’s fridge is a little bit gross, and no matter how bad things are inside your icebox, they can always be cleaned.

And what better way to clean out the inside of where all your delicious food rests before your consumption than with a few wacky and offbeat tips you might not have cooked up on your own? Let’s chow down and get cracking.

1. Pre-Clean Dirty Culprits

Sure, it might seem like a no-brainer for most of us to clean up things after they spill or leak in the fridge (think bad milk cartons, sticky condiment bottles, poorly designed takeout boxes), but what if you cleaned those things before they had a chance to mess your fridge shelves? That’s right—pre-cleaning is sometimes actually the best way to clean. Give everything that could turn on you a good wipe-down before sticking it in the fridge, from jam jars to ketchup bottles to oily dressing containers. 

2. Keep Things That Go Bad Easily Where You Can See Them

Not all messy stuff can be fixed with a pre-clean; some stuff just has to bust out its grossness in its own good time. That’s right, it’s time for another pre-cleaning tip, but trust us, it will all be worth it once you’re up to your ears in actual cleaning elbow grease. It’s inevitable that some items in your fridge are going to cause a mess at some point in time—rotting veggies, bad meat, all that smelly stuff—so keep them where you can see them, so it won’t come as a horrible surprise when your kale or hamburger or strawberries go bad and you don’t discover the horror until weeks later. Don’t be afraid of that crisper drawer, it’s easy to peek into for a reason.

3. Put Dates on Stuff

If it’s not obvious by now, the weirdest way to clean your fridge is to pre-clean it, or at least get it primed for best cleaning practices. The biggest villain in the fridge will always be the spoiled stuff that is there way past its prime—hello leaks, spills, and bad smells. But what if your pre-wipes and sightline tricks don’t work? Date things. Date everything! Stick a marker next to your fridge and use it to mark down the date an item enters your icebox so that when you’re wondering just how long that dried-out pizza has been there, you have an answer. (You can also use masking tape and a pen if you don’t want to write directly on things.) And then you have no excuse for not tossing it post-haste.

4. Use that Baking Soda...

Chances are you’re familiar with the concept of leaving an opened box of baking soda inside your fridge to trap bad smells, but do you know how to accelerate that process if something smelly gets by that handy box? It’s easy enough—just spread out some of your baking soda on a baking sheet or dinner plate and place in the middle of your fridge. It can stay put until the odor is gone.

5. ...And Kick It Up With Coffee

Does your bad-smelling fridge need more than baking soda can provide? (We’re not judging.) Add some fresh coffee grounds to your baking soda tray and let them work their magic. There will be a coffee scent for a bit, but that too will fade away, just like whatever gross thing is plaguing your fridge.

6. Clean the Edges

While it’s not as obvious as cleaning shelves and bins, cleaning the edges of your fridge (where the doors seal up against the icebox) is infinitely more satisfying. It’s also really gross, mainly because most people don’t even think about the gunk that collects there (Got pets? Get ready to find plenty of pet hair lodged in there). Give the edges a wipe every few weeks to keep it at bay—use hot water and a touch of white vinegar on a rag to really make that thing pop. Then wash that rag. Maybe a lot.

6. Power Off

If it’s finally time to get down to business with actual, hardcore, hands-on fridge cleaning, there’s one little thing you might want to do that you’ve most likely never thought of. Turn the fridge off. Unplug it. Why? Your power consumption will thank you, because you’re going to have that thing open for a quite a long time once actual cleaning commences.

7. Throw Out

You can do it. Check those dates, be honest about what is still good and what you’re going to eat, and toss out anything that doesn’t make the cut (or seems too gross to actually eat at any point in the future). Work your way from top to bottom, fridge first, then pop that freezer open and go to work there. (Close it quick! Remember your fridge isn’t running!)

8. Keep It Cold

You’ll surely still have some food that’s fit to eat after the clean out, right? Keep it snug in an icy cooler or, if you’re cooler-less or just prone to the makeshift, throw some ice into a big mixing bowl or salad bowl and let your still-good items chill out on top. 

9. Remove Your Drawers

That’s right—take those drawers right out. Give them a loving scrub with a classic mix of warm water and soap (sometimes the best tips are the most obvious). Really need to get them clean? White vinegar again. With this one, go one-half water and one-half white vinegar. Your drawers are going to sparkle.

10. Take It Inside

Now is the time to clean your (now naked and empty!) icebox. Feel free to use the white vinegar solution, or turn back to baking soda, the refrigerator’s all-star. There’s no need to break out harsh, chemical-laden cleaning products that could get too close to your food—just mix up two tablespoons of baking soda with one quart of hot water. Use your clean rag pal to get in there with your new favorite cleaning mix. Dry off everything with a clean, dry rag or a couple of paper towels. Put everything back in! (Crucial step!)

11. Take It Inside, An Alternate Method

Used all your baking soda to soak up smells? You can use salt, water, and lemon for an equally safe (and easy) cleaning solution. Dissolve an entire cup of household salt into a gallon of hot water, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and get to cleaning.

12. Clean Exteriors

The inside of the fridge is just the tip of the iceberg. For maximum fridge cleanliness, you’ve got to hit the exterior, too. Of course, this is all taking place very close to your foodstuffs so, again, let’s stay away from chemical cleaning agents. Do you happen to have any of that white vinegar mix hanging around? You do? Take it to the front of your fridge by way of another clean rag (heads up—clean rags are your friends) to clean and shine up your doors and sides. Have a stainless steel fridge? Rest assured, you can still use the white vinegar mix on it.

13. Meet Your Drip Pan

So you’ve cleaned the inside and outside of your fridge, have been vigilant about keeping things fresh and dated and spill-proof—what could possibly be left to do? Meet your drip pan. Not every fridge has one, but if yours does, giving it a clean may actually alter your life (it will at least horrify you the first time you do it).

You can locate the drip pan by removing the grill from bottom of your fridge (down below the door) and using a flashlight to find it. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s made to be pulled out, so get some gloves on, remove it, and clean the heck out of it. For this one, we’ll allow the use of bleach—even white vinegar can’t fix everything.

14. Meet the Coils

Let’s be honest—you’ve never thought about the back of your fridge, have you? The closest most of us have gotten to that particular side of our icebox is that episode of Friends where Joey sees the back of his fridge for the first time and promptly yanks off the coil backing. Don’t do that! Love those coils! (And, by love, we mean gently vacuum them every few months or so.) Your fridge will work better and you’ll feel great pride in being the only person you know who has actually cleaned the back of their fridge. It’s wacky, but it works. 

15. Be Lazy

If working your way through ten-plus steps to a sparkling fridge sounds like madness to you, there are a few ways to wing it (and that’s okay, too). One way to avoid having to wipe down the shelves on a consistent basis is to line your shelves with plastic wrap or cling wrap. Once things get really bad in there, just yank up the wrap and put in a fresh layer.