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Your Fridge Is a Horror Show, Oh Please, Won't You Clean It?

Illustration for article titled Your Fridge Is a Horror Show, Oh Please, Wont You Clean It?
SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

Last week, our pals over at The Takeout asked their readers for their refrigerator cleaning (horror, let’s be honest) stories, which is amazing for me because I’m a weird voyeur who loves gross things! But also I was tickled to see a mention of the fridge deep cleaning method I detailed in my book and it made me think that it was time to revisit and update it for you guys.

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Our refrigerators are probably seeing more activity than they have in ages, and so undertaking a deep cleaning is something that might be on your to-do list in These, Our Times. If it’s not, consider it! And here’s why: In addition to just being nice to have a clean fridge, it also fosters better food management and helps to cut down on food waste. These are good things in normal times! They are GREAT things in T, OT. So let’s get right into it.

The Tools and Products for the Job

You don’t need much for this one, actually, and when it comes to the cleaning product you use, you have some choices, which is nice. Free will is a wonderful thing.

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So yes, you need a cleaning solution and all of these are good, it’s truly a matter of what you have available and what you feel comfortable with. A bleach solution (4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water), diluted dish soap, vinegar solution (1 part white vinegar to 3 parts water), or an all-purpose cleaner like Fantastik or Mrs. Meyer’s Multi-Surface are all good choices.

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I mention the matter of choice because some people feel more comfortable using a disinfectant like bleach, whereas others may not like the idea of using bleach in the place where food is stored (it’s perfectly safe! But it is fair to not like the idea) and also so that you have guidelines to refer to when choosing a product you may already have in home.

You will also need some toolsnamely a sponge or cleaning rag and paper towels.

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Quick note on paper towels: You won’t do the bulk of your cleaning with themyou’ll just want to use one or two at the end of the process to do a final wipe down of the interior of the fridge.

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In addition to a regular sponge, you may also want to use a non-scratch scrub sponge that won’t damage plastic like a Dobie Pad and/or a Magic Eraser to scrub away especially stubborn stuck-on foods and to eliminate staining that’s caused by leaky bright-hued condiments (ketchup, hot sauce, mustard, etc).

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The Steps

  1. Take everything out. Everything! Down to the box of baking soda in the back of the fridge, it all comes out.
  2. Have a trash bag or garbage can nearby so you can easily throw away any foods that have gone bad. Put everything else aside (on a counter or table) and/or in a cooler.
  3. Remove the shelves and drawers and wash them with hot soapy water, just like you would wash a dish. You can perform this operation in the kitchen sink but if you have a bathtub it’s a great place for this job because it’s roomier. Plus it frees up the sink for ...
  4. If you have food saved in storage containers that’s gone bad, dump the contents in the trash when you’re taking everything out of the fridge, and put them right into the sink. Fill the sink with hot soapy water and let storage containers, pots, pans, jars, etc. soak while you clean the fridge. That will make washing them out much easier because you’ve let the hot soapy water do a lot of the work for you.
  5. Now you’re ready to scrub the interior of the fridge starting with the unit’s ceiling and working from the top down.
  6. Once the interior has been scrubbed, check for stubborn stuck-on food spills and stains, and use the Dobie or Magic Eraser to get at those.
  7. Give the unit a final going over with dry paper towels and then put the racks, shelves, and drawers back.
  8. Then, put the food back but also take the time to do another survey of what you’ve got. Open jarshas anything grown fur? Toss it. Are any jars actually empty? Mmm. Is there produce that’s on its last legs? Plan a meal to use it up so it doesn’t go to waste.
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One of the very helpful things about taking eeeeeeverything out is the surveying part of the operation. It helps you see what you have duplicates of, so you can stop buying those things until you’ve used up what you already haveit’s a very easy way to cut down on food waste, be a better grocery shopper, and best of all, save some money.

Okay so one request before I leave you to the deep cleaning of your fridge: I mentioned at the jump that I’m a weird voyeur who loves gross things and I would be THRILLED if you would show me before and after photos of your fridges. You can leave them in the comments or tweet in my direction. Please and thank you!


Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person

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