Home Project Tip 10: Cleaning The Refrigerator


Is it time to clean the fridge?  These tips will help.

Do you ever come in the house and get a whiff of something foul emanating from the kitchen?  If it’s not your garbage can or disposal, it might just be your refrigerator.  And even when it doesn’t smell that bad, it could be past time to take on this household chore just to ensure your family’s safety.


Should Be Automatic


I wish they made a self-cleaning refrigerator.  I can just imagine it: I open the door and all the oldest items are sorted in front.  All the condiments are lined up and categorized alphabetically.  Everything is in its place and there’s a place for everything.  And best of all, there’s not a stray drip or moldy food to be found, since drips are wiped up and spoiled items are disposed of automatically.



Manual For Me


I bet I find some moldy food in the refrigerator.

It’s high time to clean this baby. I wish it was automatic.

Unfortunately, I’m still stuck doing things the old-fashioned way.  That means cleaning my refrigerator by using some soap, water, a good kitchen disinfectant and some elbow grease.


Let’s Get To It


I was amazed at some of the stuff in our refrigerator.

As I started pulling food out I found several duplicates. I thought we had some of that!

When I opened the door of my refrigerator this morning and looked at it with a critical eye, I knew right off I’d been ignoring this one for some time.  For one thing, all the shelves and door racks were completely full and stacked high.  I could see I’d also bought duplicate condiments, and it was clear some food items were well past their prime.  As I examined things closer, I realized there had been several food spills in need of wiping up as well as a few jars and bags of food that were sporting a new crop of mold.  Yes, you’re right, that’s gross!


Cleaning Up


These cleaned up nicely with soap and water.

This shelf was gross! There was an old sticky spill here.

I started by removing items from the top couple of shelves.  As I did, I wiped the bottom of those items that had any sticky residue.  Anything past its prime (according to the date, look, or smell) went into the “toss out pile” and the rest into the “keep pile”.


I removed the shelves to get at the frames.

The frame holding one shelf was disgusting. I had to use a toothbrush to scrub it.

Once I had a shelf clean, I removed it and washed it down with soap and water.  I discovered some shelves were worse than others and had some nasty goo on the side bars.  After washing them, I used a clean towel to dry them.


Remove any food from direct spray areas.

I wiped down the sides of the refrigerator as well as anything that couldn’t be removed with 409.

Before returning the shelves to their original position, I used some 409 Kitchen cleaner (any good disinfectant should do) and wiped down the interior refrigerator sides.  Since I hadn’t removed all the items in the refrigerator, I sprayed my cleaner on my rag (you could also use paper towels) and then wiped the sides.  That kept any spray from accidentally getting on food.  Of course, you could remove everything from the refrigerator first to prevent this, but I like my staged approach as that way I can split the job up into a couple sessions if I need to.


My refrigerator is smelling so much better.

I had to remove the bottom drawers to get at this spill.

With the shelves done, I tackled the food bins.  I made sure to remove them and the shelves that hold them so I could wipe up underneath.  It’s not uncommon to find some sort of sticky goo under the bottom bin in my refrigerator with gravity pulling any spill there.  You can see from the before and after what a difference this made.





I think one reason I hate cleaning my refrigerator so much is I inevitably end up tossing out food.  I don’t like this kind of waste and at times I’ve been much better at preventing it.  Here are some tips that might help you keep a cleaner, safer refrigerator:


Tip 1: Store leftovers in see-through containers.  That way they won’t need to be opened for you to tell what’s in them.

Tip 2: Using a “Sharpie” or other permanent marker, write dates on jars you open and then don’t use up.  For example, if you open a jar of spaghetti sauce and only use half, write the date it was opened on the lid.  That way every time you see it in the refrigerator you will be reminded to use it sooner and eventually, you’ll know it is high past time to toss it out since it’s been sitting there a month.

Tip 3: When you go shopping and bring home items like milk, eggs, yogurt, sour cream, etc. place the brand new containers behind the older ones.  This will make it much easier to use the older ones up first.

Tip 4: If you notice you are regularly tossing out a certain type of food, chances are you’re just buying too much of it.  I run into this problem when I buy in bulk or from a store like Costco that has huge container sizes.  One way to prevent the waste is make a point to split what you buy with a friend or family member—this way, you can split the cost as well.

Tip 5: If food in containers is older than the suggested best by date of the manufacture, it’s generally best to toss it straight off.  Some foods like condiments may be okay for a bit longer than the recommended date, but if you do intend to use them, give them the sniff test and look for any evidence of mold.


Refrigerator Smells


If you open the fridge and it smells, the chances are good you have something rotting somewhere inside it.  Rather than try to mask it with a deodorizer, start by checking the meat and cheese drawer for a moldy item.  Then check the veggie bin.  If those are okay, give any open container (especially milk) a sniff test.  If it fails your sniff test, toss it!


I used to think leftover baking soda in a bowl or box would solve a smell problem, but then I discovered there is anything but agreement on this topic.  It turns out baking soda is alkaline, so does absorb some acidic odors—at least for a short time.  However, just plopping an open box of soda in a refrigerator is ineffective since the soda tends to crust over once it’s reacted. (For one source on this click here).   Your best bet: Don’t waste a perfectly good box of soda.  It’s better to find the source of the problem and deal with it by eliminating it altogether.


I'm going to try to do better in the future.

I couldn’t believe all the room and how much better things smelled once I was done cleaning.

Occasionally, a refrigerator smell is actually caused by something that’s gone bad in the freezer.  For that reason, you may want to check your contents there as well.


If your refrigerator has a “condensation pan” underneath it, these have been known to fill up on rare occasion and develop a nice mold/mildew stew—this can cause an odor.  Most pans can be removed for cleaning without too much trouble, but you may need to check your owner’s manual for instructions. Be sure to vacuum under your refrigerator on occasion, too, as dust can make your compressor motor run less efficiently. To reach underneath with a vacuum you may want to invest in a Flexible Crevice Tool for all Vacuum Hoses like this one at Amazon.


If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read:

Home Project Tip 9 – Dirtiest Places

Of for a complete list of all our Home Project Tips click here.


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