How to Clean Your Fridge Without Ruining All Your Food

Cleaning your kitchen doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Dare we say it could be fun? Welcome to BA’s Cleaning Week: Consider this your trusty guide to the nooks and crannies that you definitely are not scrubbing often enough, plus the pro-approved tools and products to get the job done.

I’ll go ahead and say it: You probably need to clean your fridge more often. I probably need to clean my fridge more often. Refrigerators are like revolving doors of produce, meats, condiments, dairy products, take-out containers, beverages, and who knows what else, all with varying origins, expiration dates, and levels of crust dried on top (maybe that last one’s just me). If you think about it for too long, it’s bound to give you the yuck.

But beyond getting rid of smells, sticky stains, or slimy puddles, cleaning your refrigerator is also the healthy thing to do. Fridges are—and I don’t mean to generalize here—gross. According to the USDA, a refrigerator’s low temperature is not enough to stop the growth of germs, while Michigan State University points out that fridges can be breeding grounds for listeria, a common foodborne bacteria.

Health and hygiene aside, though, a clean fridge can be a quality of life improvement in its own right—making produce, leftovers, and snacks all the more craveable. And luckily, cleaning your refrigerator regularly makes the task easier in the long run. So grab those gloves and dish soap.

Take it all out.

To really get into the cracks and crevices, you have to empty out your fridge. Move everything into a cardboard box to keep all of the bottles, jars, and other containers nearby. If anything in the box leaks, you can throw it out when you’re done. Use this step as a chance to check expiration dates and reconsider your condiment collection. Do you really need that novelty hot sauce from your road trip last year?

If you’re worried about perishables spoiling while you clean, you can place ice packs on any particularly sensitive foodstuffs. Or, if you have an insulated cooler, you can use that instead of the box. But ideally, this whole process shouldn’t take more than an hour or so. The USDA suggests a “2-Hour Rule” for leaving food out of the refrigerator, which is more than enough time to deal with all that grime.

Odds are, as you remove items, you’ll cross paths with dried-out herbs, stray crumbs, or other dusty stuff. Sweep out with a dustpan and brush, or give your fridge surfaces a once-over with a vacuum cleaner. Now onto the fun part.

Scrub, scrub, scrub.

For regular cleanings (aim for once a month), clearing out expired food and scrubbing with a soapy sponge is all you need. First, remove any removable shelves and drawers. Clean these with hot water and dish soap in the sink, then wipe away excess moisture with a dry cloth (microfiber is great if you have it).

With the shelving done, move on to the main event—the fridge itself. Get a bucket and a sponge, fill it with warm water, add dish soap, and stir until sudsy. It’s time to scrub: As with cars or furniture, work from the top to the bottom. That way, when dirt runs down with the soapy water, it isn’t dripping onto areas you’ve already gotten sparkly. Once you’re done with the interior, wipe down the outside of your fridge as well. If you have a stainless-steel refrigerator, consider using a dedicated stainless-steel cleaner to keep things extra shiny.

Once you’re done, be sure to dry the walls and back of the fridge with a clean towel, as excess moisture can pool up once the removable shelves are back in place, creating an unseen mess later on.

Deep clean as needed.

Using dish soap and tap water is fine most of the time—but occasionally opting for a deep clean can combat stubborn messes and sanitize more thoroughly. Twice a year (or more if any food in your fridge was recently recalled) follow the steps above, then finish up by cleaning with a more intense disinfectant. Either in a bucket or spray bottle, you can mix a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon water, then get to wiping with a soft cloth or paper towels. (Heads up: If you are using bleach, be sure to avoid cleaning products with ammonia, as the two create a dangerous chemical reaction when mixed.) For a less abrasive cleaner, try a solution of equal parts water and white vinegar.

Deep cleans are a good time to go over other hard-to-reach spots like the rubber gasket around the door seal, where moisture and gunk can accumulate over time. Be sure to wipe down all of the shelf and drawer tracks while you’re at it.

Put it back together.

To reconstruct your fridge, just work in reverse. Start by replacing the shelves and drawers, making sure they’re completely dry before you slide them into place. Then you can start putting back all of your food. This is the moment to reconsider the layout of your fridge and give yourself a tidy baseline going forward. I recommend keeping a space clear for rising doughs, marinating meats, or other sizable cooking projects. And remember, dairy spoils faster if you keep it in the door.

What about the freezer?

Freezers’ ice-cold temperatures mean they don’t need cleaning as often, but the Whirlpool company suggests users clean their iceboxes at least once per year. To clean your freezer, start by moving everything you hope to keep to a well-insulated cooler with ice. This is because you’ll need to defrost your freezer, which means unplugging it for several hours to reach room temperature and melt any accumulated ice. Be warned: That melted ice is going to drip, so be sure to place some dry rags and towels on and beneath the door to prevent big messes. Once the ice has melted, the process is the same as deep cleaning your fridge:

Remove the shelves and scrub everything with soap, then deep clean with a bleach or vinegar solution. Take extra precaution to dry out your freezer before plugging it back in, as any standing water will freeze when the power comes back, undoing all your hard work. While it’s admittedly a pain, regular defrosting does help your freezer function better in the long run, which means colder, safer temperatures and lower energy bills. It’s also a good reminder to eat that soup from last season.

Red Lentil Soup With Preserved Lemon and Crispy Garlic

Zaynab Issa

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Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit