5 Tips for Cleaning out your Refrigerator

By Lauren Scott, Arizona Farm Bureau Intern

Cleaning out your refrigerator throughout the year is worse than cleaning the pantry. Who looks forward to doing it? Not only can foods rot and spoil if not cleaned out, but old food can leave a nasty odor in your home. So, as much as we dread it we must do it.

Life happens and fridges see things spill, break, explode, and seep. Usually, cleaning out the fridge is not on people’s weekend chore lists, but bringing fresh groceries home to a dirty refrigerator is about the grossest thing ever, in my opinion. Cleaning out a fridge isn’t as hard as you might think, and if you involve the whole family, it could be done in no time! Here are my top tips for cleaning out the refrigerator.


  1. Toss it out. The most important thing to do when cleaning out your refrigerator is to get rid of spoiled or expired food. Many products you don’t use regularly could be expired. I like to start with condiments like ketchup and mustard, relish, horseradish, and steak sauce. Then I check the Worcestershire sauce, cooking wines, jams and jellies, soy sauce, and other similar products. After those have been checked, I move on to the big products in the refrigerator like milk, butter, juice, cream cheese, meats, fruits and vegetables, and eggs. To make it easier on myself, I like to take everything out of the fridge and spread it out on the counter so I can really take inventory of what I have, and what I need to toss. Some items will be an obvious toss, even without checking expiration dates; your nose is a good detector. In future articles, we’ll talk about food waste and how weekly cooking plans might help you reduce spoiled foods in your refrigerator that will have to be tossed if not used when planned.
  2. Clean it out. While I have everything out on the counter, I like to clean out the inside of the refrigerator. Depending on how dirty it is, I will either use warm water and a washcloth to wipe the inside out, or I will use warm water mixed with white vinegar as my cleaning agent. Before I clean the inside out, however, I take the shelves and drawers out so I can wash them separately. My advice is to fill the sink with warm water (not hot water, as putting the cold plastic or glass in hot water could crack or shatter it) and a little bit of dish soap, and wash the shelves and drawers. Then dry them thoroughly, or let them air dry completely before putting them back in the fridge.
  3. Plan it out. After you’ve cleaned out your refrigerator, put all the food you kept back in. I like to take this time to organize my food into different sections. In my refrigerator there are two drawers that I use for produce, and a drawer in between them where I like to keep my yogurt. Underneath that there is a long drawer where I keep my lunchmeat and cheese. Often, our modern refrigerators even have the various drawers labeled for produce and/or dairy. I keep the milk and juice on the same shelf, and I keep the butter, egg carton, and cream cheese on a shelf together. I have a small shelf above the egg and butter shelf where I keep my bagels, rolls or biscuit dough, and any other bread-like products that need to be refrigerated. If I have extras like soda or bottles of wine, I keep them in them in the extra space behind the milk and juice.
  4. Keep the smell out. Refrigerators can get smelly. To keep out unwanted odors, put cotton balls in a small dish and sprinkle them with vanilla extract. Using vanilla extract will leave your fridge smelling nice and sweet. If you want to opt for something that absorbs odors rather than masks them, fill a clean sock with activated charcoal, tie it off and place it in the back of the refrigerator. The charcoal will absorb any unwanted smells that may form. A more traditional effort is placing an open box of baking soda in your refrigerator to absorb odors; debate is still out as to whether it works well or not.
  5. Don’t forget the OUTside. There are a ton of different products on the market that are made specifically for cleaning the outside of refrigerators, especially if they are stainless steel. If you want a quicker, homemade solution, use the warm water and white vinegar mixture. Wet a soft towel with it, and wipe the front, back, and sides down.

Cleaning out your refrigerator shouldn’t be done just once a year as a ‘spring cleaning’ thing. It should be done once every season. It may sound like a lot of work, but in the end you are creating a cleaner environment for the stuff you are eating every day. For more kitchen, refrigerator, and grocery tips head over to fillyourplate.org.


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