How to Clean a Refrigerator Inside and Out, According to Cleaning Pros

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Food is only as clean as the refrigerator you store it in. Here's what the professionals say about deep-cleaning your fridge—and keeping it that way.

The refrigerator may be the most important appliance in the kitchen, but we all have that one cleaning job—or “chore”—that we categorically despise. And for many of us, that’s cleaning the fridge. Even if you have one of the best refrigerators out there, things spill, get sticky, and sometimes the fridge even develops weird odors. (It happens to the best of us!) Even though we know how to clean our kitchen and how to clean our oven, it’s not always exactly clear how to clean the refrigerator. (Can you use Clorox wipes in there? What are fridge coils, and how do you clean them? How does one even clean stainless steel?! It’s all so confusing … )

But as unappealing of a task as it is to deep-clean the fridge, it’s an important one. After all, the refrigerator has the very critical job of keeping the food you eat fresh and bacteria-free—and it plays a huge role in extending the life of your food and your leftovers too. It can also help cut down on food waste. “We tend to pile up groceries without finishing the ones we have stored already,” Alicia Sokolowski, president and co-CEO of green cleaning company AspenClean, tells Reader’s Digest. Plus, fridge organization is hot right now—just check out Instagram or TikTok!

Whether you absolutely dread cleaning out the fridge or have a hard time keeping it organized, getting into a kind of “fridge routine” or cleaning schedule can alleviate some of that stress. As long as you have the right cleaning products, we promise you, it’s not so hard to scrub.

What you need to clean a refrigerator

  • Cooler or cooler bags
  • Non-toxic, food-safe cleaning solution spray
  • Mild dish soap and water, such as Dawn Dish Soap
  • A microfiber cloth, sponge or scratch-free scrubber
  • Baking soda
  • Old toothbrush
  • Butter knife wrapped in a rag

Before you start

The best time to clean a fridge is before your next grocery shopping trip—after all, you can’t deep-clean a fridge that’s jam-packed with food, no matter how organized it is. Before you can clean your fridge, you need to empty it, fully. Don’t try to get away with moving containers from one side of the fridge to the other, cautions Sokolowski, because you won’t be able to deep-clean, and you risk contaminating food with the cleaning product.

As you remove food, check the sell-by dates and consider how long food lasts in the fridge. If anything looks or smells funky, toss it, and while you’re at it, start a grocery list of items that need replenishing, suggests Dorian Alves, cleaning expert and CEO of Silent Maids.

How to clean the inside of a refrigerator

hand holding sponge cleaning the inside of a refridgeratorTMB Studio

  1. Detach all removable refrigerator drawers and shelves. Carefully set them aside.
  2. Ready a sink full of warm soapy water. Submerge shelves and drawers and let them soak while you start on the interior of the fridge.
  3. Wipe down the fridge interior with either mild dish soap and water or an all-purpose, non-toxic cleaner and a microfiber cloth, sponge or non-scratch scrubby pad. For tough stains (or serious smells), scrub with a paste of baking soda and water. Rinse well to make sure no dish soap remains.
  4. Clear away crumbs and debris in the rubber door seal with an old toothbrush or a butter knife wrapped in a rag.
  5. Close the door(s) to give your fridge time to re-cool to the right temperature.
  6. Time to wash the shelves and drawers that have been soaking. Use a microfiber towel and rub gently to remove any stubborn, sticky gunk. Rinse thoroughly to make sure no dish soap remains.
Pro tip: Don’t place cold glass shelves straight from the fridge into hot water, because it could cause them to crack.

How to get rid of smells in a fridge

First, you’ll want to identify where the odors are coming from and toss the offending item. For a regular refresh, wipe the interior down with Clorox Wipes in between grocery hauls, recommends Matthew Baratta, VP of operations at Daimer Industries, a commercial and industrial cleaning equipment company. “Be sure to follow up with a damp cloth, then a dry towel,” he says. Then, place an open box of baking soda in the fridge to absorb any new odors.

How to clean the outside of a refrigerator

gloved hand cleaning the outside of a stainless steel refridgerator with a blue mircofiber clothTMB Studio

  1. Wipe down the fridge’s exterior with a sponge or microfiber cloth, using a solution of mild dish soap and water. For a stainless steel fridge, use a stainless steel cleaner or a natural, DIY polish, says Baratta. He suggests wiping down the fridge with a bit of white vinegar and following up with a little olive oil on a microfiber cloth to avoid streaks.
  2. Work from the top down and in the direction of the grain. Wipe the surface, rinse the cloth and wipe again.
  3. Vacuum under the fridge with its hose attachment. “If you can roll your fridge away from the wall, sweep and vacuum the floor where the fridge normally sits,” Sokolowski says.
Pro tip: After washing down the exterior of the fridge, dry it with a new cloth to prevent water spots.

How to clean refrigerator coils

  1. Not sure where your fridge’s coils are located? Consult the owner’s manual first, Baratta says.
  2. Unplug the fridge.
  3. Remove the cover from the coils.
  4. Clean around the coils with a coil brush. “Dust and dirt will fall to the ground, where it can be easily swept or vacuumed up,” Baratta adds.
  5. Reattach the cover and plug your fridge back in.
Pro tip: Refrigerator coils only need to be cleaned every 6 to 12 months.

How to clean a refrigerator water dispenser

  1. Separate the plastic lid from the water tank.
  2. Clean the plastic lid and the water tank with natural dish soap or an eco-friendly cleaning product.
  3. Rinse and dry thoroughly, then reattach the plastic lid to the water tank.
  4. Ensure the rubber ring is in place as you refit the water tank to its position.
  5. Refill the water dispenser’s tank using a jug.
Pro tip: “The water dispenser is not dishwasher safe, so you must wash it by hand,” Sokolowski notes.

How to clean a freezer

gloved hand spraying cleaning fluid into open, empty freezer drawerTMB Studio

  1. Defrost your freezer. Before you clean and organize your freezer, it’s imperative to defrost it. Why? “Frost can become ice that covers interior air vents and temperature sensors, which can cause your freezer to work overtime, wasting energy and exacerbating ice buildup,” Sokolowski explains.
  2. Take out all removable shelving and drawers. Let them cool down to room temperature before washing them by hand with water and natural dish soap.
  3. Remove all the food from your freezer. Toss any food you can’t identify or anything that’s coated in freezer burn. Place all the food you’re keeping in a cooler.
  4. Wipe down the inside of your now-empty and defrosted freezer with hot, soapy water. “Don’t forget to clean inside the freezer doors and any drawers that can’t be removed,” Sokolowski adds. Rinse thoroughly to remove dish soap.
  5. Dry everything with a clean microfiber cloth.

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Stephanie Osmanski
Steph Osmanski is a sustainability writer who writes about health, the planet, and being a woman. When she's not working from home, you can find her binge-watching true crime docs, rearranging all the furniture in her house, or exuding big dog mom energy on Instagram.