First things first: You’ve got to take everything out. While it’s empty, give the fridge a scrub down, then replace the remaining contents and condiments in the appropriate spot.
STEP ONE: Empty and Clean
- EMPTY IT OUT. Remove all items and toss any that have expired. To keep them cool while you clean, stash items in a cooler.
- SANITIZE THE DRAWERS. Take them out (shelves too, if detachable) and use an old toothbrush to apply a paste of equal parts baking soda and hot water to the corners and shelf seams. Agitate the paste to lift up grime. Scrub every side with a sponge dipped in warm, soapy water. Rinse and pat dry.
- DEGRIME THE DRIP PAN. If your refrigerator has a removable drip pan, soak it for a few minutes in hot, soapy water, scrub with a sponge, then rinse.
- DEODORIZE. Get rid of odors by wiping the inside walls with a microfiber cloth spritzed with an all-purpose cleaner. Wipe again using a paper towel dipped in a bowl of diluted vanilla extract.
- REMOVE DUST. Using the brush attachment, vacuum the coils, which may be behind the refrigerator. Wipe down the grille (typically at the base) with a dryer sheet to remove and repel dust.
STEP TWO: Re-Stock
- EGGS do best where the temperature is most consistent—on the middle shelf. Store in the original cartons (don’t transfer to the fridge egg container).
- MILK should be on the bottom shelf, all the way in back, where it’s coldest.
- YOGURT, SOUR CREAM, AND COTTAGE CHEESE fare best on the bottom shelf for the same reason. Stack items on a turntable to keep everything accessible and expiration dates visible.
- PACKAGED RAW MEAT should go on the super-cold bottom shelf. And if juices drip, they won’t contaminate the whole fridge.
- VEGETABLES stay fresh longer with a bit of humidity. The drawer labeled “vegetables” or “high humidity” is the moistest spot in the fridge. Store in the original packaging or in a plastic bag, loosely tied.
- FRUIT belongs in the “low humidity” drawer (sometimes marked “crisper”). Keep in the original packaging or in a plastic bag, loosely tied (citrus is fine with no bag). TIP: Leave vegetables and fruits unwashed until you use them. Water can promote mold and cause bacteria to grow.
- DELI MEATS belong in the shallow “meat” drawer, which is slightly colder than the rest of the fridge, or (if there’s no such drawer) on the bottom shelf.
- BUTTER AND SOFT CHEESES don’t need to be super cold, so they can live in the dairy compartment on the door (the warmest part of the fridge). Place soft cheeses, like Brie and goat cheese, in an airtight container after opening them.
- CONDIMENTS are generally high in vinegar and salt, which are natural preservatives. So ketchup, mayonnaise, and salad dressing are fine on the door. Same goes for pickles and jarred salsa. Olive and vegetable oils can remain in the pantry. But nut oils, like sesame and walnut oils, belong in the refrigerator, also on the door.
- ORANGE JUICE can be stored on the door, as long as it’s pasteurized. Fresh-squeezed should be stored on the bottom shelf.
TIP: Fill it up (even if you never cook and only have takeout). Refrigerators need “thermal mass” (a.k.a. lots of stuff) to maintain low temperatures. Cool foods and drinks help absorb warm air that streams in when you open the door. If you’re the eat-out type or your fridge is too big for your needs, store a few jugs of water in there.