Preventing Mold in the Fridge is a Healthy Kitchen Must

Michael Rubino

September 22

Refrigerators are a staple part of any kitchen. As the bearers of all things yummy and nutritious, they have a crucial role in our ongoing health and happiness. While you’re holding the door open and planning a midnight snack, though, the last thing you want to stumble upon in the depths of this appliance is that fungus among us. Mold in the fridge can turn your search for munchies into a health hazard.

And, since refrigerators can offer the perfect living conditions for mold, this icky scenario happens far too often. Think about it: when was the last time your refrigerator got a little bit of TLC? Or the last time you thoroughly checked for mold?

Chances are, it's been a while. You are not alone! With the go-go-go lifestyle we all lead, it’s easy to forget about things like deep cleaning kitchen appliances to prevent mold growth. It’s not until a problem pops up and makes you go, "Oh no, is that… mold?!" that we focus on this important part of the home health puzzle. 

No one wants all of their edible items, drinks, condiments, and whatever else is inside of the fridge covered in contaminants. Not only is it icky, but it’s also a serious no-no for our ongoing wellness. Unfortunately, mold in the fridge can happen to anyone. This Halloween-ish threat is why every refrigerator owner should up their prevention game to make sure these appliances are free from mold growth and bacteria, and have a plan in place in case these contaminants move in on your favorite kitchen accessory.

Here’s what you need to know so that you and your family can snack in peace. 

But First, Mold 101

Mold reproduces by creating microscopic spores and releasing them into the air.¹’² Over 100,000 species of mold have been identified so far, which equates to quite a lot of these tiny particles in the world. They’re just floating around, looking for a place to start growing or sticking to any surface they come into contact with. In fact, you probably encounter a few throughout your everyday routine and would never even know because they’re invisible to the naked eye.

mold spores

As these spores leave the moldy nest, they’re on the hunt for a place they can call their own. Not unlike when a child ventures off into the world on their own for the first time and begins living their adult, solo life. Except, all a mold spore typically needs to transition into a living colony are two things.³ 

These ingredients for life are:

  1. Food (they’re like teenagers-they eat anything and everything)
  2. Moisture (like humans, they too require H2O)

A mold spore will transform into a living colony if these two elements are present for 24–48 hours. This colony will put down roots called hyphae and get started on that reproductive process, pumping spores into the surrounding space. Some species of mold can also create microscopic toxins called mycotoxins, further adding to the particle party.⁴ 

In nature, this isn’t a problem. Mold actually plays a super important role in natural processes such as decomposition. However, all of those particles being released by a contamination situation like mold in the fridge is not the same scenario as being released into the big, wide world. 

As you can probably imagine, all of these microscopic particles can cause serious damage to our home health.

Why Is There Mold in the Fridge?

As mentioned above, mold needs moisture and a food source to survive and thrive. Refrigerators can offer a perfect opportunity for this to occur. 

When it comes to food, this is an easy check mark to knock out. The machine is literally packed full of all sorts of yummy edible options. Mineral buildup in the water dispenser, ice machine, and water lines can also provide sources of nutrition for contaminants such as mold and bacteria. 

As for moisture, this can also be in abundance in refrigerators. The water dispenser, ice, spills, moist food, and other moisture-rich opportunities can allow for microbial growth. 

mold in the fridge

Without proper maintenance, mold in the fridge can pop up in the blink of an eye and turn your appliance into a hazard zone. The longer that mold exists, the more particles it will release all over your food, drinks, and anything else you have inside of the appliance.

Why is Mold in the Fridge a Health No-No?

Thanks to their small size, particles such as mold spores, mycotoxins, bacteria, and fragments can be absorbed, ingested, and inhaled into the body.⁵ This is what gives them the power to impact our health. 

Encountering a few mold spores throughout the day typically isn’t an issue. The body will identify them as foreign invaders and the immune system will descend in a flash and kick them to the curb. When there’s colonized mold pumping a huge number of spores into the indoor air you breathe in every day, that’s an entirely different situation. Especially if there are mycotoxins present as well.⁶’⁷’⁸’⁹’¹⁰

Eventually, the immune system may get bogged down and not be able to keep up with the influx of foreign particles or fritz out and start attacking healthy tissues in the body. The tricky aspect is that no two people are the same when it comes to reacting to mold exposure. Some may experience symptoms immediately, and others could live in a moldy home for years without much more than a runny nose every so often. You just never know. 

Researchers are still attempting to determine exactly how mold exposure affects us, but it’s a tricky subject to nail down. Genetics, pre-existing conditions, length of exposure time, presence of mycotoxins, and species of mold all play a role. What they do know is that anyone with a compromised or developing immune system is at greater risk of developing symptoms faster and to a greater extent. 

That being said, common symptoms of mold exposure include: 

  • Cold/flu symptoms 
  • Headaches and migraines 
  • Digestive issues 
  • Skin problems 
  • Hair loss
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Anxiety and/or depression 
  • Muscle and joint pain 
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Brain fog

As long as the exposure continues, these symptoms will persist. That is why it’s important to ensure mold in the fridge is not a menace in our homes! While we can’t stop a spore from flying into the front door, we can reduce the number of moldy growth opportunities and actively work to remove any spores in the home. Because once they start growing, you’ve got a spore factory on your hands and the potential for some serious adverse health reactions. 

Plus, no one wants to eat or drink stuff with mold on it. That’s just gross.

How Do You Get Rid of Mold in the Fridge?

Mold in the fridge can happen to anyone. That fungus among us is persistent and will jump on a growth opportunity faster than a sports car driver getting a speeding ticket. 

The key to removing mold is to be as thorough as possible. Mycotoxins and bacteria are particularly difficult to remove, so extra elbow grease is required to eliminate these contaminants from your fridge. 

The first step is to pull out the manufacturer’s manual to get a full breakdown of which parts can be removed and their suggestions for cleaning the specific unit.

That being said, these are the basic steps for getting rid of mold in the fridge. Keep in mind that as the colony grew, it released microscopic particles into the surrounding space. Hence, the entire unit needs to be deep cleaned to remove any contamination, even if the growth is only in a small area. 

mold in the fridge

Steps to remove contamination include:

  • Remove everything from the unit, including the freezer. 
  • Turn the machine off. Wait around 5–10 minutes to make sure that any remaining ice comes out. 
  • Empty the water supply and drain it into a bucket. 
  • Remove any removable pieces from the water dispenser as well as the ice machine, shelves, and crisper drawers. Dump the ice that’s in the ice bucket. 
  • Spray each piece with a botanical cleaner such as Benefect Decon 30, allow it to sit for 10 minutes, and then wipe them down with a microfiber cloth. Botanical cleansers with surfactants are crucial for proper remediation because they can lift particles from the surface so they can be wiped away. Microfiber towels then come in because they are 100 times better at removing small particles than regular rags. Repeat this process two more times, but only allow the cleaner to sit for 30 seconds. If you can’t reach any cracks and crevices, you can use a small brush to scrub the areas, and then wipe with a microfiber cloth.
  • Wash each piece with mild soap and warm water, and wipe with a microfiber towel for the final time.
  • Allow all of these parts to dry completely. 
  • Take your cleaning solution and generously spray every square millimeter of the unit, especially the rubber seals and gaskets. For the water dispenser and ice dispenser, use a 1:1 ratio of 8% hydrogen peroxide and water. Allow all this to sit for 10 minutes, and then wipe the surface with a microfiber cloth. A small brush or pipe cleaner can help get into those super hard-to-reach places, such as the interior of the water spout. Don't forget that area! Some dispensers can be clicked out and allow more access, but double-check the manual before attempting to remove it. Repeat this process two more times, but only allow the cleaning product to sit for 30 seconds the second and third time.
  • Spray your botanical cleaner along the machine's exterior and use the steps above to properly cleanse this surface. 
  • Use a HEPA vacuum cleaner to vacuum the coils. Check with the manufacturer's manual to determine where this is located. Spray this with the botanical cleaner, allow it to sit, and then wipe with a microfiber towel. 
  • Remove the drip pan and dump any water that’s inside. Check with the manufacturer's manual to determine where this is located and how to properly remove it, as all units are different. Spray the pan with your botanical cleanser and use the process mentioned above to remove any contaminants present. 
  • Allow everything to dry completely before replacing all removable parts. 
  • Move on to tackle the water line.

Cleaning the waterline typically involves the following steps, but every unit is different. Again, check with the manufacturer’s instructions to see their suggestions.

Steps to cleaning a water line include:

  • Turn the water valve off so the water supply stops.
  • Remove and clean the reservoir by flushing it with vinegar water. Make sure to run clean water through it a few times after this to remove any lingering vinegar. You can click the water dispenser open to empty that line. 
  • Disconnect the water line from the fridge and disconnect the ice maker line. Drain any water that’s inside the lines.  
  • Fill the line(s) several times with white vinegar and leave it for at least 30 minutes (tape it upright to the back of the fridge). If there is an ice machine, turn it on so the vinegar cycles through.
  • Pour out the vinegar solution once finished into a handy bucket and rinse the lines with water a few times.
  • Change the water filter.
  • Reconnect the water line, turn the power back on, and turn the water valve back on.
  • Make sure to run the water dispenser quite a few times afterward to get rid of all the vinegar in the lines. Also, toss the first few batches of ice for the same reason. 

If you’re not confident that you can clean the machine properly, you can also contact a local professional to come out and knock it out for you! Just make sure that they’re using the correct cleaning tools and procedures so that any microscopic particles present are actually removed from the appliance. 

Deep cleaning the kitchen after is also a phenomenal idea to remove any particles floating around that the moldy colony created. 

How to Prevent Mold in the Fridge

The best way to deal with mold in the fridge is to prevent it from occurring in the first place! That way, you don’t have to spend your entire afternoon decontaminating your appliance. Not to mention, it will help keep your fridge as safe and clean as possible for you and your family. 

In short, it’s a win-win!

preventing mold in the fridge

Steps to prevent mold in the fridge include: 

  • Deep clean the machine at least every two months: Using the process above, give that fridge regular TLC to remove any particles that managed to make their way inside and potential food sources. The water dispenser, ice machine, and water lines can get mineral buildup over time, creating ideal conditions for mold growth. 
  • Clean the coils at least every six months: These can get packed full of dust, particles, and organic matter, which can create ideal conditions for microbial growth. If moisture manages to make its way to this area, poof, there’s an opportunity for mold to begin growing. Keeping these coils clean can also ensure that your fridge is operating in tip-top shape and not working harder than it needs to.
  • Clean the water line at least every six months: Refrigerator water lines can build up with all sorts of particles and minerals over time, creating ideal conditions for microbial growth. Keeping them clean will ensure your water and ice are safe.
  • Clean the drip pan at least every three months: This pan catches condensation from the freezer, and as we know, that can lead to ideal mold growth conditions. Keeping this pan clean can ensure all moisture is removed and any particles or food sources are present.
  • Change the water filter on time: Check with the manufacturer’s instructions on how often to change the filter and then set a calendar alert to swap them out on time. Some units come with an alert that will tell you when it should be changed, so pay attention to this as well. A filter that's passed its expiration date won’t filter out any harmful contaminants from water or ice and can harbor particles like mold and bacteria. 
  • Clean any spills as soon as possible: Contaminants such as mold and bacteria require moisture to grow. Quickly removing any liquid removes this opportunity and will help keep your fridge safe. 
  • Adhere to food expiration dates: Edible items in the fridge offer nutrition for our bodies, but they also provide the perfect source of food for microorganisms such as mold. Since mold spores are all around us, even on our food, older items inside the fridge can create ideal conditions for colonies to develop. Once established, it will spread spores all throughout that enclosed space.
  • Maintain indoor humidity levels between 35 and 50%¹¹. Some species of mold can opportunistically grow in high humidity. To prevent this from occurring on your fridge, make sure that the humidity levels in your kitchen remain low. Creating airflow by using the exhaust fan while cooking can help you achieve this ideal level. 
  • Seal all containers tightly before placing them in the fridge: This will help protect your food products and reduce the possibility of cross-contamination. 
  • Make sure items are dry: Before throwing in items such as recently washed fruit or vegetables, make sure that they dry completely before throwing them in the fridge. The less moisture is present, the fewer opportunities for mold to grow. 
  • Regularly check for any problems: Microorganisms such as mold and bacteria are persistent. Even with all of the steps above, sometimes they’ll still find random ways to pop up. Thoroughly check the machine routinely to ensure that there aren’t any problems that need to be addressed. The sooner you catch an issue, the less contamination there will be.

Collectively, this will help prevent mold in the fridge and keep your appliance in tip-top shape. 

A Healthy, Happy Kitchen 

healthy kitchen

Don’t let contaminants like mold and bacteria rain on your munchy parade! Life is hard enough without having to deal with issues such as mold in the fridge. That’s why knowing how to prevent this contamination situation and having a plan in place to get rid of these organisms ASAP is so important!

The more we can do to keep our environment contaminant-free, the better! While we don’t often consider the state of our indoor environments as a piece of the puzzle in wellness, that doesn’t mean that they don’t play a huge role in ongoing wellness. Given how much time we spend inside of these areas, it just makes sense that we bring them into the health conversation and work to make them safer spaces.


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