8 Mistakes You’re Making When Cleaning Your Refrigerator, According to the Pros

published Mar 16, 2023
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Someone wiping inside of refrigerator.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Your refrigerator is the epicenter of your kitchen, so keeping it clean isn’t just about aesthetics. Taking the necessary steps to maintain this important appliance can help to ensure all your groceries stay edible — all the while saving you money on repairs (or a whole new fridge). 

If you’re anything like me, you pretty much improvise when it comes to cleaning the fridge. When the doors look streaky or the inside is sticky or smelly, you just clean them with whatever’s on hand. A laissez-faire cleaning approach may solve the problem in front of you, but if you’re hoping to protect your refrigerator’s functionality, you may be missing some crucial steps, or even using products or methods that could damage your fridge. 

Ahead, eight mistakes you’re probably making when you’re cleaning your refrigerator — and how to correct them, according to appliance pros. 

1. Not cleaning your door gasket. 

Your door gasket — the elastic strip that attaches to the outer edge of your fridge and freezer door to seal it shut — needs routine cleaning, just like the other parts of your fridge. “They can get sticky and tear when the door is opened, or they stick together and don’t seal properly when the door is closed, which can cause frost issues,” says Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a home and commercial appliance repair franchise system. 

To clean the gasket, grab an old toothbrush and dip it in a mixture of one part vinegar and two parts water, which should cut through grime without posing damage to the rubber.

2. Using a sopping cleaning cloth in the freezer. 

When you’re cleaning the inside of your freezer, don’t get your cleaning cloth or sponge too wet. Shimek says getting water in the vents on the back wall can form ice that obstructs airflow and causes cooling issues. If you’re using water to clean, be sure the cloth or sponge isn’t dripping so that it doesn’t transfer moisture. 

3. Cleaning with harsh chemicals. 

While strong chemicals are effective at disinfecting surfaces, they can leave a strong odor that’s easily absorbed by food or ice. That’s why Craig Anderson, an appliance repair expert and founder of Appliance Analysts, suggests using a mixture of vinegar and water to clean the inside of the fridge. If you’re removing shelves or drawers, you can also use soap and water in the sink (just be sure to thoroughly rinse before putting them back).

4. Not cleaning up spills immediately. 

If you wait too long to clean leaks or spills, you might end up with excess moisture in your fridge, which can damage your appliance and pose a health hazard. Plus, the mess will be that much harder to clean when you get around to it! Anderson recommends cleaning any liquid spills (and food residue, for that matter) ASAP after noticing them. 

5. Not drying after cleaning. 

A moist and dark environment provides the ideal conditions for mold to grow, says Anderson. To avoid this issue and reduce the risk of contamination, be sure to fully dry every part of your fridge after you clean it. 

6. Skipping the condenser coils. 

Another unseen part of your fridge that needs regular cleaning? The condenser coils, which transfer coolant to your appliance. If the coils — typically located below or behind your fridge — get dusty or dirty, they won’t function as effectively, which could damage your appliance, or increase your energy bills. Anderson suggests cleaning your coils at least once a year using a soft brush or a vacuum to remove any dust or debris. 

7. And missing the drip tray. 

During the refrigeration process, your fridge produces condensation, which collects on the drip tray below it. Normally, Anderson says the collected water evaporates into the air, but you still need to clean the tray every three to six months to avoid growing bacteria and mold. To prevent odors and bacterial growth, clean the tray with warm soapy water or vinegar, using a soft sponge or toothbrush to work at any stubborn stains. Don’t forget to rinse and dry!

8. Not unplugging the fridge before cleaning.

Refrigerators have multiple electrical components that can be damaged by exposure to water. “If you’re planning to deep clean your fridge, I recommend unplugging it first to avoid any electrical hazards and ensure your safety,” Anderson says.