Schedule Regular Fridge Cleanings to Prevent Food Waste

Photo: schmoopybee

It is a job no one likes to do — especially in my house — but with the price of groceries steadily rising, cleaning your refrigerator needs to be a weekly task to prevent food from going to waste. (See also: Household Cleaning Hacks That Save You Money)

When refrigerators are messy and remain unclean for a long period of time, two things are going to happen:

  1. Leftovers get pushed further to the back each day and are forgotten about quickly.
  2. Smells and food gases can ruin otherwise good food by making it taste funny or outright causing spoilage.

Here are some tips for keeping your fridge a priority in your weekly cleaning schedule.

Start Heavy

It likely will take one good cleaning to get you back on track for an effective maintenance schedule. Take a few hours of a weekend, and then commit to one weekend every month to ensure the refrigerator is in good condition. Remember that regular cleaning will help extend the life of your appliance and keep repair and replacement costs down.

Get Everything Out

Remove every object residing in the refrigerator. If you don’t have enough counter space, use cardboard boxes to house your foods until the cleaning job is done. Next, remove all racks and drawers. You can place them outside near the hose, or in a bathtub or utility tub. Spray shelving with a bleach solution, or a natural cleaner if you prefer, that will disinfect and sanitize the components of the refrigerator.


Use a bucket containing half bleach and half hot water, and a clean sponge. Start at the top of the refrigerator and scrub all of the walls, ceiling, and remaining shelving. You can use an old toothbrush to get into the hard-to-reach areas. You will need to pick up debris with a paper towel, then repeat the washing process to ensure the interior space is clean. You can then wipe down the entire inside with a clean cloth and warm water, especially any components that are rubber or soft plastic (bleach can cause the disintegration of these materials). The bleach is necessary because the dampness of the refrigerator’s interior can cause the growth of mold and mildew. After the interior of the refrigerator is cleaned, tackle the shelves and racks in the same way. Once they have been cleaned, rinsed, and dried, place them back into the refrigerator.

Sort and Organize

Clean out your bucket, add fresh hot water, and get a new sponge or cloth. Start sorting the items you took out of your refrigerator. Select the jars and other objects that go back on the door shelves. Clean each bottle and jar off with a damp cloth before putting it back in the refrigerator, checking dates of expiration as you go. Toss all expired foods and group similar items together. This will help you know exactly what you have on hand and what you need to purchase from the store. Many times consumers overspend at the grocery store on supplies they already have.

Add Baking Soda

Baking soda is cheap and very effective at eliminating odors in the refrigerator and freezer. Put a baking soda box in the back of the refrigerator in a place less likely to be disturbed daily to prevent spillage. Replace the box every 30 days, and write the date you added it to the fridge on the box to help you remember. Add a note on the calendar too.

Develop a System

In order to keep up with refrigerator maintenance, arm your pantry with some necessary items including freezer bags, permanent markers, and more baking soda. As you add food back to the refrigerator, mark the date you made it and what it is, if necessary. Select one day each week when the refrigerator should be cleaned. It may be ideal to select the day before garbage is collected so the expired food doesn’t sit around the house for long. When that day comes, reorganize food items and throw out spoiled leftovers. Use a pre-moistened cleaning wipe to tackle spills and wipe down exposed areas weekly.

Buy Only What You Need

At the grocery store, buy only what your family can eat within the week, unless you can freeze it. The less you buy, the less chance the food will go to waste. You should get a basic idea of how much your family eats and what is left over after a typical seven-day time period. Use the information to shop accordingly. You’ll save not only money, but also the frustration of seeing wasted food being dumped into the trash week after week.

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Guest's picture

I've also seen a tip where leftovers should be stored in a glass or clear plastic container. If you put it in something you can't see, chances are you'll forget about it easier than if you put it in something that you will be able to look at as a reminder that it's there.

Tisha Tolar's picture

Great idea Money Beagle! I detest the opening of containers that contain the unknown!

Guest's picture
Rachel Crockett

I call bull on the baking soda in the fridge trick. That was merely a successful marketing ploy and not real science. How can an inert powder compact in a box shuffled to the back of the cooler really filter the air. If the smell is slightly acidic, maybe it will neutralize it slightly, but more than likely the baking soda will crust over from the excess moisture in the fridge.

I place burden of proof back on writer for some real research and not to continue to proliferate this myth.

Besides, how bad are your fridges that a smell builds up and lingers in your cooler!?!

Tisha Tolar's picture

As the writer of this piece, I have to say Rachel that I did do my research. I have a secondary fridge in the basement used to store extras and at one point the mixing smells of foods we kept in there was a problem that even carried over to my freezer. I added a box of baking soda to both sides and the next day it was gone...and stayed gone.

Marketing ploy or not, baking soda does work in my refrigerator. It also has many other uses that I have personally tested. If it didn't work for me, I would not have added it to my piece.

Thanks for reading!

Guest's picture

I really struggle with the "Buy only what you need" part. There are only 2 of us in the house, so if one of us isn't particularly hungry or eats elsewhere, we're left with extra food. I typically buy only fresh fruits and vegetables and meat, so everything is very perishable. Luckily, we have chickens that will eat the non-moldy stuff, but its still a waste of money...

For sanitizing, you need less than a capful of bleach in a 750 mL spray bottle to reach 50 ppm chlorine. It does the job, and you don't have to worry about your clothes being bleached or it eating away at the gaskets of your fridge.

Guest's picture

I just cleaned my refrigerator took less than one minute to wipe down the shelves. I pulled out the drawers (and then closed my refrigerator--yes, you can do that) and washed them before putting in our week's worth of fruits and vegetables. Yes, I have kids, and yes they make messes, but so long as I don't go months without cleaning the fridge, I never spend more than 5 minutes MAINTAINING a clean and organized refrigerator!
Best regards! Shooters Hill Carpet Cleaners Ltd.