I’ve cleaned a lot of refrigerators in rental properties. When tenants are ready to move out, one of the last things they care about is scrubbing caked-on mess under the bottom drawer.
Even if your tenant thinks the refrigerator is clean, your new renters may have a very different opinion.
Landlords are better off making sure the refrigerator is spotless before new tenants move in.
Why is cleaning a refrigerator in an apartment different from any other refrigerator?
In my home, I wipe the outside of the refrigerator every night after dinner. If something spills inside, I clean it up right away. On garbage day I look for old food and toss it.
That is not typically the case with a rental property.
When multiple renters are sharing a unit, there is often confusion as to whose responsibility it is to clean the apartment refrigerator.
“That’s not my mess” is often a normal attitude.
Superficial cleaning may take place occasionally but at the end of the year, goop and goo may be crusted on the bottom and sides of the refrigerator making it a challenge to remove.
Landlords and property managers getting ready to show the apartment to new tenants need for the refrigerator to be spotless.
And cleaning an apartment refrigerator needs to be done quickly as there is typically little down time if any between tenants changing.
By following this step by step guide you can get an apartment refrigerator cleaned in about one hour, making it ready for new renters to admire.
There are certain things you will have on hand before starting to clean the refrigerator. Having these things ready will make the process go quickly and smoothly.
Garbage can or garbage bags
Cleaning solution (vinegar & water 50%mix)
Steps to clean a refrigerator in a rental property
- Unplug the refrigerator
For some this may seem like an unnecessary step. But it is important for a few reasons.
You are going to have the door open for about one hour so there is no reason to pay for cooling a refrigerator during this time.
Keeping the door open for so long will cause the capacitor to kick on a bunch of times and you will be adding strain on the refrigerator.
Also, you will need to pull the refrigerator away from the wall during this process and the cord is likely fairly short so will need to come out anyway.
- Remove any existing food items
As tempted as you may be, do not leave ANY food in the refrigerator that was left behind by the prior tenants.
You have no idea how sanitary the food may be. Even unopened containers may not have been properly handled.
Take absolutely everything out of the refrigerator. Pour liquid items into the sink. Put everything else in the garbage. This includes ice packs, batteries, paint – anything your prior tenants left behind.
- Remove drawers, storage compartments and shelves
Most refrigerators have removable parts. Take out all of the drawers, compartments and shelves.
Place the items on a counter and one by one wash them in hot soapy water in the sink with a sponge.
This is where things could get interesting as rotten fruit, spilled soda or condiments could be hardened on the plastic and difficult to get off.
There are a few tools you can try here such as a scrubbing pad or old toothbrush with a small amount of baking soda, cleanser or Barkeepers Friend.
If this doesn’t work, cover the stain with a cleaner in very hot water. Set it aside while you clean the other parts and then try to clean it later.
Set each of the removable parts aside so they can air dry while you are cleaning the rest of the refrigerator.
Once dry, I like to spray the parts with vinegar & water or alcohol to disinfect any remaining germs.
- Clean interior walls of refrigerator
The next step is to clean the refrigerator interior.
Start with a sponge and some warm water with dish soap. Wipe down all the walls and non-removable parts inside the refrigerator.
If your tenants slacked on cleaning the refrigerator often, you may have stubborn stains below where the drawers go. Liquid tends to seep down, settle and dry there.
Try using a soft scrub brush and hot water to remove these types of stains. Soak up the dirty liquid with a sponge. Then sprinkle some baking soda and work that into the stain. This can take some time and effort depending on how thick the residue is.
Once all of the visible stains are removed, I use a solution of 50% vinegar / 50% water to spray the interior. Then wipe off so it is completely dry. This will remove germs and odors.
Pay special attention to the rubber gasket on the doors of the refrigerator. It is important that they are cleaned regularly to maintain a tight seal which prevents cold air from escaping.
Clean the gaskets thoroughly with the vinegar solution to remove any stains or grime. Inspect to make sure the doors close tightly.
Be sure to clean the freezer in the same manner. There should be no ice build up in either the freezer or the refrigerator. If there is, you may need to defrost the unit completely to clean properly and check for problems.
Once you are done cleaning the inside of your apartment refrigerator, there should not be any smells.
- Clean exterior of refrigerator
To clean the exterior of your apartment refrigerator, start by rolling it back away from the wall and any counters. Most refrigerators have wheels so it should be fairly easy to pull it back.
Be careful to pull on the door handles themselves when doing this as you could cause damage. Rather reach behind and pull slightly from the rear. You also want to be sure there is nothing on top of the refrigerator that may fall and that it is unplugged.
Another thing to be careful about when pulling back your refrigerator is if you have a water dispenser or ice maker. There could be a water line connected to the back so pull back slowly so this does not get damaged.
Now use the vacuum to clean the backside of dust.
Next, vacuum and mop the floor under the refrigerator. Often small things can roll underneath and be too troublesome for a tenant to bother cleaning. This often neglected step will help prevent ants and bugs from entering the apartment.
Remove trim on the front of the refrigerator and vacuum the coils. Pro Tip:use cardboard paper towel tube on the end of your vacuum for extended reach and as a flexible tube that will go over the coils. This will help get dust and debris far under the refrigerator.
Finally, wipe the outside (including the top) with dish cloth and vinegar solution. If you have a water dispenser, be sure to thoroughly scrub any water deposits that may appear. A stainless refrigerator will look best if you use a stainless steel cleaner as a final touch.
- Reassemble refrigerator
At this point you can push the refrigerator back into place and plug it in. Be careful not to push the unit too far back so that you damage the plug or waterline. There should be an even space around all sides and back where the refrigerator meets the walls.
I have seen some refrigerators where the water line was run through a hole in the floor. So make note of its position when it is pulled out.
You can now replace all of the cleaned removal parts. Make sure everything is dry before returning it to the refrigerator.
- Final steps to cleaning and apartment fridge
Your objective is to get the refrigerator of your apartment looking as new as possible for new tenants. It will help to rent faster and the new tenants will likely keep it cleaner if it looks new.
There are a few final steps after cleaning the fridge that will make sure the new renters are thrilled.
- Adjust the temperature settings – tenants may have raised or lowered the temperature. You want to check these and reset them to the preferred level. If the unit is not getting cold enough it may signal that there is a problem that needs to be corrected.
- Replace lightbulbs – There should be a lightbulb in the refrigerator and in the freezer. If either of these is not working, now is the time to replace them.
- Change water filter – When tenants change hands, it is a good time to change any filters.
- Remove ice – If you have not done so already, discard any ice in the freezer. Ice can absorb odors from food that was stored – not something your incoming tenants will want.
- Any broken parts (cracked plastic) – While you are cleaning, be on the lookout for any broken parts. Now is the time to order new ones and replace them.
Anyone can clean a refrigerator. But often an apartment refrigerator often requires a bit more effort. By following the simple steps above, it will help your new tenants get off to the right start and maybe, just maybe they will return it to you in the same condition.