On the 11th Day of Christmas … Cleaning Out Behind the Fridge

RefrigeratorCleaning dirt and dust off your refrigerator coils can keep your appliance running more efficiently. Image: GE/HouseLogic

This Christmas, the best gift doesn’t cost much at all: Helping out a neighbor or family member with a much-needed home maintenance task is better than eleven pipers piping!

Give a hand to a friend or next-door neighbor and help save energy costs in the kitchen when you take on one of the most-procrastinated jobs in any house — cleaning out behind their refrigerator.

With all its lights and nifty appliances, the kitchen is the biggest energy user in your home — and your refrigerator has the biggest appetite, gobbling up more energy than any other appliance, except for your HVAC system.

You’ll spend about $90 per year to operate your fridge, based on stats from the U.S. Department of Energy. With a few simple adjustments, you can trim up to $45 from that cost. Plus, you’ll help your refrigerator last longer, saving money on repair and replacement costs.

A good place to start is that behind-the-fridge cleaning. Look at it as an adventure: Who knows what you’ll find back there?

Your object is to clean the coils of dirt and dust, using a vacuum cleaner. That’ll help your refrigerator run up to 30% more efficiently.

If you have a front-facing grill on the bottom of your refrigerator, remove that to vacuum the condenser coils underneath. If the coils are in back, you’ll have to move the fridge.

Let’s get moving

Most refrigerators made in the last decade have wheels that make rolling them out fairly easy. Still, it’s better to have two people, one on each side, so you can ease the fridge out gradually, making sure not to ding cabinets or the appliance.



Older refrigerators stand on adjustable feet — great for getting the refrigerator nice and level, but trouble when it comes to moving the unit. Those adjustable feet are notorious for trapping dirt and then grinding the grit into your kitchen flooring as you drag your out your heavy refrigerator.

Clean around the adjustable feet as best you can, and make sure your kitchen floor is swept up.

Options for moving a fridge include lifting the front feet onto a piece of scrap carpeting, placed nap-side down. Then, you can grab the carpet and pull; the rug cuts friction and your fridge slides easier.

Or, you can put nylon caster disks under the front feet. The Catch-22 of those operations is lifting the fridge; you’ll need some serious muscle. Be sure to stabilize tall items inside your fridge so they don’t fall over.

Clean the machine

Once out, vacuum the coils at the back of the unit. This dust usually is stubborn, but you can loosen it up for vacuuming with a refrigerator coil brush ($9).

Of course, don’t stop there — thoroughly clean the refrigerator alcove, too. If you’re lucky, you might find that cell phone you lost last year.

3 tips for to saving refrigerator energy costs

1. Set your refrigerator thermostat between 37-40 degrees F and the thermostat in your freezer at 0-5 degrees F. No thermostat? Buy two appliance thermometers at $3-$20 each.

2. Use an ice tray. Old-fashioned? Not when an automatic, built-in icemaker increases your refrigerator’s energy consumption by 20%.

3. Unplug your extra fridge. Consolidate your perishables into one unit — consider it an exercise in organization.

As a holiday bonus, green clean outside and inside the refrigerator, using inexpensive ingredients you have around the house.

Got an idea for helping out a neighbor or family member with home improvement and maintenance chores?