If you’ve got extra time on your hands, it’s a good time to work on that spring cleaning project you’ve been putting off. It may not be fun or exciting to put your time towards refrigerator maintenance, but it can improve the performance and extend the life of your appliance. Better yet, it can save a lot of money on appliance repair and replacement.

Before we get started, we feel it’s important to address some questions you may have around food safety and preventing COVID-19 or the Coronavirus.

One of the questions we’ve been asked is if putting food inside a refrigerator or freezer will kill the coronavirus.

According to information from the World Health Organization (WHO), Coronavirus can live in cold and freezing temperatures. Cleaning is the best defense against food or packaging that may have been contaminated.

For fruit and vegetables, simply wash the item with food-safe soap and water. It is not necessary to soak the items first.

For food packaging, clean the surface with a disinfecting wipe and allow it to air dry.

Always wash your hands after handling objects that may have been exposed to the virus.

Now, on to your refrigerator!

Start With the Inside

There’s an excellent reason to start your cleaning project on the inside. In the next phase of the project, you may need to move the refrigerator. It’s easier (and safer) to move the refrigerator when empty.

Why It’s Important:

It can seem counter-intuitive to clean out your refrigerator at a time when grocery store shelves are bare.

Empty Shelves Due to Corona Virus

However, if you’re cutting down on trips to the grocery store or avoiding the public, it’s helpful to clean out the old to make room for the new. Also, when food spoils, it releases bacteria and fungal spores that cause your food to spoil faster.

A refrigerator that is too full, will struggle to get cold. Airflow is crucial for a refrigerator to operate properly.

What You Need:

  • Empty table or counter space
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Soap
  • Water
  • Gloves
  • Bleach (optional)
  • Shelf liner and/or paper bags (optional)

First, empty the refrigerator. As long as the food products don’t sit outside the refrigerator for more than two hours, it will still be safe to eat. This will help you find things that have been lurking in the back of your refrigerator and hidden science experiments.

Next, check the expiration dates on your bottles and jars. Sauces and dressings are not eternal. Ditch anything that smells unpleasant, has changed color, or is well past its expiration date. You don’t have to toss something immediately after its expiration date, but if it’s a few months past its date, it may be time to give it the boot.

For our Zero Waste friends, you can wash repurpose glass and plastic jars to serve as planters, storage, and as food-safe containers in stores that offer refillable supplies.

Wipe down all shelves and drawers with a damp cloth. If you’re concerned about chemicals near your food, dish soap and water is an effective cleanser.

If you want to disinfect while you clean, first wash all the surfaces, then wipe the surfaces with a diluted bleach and water solution. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that ⅓ cup bleach to one gallon of water will kill viruses and bacteria. Please use gloves when using bleach products and never mix bleach with anything other than water.

Clean Your Refrigerator With Gloves

Pro Tip: Once the refrigerator is clean, line refrigerator shelves with shelf liner or paper bags for easier cleanup.

Clean The Coils

Reducing energy usage, improving performance, and extending the life of your refrigerator, starts with the condenser coils.

Why It’s Important:

The condenser cools and condenses the liquid refrigerant as it runs through the coils. This process is often noisy, but necessary for the function of your refrigerator.

The coils are a magnet for dust and hair. If the coils are dirty the refrigerator has to work harder to cool the refrigerant, which not only wastes energy, it can cause parts to fail. Since the condenser and compressor are the most expensive parts on a refrigerator to replace, it is worth the time investment to keep them clean.

Dirty Refrigerator Coils

What You’ll Need:

  • A soft dry cloth
  • A long duster or a vacuum with an appliance brush attachment
  • Safety Gloves
  • Long Sleeves
  • Screwdriver (possible)

The first step is always to unplug your refrigerator from the power. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. It is not safe to clean the condenser coils when the refrigerator is powered.

The condenser coils may be on the back of your refrigerator or tucked away behind a kick plate in the front or back of the refrigerator. Refer to your owner’s manual to determine where the condenser coils are for your model. You may need a screwdriver to remove the panel covering the coils.

If your refrigerator coils are under the compartment there may be sharp edges on the cover panel or inside the machine. Wear protective gloves and long sleeves to prevent cuts and scratches.

Starting from the top, use the soft cloth to remove any large chunks of dust or dirt from the coils. Follow with the duster or vacuum attachment. The vacuum is likely to be more effective but only use a soft brush attachment when cleaning the coils.

If you note any leaks or holes in the coils, contact a refrigerator repair technician as soon as possible. Fixing any damage early can save on more expensive repairs later.

Clean the Drip Pan
On a refrigerator, the drip pan collects condensation as it flows from the drain in your freezer and refrigerator so it can evaporate.

Why It’s Important:

Because a drip pan can get clogged with dirt or rust over time, cleaning the drip pan can prevent leaks which can damage your floors and appliances.

What You’ll Need:

  • Soap
  • Water
  • Screwdriver (possible)

If you have already opened the kick plate of your refrigerator to access the condenser coils, the drip pan should already be accessible. If you don’t immediately see the drip pan, follow the defrost drain line from the freezer compartment to the drain pan. Alternately, you can refer to your refrigerator manual for guidance on how to locate and remove the drip pan.

Wash the drip pan in warm, soapy water. If you see any signs of wear or damage, replace the pan. Most refrigerator manufacturers offer replacement parts on their sites, but you can also sometimes find a good deal by checking at a local appliance part store.

Once you replace the drip pan you can also reattach any panels you removed to access the coils and drain pan.

Clean Around the Refrigerator
You thought we would just be focusing on the appliance itself, right? If you’ve already moved the refrigerator, now is the perfect time to make sure there isn’t anything else that might impact your refrigerator’s performance.

Why It’s Important:

Most stand-alone refrigerators require at least one inch of clearance on all sides for proper airflow. It’s normal for things to fall between the cracks, behind or under the compartment. However, if there isn’t enough airflow the refrigerator may have to work harder to stay cold, or could even overheat.

What You’ll Need:

  • Broom
  • Vacuum or Duster

Sweep behind the refrigerator and the area where it usually sits. Use the duster or vacuum to clear out any buildup or dust bunnies.

Take a breath, we’re almost done!

You can move the refrigerator back to where it belongs now.

Plug the refrigerator back in before moving it back into place.

Once your fridge up and running again, you can put the food back inside. Don’t stop yet, though! We have a few more things to do.

Clean the Refrigerator Gasket

The door gasket is the rubbery accordion part between the door and compartment. It forms a seal and keeps the cold air inside. It often collects gunk and debris that can break the seal or damage the gasket.

Refrigerator Door Gasket

Why It’s Important:
A dirty gasket can prevent your refrigerator door from forming a proper seal, resulting in higher energy costs.

What You’ll Need:

  • Soap
  • Water
  • A soft cloth

Clean this area gently with warm soapy water. Gently work the cloth between the folds of the gasket to remove any collected dirt.

Warning: Don’t use sharp or pointy objects to clean the gasket as it can tear easily.

Replace the gasket if you notice any holes or tears. A local appliance repair technician can replace it for you, or you can order a replacement from your refrigerator manufacturer.
Check the Thermostat
After cleaning your refrigerator you may notice that better performance. Wait at least 12 hours and check the internal temperature of the refrigerator. The internal temperature should be at or below 40° F (4° C) but above 32° F (0° C). If the refrigerator compartment is getting too cold you can turn the thermostat down.

That’s It! You have a healthy, well-maintained refrigerator!

Check back soon for more lockdown-friendly appliance maintenance guides.