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How to Clean Your Refrigerator's Interior and Coils

Author:

Steve has been writing about maintenance online for over eight years. He has years of experience maintaining household appliances.

Clean your fridge regularly in order to keep your food at safe levels and to provide you with cold drinks and ice.

Clean your fridge regularly in order to keep your food at safe levels and to provide you with cold drinks and ice.

A refrigerator is a complicated system that has to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In order to keep your food at safe levels and provide you with cold drinks and ice, your refrigerator must run efficiently. This little-appreciated workhorse is powered by a relatively small compressor that has to run in adverse conditions.

There are a couple of simple steps you can take to make sure that your refrigerator is running at its rated efficiency and providing you with years of service.

Steps for Cleaning the Interior of Your Fridge

  1. Check that the air vents and passages are not blocked.
  2. Make sure the spacers and baffles are in the correct position.
  3. Look for damage to any of the shelves, holders, or trays.
  4. Check the seals around the door.
  5. Clean the condenser coils on the bottom of the fridge.

Clean the interior of the refrigerator with a warm soapy water or mild cleaner. Take the vegetable crisper and meat trays out of the refrigerator and wash them in warm soapy, then water rinse and dry them. Remember, when you clean the interior of the refrigerator you'll want to look at several things.

1. Check That the Air Vents and Passages Are Not Blocked.

The refrigerator operates on the principle of air circulation. Air is circulated from the freezer to the cold food compartment until the cold food compartment reaches the desired temperature. At this point, the refrigerator shuts off. Check to see that the air vents and passages are not blocked or covered by anything. Good air flow in the refrigerator is important for the operations to function properly.

2. Make Sure the Spacers and Baffles Are in the Correct Position.

There are sometimes baffles or spacers on the backs of shelves, make sure the spacers and baffles are in the correct position and are functional. Sometimes, they get knocked askew by a can of soda or something and they need to be re-positioned.

3. Look for Damage to Any of the Shelves, Holders, or Trays.

Look for damage to any of the parts, shelves, holders, trays. These little things are a nuisance if they are not functioning properly. For example, the egg keeper has a lid that covers the eggs. You can make it work, but every time you want to get an egg out of the refrigerator, you'll have to re-adjust it and push the hinges back. This re-adjustment takes about 20 seconds each time you use it. That is 20 seconds taking the eggs out and 20 putting them back in. Let's say that you use eggs three times a week. That is three times 40 which equals 120 seconds. So, in order to use the egg tray, you have to leave your refrigerator wide open for two full minutes each week. That is a lot of time. It makes your refrigerator work more, so it costs more. Eventually, it will shorten the life of your refrigerator.

Don't forget to clean your refrigerator trays!

Don't forget to clean your refrigerator trays!

4. Check the Seals Around the Door

Make sure to check the seals all around the door. If you see any signs of mold, wash the door seal with warm soapy water, rinse well, then wash with a vinegar solution in warm water using a 50/50 mix. After washing with this solution, do not rinse. This will help control any mold problems. If the seal is damaged, it should be repaired or replaced. Because it allows air to leak into the refrigerator or freezer, a damaged seal is one of the biggest energy users.

Tools for Regular Refrigerator Maintenance

Tool 

Refrigerator thermometer

The most overlooked item in keeping a refrigerator in great running condition, and at a well balanced temperature, is a refrigerator thermometer. The thermometer is very important because it tells you how well the refrigerator is maintaining the desired temperature you have selected.

Simple household tools

Simple household tools and supplies include: a large sponge, bucket, mild soap, glass cleaner, vinegar, ands car wax. If you have a sticky seal, you may need to get some silicon spray.

Coil cleaning brush

A coil cleaning brush is an absolute necessity. The coils normally located under the refrigerator need to be cleaned regularly and this can be achieved only with a brush designed for that purpose.

Flashlight

A flashlight is important because there are so many places on a refrigerator that you cannot see without extra light.

Vacuum cleaner

A vacuum cleaner with a crevice tool and brush is indispensable. These things are very dirty and vacuuming while you are brushing works the best.

5. Clean the Condenser Coils on the Bottom of the Fridge

Most refrigerators have coils that are used to exchange heat. Those are normally located on the bottom of the refrigerator under the food compartment. You can access them by removing the foot grill on the bottom front.

If you have not cleaned the coils on the bottom of your refrigerator in a long time, then be ready for a nasty surprise. They will be very dirty. If you have long-haired pets, the situation may even be worse.

Tips for Cleaning the Condenser Coils

  • Open the grill: Open the grill by removing it, it is usually just held in place with a couple of clips and should just snap out. Use some caution here, the clips located here are sometimes funky and flimsy. When you remove the grill you are going to no doubt be surprised at the accumulation of dust, hair, and other stuff that floats through the air.
  • Vacuum the front: The debris gets caked on and results in an insulating layer of gunk. The first step is to vacuum the front out. You will be able to get a lot out that way. Carefully run the vacuum over the front of the coils and pickup what you can.

    Note: The coils are strong, but if you damage them you will kill your refrigerator. Do not force anything in there and do not use a scraper or other hard object to remove the build-up.
  • Use your coil brush: Your next move would be to use your coil brush. Turn the refrigerator off, and unplug the refrigerator during this part. There is a fan in the back of the coils and it is possible to hit it with the brush. Turning off the refrigerator will protect the fan. Keep the vacuum cleaner running while your brush the coils, there will be quite a bit of dust and debris and it is best to clean it up right away.

    Run the brush over, between and under the coils. Do not force it and use a smooth back and forth motion. You do not want to cause a problem, you want to solve a problem. Use a flashlight to inspect the coils to see where they need to be brushed. Take your time and be patient, sometimes this can be a little difficult, you will notice a few places where you cannot insert the brush or vacuum, ignore those places. It is not worth risking damage to clean those impossible places. When you shine your light in there, you will see that you have cleared most of it out.

How to Replace Your Evaporation Tray

Your evaporation tray is next to the coil, usually located on the left. This is where the water drips from the automatic defrost. If does not need any attention during normal use, but it might be a good idea to remove it and clean it if you can. Quite often there is a little wire that holds it in. Remove the retainer and wash the tray. Replace the tray and notice the little hose coming down in the back, make sure that it is inside the tray when you replace it. Once you replace the grill, you are done rescuing your refrigerator.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Comments

ptosis from Arizona on August 01, 2018:

Thank you so much for this info!

I have a dowel (long wooden stick) and I have a bottle brush. So put them together should works, once the stuff drops to the floor can vacuum it up.

I was thinking of a swifter before this article. Thanks again!

ken on April 27, 2012:

I cleaned the coils they were just packed with lint. The fans are all working.The freezer and fridge got cold again for 1 day then it quit again. I thinkthe compressor is not staying on it clicke on for a few seconds and then shuts down and cycles like this.

whitton on January 18, 2011:

Nice Hub. These are great tips on how to clean the refrigerator coils.

commercial-refrigeration on January 10, 2011:

Funnily enough, when I was working as a refrigeration engineer about 90% of the call outs would amount to me cleaning a coil or dealing with a leak. This is a good article and people could save themselves a lot of expense by learning the basics.

SteveoMc (author) from Pacific NorthWest on September 09, 2010:

Thanks Sarah....appreciate the read and support.

SarahSilver on September 09, 2010:

thanks for the info! I've got a friend who has a fridge that routinely doesn't stay cold and I'm referring him to your hub

SteveoMc (author) from Pacific NorthWest on August 26, 2010:

Thanks Lilly......you need to clean the beast a couple times a year.

ExpandYourMind You are welcome....don't wait for the next time.

ExpandYourMind from Midwest USA on August 26, 2010:

Thanks for the detailed instructions. I discovered the yucky underside of my refrig when I went out on me.

Lori J Latimer from Central Oregon on August 25, 2010:

ooh it looks like you took pictures of the underneath of our fridge. Thank you for pointing out the importance of maintaining the fridge, and how easy it is to clean. Thank you!

SteveoMc (author) from Pacific NorthWest on August 25, 2010:

Thanks for stopping by ethel, you are right.....and it is pretty easy to clean.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on August 25, 2010:

You are right about the fridge being an underrated work horse. In a worst case scenario it could also cause a fire.