Your refrigerator is one of your home's most important (and expensive) appliances.
Without regular care, dust and dirt build up in the fridge's condenser coils; door gaskets can loosen their grip and allow cool air inside the appliance to leak out.
This means the appliance has to work harder and use more energy to chill your food. This can shorten its lifespan, too.
Regular maintenance and cleaning can prevent increased energy bills and costly repairs.
Here are the 5 key steps to keeping your fridge in peak operating condition.
Every six months, clean the condenser coils behind or underneath your fridge to remove dust and dirt. These are the large, radiator-like coils located at the back or beneath the appliance, and they're responsible for removing the heat from the appliance. (Be sure to unplug the fridge first.)
To clean them, pull out the fridge (or snap off the grille, if the coils are on the bottom front) and vacuum or use a long-handled bristle brush to remove dust, dirt, and debris.
Fridges need lots of stuff inside them to help maintain the cool temperature. Cool food and drinks also help absorb warm air that floats in when the door is opened.
Whenever possible, however, allow leftovers to cool to room temperature before placing them inside the fridge. This will cut down on the amount of warm air inside that can cause the interior temperature to rise.
The interior temperature should be between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer 0 degrees.
You can't depend on the little gauge (1-5) in the fridge. Get a temperature sensor or a temperature monitor and place it inside the refrigerator compartment.
Regularly check that the door seals (or gaskets) close tightly to prevent cold air from sneaking out. It's common for gaskets to weak, loosen, or tear within just a few years.
Worn or loose seals can cause your refrigerator to use 2.5 percent more energy for each 1 degree F. over ambient room temperature (about 70 degrees F.) That means your fridge could use up to 25 percent more energy in an 80-degree room. (Read more tips for saving energy in the kitchen here.)
An easy way to check that the seals are working properly: Slide a piece of paper half in and half out of the fridge door. If you can easily pull it out, the door seals may need replacing.
Wash every three months with soapy water to remove any spills and crumbs, and towel dry.
Wash the interior weekly with a sponge and warm, soapy water to remove crumbs and spills from shelves and walls.
This is also how to clean the fridge door and handles.
Add a box of open baking soda to the back of a low shelf to help absorb food odors so your other edibles do not.
If you lose power, open the door as little as possible and use food from the pantry as much as possible. If the door is rarely opened, food will be safe for four hours in the fridge and 48 hours in the freezer (if full) and 24 hours if half-full.
Finally, remember the old adage "Out with the old, in with the new"? If your fridge is more than 20 years old, it's time for a new one. Older models can use up to 3 times more electricity than the newer, more energy efficient refrigerators.