How to Deep Clean a Disgusting Fridge the Right Way [According to Me]

That jar of pickles just stuck to the shelf and you can’t figure out what that awful smell is. Here’s a step-by-step process to deep clean your fridge and get rid of those nasty messes.

Even though you wipe up sticky spills and check for old leftovers during your weekly cleaning routine, there always seems to be some food residue that escapes your notice until your nose tells you it’s too late for regular cleaning.

Once it reaches that point, it’s best to just deep clean the entire refrigerator.

How often should you deep clean your fridge?

It’s actually a good idea to deep clean your refrigerator a couple of times a year for regular maintnenance. It also gives you a chance to try out some of those new refrigerator organizing tips you read about.

I recommend deep cleaning during your spring cleaning routine and again before the holidays. For more tips and routines, check out my cleaning page.

Deep Clean Your Fridge

There are all kinds of refrigerators, freezers, and combos, so you may need to tweak these steps a bit to fit your specific refrigerator type.

This step-by-step process is organized to be as efficient as possible for a stainless steel refrigerator with french doors, a bottom drawer freezer, and water and ice in the door.

It usually takes around 45 minutes to clean the entire fridge. If you’re dealing with extra tough stains and old sticky messes, please allow additional time.

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.

white kitchen with stainless steel french door refrigerator

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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. You could also use an old toothbrush if you’d like.
  • Vacuum with Detachable Hose – this is the latest version of mine.
  • Multi-Surface Cleaning Solution or Hydrogen Peroxide – I normally use hydrogen peroxide (because I can’t stand the smell of white vinegar) or this multi-surface cleaner. If you need a little extra scrubbing power, just add some baking soda, but stay away from abrasive cleaners.
  • 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 perishable items unless you have an extra refrigerator/freezer available.

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 and frustration this can save. There’s nothing worse than getting everything back into a clean refrigerator and realizing the glass shelf holding all of those condiments is one notch too low to get the milk back in.

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/or prep a cooler to store your food while you’re cleaning.

I use my garage freezer for frozen stuff and just leave my refrigerator food on my island.

If you don’t have any extra counter space, 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 your way for a while.

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.


spring cleaning checklist on an ipad

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4. Remove All Detachable Pieces

Remove all detachable pieces including shelves, drawers, dividers, egg trays, butter trays, milk compartments, or condiment door trays. Don’t forget the ice-maker components, front grate, and drip pan on the bottom of the fridge.

Use caution when removing the drip tray because it may have residual 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.

Soak detachable pieces in a sink or bathtub full of hot soapy water while you clean behind and inside the fridge. If you can’t soak them, spray them with cleaner and let them sit so the cleaner can do some of the work for you.

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, if possible.

Unplug the refrigerator. If you can’t pull your refrigerator out far enough to unplug it, turn off the circuit breaker instead.

Wipe down the entire power cord. Vacuum the coils and water dispenser piping on the back of the fridge. Dust and wipe down the top and both exterior sides. It’s shocking how dusty that stuff can get.

If your drip pan is accessible from the back, you would remove, empty, and clean it now.

Dust and wash the walls where your fridge normally sits, then vacuum and mop the floor.

6. Scrub the Interior Surfaces

Wipe down the interior with paper towels or a dry cloth to remove any dust or food residue. Use a vacuum or canned air to remove any loose bits you can’t get with the cloth.

Spray some multi-purpose cleaner on a damp microfiber cloth and scrub the interior surfaces. Don’t forget to scrub the door seals.

woman deep cleaning the fridge interior surfaces with a microfiber cloth

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

Wipe down any parts of the ice maker you weren’t able to remove earlier, including the ice bin area.

When you’re done with that, clean the ice dispenser chute. Wipe down every surface you can reach with a soapy cloth.

I wipe down the parts inside of the fridge first, then run my cloth through the chute a few times. Finally, wipe down the exterior 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 detailing brush, toothbrush, or toothpick can get the stuck-on gunk out.

If you have any stubborn smudgy spots on any plastic shelves, 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 removable shelves, drawers, and remaining detachable pieces back in place.

reinstalling cleaned refrigerator shelves

12. Clean and Replace All of Your Food

Wipe down the outside and lids of all food containers and check the expiration dates 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.

Pro Tip: wipe down interior of lids and threads of condiment containers before closing them up. This will eliminate those nasty food messes at the top of the jar or bottle.

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.

Remove hard water buildup on plastic components with a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, and a scrubby sponge.

14. Protect Your Door Seal

Once everything is back in the refrigerator and freezer, it’s a good idea to apply a little bit of petroleum jelly to the gaskets around the fridge door.

The lubrication helps them seal better and prevents them from becoming brittle and cracking. Brittle seals is one of the biggest reasons refrigerators start to fail and lose the ability to maintain acceptable temperatures.

Enjoy Your Freshly Cleaned Fridge

You can deep clean your fridge in about 45 minutes and should do it at least twice a year to keep it performing efficiently.

Remove all of your food items and detachable pieces to find all of the hidden food residues that are causing those terrible odors.

Pull the fridge out and clean behind to remove all of the dust and debris that hinder efficient operation. Do a little maintenance by lubricating the door seals.

Push the fridge back in place and try out some new organizing solutions as you put everything back in. Clean and polish the exterior, then step back and enjoy your hard work.

woman deep cleaning fridge interior
deep cleaning fridge with microfiber cloth

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