THAT JAR OF PICKLES JUST STUCK TO THE SHELF AND YOU STILL CAN’T FIGURE OUT WHAT THAT AWFUL SMELL IS. HERE’S A STEP BY STEP PROCESS TO DEEP CLEAN YOUR NASTY REFRIGERATOR AND GET RID OF THOSE AWFUL SMELLS.
*This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. Please see our Disclosure Policy for more details.
You usually wipe up spills as they happen and check for old leftovers during your weekly cleaning routine, but there always ends up being some sticky, smelly mess that escapes your notice until your nose says it’s too late.
Once it reaches that point, you’re going to need to do a good deep cleaning.
It’s a good idea to deep clean your refrigerator a couple times a year to make sure you’re getting all of those hidden messes. I usually do mine as part of my spring cleaning and again before the holidays.
It’s also a good time to pull the refrigerator out and clean those areas that are usually blocked or hidden by this massive appliance.
This deep clean process is for a french door, bottom drawer freezer with water and ice in the door and is structured to be as efficient as possible. It usually takes me around 45 minutes to complete the process.
I keep my refrigerator fairly clean on a normal basis. If yours is extra gunky and funky, please allow extra time.
The instructions include soaking all of the removable pieces as you take them off, then washing, drying, and replacing them at the end of the process.
If you’re short on sink space, you can wash and replace these pieces as you go or soak them in the bathtub.
Pro Tip: If you can’t set aside a full 45 minutes to deep clean your refrigerator, follow the instructions on my kitchen deep cleaning checklist. It’s broken into 10-minute tasks that can be completed independently of each other as you have time.
1. Gather Your Supplies
- Rubber Gloves – I use plain old disposable gloves but you can use kitchen gloves if your hands are sensitive or you’re using a harsh cleaner.
- Microfiber Cloths – I usually use 3 or 4 of my favorite microfiber cloths. 1 for tough messes, one for final cleaning, and one for the front of the doors.
- Stiff Bristle Detail Brush – I use a grout brush and sometimes a toothpick for hard to reach spots.
- Vacuum with Detachable Hose – the latest version of mine.
- Multi-Surface Cleaner or Hydrogen Peroxide – I normally use hydrogen peroxide or this multi-surface cleaner.
- Stainless Steel Cleaner or Olive Oil – I prefer this cleaner.
- Canned Air – my secret weapon for getting gunk out of corners and crevices
- Magic Eraser – Works great for smudges on the interior and if you have a white exterior.
- Cooler – For freezer contents unless you have an extra freezer to hold contents while cleaning it out.
2. Take Pictures
Before getting started, take pictures of the interior of your refrigerator and freezer so you can remember where you had your food located, and which notches the drawers and shelves were connected to.
You’d be surprised how much time this can save. There’s nothing worse than getting everything back into a clean refrigerator and realizing the shelf holding all of those condiments above the milk is one notch too low!
3. Empty Refrigerator and Freezer Contents
Unless you have an extra refrigerator and freezer somewhere else in your home, you’ll need to clear off a counter and prep a cooler to store your food while you’re cleaning.
I use my garage freezer and just leave my refrigerator food on my island.
If you don’t have the counter space to use, try a nearby table. If that’s not an option, an empty laundry or storage basket will work too. Use what you can to get the contents out of the refrigerator and freezer out of your way for a while.
While emptying the contents, check for and toss any expired or freezer burnt foods.
Most newer freezers won’t have a build-up of ice, but if yours does, you’ll want to leave the freezer open as far as possible to let the ice defrost a bit.
4. Remove All Detachable Pieces
Remove all of the detachable pieces and vacuum or dust them off.
Spray them with cleaner, or place them in the sink or bathtub full of soapy water and let them soak while you clean the rest of the refrigerator.
Removable pieces usually include movable shelves, meat, fruit, and veggie drawers, ice maker bins, ice trays, egg trays, butter trays, milk compartments, condiment door trays, and the front grate and drip pan on the bottom of the fridge.
Use caution when removing the drip tray because it may have liquid in it.
Some drip pans might only be accessible from the rear of the unit, so you’ll have to remove it after you pull the refrigerator away from the wall.
Pro Tip: Save some time by having an ‘assistant’ wipe down the outsides of all of your food containers and lids, then wash, rinse and dry the detachable pieces you have soaking while you’re cleaning the rest of the unit.
5. Clean Behind the Refrigerator
Pull the refrigerator out far enough that you can get completely behind it, all the way around it, and underneath where it typically sits.
Unplug the refrigerator and wipe down the power cord. It’s shocking how dusty that cord can get.
If your drip pan is accessible from the back, you would remove, empty, and clean it now.
Vacuum the coils and water dispenser piping on the back of the refrigerator. Dust and wipe down the top and both exterior sides.
Dust and wash the walls where your fridge normally sits, then vacuum and mop the floor.
6. Pre Treat the Interiors and Seals
Clean any loose debris out of the bottom of the refrigerator and freezer.
Spray the entire interior of both and let the cleaner sit while you clean the ice maker. You don’t want the cleaner dripping off, but spray enough to cover the surfaces.
Don’t forget to spray the interior sides of the doors and the rubber seals.
7. Check the Water Filter
Check your water filter status and replace it if necessary.
Clean any accessible area around the water filter compartment.
8. Clean the Ice Maker
If you have an icemaker, pull the collection bin and ice tray out and empty any remaining ice and spray bin with cleaner or soak in soapy water.
Some bins and trays may not be removable, if yours aren’t, just wipe them down the best you can.
When you’re done cleaning the bin area out, clean the ice dispenser chute. Wipe down every surface you can reach with a soapy cloth.
I actually wipe down the part inside the fridge first, run my cloth through the chute, then wipe down the outer areas.
9. Wipe Down Fridge and Freezer Interior
When you’re done cleaning the ice maker, scrub down the interior of the refrigerator and freezer, including the doors and seals.
Make sure you get any messes in the corners and crevices. A detail grout brush or toothpick can get the stuck-on gunk out.
If you have any stubborn smudgy spots, use the magic eraser to clean them off.
Check between the folds of the seal to make sure there isn’t any food or gunk trapped in there.
10. Put the Refrigerator Back in Place
If your drip pan is only accessible from the rear of the unit, clean and dry it and put it back in place.
Plug the refrigerator in and carefully push it back into place. Make sure you don’t pinch any cords, hoses, or coils.
11. Clean and Replace All Removable Pieces
Wash, rinse, and dry all of the detachable pieces you removed from the refrigerator, ice maker, and freezer.
Make sure you get under any seals or trim pieces and get all of the gunk out.
Grab your pictures and put all of the shelves, drawers, and remaining detachable pieces back in place.
12. Clean and Replace All of Your Food
Wipe down the outside and lids of all food containers as your putting them back in the refrigerator and freezer.
Pay special attention to condiment containers. If the lids are really gunky, take them off and rinse them clean, then clean the threads or sealing edges of the container.
13. Clean and Polish the Front of the Refrigerator
Spray cleaner on the door, handle, water dispenser, ice maker and control panel.
A magic eraser can be used to remove tough spots on enamel coatings, and a good stainless cleaner should be used on stainless steel appliances.
14. Protect Your Door Seal
Once everything is back in the refrigerator and freezer, apply a little bit of petroleum jelly to the face of the door gaskets to help them seal better and keep them from becoming brittle and cracking. This is one of the biggest reasons refrigerators start to fail and not maintain acceptable temperatures.