How to Clean Out a Refrigerator

cleaning out a refrigerator

The Spruce / Ana Cadena  

In This Article
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hr, 30 mins - 3 hrs
  • Total Time: 1 hr, 30 mins - 3 hrs
  • Estimated Cost: $0

A refrigerator is the hub of the kitchen. Unfortunately, the appliance takes a lot of abuse—you stuff it full. You forget about leftovers. You leave spills until they've crystallized. But, then, you complain when there's even the slightest unpleasant odor. Take an hour to clean out the refrigerator, step by step, to make it shiny, clean, and odor-free once again.

If your appliance needs an extra step for sanitization, you can clean your refrigerator by mixing 1 tablespoon of liquid bleach into a gallon of water and wiping down its interior. Whether applying a standard cleaning solution or sanitizing your fridge, remember to remove the shelves and clean the inside of doors and drawers. Below, learn how to deep clean your appliance for a fresh start from top to bottom.

When to Clean the Refrigerator

You should clean out your refrigerator approximately once a month. However, there are a few chores that only need to be done every few months.

  • Check the Drip Pan: Some refrigerator models have a removable drip pan that collects the condensation from the refrigerator. Remove the grill from the bottom front of your refrigerator and use a flashlight to locate the drip pan. It will be on top of the condenser coils. Drip pans can become moldy over time, so wear gloves and be prepared. Remove the drip pan and clean thoroughly before replacing it. You may need to use bleach. When in doubt, refer to the manufacturer's instructions and follow them. Dry and replace the drip pan and front grill.
  • Vacuum the Refrigerator Coils: Unplug the refrigerator and move it out from the wall carefully and slowly. For models with the coils on the back of the refrigerator, use the brush attachment to vacuum the coils. Some side-by-side and built-in models may have coils located behind a vent on the top, bottom or back of the refrigerator. Some models even have vents screwed on over the coils. On these models, you'll need to use a long narrow crevice attachment for your vacuum cleaner. Refer to your owner's manual for assistance. Put the refrigerator back and plug it back in.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Clean cloths or towels
  • Plastic, non-abrasive scrubber
  • Dishwashing gloves (optional)
  • Soft, non-scratching rag (if necessary)


  • Trash bag
  • Hot water
  • Dish soap
  • Vinegar or window clean (if necessary


  1. Remove the Food

    First things first: Toss any old or expired food into the trash. Remove the food that is still good and place it into a cooler with ice to keep it cold while you clean the remainder of the refrigerator.

    discarding old food

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

  2. Remove Shelves and Drawers

    Take out all removable drawers and shelves and set them aside. Drawers and shelves that are made of metal or plastic can be washed with hot water and dish soap right away, but glass and ceramic pieces need to gradually warm up to room temperature before being washed with hot water to prevent cracking and breaking.

    cleaning shelves with soap

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

  3. Wipe Down Refrigerator Interior

    Use a clean cloth with hot water and mild dish soap. Work from top to bottom to prevent dripping on surfaces that are already clean. Tough stuck-on spills may need a plastic, non-abrasive scrubber, though another option is to lay a warm wet cloth over the spilled area for a few minutes. Then, the spilled area will be softer and easier to wipe away.

    As you're cleaning, rinse the rags that you're using thoroughly or use multiple rags to ensure cleanliness. Pay special attention to the bottom crevices and back of the refrigerator where spills tend to migrate. Finally, wipe down the interior doors.

    wiping down shelves

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  

  4. Clean Shelves and Drawers

    Now that your shelves and drawers have had time to warm up gradually, take a few moments and clean and dry them thoroughly. Be careful, especially when handling slippery glass shelving. Dishwashing gloves may be helpful to prevent breakage.

  5. Dry the Interior of the Fridge

    Using a clean dry cloth or towel, wipe down the interior of the refrigerator to make sure it is completely dry. Don't forget to dry the interior doors as well.

  6. Replace the Food

    Put the food back into the refrigerator. Now is also a good time to wipe off any jars or containers of food that may need it, such as a sticky jelly jar or a crusty salad dressing lid. Take care to use clean cloths when working with your food jars and dry them thoroughly as well.

    putting the food back

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  

  7. Clean Out the Freezer

    Use the same methods listed above to clean out a freezer. The great thing about freezers is that they rarely have spills and need to be scrubbed out much less often. You may need to only check for and remove expired food. If the freezer does require more thorough cleaning, you can use the same methods used in the refrigerator.

  8. Clean the Outside

    Starting from the top, wipe down and clean the exterior of the refrigerator using hot/warm water and mild dish soap. If you have a stainless steel refrigerator, you'll need to use a soft non-scratching rag and vinegar or a window cleaner to keep the surface shiny. Don't forget to clean the rubber gasket seal around the edges of the door using dish soap and warm water. Dirt and grime can collect here and cause the seal to crack.

    wiping down the fridge exterior

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena