How To Clean & Organize a Refrigerator

Before I took on this assignment, I really didn't think that my fridge was that dirty. Well, let's just say that I was wrong. In case you too have fallen victim to that somewhat subtle accumulation of of grit and grime, follow along for my step-to-step guide to getting rid of the mess.

Here's a before photo just so you can grasp the full extent of this transformation. Also, to get this off my chest, I recently returned from a mini-vacation to Wisconsin that involved several brewery visits, so please ignore the disproportionate food-to-beer ratio. The name of the beer below pretty accurately sums up how I feel about revealing the contents of my fridge to you at this point:

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Now, with all the disclaimers out of the way, let's get to cleaning....

What You Need

A sponge
Dish soap
Dish towels
Glass cleaner and a paper towel or two
Plenty of counter space for organizing food
A trash can
An old toothbrush (optional)
If you have a stainless steel refrigerator:
Stainless steel cleaner, vinegar, or oil and a soft cloth
If you have an enameled steel refrigerator:
A multipurpose cleaner

Instructions

1 (optional) Unplug the fridge. If the interior needs serious scouring, you can do this to save some energy while you're cleaning. I left mine plugged in because all the shelves were removable, the rest of the interior wasn't that dirty, and I closed the doors in between steps. If you do decide to unplug your fridge, though, rest assured that this whole process won't take long enough to harm any of your foods.

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2 Take everything out of the doors and start using up that free counter space I mentioned. You could take everything out at once, but I found it was easier to do this in stages.

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3 Get rid of expired products and consolidate doubles. I really didn't need two jars of sambal oelek or that quarter bottle of cooking wine that had been in the fridge for two months. This is also a good time to group like with like. I had several beers hiding out in the door, and the rest were on the other shelves, so this was when I put them all together on the counter.

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4 Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the rest of the fridge. Then repeat them with the freezer.

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5 Remove all shelves and drawers.

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6 Wash them with warm soapy water. I'm fortunate enough to live in a place with a large double sink and a retractable hose, but if you aren't so lucky, then there's no shame in dragging those bins and shelves to the bathtub. Even in my giant sink the produce drawers got pretty unwieldy.

Dry them with dish towels and set them aside. At this point, I also chose to use some Windex on the glass shelves to get them extra clean and streak-free.

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7 Wipe down all the fridge's interior spaces with a damp sponge or towel. For those of you looking for a really deep clean, if there are any shelf seams or rubber seals with buried bits of grime, an old toothbrush will get the job done. Put the shelves and drawers back in and admire the transformation.

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8 Replace all your food, wiping down any sticky jars before putting them in your newly clean fridge. I found it helpful to keep all my items grouped by use, which is a task I completed as part of step 3. If you need help organizing the fridge, check out these helpful tips. Stick in a new box of baking soda, and if you unplugged the fridge in step one, don't forget to plug it back in.

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9 You're almost done! Now that you've cleaned the inside, be sure not to neglect the exterior of the fridge. If you use magnets, tidy up the items they're holding and discard any outdated coupons, etc. Then give the exterior a quick wipe down with your product of choice. If you have a stainless steel fridge, use a stainless steel cleaner and wipe with the grain of the steel. Alternatively, you could use vinegar and a microfiber cloth or olive oil. For enameled steel fridges, a multipurpose cleaner will do the trick.

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10 Admire your clean, happy fridge.

(Images: Carolyn Purnell)

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