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RISMEDIA, December 18, 2010—(MCT)—It’s America’s dirty, sticky, smelly, well-chilled secret: Our refrigerators are not as clean as they should be. “The refrigerator is a spot in the house where it’s easy to accumulate stuff,” says Carolyn Forte, director of home appliances and cleaning products at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. “People put things in. You go to a restaurant, and you get takeout; you shove that in. Things have a way of working their way to the back and never coming out again.” Here’s Forte’s approach to cleaning:

All you need to give your fridge a good cleaning is 30 minutes, hot water, liquid dish detergent, sponge and soft cloths or paper towels for drying. “You really don’t need any strong chemical cleaners; you don’t need any tough abrasive tools or sponges either.”

Step 1: Clean out the refrigerator. “Get rid of old food you’re not going to use, things way past their prime,” says Forte. Wipe drips and condensation off jars and bottles.

Step 2: Do one shelf at a time; temporarily move items to another shelf. Tackling the whole thing? Move items to a counter. If cleaning takes longer than 30 minutes, consider using a cooler.

Step 3: Mix hot water and dishwashing liquid in the sink. Start with the main shelves; they’re generally removable, so take them out and put them in the dishwater. Wash, rinse, dry and put back. Can’t remove them? Wash them with a soft cloth or sponge and soapy water, rinse and wipe dry.

Step 4: Bins generally come out as well, so be sure to take them out, wash, rinse, dry and put back. Check and clean places that collect drips such as behind and under the bins. Pull out drawers; check the runners of the drawers and be sure to wipe the bins on the door.

Step 5: “It’s a good thing to give the gasket around the door a cleaning with the soap and water,” says Forte. “You want to make sure nothing grows in the crevices. You don’t want any mold in there.”

Step 6: Cover food well and return it to the refrigerator. Since “air circulates between the refrigerator and the freezer, sometimes if your ice smells, it’s because food is not covered well.”

Step 7: Wipe down the exterior using all-purpose cleaner (or a stainless steel cleaner for a stainless steel refrigerator). Pay attention to the handles. Clean the top of the refrigerator (if it’s not built in), as it is a magnet for greasy soil.

Step 8: Vacuum out dust or use a brush to clean the coils according to your manual (many refrigerator manuals are now online). If you have an ice and water dispenser, make sure you change the filter.

(c) 2010, Chicago Tribune.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.