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    The Most Effective Methods For Keeping Your Refrigerator Clean

    Probably more often than you’re doing now, that’s for sure.

    The fridge is arguably the hardest-working appliance in your entire kitchen, but do you remember the last time you cleaned it? Probably not. Counters and stovetops get all the attention, while your poor ol’ refrigerator is left out in the cold (sorry).

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    When you think about it, it’s pretty gross to be eating out of something that hasn’t been deep-cleaned since last year’s Thanksgiving turkey-defrosting debacle. There’s also one very compelling scientific reason that your fridge deserves more than a little TLC: Listeria monocytogenes, the most common foodborne pathogen of Listeria. Unlike most bacteria, it can grow in cold temperatures and lead to foodborne illness.

    When to Clean the Fridge

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    To prevent microbial growth and food spoilage, you should be cleaning your fridge regularly. Exactly how often depends on who’s using said fridge. “Generally speaking, young children under the age of 5, older adults 65 and up, pregnant women, and immunosuppressed individuals are more likely to acquire a foodborne illness,” explains Shauna Henley, PhD, a family and consumer sciences educator with the University of Maryland Extension.

    In those cases, Henley suggests that weekly cleanings would be prudent. Otherwise, you could probably get away with cleaning it monthly, as long as you’re diligent about upkeep in between.

    If this sounds daunting, Henley advises incorporating it into your routine. “An easier cue for people to clean out their refrigerator might be right before they go grocery shopping, so they know what they have available and what they might need to throw out, or need to buy,” she says.

    Of course, cleaning up spills immediately is the most important thing, especially when it’s from deli meat, raw meat and poultry, or raw milk products. These are the products most commonly associated with Listeria. It’s also critical to keep your fridge temperatures within the recommended window of 32ºF to 40ºF, which helps prevent food spoilage and microbial growth.

    How to Clean the Fridge

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    When your fridge is due for a deep clean, start by taking out all food items and putting them on a clean surface. “Make sure you're going to have enough time to clean out your refrigerator without interruptions,” Henley says. “You wouldn't want to have your perishable food sitting out on your counters for over two hours.”

    Next, “remove everything that's removable,” she says. “The different deli trays, the produce containers, the shelves.” Wash them by hand in the sink with hot water and soap, then rinse. If you have tempered glass shelves, make sure they warm to room temperature before running them under hot water in order to prevent cracking.

    Use a clean cloth or new sponge to avoid cross-contamination, Henley says. You’ll also want to make sure the cloth or sponge is non-abrasive to avoid damaging the surfaces.

    Then clean the interior. Wash all surfaces, including inside the shelves in the door, with hot, soapy water. Rinse the surfaces with water and a clean cloth or new sponge. After washing and rinsing everything, let it air-dry or dry it with a clean cloth or paper towel.

    For the exterior doors, use a soft cloth and dish soap, followed by a polish if you have a stainless-steel appliance. For more specialized or delicate parts of the fridge — like water dispensers or touchscreens — refer to the manufacturer’s instructions.

    As for freezers, their environment is less favorable to pathogens because the temperature is so much lower (-20ºF to 0ºF). Maintaining the proper temperature and wiping out crumbs and debris should suffice here.

    How to Sanitize the Fridge

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    Now that everything’s clean, it’s time to sanitize. “A lot of people think cleaning and sanitizing are going to be the same thing, where cleaning is just really removing anything dirty or soiled,” Henley explains. “Sanitizing is going to actually use heat or some sort of chemical that's going to kill some of the germs.”

    The simplest and most effective sanitizers are unscented chlorine bleach (5.25% to 8.25% sodium hypochlorite, diluted at a ratio of 1 teaspoon to 1 quart of water), hydrogen peroxide (3%) heated to 130ºF, or distilled white vinegar (5%) heated to 130ºF. Spray one of these solutions onto the surfaces and removable items in the fridge (or freezer), let it sit for one minute, and then wipe with a clean cloth or towel.

    Good luck, Listeria

    If you have further food safety questions, contact your local Extension Services.