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The pro guide to cleaning a really filthy, seemingly unsalvageable fridge.

Last updated on October 9th, 2023

So you’ve left your fridge in storage and come back to a complete shitshow? Never fear, fridge cleaning man is here. Never call me that. Ok, so most dirty fridges are redeemable with a few hours of hard work spread over the course of a few days. We’re going to work smart not hard. This means rather than scrub the crap out of it, we’re going to do this the laziest way possible. It’s not a fun job, but its a real easy way to turn something that’s worth nothing into something that’s worth a few hundred dollars. The fridge we transform in this guide is nowhere near the worst one we’ve brought back – but a short disclaimer. If you’ve let meat rot in your fridge, and I mean really let it rot to the point where you’ve got maggots, you’ll never get that smell back out. I’ve completely dissassembled fridges and cleaned them so thoroughly – but the smell seeps into the plastic or something – and it just never goes away. As a rough guide – lets say if you’ve left meat in your fridge turned off for a month, don’t bother with my guide, your fridge is ruined.

... and after.
... and after.
... and after.

1. Pressure washing (optional) (30 minutes)

A pressure washer (or just a garden hose) is great for getting a lot of the crap off the fridge inside and out. This step is not crucial, but it is desirable. It is certainly more of a professional step. If you are going down the professional route, I strongly recommend investing in a pressure washer and gaining the pressure washer experience even if it means losing a few fridges to mistakes. Long term, the time you will save is absolutely worth it. If you’re only doing this as a one off, there’s a bunch of reasons why you might want to consider skipping it.

  • If you don’t have a pressure washer/hose, or can’t get the fridge outside to clean it, just go on ahead to the next step.
  • If you can’t afford to break or damage the fridge. On some fridges the paint will be pressure washed off as well. You only know which models it will happen to with experience. You can also cause electrical and other problems as discussed below, because you have no experience.

If you’re game enough, lazy enough, or looking to do this professionally, lets get started. Pressure washing, or using a garden hose is more about do not’s than do’s, unfortunately, so here’s a list of mostly don’ts.

  • Start by getting a bit of water over everything. Getting the water on starts softening things, so they come off more easily than if you tried to blast it off straight from dry. Once you’ve put down your base coat of water, start washing in earnest. Wash the outside of the fridge first, top to bottom, then the top compartment, then the bottom compartment. Finally clean the drain pan and compressor area at the back of the fridge. Clean the shelves in the fridge, but remove any drawers, and the vegetable crispers at the bottom. Blast them out as well.
  • When pressure washing the seals stand a few metres back. Usually the seals will hold up to this cleaning, but if they’re in bad condition, you may destroy them by pressure washing. If they are destroyed, they needed replacing anywhere, Seals will be dirtiest at the top of the fridge and freezer and near the door handles. You want to get into the grooves of the door seal, not just the face side.
    Really get into all the nooks and crannies. This is the major upside of the pressure washer – you’ll ultimately have a cleaner fridge for less work. Hit the hinges, and all the joins, anywhere that you’d usually have to clean out with a toothbrush, because if you don’t get it now, you’ll be using that toothbrush.
  • Generally you can leave the shelves in the unit if you pressure wash, but make sure you really get in at the edges of the shelves, in the groove’s where they sit in the cabinet. The vegetable crisper at the bottom will have to come out, and if they’re easily removable the ‘dairy’ door pockets. A word of caution here, the clear ‘dairy’ covers that often sit over the top shelf in the fridge door are really easy to break. This fridge is an ok example, because it is missing these covers, someone broke them trying to take them off for cleaning no doubt. Best advice is to just clean this area by hand, a pressure washer is often strong enough to break these plastic covers in its own right.
  • We can get the electricals wet, as long as we keep the fridge off for long enough for them to dry back out. I find two days is enough, 99% of the time, but if you can’t afford to take the risk, wait a week. Alternatively skip this step, and you can have your fridge up and running earlier.
  • Don’t blast crap into the back of the freezer, and avoid getting it into any of the vent holes – but especially at the back of the freezer. Same rules apply for upside down units. Don’t stress too much about this, just try and avoid it. Mostly we’re trying to avoid blowing bits of mould and other crap into areas we can’t get them back out of easily. Secondly we’re trying to avoid blowing bits of crap into the drain hole at the back of the freezer which drains melt water out on a defrost cycle. I’ve propped this fridge up on a bit of metal so the water drains straight back out the front and is less likely to cause any issues.
Remove the drain pan at the back of the fridge for washing
If you can;t remove the drain pan wash it out as best you can on the fridge
Wash the fridge top down and aim down generally
Cleaning the top of the freezer seal - standing bacj to avoid damage
Propping the back of the fridge up to tilt the fridge forward and drain the water and muck out
Nice and clean, but stained!
Nice and clean, but stained!

The second step (or first) is a bucket of hot water with a shitload of standard washing detergent and a smidge (a capful) of cloudy ammonia cleaner. The ammonia seems to be really good at removing crap and stopping the mould from coming back. You’ll find this cheap at your supermarket or hardware store. You’ll also want a rag or cloth, and a toothbrush and a nailbrush, for getting into nooks and crannies. A microfibre cloth is great for drying but you can also use a towel though it may leave bits of lint and fluff behind.

Now starting outside the fridge, start top to bottom, then move to the inside, clean top to bottom. Noever use the rough side of a scourer sponge (you know the green side) anywhere but on glass. It will scratch noticeably. If you’ve skipped the pressure washing step, pull out every shelf, and take it to your kitchen sink and clean it seperately in some warm soapy water with a capful of ammonia. Don’t be stingy with your water, if you need to, put some towels down on the floor, so you can flood sections to push all the bits of crap out. Note in the pictures below the puddle of soapy water under the fridge – because I used a saturated cloth to flush crap out of hard to reach areas, and the grooves in the seals.

Detergent, cloudy ammonia, a nailbrush, a toothbrush and a microfibre rag.
If you're going to use one of these sponges do not use the green side on anything but glass - it will scratch - especially the outside of the fridge.
Fridge after pressure washing and soapy water
Fridge plastic has yellowed particularly on fridge door and in fridge
Mould staining in the freezer
Mould staining on the seals
Fridge plastic has yellowed

Warning: On many LG and Samsung fridges, bleach will cause the seals to discolour to pink. If you’re using bleach on one of these fridges, test somewhere like the bottom of the fridge seal first to make sure it won’t discolour. You can usually get away with using some bleach on the seals, but don’t leave it long and keep a close eye on it. First sign of discolouration get it off.

Now we’ve got the fridge as clean as we can, you can see that there are some things that just won’t come off. There’s mould stains on the seals, the freezer shelf, and the freezer compartment floor. The inside of the unit, particularly the fridge door and fridge compartment has yellowed. We’ve never been able to figure out why some fridges yellow internally and others don’t. If you know, please tell us, as we’d love to know and let the world know! While we don’t know the cause of the yellowing, we do know how to get rid of it and the mould staining!. The answer is cheap and simple, and you probably guessed from the title, it is ordinary household bleach.

Use bleach in a 50/50 mix in a spray bottle
Most of the mould staining has been bleached off the freezer floor

Once you’re happy with the whiteness of the fridge, mop up the bleach with a rag. Also be aware that the rag will likely be bleached, and be very careful not to get the bleach mix onto any clothes or fabric you like, as it will get bleach marks!

4. Detailing the outside (30 – 60 minutes)

Thinners, wax and grease remover, a razor blade, plastic scraper, and a couple of microfibre clothes
Appliance paint
Go too heavy and you'll get a run - wipe it off with thinners and start again.

While we wait for the inside of the fridge to bleach back to pearly white, we can detail the outside of the fridge. Our first step is to use a product called wax and grease remover, or prepsol, available at any automotive store. This stuff is liquid and sometimes comes in an aerosol which makes it even better. It’s very gentle on plastics and paints, but great at removing stickers and marker. You may also employ a plastic scraper or razor blade if you feel comfortable to remove stubborn stickers. Apply the wax and grease remover with a rag or from the aerosol and let it it for a minute or so then rub the area to remove any marking. Repeat until the mark is gone, or it becomes apparent that the wax and grease remover is not effective on the mark. On this fridge someone has drawn some sort of birthday cake on the fridge door, which usually would come off with wax and grease remover. For whatever reason it wouldn’t. You can skip the wax and grease remover step if you’re really doing this on a tight budget, ands just do the job with thinners. Thinners will do the same job as the wax and grease remover but faster and more effectively – but thinners are more severe, risk damage, and can’t be used on plastic without a lot of skill and practice.

paint thinners

Generally available at any paint or automotive store. You only need a low grade, get a product called gunwash if you can, whatever is cheapest. Gunwash is just low grade paint thinners for cleaning out spray paint guns at the end of painting. Another alternative if you’re just doing this once off is nail polish remover, or acetone, basically the same product, though I find paint thinners slightly more effective. Paint thinners will remove almost anything, and works by removing a thin layer of paint, so you want to use it sparingly, and only when necessarry. On some fridge, particularly Whirlpools, this will take the paint off very easily all the way back to bare metal so you can’t use this method. For most other brands you should have no issues, but theres always a risk, especially on older worn fridges.

A quick wipe with the thinners, removed that silly marker drawn birthday cake, and all the little scuffs on the fridge. You can also use paint thinners and wax and grease remover on the fridge seals for any stubborn marks that did not come off in the bleaching stage. You must be very careful not to get wax and grease remover and thinners on any clear plastic as it will leave them cloudy, and do not get the thinners on any plastic at all as it will melt them. If you do make this mistake, don’t try and fix it, all you can do is leave it alone and let it solidify again.

Be carewful where you leave a rag soaked in thinners. If you leave it on a painted surface or on plastic it will potentially cause problems. Ideally leave it on a stainless steel surface.

touch up paint

All you should be left with is a clean fridge, with some scratches and scuffs. The final step in detailing is to repaint these areas. The worst area on this fridgre is a big scratch on the fridge door. You can use cheap white gloss paint to fix the issue, but we find this usually looks worse than the original mark, yellows quickly, and often gives you grief going on. We use a product called White Knight Gloss Appliance White, and it costs $20 a can at Bunnings (completely unpaid promotion). It’s a bit pricey but it sticks like shit, and looks good. If you look from the right angle in the light or touch the area with your hand after you’ve painted it you can feel the difference, but it’s only if you’re looking for it, you’d never notice day to day. If you put it on too thick you’ll get runs, so you’re better to go light, and more coats. If you do mess it up and get a run, grab a rag with some thinners, and it will wipe off pretty easily even when dry, but you’ll have to start painting all over again.

5. You’re done!

Your fridge should now look way better. If you’ve pressure washed your fridge, make sure it stays off for a couple of days, but if you’ve just used a bucket of soapy water and a rag, you can turn it back on as soon as the bleaching step has been completed!


1 thought on “The pro guide to cleaning a really filthy, seemingly unsalvageable fridge.

  1. […] Behold, the consequences of an uncleaned fridge left in storage with doors closed …And after it has been professionally cleaned – read how in our fridge cleaning article […]

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