Refrigerator Redo: 10 Tips for Cleaning and Organizing That Kitchen Workhorse

Photo by Linda Ly

Around this time of year, everyone is adding "eat healthier" to the top of their New Year's resolutions and vowing to do more cleansing, more juicing, more salad-ing.

But let's start at the root of the problem, which is really what's inside your refrigerator right now. If you still have soda stashed in the back and drippy syrup rings on the shelves, you're less likely to feel inspired to cook and eat clean when you open the door. Start with a freshly scrubbed and thoughtfully edited fridge and you'll be more inclined to fill it up with beautiful, green, organic things beyond the beginning of the year.

Tip #1 Unplug the refrigerator. This shows you mean business, and will help keep you on track as you start cleaning from square one. Slide a coil brush (or a yardstick covered with an old pair of pantyhose) far underneath the kick plate to remove dust bunnies and dirt.

Tip #2 Take everything out of the fridge, and I do mean everything. Toss out leftovers you'll never get around to eating, anything that's obviously past its prime, condiment packets you've collected from fast-food joints and Chinese takeout "just because," and sauces and jams you only tried once and never touched again. Give away the good stuff to friends or neighbors, and dump the rest in the garbage (but rinse and recycle any glass or plastic containers). Any food left out should be fine for the next 15 minutes while you're cleaning, but if you're worried, you can move them into a cooler.

Tip #3 Remove the drawers (and any other removable parts) and soak them in a sink filled with warm water and dish detergent. Scrub them clean with a sponge and leave them out to air dry.

Tip #4 Working from top to bottom, wipe down the interior walls and shelves with a multi-surface non-toxic cleaning solution. (If you want to make your own, our all-natural vinegar and lemon spray is a simple recipe and doesn't need rinsing.) For stubborn stains, make a paste with baking soda, vinegar, and a squeeze of lemon juice, and use a scrub brush or a sponge to really get at it. Wipe away any residue with a damp rag, and don't forget the shelf seams and rubber door seal, where a lot of crumbs tend to gather. Thoroughly dry all the surfaces with a towel (or an old T-shirt, bed sheet, whatever you freed from your linen closet in your New Year housekeeping chore checklist).

Tip #5 Plug in the fridge. Return all the drawers and put all the food back, wiping down bottles and jars with a damp rag as they go in (especially around the rims and bottoms, which tend to get sticky or crusty).

Tip #6 To keep odors in check, place an open box of baking soda in the back. (Arm & Hammer makes small boxes specially for fridge use, but you can also just put a scoop of baking soda in a bowl to absorb odors.)

Tip #7 If you want to get rid of lingering odors right away, place a small dish full of fresh coffee grounds in the fridge. The odor will go away and the coffee smell will eventually dissipate.

Tip #8 Wipe down the exterior of your fridge. For stainless steel, dampen a microfiber cloth with vinegar (or commercial stainless-steel cleaner) and wipe in the direction of the grain. For enameled steel, dampen a soft rag or paper towels with vinegar or a multi-surface cleaner.

Tip #9 Now that your fridge feels almost new again, you can keep it that way by practicing a little maintenance throughout the week. Wipe up any spills right away, rather than leaving them to get caked on, and be aware of food that may leak or drip onto shelves by placing a catch tray underneath them (packaged meat or berry baskets, for instance). Before you put away bottles of dressing or jars of jelly, take an extra few seconds to wipe the rims clean.

Tip #10 As you start to fill your fridge with all that healthy food you've resolved to eat, make sure they're properly stored to prevent spoilage. As soon as any fruit or vegetable moves beyond the point of edibility, compost or discard it. Keep leftovers in airtight containers and if possible, keep them in transparent containers so you can quickly see what you have at a glance.

About the Author

Linda Ly runs the award-winning blog Garden Betty, which chronicles her adventures in the dirt and on the road. Her first book, The CSA Cookbook, will be out March 2015.
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