How Often Should You Clean Your Fridge? (Plus Expert Tips on How to Do It Right)

Add a fridge deep-clean to your seasonal to-do list.

Grimy stove grates or a batter-splattered stand mixer will tell you it's time for a cleaning. But when was the last time you bothered to clean out your refrigerator (and freezer) and give it a good scrub?

The fridge is the focal point of a kitchen, but since it's virtually always stocked with food, it can be tricky to remember that it needs to be cleaned too. In fact, because your fridge holds everything from leftover Japanese food to the raw chicken you plan to roast for dinner, it should be cleaned thoroughly–and perhaps more often than you think.

To get the intel on when (and how often) to clean out this appliance and wipe down the inside—shelves, deli drawer, crisper, and more—we spoke to Tamika D. Sims, PhD, the senior director of food technology communications at the International Food Information Council.

When Should You Clean Out Your Refrigerator?

In addition to cleaning up any spills as they happen to prevent the spread of bacteria, you should give your fridge a deep clean about four times a year—it's a good chore to do when the seasons change. Keep reading for more specific tips on when and how to clean your fridge.

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When Food Has Spoiled

"The time to clean out different parts of the fridge depends on the directions on the 'open dating' labels," Sims says. "These labels give the date to consume the food or beverage at its best quality.

Aside from infant formula products, which are regulated by the federal government, these dates are not an indication of safety. "A 'best if used by' date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. A 'sell by' date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management A 'use by' date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality, and a 'freeze by' date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality."

Foods in your fridge that have passed any of these dates may still be fine to eat, but check if they are still fresh. Any food that has molded, changed color, or is emitting a foul odor should promptly be thrown away. After disposing of spoiled food, wipe down the areas where the food was with hot, soapy water to prevent the spread of bacteria.

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After a Spill or a Leak, Especially Raw Meat or Poultry

To avoid cleaning your fridge more often than you need to, store all of your food correctly. "Storing food properly is the first step to keeping it as fresh and safe as possible for as long as possible," Sims says. The Refrigerator & Freezer Storage Chart provided by the Food and Drug Administration includes safe storage times for many widely used foods. "However, the FDA advises that all food should be examined for spoilage regardless of the dates stamped on the packaging," Sims says.

Improperly stored food can lead to spills or leaks, and the affected areas of your refrigerator will need to be cleaned. Take special care storing raw meat or poultry products, as any leaks associated with those foods can cause harmful bacteria to spread to other items in your refrigerator. If you notice that raw chicken or steak, for example, has leaked in your fridge, thoroughly clean the affected area with warm, soapy water. Remove the shelf or drawer to complete the cleaning process.

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When in Doubt, Throw It Out

"According to the USDA, the freezer should be set to a temperature of 0 degrees or colder. Frozen food generally has a much longer shelf life than refrigerated food, but its quality may begin to deteriorate after an extended period," says Sims. "Use your discretion when deciding whether to throw away food. It should be safe to consume food beyond its date label if it has been properly stored. However, consumers should regularly evaluate their pantry and refrigerator, monitor any changes in texture and smell, and use their best judgment—if in doubt, throw it out."

How to Clean Your Fridge

According to the USDA, these are the best steps for cleaning your fridge and freezer:

  1. Remove shelves, crispers, and ice trays. Wash them thoroughly with hot water and detergent (such as dish soap). Per Sims, all items can then be rinsed with a sanitizing solution, which can be made by mixing 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in a gallon of water.
  2. "The interior walls of the refrigerator and freezer, including the door and gasket (door seal), can be washed with hot water and baking soda," Sims explains. "Afterwards, rinse everything with the same sanitizing solution as above."
  3. "Lastly, leave the door open for about 15 minutes to allow free air circulation," Sims says.
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