I confess: my fridge can get scary. I don't have a regular cleaning schedule; I just tackle it when the collection of leftovers and half-used ingredients can no longer be ignored, or when it's too stuffed to fit the six-pack of beer brought over by a friend.
It can be embarrassing, which is why I decided to ask cleaning expert Jolie Kerr, author of My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag...and Other Things You Can't Ask Martha, for some advice. She offered not one, but four approaches to keeping the refrigerator clean and organized, plus her favorite method for getting the job done.
How often do you recommend cleaning and reorganizing the fridge?
This is a somewhat dissatisfying answer, but I don't really give out timetables for organizing projects like, "You must do this once a week" — there are just too many variables in people's lives for rules like that to be effective. Instead I think giving a couple of options for folks to consider and maybe try out to see what works best for their lifestyle is a better way to go. So with that, here are a few ways to approach cleaning out and organizing the fridge.
4 Approaches to Cleaning & Organizing the Fridge
1. Weekly, on trash day (or just, like, whenever you're taking out the trash)
Adding the fairly simple step of opening the refrigerator up and surveying the landscape in there on trash day is one great way to manage an overstuffed icebox: toss anything that's spoiled or that you know you're not going to eat. Wipe up any spills you notice. Take note of items that are still good but are heading south and try to incorporate those into whatever you're planning to cook that night or the next day. Got tons of leftovers? Bring them to work for lunch or serve a "leftovers buffet" for dinner.
2. Once a month, like clockwork
Maybe the first Sunday of every month will be fridge cleaning day. Or the second Wednesday of the month. Or by the light of the full moon. If you go that route, wipe the shelves and crisper drawers out while you're in there, which should keep things clean enough without having to do a ton of scrubbing.
3. Reorganize as needed
If you're a person who rails against structure, or whose schedule simply doesn't allow for regular refrigerator upkeep, just make a pact with yourself that when you open the fridge to find that there's no room to put whatever it is you have in your hand in there, it's time to hunker down and do some reorganizing.
4. Hard clean before holiday meals
Most of us separate organizing from hard cleaning, but once in a while it's a good idea to actually take everything out of the fridge and give it a good scrubbing. Once a year is probably enough for most people, and planning for it as part of preparing for whatever holiday(s) are the most cooking intensive is a good idea because it allows you to clear room out for all the groceries and leftovers that holiday meals tend to generate.
What's your preferred method for tackling the job?
I'm a devotee of either plain old dish soap or white vinegar combined with a Dobie Pad when it comes to cleaning the fridge — I'm personally not opposed to bleach, but both the soap and/or vinegar work just as well and are eco- and human-friendly, which is a nice quality when you're talking about cleaning the place where you store your foodstuffs. The Dobie Pad is a great tool for scrubbing those stubborn sticky dribbles that even the cleanest among us find in our fridges. (I'm a condiment hoarder and oh man, no matter how tightly I get those caps back on they still manage to leave behind some of their personal fluids.)
(Image credits: Jolie Kerr; Janis Smits/Shutterstock)