Your refrigerator is one of your home's most important (and expensive) appliances.
Without regular cleaning and maintenance, dust and dirt build up in the fridge's condenser coils; door gaskets can loosen their grip and allow cold air to leak out; and the temperature inside can become unstable, putting all the food inside at risk of spoilage.
These refrigerator maintenance tips can help keep your fridge in peak operating condition - and help it to last longer.
Wash the interior of your refrigerator weekly with a sponge and warm, soapy water to remove crumbs and spills from shelves and walls.
Then disinfect with a solution of 1 teaspoon bleach in one-quart water. 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.
Each week, do a more thorough cleaning and toss out old foods. Check expiration dates of foods and condiments you keep, rotating so that the oldest of any item (milk, for example) is front and center when little hands are searching.
Monthly refrigerator maintenance should include checking the interior temperature of the fridge to ensure it is maintaining the temperature needed to operate at peak efficiency: between 37- to 40-degrees Fahrenheit.
Whenever possible, 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 and fluctuate, which can compromise the safety of the food in your fridge.
Regularly check that the refrigerator 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), one of the reasons why regular refrigerator maintenance is essential.
That means your fridge could use up to 25 percent more energy when the temperature tops 80-degrees inside your home. (Read more tips for saving energy in the kitchen here.)
An easy way to check that the seals are working correctly: 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.
Clean your refrigerator coils every six months or so.
Condenser coils are the large, radiator-like things located usually found behind the toe grille or at the back of, or beneath, your refrigerator. They're essential for removing the heat from the appliance.
How do you clean refrigerator coils? Start pulling out the fridge (or snapping off the grille, if the coils are on the bottom front), and then clean using a vacuum or long-handled bottle brush to remove dust, dirt, lint, and debris. Get more on How to and why you should clean your refrigerator coils.
If you lose power, open the refrigerator 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 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 more modern, more energy efficient refrigerators.