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How to Clean and Organize Your Fridge for Spring

March 28, 2024

Just as an uncluttered desk may boost productivity, a clean, fresh-smelling, organized fridge can help you feel more motivated to cook. Plus, when you clean the fridge, it helps to keep food fresh and safe to eat, prevents overbuying ingredients, and even makes the appliance itself work more efficiently. 

But tackling the fridge can feel overwhelming, especially if it’s been a while. Here’s an expert step-by-step plan for cleaning and organizing your refrigerator, so you can cross a big item off your spring-cleaning to-do list.

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The importance of a clean fridge

  • Easier cooking. Keeping a clean refrigerator makes cooking more pleasant and efficient, so you save time and stress less. 
  • Food safety. “Since much of the food we eat comes from the fridge, it’s important from a food safety perspective to keep things bacteria-free,” says Sacha Dunn, cleaning expert and founder and CEO of Common Good. Some germs, such as listeria, can survive well in cold temperatures. Others may not grow as quickly in the fridge, but they do still grow.
  • Reduce food waste. A clean fridge can help you prevent food waste. Currently more than 400 pounds of food per person gets tossed each year, reports the Natural Resources Defense Council. That thrown-away food makes up 21% of landfill volume, and landfill generates greenhouse gasses that are harmful to the environment. Plus, preventing food waste saves you money; the average family of 4 in the U.S. spends $1,500 per year on wasted food.

How to clean the fridge

  1. Empty it out. Much like when cleaning out a chest of drawers or a pantry, the easiest way to get started is to empty out the refrigerator. Every shelf. Every drawer. “Empty the refrigerator in order to deep clean and wipe out all the shelving and drawers to remove crumbs and stains with a microfiber,” says Wendy Trunz, partner and head organizer at New York-based Jane’s Addiction Organization.

“Put [the food] into a cooler with ice packs while you work,” Dunn says. “Keep the door(s) closed when you can while you work to keep the fridge as cool as possible.” 

2. Remove shelves and drawers. Take out all removable shelves, including those on the door(s), as well as the crisper/meat/dairy drawers, and wash thoroughly in the sink. “Use a brush and some baking soda to remove tough stains,” Dunn says. Set them upside down to drain. 

3. Clean the interior. “Now take a bowl of soapy water to the fridge and wash the non-removable surfaces,” Dunn says. “Avoid too much water inside the fridge as it can cause a build-up of frost and ice.” 

You may find spots that plain soapy water can’t remove. “To treat tougher stains, make a paste out of equal parts baking soda and white vinegar and wipe down with a sponge,” Trunz says.

4. Get all the nooks and crannies. Wash the rubber door seals and scrub any visibly dirty or moldy areas with a soft brush and a little baking soda.

5. Dry well. Wipe down the interior of the fridge and all shelves and drawers with a clean cloth until they’re thoroughly dry. Place the shelves and drawers back in the fridge.

You’ve cleaned, now organize

You’ve gone to the trouble to clean the fridge (good for you!), now put everything back in a strategic fashion to keep things neat, tidy, and fresh. Bonus: This will make your next cleaning endeavor easier.

  1. Everything in its place: Know where to put all of your items to keep them freshest. 
    • Top shelf: This is the warmest part of the fridge. Keep prepared foods and drinks up there. 
    • Middle shelves: This area is the most consistent temperature-wise, so it’s a good place for dairy products.
    • Bottom shelf: Keep meat at the bottom of the fridge for sanitary reasons. “This prevents any leaks from contaminating other food items,” says professional organizer Christina Giaquinto, brand ambassador for Modular Closets. Meat also can go into a meat drawer, if your fridge has one.
    • Produce drawers. Keep fruit and vegetables in here — ideally in separate drawers, as most vegetables keep longer with more humidity, and fruits with less. 
    • Door: This is where the temperature fluctuates the most, so don’t place eggs or dairy here. Use this space for condiments like jams, soy sauce, ketchup, and mustard.
  2. Remove unusable items. Check use-by dates or damaged packaging as you go. “Be especially careful to check sauces and condiments, which might have expired since you last checked,” Dunn says. Pro tip: Make a shopping list as you go.
  3. Keep like with like. “Keep cheese together, fruits together, veggies together, etc.,” Giaquinto says. “This makes it easier to find the food items you need while cooking, and helps you not forget about certain food products, which can cause them to go to waste.” 
  4. Store often-used items up front. “When you can’t reach the items, you often forget they’re there, and that is how food spoils, or you’ll overbuy items you already have,” Giaquinto says.
  5. Choose clear containers. It’s a lot easier to use those leftovers before they go bad if you know what and where they are, Giaquinto notes. 

More expert tips

Beyond the basics of cleaning and organizing, here’s more advice to help keep your fridge in tip-top shape.

  • Make a plan. While you’re organizing, if you find items that only have a short time left, use them right away. Whether it’s wilting lettuce, those chicken thighs you got on sale, or a condiment you haven’t used in a while, make a plan to use them up in the next day or two. (You can always make something and freeze it if you can’t use it right away.)
  • Stick to nontoxic cleaning products. Use hydrogen peroxide to disinfect. “After removing food and drinks from your fridge, spray the interior surfaces with hydrogen peroxide, a safer alternative to bleach, and let the hydrogen peroxide sit for 10 minutes to disinfect,” says lifestyle expert Sophia Ruan Gushee, author of A to Z of D-Toxing. Also, “Leaving an open box of baking soda [in the fridge] is a nontoxic way to reduce odors,” she adds. 
  • Keep it up. Every week, give your fridge a once-over, wiping any smudges and removing anything past its expiration date. Then, when you deep clean every two to three months, the job should be easier.

Read next: 6 Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products for a Naturally Clean Home

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