Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning Your Commercial Refrigerator

Commercial refrigerators are crucial assets for any foodservice business. Imagine a restaurant unknowingly serving spoiled food ingredients just taken out of their refrigerators; the consequences could be serious. To prevent such things from happening, it's the responsibility of the business owners and staff to maintain a clean commercial refrigerator. 

There are 11 steps to deep cleaning a commercial refrigerator:

  •       Step 1: Empty The Shelves

  •       Step 2: Remove Shelves and Drawers

  •       Step 3: Clean The Shelves

  •       Step 4: Clean Interior Surfaces

  •       Step 5: Clean Exterior Surfaces

  •       Step 6: Clean The Door Gasket 

  •       Step 7: Clean Condenser Coils

  •       Step 8: Clean Evaporator Coils

  •       Step 9: Clean Drip Pans

  •       Step 10: Reassemble The Shelves And Drawers

  •       Step 11: Restock and Organize The Refrigerator

In this blog post, we’ll emphasize the importance of keeping your commercial refrigerator clean and in good working order. You’ll also learn a step-by-step deep cleaning process and some useful maintenance tips. Hope you will find this guide helpful!


Why Is It Important?

Whether you work in a high-end restaurant, school cafeteria, hotel or any other food service sectors, maintaining your commercial refrigerator clean is an essential part of the job. It can help your business run more smoothly, protect you and your customers’ health, increase the longevity of the refrigerator, and even affect the bottom line of your business. 

  • Comply with Health and Safety Standards

Accumulated dirt and dust can create an ideal environment for bacteria and other contaminants to grow inside the system. Health regulations, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have strict cleanliness and food safety standards to prevent foodborne illnesses. You can read more on the regulations here

When dirt and dust cover surfaces in condenser coils or fans, moisture is trapped inside the refrigerator, providing an ideal breeding ground for harmful microorganisms like mold, mildew, and bacteria. 

Regular cleaning and maintenance not only help in complying with these regulations but also ensure that the refrigeration system operates efficiently and safely, protecting both the business and its customers from potential health threats. Business owners can also avoid fines and operational shutdowns due to non-compliance. 

  • Improve Operational Efficiency

Dirt and dust can accumulate around the key refrigeration systems, such as the condenser, fans vents and compressors. This buildup impedes airflow over time and therefore affects energy efficiency, as the system needs to work extra hard to maintain the set temperature. It puts extra strain on the machine which can result in overheating and premature wear. If this issue persists, it may lead to costly repairs and system failures. 

Remember, the main function of the condenser coils is to dissipate heat from the refrigerant into the surrounding environment. If the condenser coils are covered by dirt and debris, the entire refrigeration system is at risk of overheating. As a result, the compressor has to work harder. Besides, the whole system has to run for longer periods to maintain the desired temperature and cooling effect. This increased workload will inevitably lead to a higher energy bill. In contrast, a well-maintained condenser coil can significantly boost energy efficiency. 

  • Increase Longevity

Regular cleaning can not only reduce mechanical strain on key components but prevent them from overheating and malfunctioning. Substances such as spills, crumbs and dips can turn into accumulated grime, and cause corrosions on metal parts. 

Maintaining a regular cleaning schedule makes it easier for early detection of potential issues, such as leaks or worn-out components. Timely repairs on minor problems can save money compared to a major and costly repair. 

Before Cleaning:

  • Gather All Materials

- Rubber gloves

- Cleaning cloths or sponges

- Mild dish soap or commercial refrigerator cleaner

- Warm water

- Baking soda (optional for tough stains)

- Sanitizer or disinfectant spray

- Vacuum cleaner with brush attachment (for coils)

- An old toothbrush

  • Unplug The Refrigerator

If you only plan to clean the shelves, this step is optional but recommended. It depends on how diligent you are during the refrigerator cleaning process. If you can keep the door closed diligently, it shouldn’t make a difference in the internal temperature. However, if prolonged periods with the door open is expected, it can lead to unnecessary waste in electricity as the compressor needs to work harder to recover the cold temperature. 

If you plan to do a deep cleaning for the condenser coils or drip pan, it's required to unplug the refrigerator altogether to avoid any potential electrical hazards. If unplugging isn't feasible due to the fridge's location or accessibility of the plug, an alternative is to switch off the circuit breaker that powers the refrigerator. This precaution ensures your safety while performing maintenance. By adhering to these practices, you can efficiently clean your refrigerator while minimizing energy waste and maintaining safety.

Step-by-step Instructions:

  • Step 1: Empty The Shelves

Emptying a refrigerator shelf before cleaning is an essential step before a thorough cleaning of the refrigerator. Gather some supplies, such as a cooler with ice packs, organizing containers, wiping cloths, and an empty space to organize all items. Focus on one section at a time.

This step is a good time to check for expired or spoiled food items and discard any spoiled foods. Don’t forget to utilize a cooler to store any perishable items like dairy and meats to keep them at a safe temperature. Wipe down any residues on containers and set clean containers aside.  

  • Step 2: Remove Shelves and Drawers

refrigerator without freezer shelves

Before removing any shelves and drawers, prepare the kitchen sink with warm soapy water. Westlake Commercial refrigerators have adjustable shelves, which make them super easy to remove. You can easily remove the fasteners or clips that secure the shelves as well. Don’t wash glass shelving immediately under hot water, because it may break. Let them cool to room temperature or use cold water to clean. 

  • Step 3: Clean The Shelves

Submerge the removed shelves and let them sit in the water for a few minutes to loosen any residue. Use a sponge or cloth to scrub the shelves thoroughly. Dirt may accumulate on the corners and edges of the shelves. Use a paste of baking soda and water if the shelves have any stubborn stains. 

You can also use some commercial disinfectant products to clean and sanitize shelves in commercial refrigerators. Be sure to check the labels and follow manufacturer’s instructions for safe usage and dilution. The products should be safe to use in kitchen counters or food contact surfaces. 

Rinse the shelves with clean water and use a clean towel to dry them thoroughly. Optionally, sanitize the shelves with a commercial disinfectant or a diluted bleach solution to ensure they are bacteria-free. 

  • Step 4: Clean Interior Surfaces

Wipe down all interior surfaces of the refrigerator with warm, soapy water to remove dirt and debris, including walls, shelves, and door gaskets. Then use a diluted bleach solution to sanitize the interior surfaces. 

Prepare a solution by mixing 1 tablespoon of liquid bleach with 1 gallon of water. Apply this solution to the cleaned surfaces using a clean cloth or sponge, ensuring thorough coverage. Allow the bleach solution to sit on the surfaces for a few minutes to effectively kill bacteria and viruses.

After sanitizing, rinse the surfaces with clean water to remove any residual bleach and allow them to air dry or dry them thoroughly with a clean cloth. This final step helps ensure that the refrigerator surfaces are not only clean but also properly sanitized, meeting food safety standards in commercial environments.

  • Step 5: Clean Exterior Surfaces

Cleaning the exterior of a commercial refrigerator is an important step to maintain a professional and clean appearance in any food service establishment. Start off by using a cloth or sponge with warm, soapy water. Wipe down all external surfaces thoroughly, including door handles, control panels and other frequently used areas. Remove all visible dirt and grease lingering around. Our Westlake commercial refrigerators are all made of high quality stainless steel that is fingerprint proof. So no need to worry about this part.

  • Step 6: Clean The Door Gasket

A clean door gasket of a commercial refrigerator plays a very important role in maintaining an airtight seal, which ensures a stable temperature and cooling environment inside the refrigerator. 

Before cleaning, carefully inspect the door gasket and look for any signs of wear, cracks, or tears. In this case, you should skip this step and call for a technician's help to replace the gasket. 

If the seal is in good condition, you can start cleaning by dipping a soft cloth into soapy warm water. Avoid any harsh chemicals that can damage the gasket material. Gently scrub the gasket, especially the folds and creases where dirt and grime tend to accumulate. An old toothbrush can come in handy in these areas. 

Wipe away any soapy residue with a damp cloth and then dry it completely with a dry one. Don’t skip this step, because moisture buildup can lead to mold and mildew down the road.

  • Step 7: Clean Condenser Coils

From this step onwards, make sure the refrigerator is turned off for your safety. Wear gloves and a dust mask if you can to protect yourself from touching cleaning chemicals and dirty debris. Have your manufacturer’s manual handy. Read the manual to find out how to locate the condenser coils. 

They are usually found outside the refrigerator, either at the back or bottom. If the coils are covered, you probably need a screwdriver to remove the protective cover. Make a note of any screws or small parts that you remove which can ensure you reassemble the cover properly afterwards. 

Once you have easy access to the coils, use a coil brush or a soft-bristle brush to gently remove dust and debris by brushing in the direction of the coils, not against it, to avoid damage. If you prefer, you can also use a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment to suck up any remaining dust and debris. 

  • Step 8: Clean Evaporator Coils

Unlike the condenser coils, evaporator coils are located inside the refrigerator compartment, typically concealed behind a panel or cover. It’s important to clean the evaporator coil because it’s primary function is to absorb heat and cool the air. A dirty evaporator coil makes it hard to maintain the desired temperature for storing food and beverages. 

Keeping the evaporator coils clean is essential for ensuring the efficient operation of the commercial refrigerator. Dust, dirt, and debris can accumulate on the coils over time, restricting their ability to absorb heat and therefore leading to higher energy consumption. 

Start by carefully removing the protective cover of the coils. The process to clean evaporator coils is the same as cleaning the condenser coil - use a soft brush or a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment to gently remove dust and debris from the coils and surrounding areas. Be sure not to use excessive force as this may cause damage to the delicate fins of the coils.

For stubborn dirt or residue, you can use a coil cleaning solution found in the market or recommended in the manufacture manual. Follow the product instruction to apply the solution, allowing it to penetrate and dissolve any buildup. Rinse thoroughly with clean water, then dry completely before reassembling the protective panel. 

  • Step 9: Clean Drip Pans

The drip pan, also called drain pan, is typically found at the bottom of the refrigerator behind a front grille or panel. remove the panel and then slide out the drip pan. Remove it carefully and slowly because the pan may contain stagnant water.

Transfer the pan to the sink and pour out any water and debris. Rinse the pan with warm, soapy water to remove loose dirt. To remove any stubborn residue, use a sponge or brush. Next step is to disinfect the pan - you can use either a solution of one part vinegar to one part water or a commercial disinfectant. Let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing and drying. Replace the grille, and you are done with this step. 

  • Step 10: Reassemble The Shelves And Drawers

freezer refrigerator inside shelves with food

Now that you have everything dry and clean, it’s time to put all parts back into the refrigerator. First place each shelf and drawer back to its original position and make sure all shelves are securely in place.Then turn on the refrigerator. Don’t restock any food items until the refrigerator reaches the desired temperature. 

  • Step 11: Restock And Organize the refrigerator

When it’s time to put everything back inside the refrigerator, it’s better to put them in the right place. Designate each area for certain types of food, such as diary, raw meat, vegetables. A good rule of thumb is to place raw meat on the bottom, ready-to-eat foods on the top shelves and everything else in between. This way you can avoid the cross-contamination from the meat dripping juices to other food and beverages. 

Maintenance Tips

  • Implement A Cleaning Schedule

Depending on the usage and type of food stored, the frequency of cleaning can range from one week to four weeks. If you work in a high-traffic restaurant, you may schedule a weekly cleaning routine. If the refrigerator mainly stores raw meat and dairy products, a weekly routine is also recommended. 

A daily visual inspection should be performed before the business closes for the day. You should clean up any messes to prevent them from hardening or spreading. This will make the deep cleaning process easier and faster.

  • Schedule Professional Maintenance

If your user manual has some maintenance tips, you should follow them closely. Call for repairs immediately when you notice any fluctuations in temperature or hear any unusual sounds. Even if your refrigerator works well, you should schedule a professional maintenance service once a year.

The certified technicians specialized in commercial refrigeration will perform different tests and examine several key areas, including the refrigerant levels, condenser coils, thermostat and temperature control, electrical components, and door seals. They will provide you with detailed documentation and any recommendations for repair, which may be a small amount of money, compared to a larger bill if you allow problems to linger around. 

  • Contact Your Manufacturer

Buying from reputable manufacturers gives you peace of mind, knowing any necessary repairs and maintenance are kept up to date. These manufacturers offer reliable customer service and support. All our Westlake commercial refrigerators come with a comprehensive warranty program, which covers 2 years for the entire machine, including free parts, telephone/video guidance, and door-to-door maintenance. Additionally, we offer a 6-year warranty for the compressor, with only parts and delivery covered for the last 4 years. 

Adhering to the manufacturer's maintenance schedule and ensuring timely repairs can keep your refrigerator in optimal condition and prevent costly breakdowns. This means you won't worry about equipment failures too much, allowing you to focus on your business with confidence.


Regular cleaning of your commercial refrigerator not only ensures food safety and compliance with health regulations but also increase operation efficiency and longevity. Follow this easy instruction to achieve a clean and efficient refrigerator that keeps your food fresh and your customers safe.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published