How to Clean Your Refrigerator Outside Cleaning Coils: 12 Easy Steps

I understand the importance of keeping a clean refrigerator, not just for aesthetic reasons, but for health and safety. However, most people don’t realize the importance of deep cleaning a refrigerator in places that keep it efficient and functioning. In fact, I was one of those people, until recently. When I lived in apartments, and I did not own the refrigerator, all that mattered to me was that the refrigerator looked clean and was working.

When I eventually owned my own refrigerator, I took measures to periodically slide the refrigerator out of its designated space and clean and sweep the floor behind it and underneath it. I would clean the front decorative grill and the exterior of the refrigerator, which was not easily reachable when it was in its normal place. I thought these things meant I had cleaned the refrigerator. I was wrong. That was just the beginning. It was not until I got in a conversation with someone about having to move the refrigerator to clean it, that I learned I had been missing some very important steps in refrigerator cleaning that should be done at least once a year, preferably every 6 months. I was both enlightened and now had a mysterious job ahead of me to translate what I was told into actually doing it. The good news is that once you clean your refrigerator, you will know exactly how to approach it in the future and with more confidence.

Let’s break the job down into simple steps.

1. Before moving your refrigerator, enlist the help of a friend or family member because it is very heavy and you don’t want to scratch or gouge your floors. You want to prevent damage in the process.

2. Prepare to have your refrigerator and freezer contents unrefrigerated for at least 30 minutes, but up to one hour. So, be aware of what could spoil in that time and take steps to keep it cold or frozen by having a large cooler filled with ice that you can transfer any items that need to stay at a certain temperature to prevent spoilage. The best time to clean your refrigerator is when it is not packed with food. So choose a time before you go grocery shopping, to lighten the load and minimize food spoilage and defrosting.

3. Have an old piece of carpet or a heavy jute rug or a wide piece of dense flat wood that you will be able to gently roll the refrigerator on to so you can prevent damage to your floors. This piece of carpet or rug or wood needs to be wider than the width of your refrigerator.

4. With your assistant, proceed to push the refrigerator slow and gently onto the protective rug or wood. Push it far enough until you can reach the plug to unplug your refrigerator.

5. The goal is to clean underneath your refrigerator, and not just the floor. You need to clean the condenser coils. Condenser coils keep your refrigerator running efficiently. You MUST UNPLUG your refrigerator before attempting to clean it, to avoid electric shock. Before unplugging your refrigerator, first find the control dials for your freezer and refrigerator, inside the unit and turn them to the OFF position. When the refrigerator and freezer are both turned OFF, then you can unplug it.

6. Get a flashlight and get on the floor and take a look at the bottom of your refrigerator. You will inevitably see lots of dirt and dust that has neatly shaped itself to the coils and filled the empty spaces, much like lint in your dryer’s lint filter. Some models of refrigerators have coils that are mounted at the rear of the refrigerator. Other models have coils that are located below the refrigerator, where a fan moves air across the coil.

7. On the bottom rear of the refrigerator you will see a dense cardboard like covering that needs to be removed. You will need a screwdriver to remove the screws. The cardboard piece you removed will likely have a furry cushion attached to it that is filthy. You can vacuum it gently using a vacuum hand tool attachment, being careful not to pull the attached cushion from its adhesive. Set it aside.

8. Remove the refrigerator drip pan and clean it in the kitchen sink. The drip is located beneath your refrigerator and can be removed by pulling it out. It can be real nasty, so you may want to soak it first while you proceed to clean under the refrigerator. If your moving assistant is willing and helpful, they can clean the drip pan while you are cleaning the coils.

9. You will need a soft brush to knock the accumulated lint and dirt from the coils. It will fall in large chunks. You will be surprised that the more you brush off, the more that seems to appear. You can buy a refrigerator cleaning brush at your local Wal-mart or hardware store for less than $5. It is well worth the money to have the right brush to clean with.

10. Take a soft broom and begin sweeping and pulling the fallen lint and dirt. Throw it out and now use your vacuum cleaner to suction up any of the remaining dirt and lint buildup still attached to the coils and on the floor. You will be lying on the floor as you do this and using your flashlight to see you have removed all that you can.

11. Return the cleaned drip pan to its proper place. Screw the cardboard back on the back of your refrigerator and now you are ready to push your refrigerator back into place. This is also an opportunity where you can quickly clean any hard to reach exterior places of the refrigerator that is usually hidden between walls or cabinets.

12. With your assistant, gently push the refrigerator back toward the wall and plug it in. Then push the refrigerator back into place. Your assistant can pull out the rug or protective wood as you roll it far enough. Put the front grill plate back on the front of the refrigerator. Turn your inside control dials back to the ON positions and the temperature setting you desire. Allow your refrigerator and freezer to take up to 15 to 30 minutes to get back to the desired temperature.

Now clean up the rest of the mess and put away your tools. Mark your calendar for 6 months from now, or a year if you want to do this once a year. That wasn’t so bad, and next time the cleaning will be even easier.

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