How to Clean a Refrigerator (and Keep It Clean)

Food is only as clean as the refrigerator you store it in. Here's how to deep clean (and then keep clean) your fridge.

Your refrigerator may be the most important appliance in the kitchen. It certainly has a critical job, keeping the food you eat fresh and bacteria-free. Regular cleanings help on both counts. Find out how to do the job right so you can go longer between deep-cleans.

Don’t miss our refrigerator buying guide.

How To Clean Your Fridge

  • Step One: Empty the refrigerator. Toss spoiled, smelly or expired items as you go. Have a cooler ready to hold highly perishable foods (e.g., milk or raw fish), and set the rest in an out-of-the-way spot.
  • Step Two: Detach all removable refrigerator drawers and shelves. Carefully set them aside while you ready a sinkful of soapy water. Wait to soak the shelves and drawers until they’ve come to room temperature, so the warm water doesn’t cause them to crack.
  • Step Three: Wipe the fridge interior with a non-toxic, food-safe solution of mild dish soap and water, using a soft cloth, sponge or scrubby pad. To remove tough stains or serious smells, scrub with a paste made of baking soda and water. Clean crumbs and debris from the rubber door seal with an old toothbrush or a butter knife wrapped in a rag. If the door seals need replacing, here’s how to do it.
  • Step Four: Once the interior is sparkling, shut the door to give the interior a chance to re-cool and wash the removable components in the sink. While they’re drying, do a quick-clean of the freezer by tossing any old or unwanted items and wiping up crumbs or spills. Then wipe down the refrigerator’s exterior with a sponge or microfiber cloth, using a solution of mild dish soap and water. If you have a stainless steel fridge, use a cleaning product made for stainless steel. Wipe from the top down and in the direction of the grain.
  • Step Five: Reinstall the removable components and restock your fridge. While restocking, wipe off any crumbs, drips or sticky residue on the items before returning them to their proper spot.

How To Clean a Refrigerator with Vinegar

A 50-50 solution of plain white vinegar and water makes a great, food-friendly fridge cleaner. Consider keeping a small labeled spray bottle of it in your fridge for quick and easy daily spot-cleaning.

Don’t forget to clean under your refrigerator, too.

How to KEEP Your Fridge Clean

Have better things to do than deep-clean your fridge? Try these fridge-cleaning hacks to keep it cleaner longer:

  • Get in the habit of quick-cleaning the fridge before loading it with new groceries. Toss old food and wipe up crumbs or spills so the fridge is clean and ready for the fresh stuff.
  • Line shelves with one-side-sticky plastic wrap. Instead of scraping up stuck-on spills, just peel off and replace.
  • Use a Lazy Susan for condiments and small jarred items, such as olives or sauces, to keep them from inadvertently getting shoved into the back and forgotten.

Here’s how to clean refrigerator coils.

Melanie Radzicki McManus
Melanie Radzicki McManus is an outdoors enthusiast specializing in travel. She has won many awards for her writing, most notably four prestigious Lowell Thomas Awards, considered the Pultizers of travel writing. McManus is the author of "Thousand-Miler: Adventures Hiking the Ice Age Trail." Her work has appeared in Backpacker, the Chicago Tribune, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, How Stuff Works and dozens of other publications.