A man puts food in his refrigerator.

Refrigerators have a tendency to get messy. Drinks spill and bits of food collect in bins and get stuck in door gaskets. Mineral deposits can build up on the water dispenser, and dust and debris can gunk up the condenser coils. 

All that make your fridge look and smell unpleasant, and it can affect your refrigerator's performance and life span. Fortunately, keeping your refrigerator in tip-top shape really just requires a little TLC.

Below, Larry Ciufo, CR’s test engineer for refrigerators, shows you how to give every part of your fridge a truly deep clean. (For more on refrigerator maintenance, see “How to Make Your Refrigerator Last Longer.”)

Shelves, Bins, and Walls

Refrigerator shelves filled with food containers.

Although you may be tempted to just do a quick wipe-down of your fridge’s surfaces, Ciufo advises that you take out the shelves and bins so that you don’t have to leave the refrigerator door open (which makes the compressor work harder to keep everything cold). Doing that also makes it easier to remove stuck-on gunk. (Now is a good time to get rid of any spoiled food; check our guide on how to tell whether it’s still safe to eat.) 

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For glass and plastic shelves or bins, wash them in a sink with warm, soapy water and a sponge. “If the shelves or bins are very cold or from the freezer, give them a chance to warm up before washing them,” Ciufo says. “The sudden temperature change from contact with warm or hot water could cause them to crack and break.”

Clean wire shelves and baskets with a bristle brush, but avoid abrasive cleaning pads. They can remove the coating on the wires, which can lead to rust. Finally, wipe any food residue on the walls of the fridge and freezer cavities using warm, soapy water and a sponge.

For freezer walls, shelves, and bins, make sure they’re completely dry after cleaning. Otherwise, leftover moisture will freeze, and frozen foods could end up sticking to them. 

Water/Ice Dispenser and Icemaker

A person fills a water bottle from a refrigerator water dispenser.

Water and ice dispensers can get mineral buildup from your home’s water. So wipe the dispenser using a sponge and a mixture of equal parts water and white vinegar. If the buildup on the dispenser tray is too thick to remove with the sponge, remove it and soak it in the mixture.

You may also want to change your fridge’s water filter if you haven’t done so in the past six months. For a guide on how to do it, see our guide to changing your refrigerator's water filter.

And don’t forget to clean the ice bin. Remove and empty it, and wipe it down with a wet cloth. If it needs a more thorough cleaning, wash it with soap and warm water. 

Door Gaskets

A person opens a refrigerator door, revealing the door gasket.

The door gasket is the piece of rubber that lines the doors of the refrigerator to seal them so that cold air doesn’t escape when you close the door. It’s easy to overlook the dirt and grime that inevitably collects in its creases, but leaving them can cause air leaks. And that makes your fridge have to work harder to keep food cold.

Clean the gaskets by pressing a damp sponge or cloth down into the folds and wiping them. Next, run a dry cloth through the creases to remove any residual moisture. If you leave water in the gasket creases and close the fridge doors, the water won’t be able to evaporate and mold could form as a result.

If there’s mold in the gasket creases, clean them using a disinfectant. (Check your owner’s manual to see which cleaners are safe to use on the material.) 

Condenser Coils

Refrigerator condenser coils.

Condenser coils dissipate heat from the refrigerator to keep it cold. You may have to do some sleuthing to find them, but they’re usually located on the back of the fridge or underneath it behind the grille. For built-ins, check the top of the appliance.

Over time, dust, dirt, and other debris can collect on the coils and act as an insulator, making it harder for the coils to keep the refrigerator cool. To clean the coils, first pull the fridge away from the wall or remove the grille (depending on where the coils are located). Then vacuum the coils using a soft-brush attachment. 

And with that, your refrigerator should now be spotless. Just put a reminder on your calendar to do this all again in six months.