How to Clean a Refrigerator

by Myra L. Fitch

Cleaning the inside of a refirgerator is not such a hard job if one goes about it in the proper way and has enough knowledge on how to go about cleaning it. The basic cleaning products are a dishwashing detergent and baking soda. Time to completion depends on how dirty your refrigerator is and what kind of a job you want to do on the refrigerator.

Although each brand and model of refrigerator is a bit different, there are some basics of cleaning that would apply to any refrigerator. The refrigerator should be turned off. There may be a control dial in both the freezer and the refrigerator compartments. They should both be turned to "off" position. Note where what the setting is on both controls so that you can reset them when you are finished. You need to leave the refrigerator left plugged in at this point so that the light in the refrigerator will work. You need to take all the items out of the refrigerator that are on the shelves and on the door. The items from the refrigerator will not "go bad" in the time it is going to take you to clean the refrigerator. If you have a lack of counter space, you can clean the refrigerator in increments, i.e. shelf at a time. In this case it is best to work from the top to the bottom. You will need to evaluate all those items in the refrigerator and get rid of those that are not dated as current or that are in a state of deteriation. All your shelves should come out. Be gentle. When you have figured out how the shelves come out, they will come out easily. You do not have to force them. Shelves are either wire racks or are glass on metal frames. Be careful with the glass shelves. They are tempered glass and tend not to break unless they are under lots of stress. However, the cost of replacement of a glass shelf is not pleasant because they can run well over $100 in some models. You will want to have a mild detergent added to a sink full of warm water. Spread newspapers to one side of the sink on which to draining the shelves when they are washed and rinsed. Wash the shelves using a sponge or dishcloth. Be sure to do both sides of the shelves. Most of the residue will be on the under side of the wire racks. If the residue does not come off easily, put the wet shelf on the newspaper and let it set there wet and "soak". Try washing again in 5 or 10 minutes, and the residue should remove more easily. You do not want to use any harsh cleaning tool on the racks. Glass shelves should clean more easily that the wire racks. However, they, too may need the additional set time to let food residue soften. Again do not use scouring pads such as SOS pads or scraping pads. If either the shelves or the inside of the refrigerator needs heavy duty cleaning, take a wet cloth or sponge, put baking soda on it and use as you would use a commercial cleaner such as Comet. The baking soda is not harmful when ingested by humans or animals. Commercials cleaners are.

While your shelves are out, take your sponge or cloth and wipe out the inside of the refrigerator. Rinse your cloth often. Use baking soda if you need to. This time rinse your cloth in clear water and wipe the inside again to rinse off. When you get to the vegetable compartments and meat compartments, they, too, should come out and should be washed. If you think you will have problems remembering how things go back in the refrigerator, take out only one area at a time and replace it before you forget what piece goes where. Vegetable compartments often harbor mold. You will have to wash the inside and outside of the compartments, then rinse. Don't forget to take the shelf that holds these compartments out. The underside of this shelf is often where the mold resides. Although bleach kills mold, I would not use it on the inside of a refrigerator, I use the baking powder. It may take longer, but it is safe. Toothpicks make good "corner cleaners" for groves and the corners in the refrigerator. When you have every part washed and rinsed with clear water, replace the shelves. Some refrigerators have adjustable shelves. You may have a favorite shelf arrangement or you may want to experiment with shelf distances to see what is pleasant for your current needs.

Now for the door racks. Some refrigerator have door racks that will remove much like the shelves. Find out how they remove and they will remove easily. Some refrigerator door racks will not come out at all. You have to clean them on the door. Repeat what you did inside the refrigerator. Remove everything, evaluate it, clean and rinse well. Replace all the door items.

The freezer compartment of refrigerators are for the most part frost free in today's market. These models cycle on and off twice or so a day. During the defrost cycle the frost melts and drips into a drip pan under the refrigerator. After you have taken everything out of the freezer, open the freezer door and leave it open for about 10 minutes. If the freezer compartment is to cold, the cloth or sponge you are using will stick to the the insides of the freezer. If you have a "cold chest" of some sort, you can store the items from the freezer in the chest while you work on the freezer. After the 10 minutes, you can take your wet cloth or sponge and wipe out the freezer compartment. Places where things have spilled may have to be wipes more than once. Rinse out your cloth as needed. Use only clear water to clean the freezer, and not soapy water. If needed, use baking soda and rinse thoroughly. This is a good time to dump all ice trays and start again. The trays may need to be washed in soapy water and rinsed well before filling. Ice makers should also be dumped and any removable parts cleaned. There should be a turn off switch or other method of turning off the water to the ice maker while you are cleaning. Don't forget to evaluate all those items in the freezer and liquidate what is out of date. Replace all ice maker parts, ice trays, etc. The freezer may have shelves as did the refrigerator. They should be cleaned as you did the refrigerator shelves, then replaced.

You will have to address the "drip pan" that is under the refrigerator. There is a front plate under the refrigerator door that comes off in some manner. It's like the shelves, once you have figures out how it comes off, it comes off gently. Do not force it off or you mayl break something. Find the drip pan, remove, wash and rinse. Removing the pan is usually a matter of finding it and pulling it out toward the front of the refrigerator. However, it may have to be be removed from the back. Cleaning the drip pan is usually not a very pleasant job. You may want to take the pan outside to a garden hose and wash it there. There may be coils under your refrigerator that have all kinds of lint on them. These coils need to be cleaned. When they are covered with lint and house dirt, the refrigerator will not work efficiently. You can vacuum this area, or use a small broom or other utensil. Be careful not to injure small blades or wires when you are working under the refrigerator. You will also need to unplug the refrigerator while you are working under the refrigerator because of the electrical wiring and electrical parts that are located there. .

Older models of refrigerator may be the kind that have to be defrosted by hand. If this is the case, you will need to remove foods as directed above. Next you have to address the ice buildup in the freezer compartment. There are several methods of doing this. One way is to leave the freezer door open until all the ice melts. That takes time and your food items may not stay frozen in the ice chest. It could take a couple of hours. Another way is to take a pan or pot of hot water and put it in the freezer. Shut the door, and after 5 or so minutes see what ice has been melted because of the hot water. You will have to "mop up" the melted ice either with a sponge or cloth. A pan or bowl placed close to the refrigerator is a handy because you can squeeze out the sponge or cloth there and not "drip" accross the floor to get to the sink. A hair dryer on high will also work. Be careful not to have a wet floor while you are holding the hair dryer. There is a possibility of electrical shock in that case. A third, less desirable method is to take some blunt object (such as a table knife) and pry the ice loose. You have to be extremely careful using this method as you can seriously injure the freezer compartment. I do not recommend this method. After all the ice in the freezer compartment has been melted and the water removed, rinse off the inside of the freezer. Close and start the refrigerator for about 15 minutes before placing your cold items back into the freezer compartment. This helps eliminate the packages sticking to the insides of the freezer.

The outside of the refrigerator can be cleaned with soapy water. The rubber around the doors sometimes gets very grimy and sometimes moldy (when the seal leakes). I have used bleach water on the rubber on refrigerator doors because of excess mold. You can pull the rubber caskets forward and that helps in cleaning the folds of the gasket. Another very helpful tool when cleaning hinges on the outside of refrigerators is an old toothbrush that has been sanitized by soaking in bleach water for about 5 minutes. Rinse the toothbrush good and use with whatever cleaning solution you are currently using. The brush helps get in little areas around hinges that seem impossible to clean with a cloth or sponge.

When you replace the items that go in your refrigerator, clean the outside of bottles, jars and any other item that can be cleaned when you put them back into your refrigerator. Place meat and cheese items in the meat compartment, vegetables and fruits in the vegetable compartment. Remember that cold goes down, so the coldest place in your refrigerator is probably the bottom shelf. The inside temperature of your refrigerator should be no higher than 42 degrees. If it is higher than that, set your controls to a lower setting. A box of opened baking soda set on a shelf will act as a deodorizer. If you clean up spills and food residue when they occurr or shortly thereafter, the time between cheanings is expanded. Periodically check the vegetable compartment, clean any residue there and throw out any questionabl food that may be there.

I hope this information is beneficial to you. If you have questions, send them via e-mail to my e-mail address.

Myra L Fitch
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