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How to Clean Your Refrigerator and Keep It Smelling Fresh

Woman deep cleaning a refrigerator with a spray bottle and cleaning cloth

A stinky fridge, at best, imparts unwelcome flavors to the food stored within and, at worst, can increase your risk of food-borne illnesses. Here’s how to keep it clean and fresh.

Whether you just invested in a new smart fridge or your fridge is a practically-vintage model still kicking along from last century, keeping it clean will ensure foods taste the way they should and harmful bacteria don’t end up in them.

The best thing is that you don’t need a bunch of fancy cleaners or harsh cleaners to clean even the toughest food stains out of your refrigerator. You can use some items you already stock in your pantry.

How to Clean Your Fridge

When it comes to cleaning your fridge, it’s best to stick with simple cleaning methods that don’t introduce unnecessary chemicals into the same place you store your food. Skip the bleach and cleaners with strong scents and fumes. Just about cleaning every situation you encounter in your fridge can be tackled with warm water, vinegar, baking soda, and a few drops of plain old dish soap.

We recommend vinegar a lot in our cleaning guides and with good reason: the mild acid found in white vinegar is strong enough to cut through practically any messes in the kitchen, but it’s completely harmless. Pair it with baking soda, and you have everything you need to tackle messes in your fridge. They both have stain removing properties, help kill germs, and will help whiten the white parts of your refrigerator.

Here’s how to clean your fridge using vinegar and baking soda:

  • Mix half vinegar and half water in a spray bottle.
  • You always need to remove all food items from the refrigerator before you get clean. If you think you might be scrubbing for a while, put some ice in a few coolers and put your food in there for safety. If you’re only going to be twenty minutes or so, your food will be fine on the counter.
  • Pull all of the shelves and drawers (the removable ones) and set them to the side. Spray down the inside of the fridge with the vinegar and water mix and let it sit.
  • Spray the shelves and drawers. While they’re sitting, wipe down the inside of the refrigerator with a wet soapy rag (dish soap or Castille soap will work). Then wipe down the other parts before you put them back in.
  • If there are any hard to clean spots, mix just enough water with baking soda to create a paste and then scrub the spot with it. You can let it sit for ten minutes to help lift stubborn stains, then wipe down with a wet soapy rag.
  • Before you put food items back in, wipe jars and containers down with a wet rag, too. Warm water with a splash of vinegar is a great way to get sticky messes off jam jars, condiment bottles, and more.

This kind of deep cleaning doesn’t need to happen regularly unless you run into a situation where a food container leaks or a cut of meat drips all over. If you’re frequently dumping old food (when in doubt, throw it out) and cleaning up spills when they happen, a deep cleaning only needs to happen every three or four months.

Keeping Your Fridge Smelling Fresh Between Cleanings

In between deep cleaning, there are a couple of things you can do to absorb the smell of all of those foods. The first is to use baking soda. Many of the scents in your fridge (like oily things gone bad) are acidic and, since baking soda is a base, it can help neutralize those odors.

The trick to using baking soda, though, is that you need a large surface area exposed. You can’t just tear open the corner of a regular box and stick it in your fridge. Instead, you can sprinkle some into a bowl or, better yet, buy a box specifically made for your fridge. These have large tear-away sides that expose the baking soda to the air, but keep it from spilling out.

When it’s time to replace the baking soda box, the best part is you can use the baking soda as part of your cleaning routines—just because the box has been soaking up the scents of your leftovers and chopped onions doesn’t mean you can’t use it to, say, clean your garbage disposal.

If you want to boost the power of the baking soda on especially stinky days, put a plate of freshly ground coffee in the fridge for one whole day. When you remove it, add it to the composter or mix it in the soil for your garden.

Another way to deodorize your fridge is with activated charcoal, which is excellent at absorbing all kinds of odors. Again, we recommend buying boxes made especially for use in the fridge so that you don’t have to deal with the mess of having an open container.

If, after all this, your fridge still has a persistent smell, you’ll want to attack it with another round of deep cleaning, paying particular attention to crevices and shelving undersides to ensure you’ve scrubbed every last inch of the fridge.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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