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House

How to Clean Your Fridge Inside & Out

The first time I ever pulled my fridge out of its space by myself wasn’t to clean it. It was to extract a squirrel.

Have you ever had one of those moments where thoughts stream in slow motion? “I wish I could ignore this situation. I hope this squirrel doesn’t bite me. What if I hadn’t seen it run in? What am I going to do if I catch it? What am I going to do if I can’t? Now I know why people who live in the country don’t leave their doors open.”

Yelling instructions to my six-year-old son to “guard the hallway and don’t let it go that way,” I faced the fridge with Tucker, my black Lab.

I grabbed both sides of the fridge and hauled it out at an angle so that there was an exit only on one side. Tucker, who has never caught any living creature in his life, was overcome with instinct and snatched up the squirrel. Then, he looked up at me with panicked eyes that said, “What do I do now?!”

We ran to the door together, while I prayed he wouldn’t drop it. As soon as he was outside, he promptly did so, and we both stepped back in stunned silence, trying to comprehend what had just happened. While the squirrel had no puncture wounds or visible injury, I think the stress of finding itself in the mouth of a sizeable dog was too much for its little heart. We held a quiet burial. And I learned not to leave the door open.

In the initial aftermath, I had assumed I was able to pull the fridge out so quickly because of adrenaline. But I later discovered, that no, the fridge actually isn’t difficult to pull out. It’s meant to be pulled out for this exact purpose: cleaning.

My focus here is not cleaning refrigerators from the black lagoon, but rather cleaning normal fridges that undergo normal use. So, this means yours.

While there certainly are valid reasons of sanitation and hygiene for regular fridge cleaning, the reasons that motivate me to clean my fridge are more varied:

  • Inventory what’s in it
  • Make my food look more beautiful
  • Improve the fridge’s function and efficiency

The inventory part is amazing. Whenever I empty out my fridge in the Marie Kondo lay-hands-on-everything way, I find treasures. Nifty marinades, tasty pesto, once even a bottle of Limoncello I had forgotten about. Suddenly dinner prep becomes so much more exciting! Plus, I often find miscellaneous vegetables that need a quick use – soups, stir-fries, pizzas, salads, all-in-one bowls. These sorts of hodgepodge dishes somehow feel like they’re freebies.

Occasionally you’ll find items well past their edible lifespan, and it’s good to clear those out. Hopefully, once in the habit of regular fridge cleaning, you’ll catch items before they hit their no-good stage.

Do you ever look in the fridge and find that though there’s stuff in there, nothing looks appetizing? So, you instead go for some easy prepackaged nutrient-deprived snack from the pantry? It’s a ridiculously first-world problem, but I promise that a sparkling clean fridge makes healthy food look more attractive. It’s like giving your food a beautiful frame.

Lastly, cleaning the fridge outside and inside increases the fridge’s efficiency. Fridge efficiency is mostly about airflow. When dust and other detritus build up behind and beneath the fridge, it stifles the airflow from the vents. It’s like putting a blanket over everything, trapping in heat and making the motor work harder. This shortens its lifespan and in extreme cases, poses a fire risk. Poor airflow inside the fridge, due to overpacking or having items pressed against the walls, leads to uneven cooling – where some spots in the fridge freeze food and others get too warm. It always seems to be my lettuce that freezes, much to my frustration!

Grab yourself these tools and get to it

  • Vacuum with hose attachment
  • All-Purpose Spray made with Sal Suds or Castile Soap
    • 1 Tbsp. (15 mL) Sal Suds OR ¼ c. (60 mL) Castile Soap in 1 qt. (1 L.) water
  • Damp absorbent cloths
  • Dry absorbent cloths

Timing

Do this BEFORE you go to the grocery store, when the fridge is fairly empty. (If you’re going to the grocery store when your fridge is not fairly empty, perhaps rethink the trip – it may be you need to do a little menu planning to use what you already have.)

Ideally this should be done every 3-6 months. That makes it easier. If it’s been longer than that, your first time may take a little more work, but maintenance afterwards will be a snap.

Are Castile Soap and Sal Suds enough?

I get this question a lot: Do Castile Soap and Sal Suds sufficiently clean food surfaces, even those contaminated by raw meats or eggs? Unequivocally, I can give you a firm and resounding, “Yes.” In fact, since the whole concern here is personal safety, using these Dr. Bronner’s products is far safer than conventional alternatives or antibacterial agents, which got slammed by the FDA a few years back for misleading consumers into thinking they’re more effective than soap.

Not only do the Castile Soap and Sal Suds remove all grime, bacteria, and other debris, but also they do not leave behind any residues or fumes that would absorb into the food in the fridge. Many fridge foods easily absorb odors and fumes – butter, milk, eggs, apples, pears, potatoes, mushrooms, bread products, and ice, to name a few. Have you ever accidentally stored a cut onion next to an apple? Would you rather the apple have a slight tang of “Original Fresh,” “Spring Breeze,” or bleach instead? No thanks.

Steps

Cleaning the outside

  1. It may be best to unplug the fridge so that you don’t waste electricity when the fridge tries to keep cool while you have the doors open.
  2. Using the vacuum hose with a brush attachment, vacuum under the fridge as far as you can. You may even have a removable grate on the bottom that you can wash thoroughly in the sink with soapy water. A few drops of Sal Suds or Castile Soap are perfect for this.
  3. Then pull the fridge out and vacuum down the coils on the back. The wall behind the fridge and the floor also likely could use some vacuuming if they’re anything like mine. Be careful not jostle the water line into the fridge, if you have one. If you have a built-in fridge, likely this area is enclosed so that not as much dust and debris gets back there. Still, regularly vacuum beneath the fridge if you can.
  4. While the fridge is pulled out, mop beneath it. If you’re not otherwise mopping the floor, you can just spray the floor with the All-Purpose Spray and go over with damp mop or cloth.
  5. Clean the front, sides, and top with the All-Purpose Spray and wipe with a damp cloth. Dry with a dry cloth for the best finish.
  6. Push the fridge back into place, being careful not to crush the water line.

Cleaning the inside

  1. Open the fridge and remove food from one section at a time. It really works best if you take the food out – you’ll see what you have and you’ll get the best clean. If shelves and drawers are removable, take them out and wash in a sink of soapy water with a small squirt of Sal Suds or Castile Soap. Do not put cold glass shelves directly in warm or hot soapy water. The heat difference could crack them. Either wait until the glass gets to room temperature or keep your wash water cool. If shelves are not removable, wash them with a soapy cloth or with the All-Purpose Cleaning Spray.
  2. If there’s a build-up of crumbs in the back bottom of your fridge – just me?? – vacuum them out.
  3. Wipe down all interior surfaces of the fridge. Even the walls and ceiling of the fridge build up grime from the humidity and food fumes.
  4. Dry thoroughly, then replace items.
  5. To clean the freezer, transfer items into the fridge or a cooler.
  6. Using a warm cloth, wipe down the freezer and dry before moisture refreezes. Work in sections if need be. Don’t use the vacuum in the freezer because ice crystals become liquid and can damage the vacuum components. 
  7. If your ice doesn’t get used up regularly, dump it out and start a fresh batch.
  8. Replace freezer items in freezer.
  9. Plug the refrigerator back in.

Considering how much of a central role the fridge plays in the kitchen, having it fresh and clean will make a big difference! You’ll get lots of compliments, even from yourself.  

I hope you enjoy any food treasures you find – and may behind your fridge be ever squirrel-free.

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Lisa Bronner

Green means life. “Going Green” is living in such a way to promote vitality and vibrancy in every sphere of life. Grab an idea to make your days healthier, simpler, and more beautiful at their core.