Easy as 1, 2, 3: The 5-Step Refrigerator Cleanout

Easy as 1, 2, 3: The 5-Step Refrigerator Cleanout

Get your refrigerator tidy and in order with our simple 5-step plan.


With so many leftovers overtaking your refrigerator, it can become increasingly difficult to navigate. But there’s hope! Follow our simple 5-step cleanout to keep it organized (and grime-free) for good.

Step 1: Preparation
Before diving into your refrigerator overhaul, fill your family in on your plans. Give them a day to go through the refrigerator and mark foods that should stay. A permanent marker can be used to write on packaging, or rubber bands can symbolize items worth saving.

During this day, gather your cleaning supplies in preparation for the cleanout:

Tip: Clean out the refrigerator when it’s least full – generally the day before your normal grocery trip.

Step 2: Decide What Stays and Goes

  • Begin removing items by compartment. As you do, inspect each item. Does it look or smell fresh? Is it before its expiration date? If the answer to any question is "no," pitch it or toss cleaned, non-reusable containers in the recycling bin
  • Place the food you’re keeping in coolers filled with ice. If you find duplicate items, group them together so you can take stock of what you have
  • As you remove items, make a list to keep track of what you do and don't need to pick up at the grocery store

Step 3: The Clean Sweep

  • Before you begin, unplug the refrigerator
  • Remove shelves and bins and wash them using Bounty with Dawn
  • If your bins or shelves fit in your dishwasher, save time by washing them on the bottom rack
  • Use a solution of warm water and dish soap to clean the interior of the refrigerator and rubber seals. As you’re cleaning, don't miss the shelf supports. If they’re especially sticky, use a toothbrush to scrub lightly around them
  • Be sure to give all surfaces a final rinse, using Bounty paper towels to wipe up

Step 4: Clean the Exterior

  • Use Swiffer dusters to say farewell to dust bunnies as you trap and lock dust on the top of the refrigerator
  • Clean the coils of your refrigerator to keep it running as efficiently as possible – but be careful, they’re fragile and surfaces may be sharp. Consult your owner's manual or search online for instructions specific to the model
  • Plug in your refrigerator and allow to cool completely before returning items
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Step 5: Organize

  • Designate easiest-to-reach areas for the food and drinks you use most often
  • Place milk and juices on the most accessible shelf, butter and eggs on the second most accessible shelf
  • Store tall drink containers at the back of the shelf and shorter containers in front, so you can easily see what you have or need

Tip: Meat , fish and dairy should go as far down the main compartment as possible (while still being convenient). Avoid placing them in one of the door compartments, because you may forget about them, and they’ll spoil.

Additional Tips:

  • Pay Attention to Temperature: The temperature in a refrigerator isn't the same throughout. Some spots – like the top of the door – are warmer, while others – like the drawers at the bottom – are colder. Take advantage of this when deciding where to place perishable items.
  • Take Advantage of Compartments: Just because some of the compartments are labeled, doesn’t mean they’re made solely for that item. Warmer areas, like the vegetable crisper drawer, are perfect for storing items in jars or bottles like condiments, jams and canned drinks.

Do you have any creative ways to organize the refrigerator? Share them with the community in the comments below!

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