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Cleaning your refrigerator  Smart Choices Archive

Cleaning your refrigerator

Keep your fridge clean for greatest energy efficiency and to control bacteria and germs.


Because your fridge is one of the top energy-using appliances in your home, it pays to keep it functioning properly. And because germs are harbored wherever foods are stored and handled, it’s important to keep the fridge spic-and-span, too.

Save energy
• According to the Consumer Energy Center, cleaning the coils (brushing or vacuuming) can improve energy efficiency as much as 30%. Your fridge’s coils may be at the bottom (accessed by removing the kickplate) or in the back (you may have to remove a plate to access them). Clean the coils at least a few times each year.
• Placement of your fridge can help save energy, too. Leave space between the fridge and the wall or cabinets so air can circulate freely around the coils. Keeping it away from heat registers and sunlight coming in the windows can save energy, too.
• Check the door seals periodically by closing the door on a piece of paper or a dollar bill. If it slips out easily, you are losing energy and it’s time to replace the seals.
• Keep your fridge and freezer full, but not crammed. The more food contained, the easier it is to maintain the temperature. However, overfilling will restrict air circulation, which decreases energy efficiency, too. If your fridge or freezer tends to be nearly empty, store water-filled plastic jugs to help keep the unit filled and working most efficiently.
• Keep the units at the optimum temperature: the fridge between 35 and 38 degrees F and the freezer at 0 degrees F. A unit set at 10 degrees colder than necessary will use 25% more energy, according to the Consumer Energy Center. To check the temp, purchase an appliance thermometer and place it in a glass of water in the middle of the fridge and check it after 5-8 hours. Adjust the temperature of the appliance up or down, depending on the results.

Keep it clean
The handle on the fridge is one of the germiest spots in your home, according to Ladies Home Journal. And those stuck-on drips of meat juices, rotten veggies and spilled juices inside the fridge can be pretty toxic, too.
That’s why it’s important to keep this important appliance clean. Follow these steps:

Day-to-day cleaning
• Store foods in covered containers and place items like meats (that may drip) on platters while thawing, should help avoid messes in the first place.
• If you can catch spills as soon as they happen, you’ll have an easier time of cleaning up. While the food or beverage is fresh, it’s not stuck on or dehydrated down to a sticky mass.
• Before going grocery shopping, clean out the fridge. It’s a lot easier when there’s less food in the appliance. Get rid of batches of past-their-prime leftovers and expired yogurt and sour cream containers. The bonus is that you can see which items should be added to your grocery list at the same time.
• A carton of baking soda can help reduce many odors; if you tend to have smelly cheeses or other strong foods in your fridge, you may want to bump up to using activated charcoal for reducing odors.

Deep cleaning
• At least a few times a year, do a deeper cleaning of the appliance. This involves scrubbing out the bins and shelves, as well as the interior and exterior walls and handles.
• Use nontoxic cleaning supplies, such as soapy dishwater or baking soda dissolved in water. The advantage of baking soda is that it does not need to be rinsed after scrubbing clean. Some cleaning products, such as bleach and hot water, can damage the plastic components in the fridge, and toxic cleaners may leach into foods, so do take caution when using any such cleaners.
• For suggestions on how to speed-clean your fridge, check out this checklist from Real Simple magazine.

Safety note: Whenever you are cleaning the fridge, unplug it first.

Store safely, too
A study conducted by Sub Zero a few years ago found that folks were storing sodas and meats in crisper drawers designed for veggies, and that no one had a clue what to store in the cheese drawer.

Here are a few tips on what to store (or not) where:
• Even though the fridge door shelves seem perfect for milk and egg storage, they absolutely should not be stored in that location, as the door is the warmest part of the fridge. Instead, store condiments (salad dressings, ketchup) in the door.
• Don’t place wrapped meats on the top shelf, because any drips could leak on shelves—and foods stored on those shelved—all the way down. Instead, store meats in a pan or on a platter to avoid drips, and store the container on the bottom shelf.
• Don’t store apples and carrots next to each other, as apples release ethylene, which causes carrots to spoil.
• Use the fridge drawers as intended to achieve the ideal temperature and humidity levels. That means you should store fruits and veggies in the bins intended for them, and place meat and cheese in the drawer intended for those items. If you aren’t sure which holder is intended for which foods, pull out your refrigerator manual (or look online if you can’t find your manual). Your foods will keep longer and better in the right place.   

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