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by Caitlin Saniga

Behold: my fridge, where most of my food lives. Lately, it's gotten a little cluttered, inside and out.

I said it already, but I’ll say it again: The fridge is where the food lives. And the optimal fridge is not only a cold storage box for perishable food, it’s sanitary, organized and up to safety standards.

With this post, I plan to focus on sanitation and organization with a couple of side notes about fridge safety. I’m using my fridge as an example, and as you can see from the photo, the refrigerator is situated below the freezer. While many of these tips apply to all fridges, including side-by-side and fridge-on-top models, some advice about storing particular items on particular shelves will have to be adjusted if you have a different type. Keep that in mind.

Let’s get started!

First things first. To make the most of this cleaning experience, it’s best to start from the bare bones.

Once you adjust the temperature, you're going to be unplugging the fridge, so check it again a day later to see if it's accurate. Adjust again if necessary.

  • Check the temperature of your fridge by placing a thermometer on the center shelf and closing it in the fridge for about 3 minutes. Fridges should stay between about 35 and 38 degrees. The proper temperature for the freezer, by the way,  is about 3 to 5 degrees.
  • Top: This is the kick plate. Bottom: This is what it looks like when you take off the kick plate. Click the photo to see all of the gross dust in more detail.

    Unplug the fridge. (Don’t worry. It’ll be unplugged for only about an hour while you clean and organize it at the speed of light. Stick extra-sensitive items like dairy products in the freezer if you anticipate spending more than an hour cleaning the interior surfaces of the fridge.)

  • If possible, pull the fridge away from the wall and dust behind it, taking extra care to wipe off the coils if your fridge has them. Doing this can prevent the fridge from overheating, overworking and potentially catching fire.
  • Remove the kick plate from the bottom of the fridge and use a long-handled duster or broom to clear away dust bunnies. You should do this once a year to avoid major build-up, which can be a fire hazard.
  • Empty everything from the fridge. Check expiration dates, and toss or recycle items that are past their prime.
  • Remove the shelves and drawers if possible and wipe them down with a damp sponge.
  • Use a damp sponge with white vinegar or dish-washing soap to wipe down all interior surfaces. Use a toothbrush to scrub crevices.
  • Return the shelves and drawers to the fridge.

Before (right): After a trip to the grocery store, I had unloaded my bags as quickly as I could, mostly concerned about fitting everything in the fridge. Looks a little crowded with no rhyme or reason, right? After (left): The theory here is that everything has a place. Similar things are grouped together on shelves or in particular quadrants of the fridge.

Congratulations! Your fridge should now be a clean, blank canvas. Time to bring back the food. Here are some tips for organizing things among shelves and drawers. You might be surprised to find that placement matters!

Click the image to see how I arranged my fridge in more detail.

  1. Dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cream do best on the upper shelves of the fridge, where the temperature is most consistent.
  2. Eggs belong on the inner shelves of the fridge (not on the door, which tends to be warmer). I put mine on the top shelf for the same reason I placed dairy products up high.
  3. While you’re cleaning and organizing your fridge, don’t forget to check your filtered-water pitcher. Make sure the filter is up to date. If it isn’t, replace it.
  4. Store stray fruits and vegetables in transparent containers so you can easily see what’s inside. Add a strip of masking tape with the purchase date to keep track of freshness.
  5. Fresh herbs such as parsley, cilantro, basil and mint last longer if you snip a bit off the stems and place the herbs in a glass of water. Cover the herbs with a loose fitting plastic bag. Hardier herbs like chives, thyme and rosemary should be wrapped loosely in plastic wrap and placed on one of the door shelves, where it’s warmer.
  6. Keep a container of baking soda in the fridge to eliminate odors. I store mine in a spice shaker that has holes in the lid.
  7. Store meats and cheeses at the bottom of the fridge, where it’s coldest. If these items have been opened, it’s best to wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or place them in a zip-top bag with the air pressed out.
  8. Keep unwashed whole vegetables and fruits wrapped loosely in perforated plastic bags in the crisper drawer. Beware, keep these items away from ethylene-producing fruits such as kiwis, stone-bearing fruits and apples to avoid sped-up ripening.

Before (left): I had accumulated too much stuff. After (right): When I sorted through all of the bottles, seeking out old expiration dates, I sort of hit the jackpot. I ended up tossing out 2 almost-empty bottles of salad dressing, some chocolate syrup, maple syrup and low-sugar grape jelly.

Keeping in mind that the door is the warmest part of the fridge, I mainly keep oils, vinegars, condiments and butter here.

  • Wipe away drips and sticky spots on containers with a damp sponge.
  • Group similar items together. I put the butters in the top cubby. Underneath are the jars of pickled goods. Next to that are all of the oils and vinegars. On the second shelf are my compost tub and the jellies and marmalades. Below are the condiments, dressing and wine.
  • Don’t overcrowd! You don’t want containers to go flying when you open the door.
  • Don’t be tempted to keep your eggs in the door!

If you use the top of your fridge as storage, try to keep it under control.

  • Remove everything from the top of the fridge.
  • Wipe it down with a damp sponge and vinegar or dish-washing soap.
  • Sort through what you took off the top of the fridge, and return only what is necessary.
  • Remove the items attached to the outside of the fridge.
  • Use a damp sponge with dish-washing soap or vinegar to wipe down the exterior of the fridge, taking special care to wash the door handles and along the door seal.
  • Sort through the items that were hanging on your fridge. Pare down where possible, and rearrange photos, clippings and magnets for a fresh look. I added an envelope for coupons so that I can easily access them as I’m checking the fridge to make my grocery list.

Finally, stand back and admire your work. Then get up close and sniff things. Run your hands over the clean surfaces. Rearrange the condiments in order of height. Stack and restack plastic containers. Nudge the beer bottles so they stand in a perfect line, descending to the back of the fridge. Fluff up the parsley. Go crazy! Your refrigerator is cleaner than it's been in a long time, I bet.

Looking for more cleaning tips and tricks? Check out our full Spring Cleaning guide here.

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by Caitlin Saniga

You probably already have many of these items in your pantry. What are you waiting for? Try out some of these tips! (All of these photos enlarge when you click on them, by the way.)

One of the best parts of spring is prying open the windows and letting the sun in. But boy, that sure shines a light on all of the cleaning you neglected during the winter.

This year I vowed to tackle as many cleaning tasks with natural cleaners as I could. I started in the kitchen with *five* simple pantry staples that double as cleaning products, and I’m amazed with the success I’ve had. Some of these methods work way better than the store-bought products I’ve tried. And I can’t help but breathe a sigh of satisfaction (rather than choke on bleach fumes) when I see the results.

Have you cleaned with these items before? I tried to list the tips I thought would be most helpful in the kitchen, but I’m well aware that this list is by no means comprehensive. What natural methods have you had success with?

The refresher Lemons' citrus fragrance is invigorating and refreshing, and the acidic fruit can act as an antibacterial and antiseptic cleaner.

Use half a lemon with salt to scrub away stains on cutting boards. The juice will also erase garlic and onion odors.

  • Lemon rinds can be run through the garbage disposal to freshen a stinky drain. Hot water mixed with lemon juice can deodorize any drain.
  • Clean copper-bottomed pots and pans with the juice from a lemon half. Dip the open side of the lemon in salt, and scrub away spots. Add more salt as you go. Rinse the pots with water before letting them dry.
  • To brighten white tea towels and cloth napkins, soak them in a solution of lemon juice and water. Set them out to dry in the sun. The lemon juice acts as a bleaching agent.
  • Rub lemon juice into the stains on a cutting board. Let it sit until the stains disappear. Rinse the juice away with water. The lemon juice will also disinfect the board.
  • To clean up stained plastic containers, squeeze lemon juice in the container with a bit of baking soda. Use the lemon as a tool to scrub the stain. For stubborn stains, let the mixture sit on the stains overnight, and scrub again the next day.

The polisher Olive oil is a natural moisturizer, and just a few drops can make a variety of surfaces gleam.

  • Combine 1 tablespoon of olive oil with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to make a wood furniture polish. Use a rag to buff the liquid onto wooden surfaces.
  • Rub a rag with olive oil on stainless steel and brass surfaces to prevent tarnish, streaks and corrosion.
  • After washing a wooden cutting board in soap and water, let it dry. Once it’s dry, wipe it down with some olive oil to keep it from drying out.
  • Rub olive oil on your measuring utensils to keep sticky substances (honeys, peanut butter and syrups) from sticking.
  • Dab a little bit of olive oil on a towel and lightly wipe knife blades to preserve them.
  • Season a cast iron skillet by rubbing a faint amount of olive oil all over the pan’s surface and letting it sit in 350-degree oven for an hour.

The eraser Baking soda is a pH neutralizer and can zap away stains and odors. The powder is mildly abrasive and works wonders on troublesome spots.

One of my favorite ways to use baking soda is to scour away stains on my stove. I recommend wearing gloves when cleaning with baking soda.

  • Place a dish of baking soda in the fridge and freezer to neutralize smelly odors.
  • Use a sponge and some baking soda to scrub away coffee and tea stains on mugs.
  • Unclog a stopped-up drain by running a solution of warm water and baking soda down the garbage disposal.
  • Keep a box of baking soda near the stove in case of a grease fire. Throwing baking soda on such a fire is safer and more effective than attempting to extinguish it with water, which can further agitate it.
  • For pots with food burned to the bottom, sprinkle the dirty area with baking soda and add hot water. Let the pot soak overnight before attempting to scrub again. The baking soda will loosen the food.
  • To remove grease stains from towels and napkins, treat them with a paste of baking soda and water before running them through the washing machine.
  • Use a paste of baking soda and water to scour away burned-on crud from stovetop surfaces. Use a wet rag to mop away leftover residue.

The absorber Cornstarch is known for its ability to absorb grease and oils.

  • Remove grease spatters from appliances and walls by sprinkling a rag with cornstarch. Gently rub the grease spot until it’s gone.
  • Use a paste of cornstarch and water to polish good silverware. Let it dry before rubbing it away to reveal sparkling utensils.
  • To make a great glass cleaner, mix 4 cups of water with 1/2 cup of cornstarch and pour it into a spray bottle. Mist your windows with the solution and wipe it away for glistening results.

The dissolver White distilled vinegar is highly acidic and prized for its ability to break down stains and odors.

I don't use my microwave very often, so it doesn't get terribly dirty. But I was impressed by how swiftly I could wipe away stains after letting the vinegar-water heat up. I felt like I was in one of those cleaning product commercials!

  • Remove price tags and other sticky substances from walls and dishes by sponging vinegar over them several times. Wait about 15 minutes before rubbing away the substance with a damp rag.
  • Another great glass cleaner can be made by mixing 2 teaspoons of vinegar with 1 liter of warm water.
  • Clean the microwave by bringing a combination of 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in the microwave. Vapors will loosen crusty food so that it can be wiped away with a sponge, and odors will vanish.
  • For glassware that has lost its luster, soak a cloth in vinegar and drape it around the inside and outside of the glass. Rinse it with warm water after letting it sit for 1/2 hour.
  • Set out a dish of white vinegar to get rid of pesky fruit flies.
  • Drench a rag in vinegar and use it to wipe away greasy grime on top of the fridge.
  • Eliminate calcium deposits on faucets by soaking a rag in vinegar and tightly wrapping the problem area. Let it sit overnight before wiping the crud away with a clean rag.

Looking for more cleaning tips and tricks? Check out our full Spring Cleaning guide here.

 

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