Refrigerator and Freezer 101: Maintenance, Cleaning and Organization


Look for EnergyStar rated refrigerators. Newer models operate more efficiently and can help maintain a more even internal temperature (even when the fridge is full). It will also help save money on your energy bill. According to EnergyStar, refrigerators older than 10 years could be costing you about $100 a year to run. New models save about $40 a year in operating costs.

Set the right temperature. Your refrigerator should be kept at an internal temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer should be kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. But even with these ideal temperature settings the inside is subject to microclimates. The doors are warmer than the back of the fridge, and the drawers can maintain a humidity level greater than outside the drawers. The most consistent temperatures are located on the top shelf and in the back.


Produce: The built-in drawers are a great place for produce. If your drawers have a humidity control you can use this feature to keep some produce fresher. Leafy greens and vegetables should go in the high humidity drawer and fruits and roots (or produce that emit ethylene gasses) get stored in the lower humidity drawer. To keep that straight, just remember that in the grocery store it’s the veggies that get the sprinkler mist. Some produce like mushrooms do better when stored in a paper bag.

Meats and seafood: Store raw meats and seafood in their original packages; some people like to place the packages on a dishwasher-safe plate to catch any drips. Place all meats in the back of the fridge. The same rules apply for defrosting and marinating meats: place them on a plate to catch drips and thaw in the back of the fridge.

Leftovers: Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours and tossed after four days. Store leftovers in a see-through, reseal-able container so you can see what you’ve stored. This will also help keep smells from affecting nearby foods.

Condiments: Condiments and pickled items do well when stored in the doors and will keep for long periods of time. To ensure that you aren’t using ketchup from three years ago, write the expiration date on the top of the bottle with a permanent marker.

Dairy and eggs:
Butter can be kept in the door but eggs, milk and yogurt belong in a cold area, such as the top shelf or towards the back. Cheese is susceptible to moisture and experts advise using cheese paper (or parchment paper) instead of plastic wrap. For best results, store cheeses in a warmer area such as a vegetable drawer.


Your refrigerator is a hard working machine, subject to constant spills, messes and greasy hand prints. Regularly cleaning out the inside of the fridge (and freezer) will ensure that you aren’t reaching for spoiled foods and will help eliminate cross-contamination. Remove everything one shelf at a time and use warm soapy water to wipe the surface. If you’re concerned about bacteria, don’t use harsh chemicals that can infect your foods. Try a vinegar-based cleaning solution.

For the freezer, remove all items (or one area at a time) and use a vacuum to suck up crumbs or coffee beans. Ice can absorb smells from the freezer so you’ll want to dump out the ice every so often and wash all ice cube trays.

The outside should be cleaned weekly with a non-toxic cleaner.

Aside from cleaning, make sure you perform regular maintenance to keep this machine functioning properly:

  • Vacuum the condenser coils and vents
    * Change the water filter (every 6 months)
    * Clean the door gaskets and seals
    * Use baking soda to absorb odors
    * Call a professional appliance repair person if you suspect leaks or other issues.

Photo Credit: #1: Kitchen Remodel by Fireclay Tile / #2: Kitchen by Tiek Built Homes / #3: Seattle Residence by NEST Design Build

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