Most of us don’t give much thought to our refrigerators so long as they are running well and doing their jobs, keeping our foods and beverages cold. We don’t think about germs or other health concerns, unless we allow something to grow in our vegetable crisper, or mold in a container or jar. We rarely think about little maintenance projects we can do ourselves to keep our refrigerators running better, cleaner, and more efficiently.
However, keeping a clean refrigerator, inside and out, can protect you from food borne illness, cross-contamination of foods, and general ill health. You could be at risk for food poisoning from spills, mold and bacteria in your refrigerator if it is not maintained properly. Not only should you clean the inside of your refrigerator, but also the door, and especially the door handle, on a regular basis. Cleaning out your refrigerator’s water dispenser will also protect you from germs and build up in the water flow lines, especially if you live in an area with hard water.
To keep your refrigerator cooling properly, thus saving you energy and money, you will want to clean your refrigerator’s coils regularly as well. These coils carry the coolant that pulls heat from the refrigerator and thus cools everything inside. Your refrigerator should be cooling at 40°F or lower to prevent the growth of bacteria. Cleaning your refrigerator coils is a relatively simple task that you should be able to handle on your own. Not only will it help your refrigerator run more efficiently, but it may also help to protect your good health.
How often should I Clean my Refrigerator?
So, how often should you clean your refrigerator? Well, that depends in large part on your cleaning habits. If you are the type of person who wipes up spills as they happen, you won’t have to deep clean as often. You should also make sure that things you are defrosting in the refrigerator, especially raw meats, are placed in a leak-proof container to avoid spills and cross-contamination. It’s also best to do your meat defrosting on the bottom shelf for the same reason. Also, make sure any items you are putting into the refrigerator are clean so you don’t cause another mess for yourself. Clean the refrigerator’s handle on a frequent basis; it gets touched all the time. These are things you should always be conscious of.
Now, on at least a weekly basis, you should go through and throw out old or spoiled foods. When disposing of expired foods, if the food isn’t dated, you can refer to this Cold Food Storage Chart to view the safety information on the item’s shelf life. Since you can neither smell nor taste the bacteria that cause food poisoning, you should never try to taste something to see if it is still good.
After you have purged your refrigerator of these items, clean the outside of the refrigerator (don’t forget the top) with a damp cloth and mild soap. Also, wipe off shelves, wipe around the door seals, and wipe out the vegetable bins.
If you follow this schedule, you will only have to deep clean about every three to four months, or seasonally. Be sure to change the water filters in your water dispenser according to your manufacturer’s recommendations – about every six months.
How to Clean your Refrigerator
There’s more than one method for cleaning your refrigerator. However, you will want to think about what you are using to clean with. Will it taint the foods and beverages in your refrigerator? Will it damage your appliance? While choosing the best option is a matter of personal preference, it might interest you to know that the CDC recommends good old soap and water to do the job.
So, here’s what you’ll need:
- Cooler (optional)
- Dish soap (anti-bacterial wouldn’t hurt)
- Clean cloths, towels or paper towels
- Solution of 2 tablespoons of baking soda in 1 quart of water (optional method)
- Sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid bleach to 1 gallon of water (optional)
- Baking soda
Now that you’re ready to deep clean your refrigerator, here are some easy steps to follow to get your refrigerator clean and fresh and keep it that way until the next cleaning.
- Take everything out of the refrigerator. You may want to put the perishables in a cooler, but in any case, make sure none are left out for more than two hours. Perishable foods that have been left out longer than this at room temperature can allow dangerous levels of bacteria to grow and cause you to become ill.
- Use this opportunity to go through your items and purge any spoiled, expired or dubious foodstuffs.
- Take out all of the removable parts, like shelving and crisper drawers. If these contain any glass, let them get to room temperature first, then wash with hot, soapy water. Otherwise, if you wash them when they are cold, you could cause the glass to break.
- Dry with a clean cloth, towel or paper towels.
- Clean the entire inside of the refrigerator with hot, soapy water, then clean it off with clear water to rinse. Alternatively, you can use a solution of two tablespoons of baking soda to one quart of water to wash the interior of your refrigerator. Don’t forget the seal on the door. It can get really grimy.
- As an optional step, or if there has been a food recall, you can sanitize your refrigerator once you have cleaned with hot, soapy water by wiping it with a solution of one tablespoon of liquid bleach to one gallon of water. You can also use this rinse if food has spoiled and created bad smells in the refrigerator.
- For tough stains, you have a couple of options. You can hold a cloth dipped in hot water on them to try to lift them, or make a paste of baking soda and let it sit for a while to remove them.
- Return all the drawers, shelves and other removable items to the refrigerator.
- Be sure you clean off all of your food items, especially jars and cartons, before putting them back into your refrigerator.
- Put an opened box of baking soda in the refrigerator to keep it smelling fresh between deep cleanings. Be sure to change it every three months.
To cut down on food spoilage, make sure you don’t store perishable foods in the refrigerator door. This is because the temperature in the door fluctuates more than inside the refrigerator. Also, be sure to throw away any fresh fruits or vegetables that you have not refrigerated within two hours of having cut, peeled, or cooked them.
How to Clean your Refrigerator Water Dispenser
The very best way to clean out your refrigerator’s water dispenser is with distilled white vinegar. It will kill germs that may breed in your water dispenser’s tubing and can also clear away any buildup of minerals from hard water that may be affecting your water’s taste and your dispenser’s functioning. If you do live in an area with hard water, you will want to clean your refrigerator’s water dispenser about every six months to keep it running clear and well. Otherwise, you may not have to do this quite as often; but, it is a task that should not be neglected due to possibility of germ growth in your dispenser’s tubing.
Here’s what you will need to do the job:
- 3 cups distilled white vinegar
- Small funnel
- Bottle brush and/or toothbrush
- Container for used vinegar, pitcher and/or clean drinking glass
Here’s what you do:
- Turn off the water that supplies the water dispenser. Turn your icemaker off.
- Locate the tube (often copper) that attaches to the water tank. Remove it by loosening or removing the screw holding it in place.
- Holding the tube upright, use your small funnel to pour the vinegar into the tube. It will flow into the reservoir.
- Attach the tube to something with your tape to keep it upright. Let the vinegar sit for several minutes.
- Now turn on your ice maker and let the vinegar flow through and clean that too.
- With the water still turned off, press the water dispenser button to cause the vinegar to flow completely out through your whole system and into your container. Dispose of this vinegar.
- Use some more vinegar and your bottle brush or a clean toothbrush to clean the water dispenser spout, the ice chute and surrounding area, as well as the opening to the tubing. Then clean the tray.
- Replace the tubing.
- Turn the water supply back on. Press the water dispenser button to cause fresh water to flow through and out through the spout into your pitcher. Dispose of this when full. Now either rinse and reuse the pitcher or start using your drinking glass to let the water flow into until you can no longer smell the vinegar. You may want to taste the water at that point to be sure.
- Let your icemaker run, but throw out at least the first batch to avoid any lingering vinegar taste.
Remember to change your water filters about every six months, or in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. Doing this and cleaning your refrigerator’s water dispenser will ensure that you have clean, clear and healthful water to drink year-round.
How to Clean your Refrigerator Coils
Okay, this is probably something you’ve never even heard of, much less thought of doing, right? But, it’s a simple task that you can do in just a few minutes that will improve your refrigerator’s functioning and may well save you on energy and, consequently, money. You’ll want to clean your coils about every six months, or more if your pets shed. This is because coils collect dirt, dust and pet hair, which hinders their performance, making your refrigerator work harder.
When dirt, dust and hair coat the condenser coils, they are unable to release heat efficiently, which makes the compressor work longer and harder than it was designed to. This, in turn, leads to a much shorter life span for your appliance. Your refrigerator should last you about twelve to fourteen years. And, coils that are caked with this mess can cause your power bills to go up as much as 35 percent.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Vacuum cleaner
- Coil cleaning brush at a store where appliance parts are sold
There are generally two places where you will find your refrigerator’s coils. They will either be under the refrigerator, accessible from the front, or on the back of the refrigerator*.
- Unplug your refrigerator before you begin this task.
- Locate your coils. If they are behind your refrigerator, you will have to roll it out to get to them.
- Remove the grille or access panel to expose the coils. They look like long tubes that loop back and forth along the bottom or back of the refrigerator.
- Use your coil cleaning brush to loosen and remove the dirt, dust and hair from the coils.
- Vacuum it up from the floor, using an appropriate attachment, if necessary.
- Replace the grille or access panel. Carefully roll the refrigerator back to the wall, if necessary.
- Plug the refrigerator back in.
It’s that easy. Now you have ensured that your refrigerator will run better, cool better, and thus, protect your food, and you, better. Wasn’t that worth a few minutes of your time?
Cleaning and maintaining your refrigerator doesn’t have to be an onerous task. If you follow these simple instructions, and clean it regularly, you can expect your refrigerator to treat you well in return.
*Some GE refrigerators have coils on the top of the appliance. If this is the case, disconnect the power at the circuit breaker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for how to proceed.