How to Clean and Sanitize Your Refrigerator

This simple method makes for fast, easy cleanup.

May 29, 2020


Photo by: AndreyPopov/Getty


I am a big advocate of cleaning and sanitizing my refrigerator — I do it weekly and after cooking up a storm, like during the holidays. Who needs moldy or rotted food sitting in the back of the refrigerator? However, I know as a nutritionist, I might think about these projects more often than most people. If you can't remember the last time you cleaned your fridge (like really cleaned it), now's the time. Make it a weekend project or something to get done on a rainy day. Here's what you'll need to do.

Steps to Clean and Sanitize Your Fridge

To start cleaning your refrigerator, empty all the items and placing them on a counter or table while you clean. Take out the shelving, drawers and any other removable parts.

Next, wash removable parts like shelves and drawers by hand with hot, soapy water and dry with a clean towel. Do not run cold glass shelves or drawers under hot water as the glass can crack. Let them come down to room temperature first.

The inside of the refrigerator needs to be cleaned and sanitized. Wipe the inside of the empty refrigerator with hot, soapy water, and wipe with clean water to rinse off the soap. Don’t forget to wipe inside the refrigerator doors and any drawers that can’t be removed. Dry everything with a clean towel.

To sanitize, use a solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid bleach to 1 gallon of water. It should be done only after cleaning with hot, soapy water.

Last, return the shelves, drawers and food into the refrigerator. Wipe food and drink containers with hot, soapy water before returning to the clean refrigerator. Once you have finished cleaning, wash your hands with soap and water, wash any towels used to dry the refrigerator before using them again, and use hot, soapy water to wipe kitchen counters that you placed food, drinks, refrigerator parts and any cleaning materials.

It's important to note that this should all be done within two hours as you do not want to leave unrefrigerated food out for more than two hours.

A Note About Food Recalls

When there is a food recall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend tossing any recalled food, or returning it if possible. If there are other foods that were stored together with the recalled food or touching it, then those should be tossed too. The recalled food should be put in a sealed bag in the garbage. If you stored the recalled food in a reusable container, then the container should be washed with hot, soapy water before being reused.

How Often to Clean Your Fridge

I like to clean and sanitize my refrigerator regularly, but that really depends on how much you cook and how many groceries you buy. There are four people in my house and I certainly cook a lot. As such I clean and sanitize my refrigerator weekly. You can also do it every other week or monthly, whatever works best for you. The point is, do it regularly.

You also want to clean and sanitize your refrigerator after doing massive cooking to make sure leftover ingredients are used and that you know what leftovers are in there. Other times you want to clean and sanitize your refrigerator include after a power outage that lasts for at least two hours and after a food you purchased has been recalled because of a foodborne illness or other contaminant found in the food.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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