How to Maintain Your Refrigerator

Ever come home from vacation to find a swimming pool in your kitchen, courtesy of your refrigerator?

I did, and the outcome was painful. 

Ripped up hardwood floors and some serious stink. And the leak still didn’t stop.

Now what? 

After looking online and finding out the solution was super easy, I decided that regular refrigerator maintenance might save me a lot of hassles in the future. 

I’ll share what I’ve learned through my experience…

DIY Refrigerator Maintenance Toolbox

Maintaining your refrigerator isn’t hard, but it can be a little dirty if you haven’t done it in a while – or ever! Below are a few items you need to keep your refrigerator running in top form.

  • Cleaning rags – lots
  • Baking soda, dish soap, and Windex
  • Duster or vacuum 
  • Coathanger
  • Screwdriver
  • Butter Knife
  • Tape

Clean the Gasket – or Replace It

You need:

  • Dish soap, warm water, tape, screwdriver

The most important part of your refrigerator is the part that keeps the warm air out, and the cold air in – the gasket. The gasket is the soft edge that lines the edge of the refrigerator door.

Gaskets get dirty. Hands touch them. They get beat up, ripped, and come loose. Any damage not only results in energy loss but also increased condensation. More condensation means a higher likelihood for filled drip pans and clogged defrost hoses.

Use dish soap and warm water to clean all around the edge of the gasket. If there are any gaps between the gasket and door, I’ve found this tape works well.

Lastly, if the gasket rips or is falling off, then you’ll need a new one. Consult the refrigerator’s manual to see what kind you need. You’ll likely have to purchase one from the manufacturer’s website. It’ll be under 100$, and they are easy to install.

All you need is a screwdriver. Gaskets are held in by a metal retainer, with screws. Loosen retainer screws, remove the old gasket, and slide the new one into place. It might take some persuasion, but slow, careful removal will work. 

Clean Defrost Hoses and Drip Pan

You need:

  • Dish soap, warm water, coathanger, butter knife, screwdriver

Refrigerators and freezers sweat. Cold air mingling with room temperature air creates water – condensation. 

Every refrigerator and freezer have a drain with a hose attached to it. The hose runs around the back and into the bottom of the appliance. There is a pan at the bottom that catches the condensation. 

Over time, these pans fill up. Remove the bottom grill on the bottom of the refrigerator. Grill snap on and can, gently, be pulled off. Make sure to use two hands and pull evenly to avoid breaking the plastic or bending metal. 

Then, pull the pan out. Dump it and then clean it. These things fill with all manner of junk, so they can start to stink.

If there is a rear panel, use a screwdriver to remove it. Remove the hoses – or hoses, if you have a freezer – by simply pulling gently off the nipple to which they attach. Older models are held on by small hose clamps. Use two fingers to enlarge the clamp and remove the hose. 

If the hose is dirty, run water through it. Then soak it in soapy water and rinse again. If it is still clogged, then it’s time for the coat hanger. 

Make it straight and curl a small, narrow hook at the end. If you find that hard, get a butter knife, hold it against the tip of the hanger and bend it.

Jamming the hanger, gently, through the hose is enough to remove tough deposits. Re-attach hoses and reinstall any rear covering, if necessary.

Keep the Coils Clean

You need:

  • Screwdriver, rags, vacuum, household cleaner (optional)

Yes, your refrigerator has coils. Ironically, it takes quite a bit of heat to make your appliance cool. All that heat your refrigerator gives off needs a place to go. Coils increase surface area, dispersing heat evenly. 

Coils are either under or behind the refrigerator. Luckily, they are easily accessed since they need space to dissipate the heat. However, this makes them virtual magnets for dust and grime. 

A coil that covered with debris does not release heat as well. Less heat released makes the fridge work harder to cool. Electricity use goes up while the appliance works harder. Eventually, this can result in device failure. 

Use a dry rag to remove dust. If you can fit a vacuum underneath, or behind, the appliance, then use that instead. Remember, if the coils are in the bottom, you will have to remove the grill and drain pan to access coils.

Keep Water Filter and Hoses Clean

You need:

  • Butter knife, warm water, dish soap, small pipe cleaner or bottle brush, small bowl

Ice makers and water dispensers in refrigerators are frequent sources of problems for owners. Filters and water lines can clog, and the electronics can malfunction. A dirty filter can also result in smelly ice cubes.

Remember, if you have an ice maker or water dispenser, then your refrigerator has a water line coming out of the back of the appliance. Be careful when moving the entire unit for cleaning, sometimes the water line is taut, and breakage can occur.

Check your user manual to see how you can properly replace the water filter. All brands differ slightly. The manual will also give information about where to buy a new filter.

While the filter is off, use a pipe cleaner or small baby bottle brush to clear the lines going to and from the filter. Use soapy water, then rinse with a clean pipe cleaner or brush.

After cleaning, make sure you run the water for a minute or two to flush out any remaining soap.

Ice Maker Maintenance and Troubleshooting

You need:

  • Butter knife, dish soap, warm water, small bowl, rag

Ice makers are handy, but they are prone to breaking down. Keeping the entire apparatus clean will help mitigate any issues. 

An ice maker is a basic machine. It uses a small electric motor and the already frigid temperature of your freezer to make ice and eject it from an ice bin, down a chute to your frosty mug.

Regularly clean out the ice bin every couple of months with warm water and dish soap. These bins remove easily and can often fit in the sink, or dishwasher.  

However, sometimes your ice maker won’t give you ice. This often means your ice maker is clogged – with ice! 

You’re going to need a knife to chip away the large chunks, a cup or small bowl, and hot water. 

Pour the hot water over the ice clog, while you hold the bowl underneath where the ice comes out. Be careful not to spill any water into the actual freezer, as this will exacerbate the very problem you are trying to fix.

When the ice melts make sure to dry all the moisture thoroughly. If that did not fix the problem, make sure your water filter and lines are clean. Still not working? Time to consult your user’s manual or call the repair guy.

Keep Surfaces Clean

You need:

  • Dish soap, warm water, baking soda, sponge, paper towels, Windex (optional)

Arguably the easiest, and most important, rule surrounding refrigerator maintenance is merely keeping the inside clean. 

Over time, surfaces get covered with all manner of food grime, like residue from mustard or water stains from a pack of strawberries. Leaving these stains unattended can result in some serious odor.

But is that bad for my refrigerator? Well, yes and no. Smells will not break your appliance. However, isn’t the point of the refrigerator to keep perishable food fresh? So if your nice head of lettuce comes out smelling like last month’s tuna, then you’ve got problems even if it is still cold.

Dish soap and warm water for all surfaces work best. Most units have removable shelves and bins, which makes them easier to clean. If possible, run them through the washing machine. This saves you time and will do a better job of removing odors.

If you don’t use a dishwasher, or shelves and bins don’t fit, then using baking soda for extra tough stains is best. Mixing equal parts baking soda and water is most effective. For cleaning parts inside the fridge, soak an abrasive sponge in the mixture and rub – hard!

Lastly, for those with stainless steel units, you’ll want to maintain the shine of the exterior. I recommend Windex. There are numerous natural remedies, but Windex seems to leave fewer streaks. Quality paper towels work best for wiping. 

Prevent Frost in the Freezer

You need:

  • Butter knife, warm water, rag, dish soap

Do not leave the door open for long periods! If you have frost in your freezer, then you either have a bad gasket, mentioned above, or you are just leaving the door open too long. 

Warm air, thanks to physics, is always at a lower pressure than cold air. Thus, when you open your freezer door, that cold air is desperate to move into a lower pressure area – your kitchen. 

When this happens, warm and moist air gets trapped in your freezer. That moisture freezes and ends up coating the walls of your appliance. This can actually block the duct where the cold air is emitted, causing your freezer to stop working. It can also ruin a door gasket.

The only way to remove frost is chipping away at it or removing it with warm water and a rag. Either way, you’ll want it gone as it can retain odors and interfere with the overall operation.

Final Thoughts

There’s nothing worse than finding half a bag of last month’s carrots lurking in the back of your refrigerator. If you had bothered to purge your refrigerator, you wouldn’t have that atrocious smell and corresponding stain. 

A little maintenance every couple of weeks can ensure an efficient appliance and fresh food, and you won’t have to worry about lurkers hiding out in your refrigerator.

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