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How to Clean a Smelly Refrigerator and Freezer (Interior and Exterior)

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Dan has been in the HVAC industry for 23 years with experience ranging from installation and service to sales and distribution.

Time to clean the refrigerator?

Time to clean the refrigerator?

Dryer Sheets in the Freezer and More Tips for Keeping Your Fridge and Freezer Clean

Are you getting a less than pleasant smell coming from your refrigerator? If so, it may be time for a good cleaning and basic inspection of your refrigerator. From homemade cleaning products to a bit of "refrigerator 101," the following information can help you clean your refrigerator more efficiently and thoroughly. It may even help you to discover problems that your refrigerator is having.

Aside from removing unwanted odors, this cleaning doubles as maintenance that can help to increase the lifespan of your refrigerator and its parts.

When to Clean Your Refrigerator

Though any time of year is a good time to clean the refrigerator, it's best to clean when your "stock" is low. Having less food to move around during the cleaning will make it easier to get around inside the cabinets.

It will also make it possible to relocate food from one shelf to another so that you can clean one section at a time. Cleaning one section at a time will keep you from needing the refrigerator door open for long periods of time. We all know that isn't good.

Get Rid of Expired Products in Your Refrigerator

It wouldn't do much good to clean our refrigerator and keep food items that have overstayed their welcome. Freezer burnt items fall into this category as well. This is a good place to start getting rid of unwanted odors, wouldn't you agree?

Refrigerator cleaning products.

Refrigerator cleaning products.

What You'll Need

  1. Bucket or spray bottle
  2. 3 or 4 rags - a couple for cleaning and a couple for drying
  3. Towel - this will be to lay under the front of the unit to catch water
  4. Toothbrush - needed to scrub a few key areas
  5. Vacuum - one with a hose and attachment for hard-to-reach places
  6. 1/4" hex wrench - yours may need a different size or perhaps a screwdriver (see below)
  7. Pliers or wrenches - two pairs of small pliers may be needed if you have a water dispenser or ice maker
  8. Scouring sponge - a Magic Eraser is quickly becoming one of my favorite cleaning products
  9. Cleaning solution - The most popular product for this task is this Simple Green 13022 solution. This solution really does an amazing job and is simple if you don't feel like making something homemade to clean with. But if you'd prefer something homemade, there's another option for you in this next section.

Homemade Refrigerator Cleaning Solution

There are many products that can be used to clean a refrigerator. Simple Green is probably the best store-bought choice, but you can also use a bleach and water mixture; even water and dish soap can do the trick.

But for those of us who want something else, you can use this homemade recipe that is simple and doesn't require a rinse-down after using. You can either pour this into a bucket or mix and add it to a spray bottle.

  • 1 gallon of warm water
  • 1 cup of ammonia
  • Approx. 1/2 cup of vinegar
  • Approx. 1/4 cup of baking soda

With some products, you may want to use a separate bucket of warm water and a rag to do a rinse wipe. Make sure you read the instructions on whatever product you choose to see if it needs to be rinsed afterward. Regardless of what you use, be sure to dry down the areas you clean as you go.

How to Clean the Freezer

There is no need at this point to unplug the refrigerator. If we work steadily and with a good plan of attack, the door won't be open long enough to cause any problems or wasted food. Also, I always like to work from top to bottom to avoid having to re-clean areas that I've already done. With that in mind, let's start in the freezer.

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Read More From Dengarden

  • Step 1: Rearrange your frozen foods so that you can remove the rack for easier cleaning outside of the unit. Then, move all the freezer food to one side or the other. For a side-by-side unit, you can put the food on the door or in the refrigerator while you clean.
  • Step 2: Once you've removed the rack(s), you can begin to clean with whatever solution you've chosen to use.
  • Step 3: Thoroughly dry this area and then move the food to that side so that you can clean the other.
  • Step 4: Once the cabinet is clean and dry, shut the door and clean the rack in a sink so that your freezer isn't hanging open while you do this. The rack will likely take longer than the cabinet since it has so many individual surfaces, so we don't want to keep the freezer open unnecessarily.

Once the rack is clean and dry, place it back into the freezer so that you can put your food back where it was. This will also give you a place to set the food that was in the door since that will be the last area we clean before finishing up in the freezer.