The refrigerator is one of your home's most important (and expensive) appliances. For peak efficiency, regular maintenance and cleaning are essential.
Otherwise, dust and dirt can build up in the fridge's condenser coils; door gaskets can loosen their grip and allow cold air to leak out; and the temperature can become unstable, putting all the food inside at risk of spoilage.
These refrigerator maintenance tips can help keep your fridge operating in peak condition.
Clean the interior of your refrigerator weekly. Always wipe up any spills in the refrigerator immediately to keep bacteria from growing. Wash first with warm, soapy water, then disinfect with a solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach in 1 quart of water. This is also how to clean the fridge door and handles.
Each week, refrigerator maintenance should include a more thorough cleaning and toss out old foods. 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.
Check expiration dates of foods and condiments you keep, rotating them so that the oldest of any item (milk, for example) is front and center when little hands are searching. (Find out how long food lasts in the refrigerator.)
Every few weeks, do a major cleaning. First, unplug the fridge for safety. Then remove all food. Dissolve 4 teaspoons of baking soda in 1 quart of water. With a soft, clean cloth, wash all interior surfaces, including the top, bottom, drawers, and walls. Pay special attention to corners and crevices.
Then, rinse all surfaces with warm water. Dry with a soft, clean cloth. Don't forget to plug the fridge back in!
Monthly refrigerator maintenance should include checking the interior temperature of the fridge. To keep food from spoiling, the temperature needs to be between 34 F and 40 F. You can't depend on the little gauge (1-5) in the refrigerator. Get a refrigerator thermometer.
Whenever possible, allow leftovers to cool to room temperature before placing them inside the fridge. Hot food can cause refrigerator temperatures to drop.
Don't overload the refrigerator. Parties are a dangerous time because you cram a lot of food into the fridge, and then you're continually opening the door. Turn the temperature down during these occasions to keep the food cold. 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.
Refrigerator maintenance here should include 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 up to 3 percent more energy for each degree Fahrenheit over ambient room temperature (about 70 degrees F).
That means your fridge could use up to 25 percent more energy when the temperature tops 80-degrees inside your home, as your fridge is forced to work harder. (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.
Refrigerator maintenance here includes washing door gaskets every three months with soapy water to remove any spills and crumbs, and towel dry.
Clean your refrigerator's condenser coils at least once a year.
Condenser coils are the massive, radiator-like thing usually found behind the toe grille, or at the back of, or beneath, your refrigerator. Clean the refrigerator's condenser coil with a long-handled bottle brush and a vacuum cleaner with an attachment hose to remove dust and lint.
Built-up dust can shut down the unit by causing it to overheat. To remove dust from coils attached to the hard-to-reach back side of the fridge, carefully pull the refrigerator out several feet (newer models roll on casters) and vacuum thoroughly; finish by sweeping or vacuuming the floor you've revealed.
Expect to rediscover coins, bottle caps, and twist ties that you and the cat knocked there over the past year. Get more on How to and why you should clean your refrigerator coils.
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 today's energy-efficient refrigerators.