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Storing a fridge? leave the doors open to prevent it from going mouldy

There’s not a lot to storing a fridge, the main thing is preventing it going mouldy in storage. The easiest way to prevent a fridge going mouldy is by removing the water from the fridge.

Behold, the consequences of an uncleaned fridge left in storage with doors closed
…And after it has been professionally cleaned – read how in our fridge cleaning article

An unplugged, turned off fridge is the perfect breeding ground for mould. While the fridge has been running, water has managed to work its way into every nook and cranny inside the fridge. This water isn’t an issue as long as you keep the fridge powered up – its generally too cold for any mould to grow. But once the fridge is off, if you close the door, and leave it dirty on the inside, the mould will come. Faster in hot weather, slower ion cold weather but it will come. Cleaning the crumbs out will reduce the mould, but the most important thing is to get the water out.

There’s two ways we can get the water out. The first is pretty simple – leave the doors open. You don’t need them open a lot, you can just jam a rag in between the freezer and fridge door and leave it cracked a little. Over the course of a few weeks, the fridge will dry out completely, and you can close the doors if you want. The only downside is you have no way of really telling if all the water is out. The longer you leave it, the less chance you will have mould. You can leave the doors open for the whole time the fridge is in storage, however we find that if the fridge has magnetised door seals, these will demagnetise and your fridge won’t seal as well when you close the doors ago. Additionally a rag stuffed in to stop the door closing can – over time – deform the seals. Generally leaving the fridge open for a week in hot dry weather will be enough, or a couple weeks in colder weather. I wouldn’t recommend leaving the doors open longer than a month.

If you need to store the fridge longer than a month, a great solution is a chemical dehumidifier generally containing calcium chloride you can buy at you local hardware store or supermarket for less than $10. Silica gel sachets might also work, but depending on how much water remains in your fridge, they are unlikely to be up to the task, and a more expensive option. You can also close the doors early even on a wet fridge if you go down this path provided the dehumidifer is big enough. Buy one for the fridge section and one for the freezer section, and be careful not to knock them over once they’re in place.

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The pro guide to cleaning a really filthy, seemingly unsalvageable fridge.

So you’ve left your fridge in storage and come back to a complete shitshow? Never fear, fridge cleaning man is here. Never call me that. Ok, so most dirty fridges are redeemable with a few hours of hard work spread over the course of a few days. We’re going to work smart not hard. This means rather than scrub the crap out of it, we’re going to do this the laziest way possible. It’s not a fun job, but its a real easy way to turn something that’s worth nothing into something that’s worth a few hundred dollars. The fridge we transform in this guide is nowhere near the worst one we’ve brought back – but a short disclaimer. If you’ve let meat rot in your fridge, and I mean really let it rot to the point where you’ve got maggots, you’ll never get that smell back out. I’ve completely dissassembled fridges and cleaned them so thoroughly – but the smell seeps into the plastic or something – and it just never goes away. As a rough guide – lets say if you’ve left meat in your fridge turned off for a month, don’t bother with my guide, your fridge is ruined.

1. pressure washing (optional) (30 minutes)

A pressure washer (or just a garden hose) is great for getting a lot of the crap off the fridge inside and out. This step is not crucial, but it is desirable. It is certainly more of a professional step. If you are going down the professional route, I strongly recommend investing in a pressure washer and gaining the pressure washer experience even if it means losing a few fridges to mistakes. Long term, the time you will save is absolutely worth it. If you’re only doing this as a one off, there’s a bunch of reasons why you might want to consider skipping it.

  • If you don’t have a pressure washer/hose, or can’t get the fridge outside to clean it, just go on ahead to the next step.
  • If you can’t afford to break or damage the fridge. On some fridges the paint will be pressure washed off as well. You only know which models it will happen to with experience. You can also cause electrical and other problems as discussed below, because you have no experience.

If you’re game enough, lazy enough, or looking to do this professionally, lets get started. Pressure washing, or using a garden hose is more about do not’s than do’s, unfortunately, so here’s a list of mostly don’ts.

  • Start by getting a bit of water over everything. Getting the water on starts softening things, so they come off more easily than if you tried to blast it off straight from dry. Once you’ve put down your base coat of water, start washing in earnest. Wash the outside of the fridge first, top to bottom, then the top compartment, then the bottom compartment. Finally clean the drain pan and compressor area at the back of the fridge. Clean the shelves in the fridge, but remove any drawers, and the vegetable crispers at the bottom. Blast them out as well.
  • When pressure washing the seals stand a few metres back. Usually the seals will hold up to this cleaning, but if they’re in bad condition, you may destroy them by pressure washing. If they are destroyed, they needed replacing anywhere, Seals will be dirtiest at the top of the fridge and freezer and near the door handles. You want to get into the grooves of the door seal, not just the face side.
    Really get into all the nooks and crannies. This is the major upside of the pressure washer – you’ll ultimately have a cleaner fridge for less work. Hit the hinges, and all the joins, anywhere that you’d usually have to clean out with a toothbrush, because if you don’t get it now, you’ll be using that toothbrush.
  • Generally you can leave the shelves in the unit if you pressure wash, but make sure you really get in at the edges of the shelves, in the groove’s where they sit in the cabinet. The vegetable crisper at the bottom will have to come out, and if they’re easily removable the ‘dairy’ door pockets. A word of caution here, the clear ‘dairy’ covers that often sit over the top shelf in the fridge door are really easy to break. This fridge is an ok example, because it is missing these covers, someone broke them trying to take them off for cleaning no doubt. Best advice is to just clean this area by hand, a pressure washer is often strong enough to break these plastic covers in its own right.
  • We can get the electricals wet, as long as we keep the fridge off for long enough for them to dry back out. I find two days is enough, 99% of the time, but if you can’t afford to take the risk, wait a week. Alternatively skip this step, and you can have your fridge up and running earlier.
  • Don’t blast crap into the back of the freezer, and avoid getting it into any of the vent holes – but especially at the back of the freezer. Same rules apply for upside down units. Don’t stress too much about this, just try and avoid it. Mostly we’re trying to avoid blowing bits of mould and other crap into areas we can’t get them back out of easily. Secondly we’re trying to avoid blowing bits of crap into the drain hole at the back of the freezer which drains melt water out on a defrost cycle. I’ve propped this fridge up on a bit of metal so the water drains straight back out the front and is less likely to cause any issues.

2. a bucket of warm soapy water with a secret ingredient (45 mins – 120 mins)

The second step (or first) is a bucket of hot water with a shitload of standard washing detergent and a smidge (a capful) of cloudy ammonia cleaner. The ammonia seems to be really good at removing crap and stopping the mould from coming back. You’ll find this cheap at your supermarket or hardware store. You’ll also want a rag or cloth, and a toothbrush and a nailbrush, for getting into nooks and crannies. A microfibre cloth is great for drying but you can also use a towel though it may leave bits of lint and fluff behind.

Now starting outside the fridge, start top to bottom, then move to the inside, clean top to bottom. Noever use the rough side of a scourer sponge (you know the green side) anywhere but on glass. It will scratch noticeably. If you’ve skipped the pressure washing step, pull out every shelf, and take it to your kitchen sink and clean it seperately in some warm soapy water with a capful of ammonia. Don’t be stingy with your water, if you need to, put some towels down on the floor, so you can flood sections to push all the bits of crap out. Note in the pictures below the puddle of soapy water under the fridge – because I used a saturated cloth to flush crap out of hard to reach areas, and the grooves in the seals.

Use the toothbrush or nailbrush to clean seals and joins – sometimes there will be a shard of glass in these areas so avoid the temptation to use your finger wrapped in a bit of cloth, as its quite unpleasant to have a shard of glass go deep under your fingernail. Once you’ve got everyything as clean as its going to get, dry everything off with a microfibre rag, or towel. The drying stage shouldn’t be skipped either, it’s a good step to pull any little bits out that you’ve missed with your initial clean. If you’ve used a pressure washer or hose previously this step will take around 45 minutes, if not it will take up to two hours or more depending on how dirty the fridge is to begin with.

3. now for the bleach (24 – 48 hours)

Warning: On many LG and Samsung fridges, bleach will cause the seals to discolour to pink. If you’re using bleach on one of these fridges, test somewhere like the bottom of the fridge seal first to make sure it won’t discolour. You can usually get away with using some bleach on the seals, but don’t leave it long and keep a close eye on it. First sign of discolouration get it off.

Bleaching a fridge

Now we’ve got the fridge as clean as we can, you can see that there are some things that just won’t come off. There’s mould stains on the seals, the freezer shelf, and the freezer compartment floor. The inside of the unit, particularly the fridge door and fridge compartment has yellowed. We’ve never been able to figure out why some fridges yellow internally and others don’t. If you know, please tell us, as we’d love to know and let the world know! While we don’t know the cause of the yellowing, we do know how to get rid of it and the mould staining!. The answer is cheap and simple, and you probably guessed from the title, it is ordinary household bleach.

Make a 50/50 mix of bleach and water in a spray bottle and spray it all over the seals and inside the fridge. You could also apply it with a rag, if you don’t have a spray bottle. The bleach mixture is pretty hard on spray bottles and don’t expect it to last long unless its a proper chemical resistant sprayer. You can’t put too much bleach on, go nuts. Once its all sprayed on, close the doors and leave them closed for 24 hours. If its still yellow when you come back in 24 hours, spray some more bleach and leave it another 24 hours. If the stain is still not gone after that, we have one final trick to remove it, but it’s usually more trouble than its worth. You can use paint thinners to melt the top layer of plastic off, by rubbing once very quicky, then leaving it for 5 minutes and repeating. Its very easy to leave stroke parks in the plastic, or even get bits of cloth stuck in it. If you’re not looking to do this professionally, probably don’t bother with this, you’re going to make it look worse.

Once you’re happy with the whiteness of the fridge, mop up the bleach with a rag. Also be aware that the rag will likely be bleached, and be very careful not to get the bleach mix onto any clothes or fabric you like, as it will get bleach marks!

4. detailing the outside (30 – 60 minutes)

wax and grease remover

While we wait for the inside of the fridge to bleach back to pearly white, we can detail the outside of the fridge. Our first step is to use a product called wax and grease remover, or prepsol, available at any automotive store. This stuff is liquid and sometimes comes in an aerosol which makes it even better. It’s very gentle on plastics and paints, but great at removing stickers and marker. You may also employ a plastic scraper or razor blade if you feel comfortable to remove stubborn stickers. Apply the wax and grease remover with a rag or from the aerosol and let it it for a minute or so then rub the area to remove any marking. Repeat until the mark is gone, or it becomes apparent that the wax and grease remover is not effective on the mark. On this fridge someone has drawn some sort of birthday cake on the fridge door, which usually would come off with wax and grease remover. For whatever reason it wouldn’t. You can skip the wax and grease remover step if you’re really doing this on a tight budget, ands just do the job with thinners. Thinners will do the same job as the wax and grease remover but faster and more effectively – but thinners are more severe, risk damage, and can’t be used on plastic without a lot of skill and practice.

paint thinners

Generally available at any paint or automotive store. You only need a low grade, get a product called gunwash if you can, whatever is cheapest. Gunwash is just low grade paint thinners for cleaning out spray paint guns at the end of painting. Another alternative if you’re just doing this once off is nail polish remover, or acetone, basically the same product, though I find paint thinners slightly more effective. Paint thinners will remove almost anything, and works by removing a thin layer of paint, so you want to use it sparingly, and only when necessarry. On some fridge, particularly Whirlpools, this will take the paint off very easily all the way back to bare metal so you can’t use this method. For most other brands you should have no issues, but theres always a risk, especially on older worn fridges.

A quick wipe with the thinners, removed that silly marker drawn birthday cake, and all the little scuffs on the fridge. You can also use paint thinners and wax and grease remover on the fridge seals for any stubborn marks that did not come off in the bleaching stage. You must be very careful not to get wax and grease remover and thinners on any clear plastic as it will leave them cloudy, and do not get the thinners on any plastic at all as it will melt them. If you do make this mistake, don’t try and fix it, all you can do is leave it alone and let it solidify again.

Be carewful where you leave a rag soaked in thinners. If you leave it on a painted surface or on plastic it will potentially cause problems. Ideally leave it on a stainless steel surface.

touch up paint

All you should be left with is a clean fridge, with some scratches and scuffs. The final step in detailing is to repaint these areas. The worst area on this fridgre is a big scratch on the fridge door. You can use cheap white gloss paint to fix the issue, but we find this usually looks worse than the original mark, yellows quickly, and often gives you grief going on. We use a product called White Knight Gloss Appliance White, and it costs $20 a can at Bunnings (completely unpaid promotion). It’s a bit pricey but it sticks like shit, and looks good. If you look from the right angle in the light or touch the area with your hand after you’ve painted it you can feel the difference, but it’s only if you’re looking for it, you’d never notice day to day. If you put it on too thick you’ll get runs, so you’re better to go light, and more coats. If you do mess it up and get a run, grab a rag with some thinners, and it will wipe off pretty easily even when dry, but you’ll have to start painting all over again.

5. You’re done!

Your fridge should now look way better. If you’ve pressure washed your fridge, make sure it stays off for a couple of days, but if you’ve just used a bucket of soapy water and a rag, you can turn it back on as soon as the bleaching step has been completed!

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Can you move a fridge laying down? Absolutely!

Can’t be arsed reading the whole article and just want to know whether you can move a fridge on it’s side? Yes, you can. Looking from the front tip it on the right side. Tape the doors shut. Don’t leave it laid down longer than you needs to, ideally less than 24 hours. When you get it where it needs to be, leave it turned off, standing upright, for at least 24 hours. Longer if possible. There’s a tiny chance you’ve broken your fridge. If you want to reduce your risk to practically zero, read on to find out exactly which side is best and why.

We get asked this question heaps, and we’ve found all the other articles out there don’t really cut it. They were either written by someone who has never moved a fridge, or Safety Sammy, who’s only ever moved a fridge upright because his Dad told him to and it is therefore the only way it can be done. What makes me different to these other goobers? I’ve moved thousands of fridges laying down, and some even upside down. I also repair fridges every day, and I understand exactly what can go wrong when you move a fridge laying down. So strap yourself in for one hell of a rivetting read about moving a fridge on its side.

If there’s one thing to take away from this, it’s that if you move a fridge laid down, if you leave it off for at least 24 hours on the other end, you’re unlikely to have any problems.

What goes wrong when you move a fridge laid down?

It’s mostly about the oil in the compressor, and teeny tiny bits of rust and other crap suspended in the oil, but it can also be about spilt water.

Spilt water

In the image below you will see there is a water collection tray outlined in red, and the fridges computer in blue. The drainage tray collects water from the freezer of your fridge when the defrost cycle starts every 24 hours or so, where it can be evaporated away by the warmth of the compressor. Most of the time this tray has some water in it. If you tip the fridge over to the right side looking from the front, this water will spill onto the computer. If we turn the fridge on while the computer is wet, there’s a pretty solid chance it will blow, and now you need to replace it. These can usually be had for about $100-$150, and are pretty easy to replace. The computer is not always in this spot and not all fridges have a computer running them, especially if they are older. It varies by model and manufacturer.

The easiest way of addressing this issue is to jam an absorbent rag into the water collection tray, let it absorb the water for half an hour or so, then before you tip the fridge on its side have another rag or towel jammed between the compressor and the computer to catch any water. Or you can not bother with any of this, let the board get wet, and leave your fridge off for a few days at the destination. As long as the water has dried it will be fine. Maybe this sounds a bit careless, but I can tell you we use a pressure washer to clean our fridges, and as long as they’re left off for a few days afterwards, we’ve never had an issue.

Compressor oil

Now – the issue of oil. The fridge compressor is located at the back bottom of the fridge, and is usually black. Sometimes there is a metal cover which will need to be unscrewed first so you can see what you need to. Inside there is a little motor with a little piston that moves up and down and compresses the refrigerant, which essentially allows your fridge to work. The little piston, just like the pistons in your car needs to be lubricated by oil or it will get too hot and seize up. The oil usually sits at the bottom of the compressor, in what’s called the sump. Now you will notice that there are little pipes that come out of the compressor.

If I tip my fridge on it’s side, front or back or upside down- what happens?

If you lay the fridge down, the oil can move into those pipes, or get where it shouldn’t in the compressor. If the non compressible oil ends up in a spot where the compressor tries to compress it, the oil will win and the compressor will break. No more cold. This issue will resolve itself within 24 hours regardless of what side you’ve transported the fridge, but the longer you leave it laid down, the more likely it is to be a problem. If its been upside down for a year, I would leave it standing upright for a month, and I wouldn’t bet on it working again…. but it probably will.

If the oil goes up one of the pipes this gets a bit trickier. Often there are only two pipes, one where the compressor is sucking the refrigerant gas from inside the fridge (SUCTION), and the other where the compressor is pushing the compressed gas back into your fridge to cool it down (DISCHARGE). If the oil goes into the SUCTION line it’s no biggy – as long as it’s not too much oil the compressor will suck it straight back into the compressor when its turned on. But if oil goes into the DISCHARGE line, the compressor will push it through the whole system – and this is bad news.

The oil itself can clog the in line filter. Also – the oil has got tiny bits of rust and other crap in it from normal wear and tear of the compressor and other system parts. The older the fridge, the more crap there will be. As long as its contained in the sump of the compressor it’s no problem, but if it gets into the refrigeration system via the DISCHARGE line, it can clog up whats called the orifice tube, a restriction in the line that basically makes your fridge work. One tiny bit of dirt will do that job no problem at all.

So when we move a fridge on it’s side, we want to avoid getting the oil into the DISCHARGE line. If you do end up with oil in the DISCHARGE line it is usually not a problem – as long as you leave it off at the destination for sufficient time. Getting oil and crap into the DISCHARGE line, then sucking that mixture up and into the system is what kills your fridge, and this would be avoided most of the time, if the fridge were left to sit for a few days at your destination regardless of what side you move it on. Generally if you leave the fridge off for enough time, the oil and crud will go back to the compressor sump where it belongs. This is probably going to be good enough for most applications, but we can do better than good enough. If you need to turn your fridge on earlier, or don’t want to take any chances, carry on.

so how do I avoid getting oil into the discharge line?

Some fridge are really easy – when all the pipes come out of one side of the compressor. In that case, the correct side to transport the frdge on is the side where all the pipes do not come out. Easy peasy – this will be maybe 50% of fridges if I’m guessing. For the remainder of fridges we need to identify which is the DISCHARGE line, and this is thankfully easy.

Whether there’s one or ten pipes coming and going from the compressor there’s only one DISCHARGE line in my experience. The discharge line is the pipe leaving the compressor with the smallest diameter, this is a fact of refrigeration. For your fridge to work – the discharge lines need to have a smaller diameter than the suction lines. Its small but noticeable. You should be able to see the difference by looking at it, and definetly by touching it (turn the power off dumb dumb). Find where the pipe with the smallest diameter leaves the compressor and lay the fridge down on the opposite side.

Don’t forget to tape the door shut!

Looking from the front, the correct side is almost always the right hand side (left looking from back). This is also the side where most fridges are hinged, so the doors will fall open if you don’t tape them shut with a bit of duct or electrical tape (which I’ve always found interesting from a designed to break perspective, it’s my little conspiracy that they do this so you transport it on the wrong side, break your fridge, and you tend to hold yourself accountable not the manufacturer, but I degress). Electrical tape is better, duct tape can take paint off sometimes. The longer you leave the tape on the higher the chance it will take paint off, don’t leave it for a month.

Is it possible that I’ll break the internal compressor mounts?

Possible in theory but in thousands of fridges I’ve never seen it once. Inside the compressor housing, the compressor motor is suspended usually on 3 or 4 spring mounts. These mounts are made to deal with up and down movement, not side to side. When you move a fridge laying down you might say – hit a big bump or pothole. The force of the jolt, could in theory break one or more of these mounts or springs, causing a very noisy compressor or a compressor that obliterates itself on being plugged in at the destination. Again, I’ve never seen it in thousands of fridges, its possible but you’d have to be hella unlucky.

I’ve just moved my fridge laying down and now it’s not cooling – is it dead? probably.

It depends on the cost of labour in your area, and what the fridge is worth. You’re probably dealing with a blocked refrigeration system (but it could be a computer as discussed above), and a possible dead compressor. They’re the hardest faults to fix on a fridge for sure, and they need someone competent and well trained to deal with it. If you’re in Australia you can just go ahead and send that badboy to scrap metal – it’s going to cost you easy $300 and more likely $600 to repair. We repair fridges professionally and if we have this fault, we strip the unit down for parts and kick it to the curb.

Please be responsible when you dispose of your fridge as well (don’t actually kick it to the curb dingbat) – The refrigerant they contain is usually very bad for the environment, and the law, often ignored, and rarely enforced, requires that the refrigerant be reclaimed – basically sucked out with a special pump into a cylinder, then burnt in a plasma arc furnace, which is hotter than the sun! In Australia you can tell if your fridge is being responsibly degassed by asking if the organisation holds an Australian Refrigeration Council trading authorisation. Another easy giveaway is if you’re not paying to dispose of your fridge – they typically cost more to degas then they are worth in scrapmetal value. If you rent a fridge with us and have an old one you want us to take away, we will dispose of it responsibly.

How do we move our fridges? – you guessed, it laying down!

It’s just easier and less risky. If you do it right, it makes it easier to get in and out of a ute tray, you just tip it over onto a blaneket hanging a bit over the side and then lever it in, it can be done with one person. You’ve got less risk when you’re on the road, our fridges aren’t going anywhere, but if they were standing up and held by only a ratchet strap – its probably going to become a projectile in an accident, and even under normal conditions ratchets and ropes often work their way loose, and now your fridge is going out the side next time you make a hard turn.

It doesn’t seem to matter which way you face the fridge, if it’s in a trailer or a ute, regardless of taped doors, they will find a way to open. Face it front, doors open under braking, face it any other way, and they open when you hit 60 k’s. Its just anxiety inducing. If you’re moving a fridge in the back of a ute or trailer, do yourself a favour, lay down a blanket, and lay the fridge on top. Centre it and tie it down or ratchet it. Leave it off for a day on the other end. Job done.