Here's how to clean your refrigerator the right way—plus, how often you should be doing it.
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open fridge
Credit: Getty / Fabrice LEROUGE

Let's face it: No matter how clean you try to be, your refrigerator will inevitably get messy. Though your fridge may not seem like a place where germs would hang out, food packages and storage containers can come in contact with bacteria and debris (think: juices from raw meat or those moldy raspberries lurking in the back of your fridge). And that bacteria can get transferred to your hands, other food items and, of course, your mouth.

"If you've had a fruit or vegetable spoil in your fridge (it gets soft, mushy, even moldy), what's left behind impacts the other fruits and vegetables the spoiled items are around. And even if you don't see traces of the spoiled vegetable, bad bacteria can come in contact with fresh foods, causing them to spoil more quickly or, worse, get you sick," says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.

For meat eaters, even the best sealed containers sometimes leak. So, even though you're probably trying to cut down on plastic, this is an exception where you always want the double bag, or you might not notice when your chicken package leaks.

Luckily, as long as you regularly clean your fridge, you should be fine! Here are some tips from experts.

How to Clean Your Refrigerator

First off, work your way down. "I always recommend starting from the top and moving down, that way anything that falls while cleaning (even just the cleaning spray) will get cleaned up as you move down," says Jones. You can remove everything from the refrigerator at once, or go shelf by shelf and drawer by drawer.

Now time for solutions and sprays. Jones says, "I recommend using a disinfectant spray, but opting for a more natural option since you will be putting food back into the refrigerator where the spray has been. I prefer to keep harsh chemicals away, especially from the crisper drawers that house fruits and vegetables without packages." She says she likes this one from Seventh Generation ($6, Target).

Next, Jones recommends tackling the shelves: "Be sure to clean the shelves on the door in the same way, and use this as an opportunity to check dates on condiments." Throw any expired or funky-looking items away. She says, "You can also clean the tops of condiment containers that may have started to leak and stick to the outside of the bottles." For easy cleaning, stock up on some washable bar rags (we like this 12-pack from Amazon, $13).

"When it comes to the drawers, I like to remove mine entirely and clean with soap and hot water over the sink before letting them air dry," says Jones. This really gets into the nitty gritty for a deep-clean feel.

How Often to Clean Your Fridge

Jones says ideally you'll clean your refrigerator every time you notice something has spilled, leaked or gotten moldy. "On top of that, the whole refrigerator could use a deep clean every 3 months," she says.

As for regular maintenance, clean once a week, says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD. "When you're putting in new groceries, take that time to wipe down the drawers and shelves and get rid of any old food or anything that may have gone bad," she adds.

As for the food items, you can see when it was opened and decide if you should toss or not. Jones says, "In addition to checking the best-by dates on food packages, I also consider when it was actually opened. Items that are more acidic will last longer and resist bacteria, so it's safe to keep lemon juice, vinaigrette and salsas longer than large yogurt containers, creamy dressings and cream sauces."

If there are obvious signs of mold, smells or discoloration, it's time to toss it. Michalczyk says, "For condiments, you may have to open the lid and look inside because you can't always tell from just look at the outside of the jar." She adds that any veggies that are leaking, wilted or have strong odors should be tossed.

How to Handle Odors in Your Fridge

What causes that icky egg or broccoli smell? Odors build from the combination of foods that are oxidizing in the refrigerator. Translation? They form some gross formula you wish would go away and never come back. "The more items that spoil in there, the more odors will build up, too," says Jones.

She adds, "In addition to cleaning regularly, I always keep an open baking soda container on one of the shelves as it's great at absorbing odors." She recommends replacing it every time you do a deep clean (or every 2-3 months). Amazon sells a pack of three boxes for just $10. Happy cleaning!