10 Steps to a Well-Maintained Fridge and Freezer

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated December 16, 2021
interior shot of clean kitchen appliances
Photo: bmak / Adobe Stock

Is your refrigerator running? No, you don't need to catch it, but you should keep it clean and well maintained.

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A fridge and freezer unit can last nearly three decades when given some TLC throughout its lifetime. And since the average cost of a fridge repair ranges between $200 to $300, you'll save some serious money by keeping the condensers clean, the temperature balanced, and the shelves squeaky clean. If you're about to embark on a thorough spring cleaning, follow these 10 tips for how to maintain a happy fridge and chilled-out freezer.

1. Maintain a Safe Temperature

Let's start with the basic requirements of a freezer and fridge—they need to keep your food properly chilled or frozen. The FDA suggests setting your refrigerator below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so try to aim for between 34 to 39 degrees for ideal chilling. 

Your freezer, unsurprisingly, should be set exactly at zero degrees. Any colder and you could end up with frost; any warmer and you'll end up with mushy ice cream. If your refrigerator isn't cooling enough, it could stem from a range of problems, such as a broken thermistor or a dying evaporator fan.

2. Check the Door Gaskets

woman standing in front of open fridge
Photo: wavebreak3 / Adobe Stock

Remember when your parents told you not to stand in front of the fridge with the door open? Well, a dirty or faulty door gasket could throw all your diligence out the window. The gasket is the rubber door seal that lines the inside of the fridge and freezer.

Check if it's sealing properly by shutting the door on a piece of paper. If it's easy to pull the paper out, the door may not be sealing properly. In this case, you'll likely need a new gasket. If the paper comes out dirty, then it's time to wash the gasket. Use a mixture of soap and warm water around the edges.

3. Clean the Condenser Coils

Cleaning your condenser coils is one of those homeowner hacks to prolong the life of your fridge without a visit from a repair team. You'll need to locate the coils either on the back or bottom of the whole appliance. Unplug the refrigerator, pull it away from the wall, and use either a powerful vacuum hose or a special dusting tool—typically a flexible, hard-bristled brush that slips into hard-to-reach places—to clean the coils. Caked on dust, dirt, and pet hair can cause your fridge to overheat. 

You may also encounter frosted condenser coils. In this case, you'll need to call in a repair team to inspect what's causing the ice to accumulate.

4. Check the Drip Pan

In many fridge models, the condenser coils send extra moisture to a drip pan. Your drip pan should include a hose that redirects the water, but it can become clogged over time. Double-check that the drain hole is open and that there is no smelly water accumulating in the pan. If so, it should be easy to clean with soap and warm water.

5. Keep the Fridge Filled

If you're taking a long vacation, or if you’ve been using a takeout delivery service more than you’ve been turning on the oven (no judgment here), it's best to keep something in there nonetheless. Your refrigerator needs something to cool for proper long-term performance. 

6. Avoid Overstuffing

As you probably assumed, you can have too much in your fridge as well. Filling it up with too many items can overwork your refrigerator, using up unnecessary energy and even throwing off how evenly each item gets chilled. Placing hot food inside of the fridge can also overwork it, so wait for food to cool off before putting it away.

Clean out expired items from your refrigerator at least once a week, and make sure you're not overpacking your freezer with old containers of soup and lasagna. Taking a few steps each day will help you maintain a fresh refrigerator.

7. Change Your Water Filter

Do you have a water or ice dispenser in the front of your fridge? Most manufacturer's manuals advise you to change the fridge water filter at least once every six months. It may last up to a year, but don't let it go too much longer than that to maintain tasty and safe water. The ice in your drinks will also taste better if you empty the tray periodically to remove older ice at the bottom. 

8. Defrost Your Freezer

There are a handful of reasons why freezers slowly build up a layer of frost. The major culprits are leaving items in the freezer for too long, unsealed gaskets, or too much moisture coming in contact with the coils.

Long before your freezer looks like something out of the Arctic, spend an afternoon defrosting the ice. Unplug your freezer and place a drip pan underneath the open freezer door. When all the frost melts, wipe down the inside of the freezer with soap and water, and switch your freezer back on.

9. Dispose of Rotten Food

A happy fridge doesn't have a distinct odor every time you open the door. Set aside a day each week to check on food in the crisper drawers and on the back of the shelves. Institute a first-in, first-out system like they do in grocery stores. Older items should live closest to the door, and newer ones should live in the back.

10. Wipe Down Your Shelves

man cleaning inside of fridge
Photo: Monkey Business / Adobe Stock

Odd smells or the buildup of old food doesn't always leave with the containers. When deep cleaning your fridge and freezer, use a sponge with warm water and soap to wipe down the shelves and walls. Not only will this habit keep your fridge clean, but you can also reorganize everything inside for a fresh start.

Once in a blue moon, you will come across problems with your refrigerator or freezer that are far beyond the realm of DIY maintenance. Warm food, water leaks, or total loss of power often warrant a call to your local refrigerator repair person. A professional eye can help you get to the bottom of the issue before you have to toss anything out.

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