The fingerprints, smudges, cooking grease and dust that accumulate on the door, sides and top of refrigerator cabinets are easy to clean up thanks to the enameled steel or stainless steel finish found on most models. However, the shell of the unit isn't the only part that needs dusting — to save energy, youíll need to remove dust from the condenser and coils, as well.
If it's been a while since the top of the cabinet has been cleaned, vacuum away loose dust using a hand vacuum cleaner or brush attachment before using any spray cleaner.
Several spray and wipe cycles may be necessary to completely remove all greasy residue from the surface. Wipe the surface thoroughly with a soft cloth dampened with clean water. Dry the cabinet using a soft terry-cloth towel.
Stainless-steel cabinets need careful drying to prevent water spotting. If your tap water is hard, spotting may be particularly difficult to avoid. If so, try wiping the stainless steel with a cloth dampened in white vinegar. Wipe and dry the surface as instructed above.
Stuck-on food or stubborn stains should be soaked with cleaning solution for several minutes before wiping with a sponge or cloth. Never use sharp, metal tools or abrasive pads on stuck-on food or stains. Scraping will mar painted cabinets and scratch stainless steel. For stubborn stains, try dabbing a small amount of rubbing alcohol onto a paper towel and rubbing stains gently. Avoid using acetone (nail polish remover) on painted surfaces. Acetone quickly dissolves paint, even the tough coats of enamel typically used on the refrigerator cabinets.
Once clean, consider applying an automotive wax to the cabinet exterior. The wax will provide a few months' protection against grease and dirt buildup. This will mean faster cleanups as long as you don't scrub the waxed surface away with an abrasive pad or cleanser (which you should not be using to begin with). Use only mild cleaners to remove grease and dirt from the waxed surface. Avoid using harsher cleaners such as ammonia, which will strip away the wax.
Condenser and Coils
The condenser and coils found on every refrigerator are easy to overlook since they're out of sight either underneath or behind the cabinet. Still, it's important to remove dust from these components twice a year. Built-up dust acts as an insulator, impeding the ability of these components to radiate heat. The refrigerator then must work harder to deliver the same cooling power to the interior cabinet, resulting in — you guessed it — higher energy bills. The difference can be significant, because the refrigerator is the second-largest electricity consumer in a typical household, bested only by air-conditioning equipment.
Caution: To reduce shock hazards, turn off the power at the control dial inside the refrigerator cabinet and then unplug the unit before cleaning the condenser and coils. When finished, first insert the refrigerator's plug back into the outlet, and then turn the unit on at the control.
To gain access to bottom-mounted condensers and coils, remove the trim panel below the door. Several small screws or nuts typically hold the panel in place. Use a brush attachment and crevice tool as necessary to remove as much dust as possible. Replace the trim panel.
You'll need to pull the refrigerator away from the wall to reach rear-mounted coils and condensers. Consider getting help for this task, since a typical refrigerator weighs several hundred pounds. (Fortunately, most models these days come with rollers instead of feet, making removal much less of a Herculean task.) Some rear-mounted coils are attached to the cabinet with screws or nuts. Remove them for access to both sides of the coils, but be careful — either hold onto the coil assembly at all times, or prop or tie it in place. The coil assembly can be damaged beyond repair if it is dropped.
Gently vacuum all coil and condenser surfaces with a brush attachment and crevice tool as necessary. Re-attach the coil to the cabinet, re-insert the unit's plug into the electrical outlet and slide the refrigerator back into place, leaving enough clearance space between the wall and coils for proper heat transfer around these components. Labels inside some models specify minimum distances, but it's usually at least 1-2 inches. Finally, re-start the refrigerator using the interior controls.
Now, grab a cold drink out of your clean refrigerator and relax. You've earned it!
Jeff Bredenberg, editor, in Clean It Fast, Clean It Right: The Ultimate Guide to Making Everything You Own Sparkle & Shine.