Deep Clean Week 8: The Refrigerator, Freezer, and Beyond?

Welcome to week eight of the Home-Ec 101 Deep Clean. This series is a way to refresh your home in manageable steps without any daylong cleaning marathons that ruin your day off. Today we are tackling your refrigerator(s) and freezer(s). Some of us suburbanites are lucky enough to have either a garage or basement fridge or freezer.

We’re done with the more public areas and are going to get down to the nitty gritty.

I grew in a military family and my dad introduced us to the concept of “field day” quite young and we hated it. When we heard “field day” we knew we were in for an entire day of drudgery. The projects in this series are not that. There are 14 weeks in total and if you don’t quite finish a project on the first run-through, in the two hours max I want you to spend. Don’t sweat it. Just hit it on the rinse and repeat. (There will be a sign-up on Week 14). You can run through the series as many times as you want. It’ll just loop, sending you a reminder every Saturday morning at 8:00 am Eastern, of that week’s project. Easy peasy.

This is one of those posts that it took me longer to write than it will for you to do the chore, unless you have a LOT of ice built up in your freezer.

If you have helpers, delegate the dishware and recyclables cleanout. You don’t need the helpers right up in your business while you’re squinting at expiration dates and deciding if you actually are ever going to use that jar of capers. (If it’s been there for six months and you only used them for one recipe, no you aren’t).

Gather your supplies. This week’s are a little different, so pay close attention.

  • A bucket or container with warm, barely soapy water
  • A cooler (to hold freezer items while you work)
  • Gloves
  • A small scrub brush or an old tooth brush
  • Potentially a hairdryer and an extension cord
  • clean, dry rags or paper towels
  • Your trusty vacuum, soft bristle brush and yes, the crevice tool
  • a small paper cup filled 3/4 with water (a cheap plastic cup like you get with a kid’s meal will work, or a SOLO cup—yes, I’ve heard the jokes)
  • a coin
  • *optional* chlorine bleach depending on what you have to clean up

Make room

Now, you should have clear counters and a clean table because we tackled those in previous weeks. If not, make sure you have space to temporarily set your items as you work. Make sure there are zones: The keep zone and a get rid of zone.

Top to Bottom

While cleaning your fridge, this rule is more important than usual because the stuff you knock from the top will cling to the shelving and sides of your fridge due to the condensation that is going to be building up as you work with the door open.

Starting at the topmost shelf, remove each item. Look at it and make a judgment on whether it is something that will need to be kept or gotten rid of and place it in the appropriate zone.

If the shelf is removable, take it out to clean it thoroughly and wipe down the top of the refrigerator and the walls.

Dry the shelf and replace only the items that you are keeping. Before putting each item back, wipe the bottom of the containers. There’s a good chance that they are not the cleanest, especially if there has been something sticky spilled at any point and you have teenagers whose mantra seems to be, “Well, I didn’t spill it, so why should I clean it up?” or is that just me?

Work your way down, until you are at the floor of the refrigerator and make sure to wash out any drawers with warm soapy water. Remove the drawers and wash behind them. This is where the brushes may come in handy. All kinds of funk can build up back there and it can get icky in a hurry.

Tip: Placing a couple of dry paper towels in the bottom of each drawer can make your next refrigerator clean up a little easier.

Close the door.

Deal with the get rid ofs before moving on to the freezer. You do not want to have to deal with a pile of get rid ofs from everything you sort today.

If your refrigerator has a power cool setting, use that when you are done with the freezer portion of your clean-up. If you have a standalone refrigerator, vacuum the coils and wipe down the appliance.

The Freezer

If the freezer has more than a quarter-inch of frost or ice on the shelves and walls, it is time to defrost the appliance. If it does not, you don’t have to deal with the ice melting portion of this show. Please just follow the rest of the instructions.

Unplug the freezer.

Now, we are going to follow the same process as the refrigerator only we are going to work more quickly and remove all of the times instead of clearing and replacing shelf by shelf because the freezer needs to warm up enough to clear the ice.

As with the fridge, you have two zones, the keep and get rid of zone. The keep zone is your cooler, if you do not have a cooler, pack the keep items as closely as possible in your keep zone so they don’t thaw quickly. As for the get rid of items, dispose of those immediately and properly before they begin to leak condensation or other fluids.*

Once the freezer is empty, take a look is the layer of frost or ice still too thick to wipe down the walls? If so. go grab a hairdryer and an extension cord. You do not want to have the cord lying anywhere near where water may pool and an extension cord can help you with this. Use a chair to keep the cord from lying on the ground. Watch where you stand. Do not stand in a puddle. Use the hairdryer to melt any thick chunks of ice quickly.

Just like with the refrigerator, work top to bottom wipe out any drawers. Any reddish stains can be tackled with a paper towel soaked in chlorine bleach and set on the stain (use the gloves to handle the paper towel, not your bare hands, please). Remove the paper towel, dry the freezer thoroughly and quickly replace all of the items.

Plug the appliance back in and set the freezer on its coldest setting. (If it has a power freeze setting, use that).

If you are finishing up a refrigerator freezer combo, vacuum the coils and don’t forget to turn on the power cool setting for the refrigerator, if your appliance has that option. If you’re just cleaning a stand-alone freezer, just vacuum the coils and wipe down the appliance.

Now what was that paper cup and coin about?

In your freezer(s) set the paper cup filled 3/4 of the way with water and wait for it to freeze. Place the coin on top of the ice. If you ever go out of town, when you come home, check the cup. If the coin is not resting on top, you know there has been a power outage long enough for it to affect your freezer. If it is only covered by a film of water, the food is safe, but if it is at the bottom, your food is not safe and needs to be disposed of.

This tip is especially useful as we head into hurricane season. (This was written in early May, hurricane season runs June 1 – November 30.)

On that happy note, see you next week!

*Home-Ec 101 is not responsible for what you choose to keep in your deep freezer. You cannot just assume mystery items are venison and scrub the floor thoroughly with chlorine bleach. That is not plausible deniability. You do need to know and vet your roommates and Air BnB guests. This is not legal advice, it is satire.

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