8 Things You Should Never Do When Cleaning the Fridge

updated Jul 15, 2021
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Credit: Kitchn

Your refrigerator is one of the most important parts of your kitchen, not to mention a pretty significant financial investment. So as annoying and time-consuming as it can be to take everything out, clean it, and put everything back in, you’re doing yourself (and your kitchen!) a favor by staying on top of things. Cleaning out your fridge isn’t hard — we’ve got lots of little tips that can help you! There are just a few things you shouldn’t do.

Here are eight things you should never do when you’re cleaning the refrigerator, according to Angela Bell, a cleaning expert with Grove Collaborative.

1. Don’t procrastinate.

As with any cleaning job, the longer you wait, the harder it’ll be! If you spill something in the fridge, clean it up immediately to avoid caked-on food. “The cold conditions can make any spills dry quickly and make it much harder than wiping up in the moment,” says Bell, who suggests these sturdy, convenient kitchen cleaning wipes for fridge spot cleaning.

2. Don’t skip the deep clean.

Because refrigerators can harbor mold and bacteria, Bell says doing a regular thorough cleaning is important. The frequency of this deep clean depends on your food habits — if you’re someone who meticulously cleans out older foods and condiments, you might be able to get away with quarterly. If you have a big family, cook a lot, or tend to forget things until they become science experiments, monthly might be a better rule for you.

3. Don’t let expired stuff stay in there.

During your quarterly or monthly deep clean, take a second to check the expiration dates on any condiments or jarred foods to be sure you’re keeping things fresh. Empty, rinse, and recycle the containers for anything that doesn’t make the cut. For the items you return to the fridge, Bell suggests wiping them down first. Be sure to get the bottom, sides, and around the lid.

4. Don’t put hot shelves back in.

To get the job done faster (and maybe more thoroughly), you can put most fridge shelves and crisper drawers in the dishwasher. But make sure to let them come to room temperature before running the cycle (or if you want to wash them by hand under warm water) and allow them to cool off fully before you return them to the appliance. This is because temperature fluctuations can cause cracks.

5. Don’t use harsh cleaners.

Because your food will be going back onto your clean shelves, Bell says a mild cleaner is the best option for safety’s sake and to avoid smells transferring to foods. A gentle dish soap and a good, absorbent sponge are usually enough to clean up most fridge messes, and you can enlist a brush for heavy-duty jobs.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

6. Don’t use bleach.

Contrary to social media trends, Bell says it’s not a good idea to clean the inside of your fridge with bleach. “Most appliance manufacturers urge against the use of bleach for cleaning the fridge, as it can harm the materials of the fridge interior and can be a safety risk if transferred to food,” she says. For a powerful alternative that breaks down stuck-on food, Bell recommends a solution made with one part white vinegar and three parts water in a spray bottle. 

7. Don’t clean the coils when your fridge is plugged in.

Cleaning the coils in the back of your refrigerator is important for proper ventilation and to improve the efficiency of your appliance. You can dust or vacuum them off, but for safety purposes, Bell suggests only doing so once you unplug the fridge.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

8. Don’t use soap and water on stainless steel.

Whether you’re doing a deep clean or routine weekly clean, you’ll want to banish all those smudges and fingerprints from the outside of your fridge, too. If yours is stainless steel, Bell cautions against using soap and water to get the job done. “Stainless steel does best with a spray cleaner, an all-purpose one, or one intended specifically for stainless steel,” she says. Just spray the cleaner onto a soft cloth — Bell suggests microfiber — and wipe all those smudgy stainless steel surfaces.