A refrigerator is one of the most common appliances that people need to put in self-storage.
At SpareFoot, our call center gets at least one customer per day who calls about storing a fridge. Luckily, storing a fridge is relatively straightforward, but because of the nature of a fridge— it’s built to retain moisture and will likely be used again to keep food— it’s important to take the necessary precautions to avoid mold, undesirable smells and pests.
1. You Don’t Need Climate Control.
SpareFoot recommends climate controlled self-storage for sensitive electronics, wood or leather furniture, and even paper documents in some regions. But a fridge will fare just as well in a less expensive, non-climate controlled unit.
Our general rule of thumb is if you would store the item in a garage, you can store it in non-climate controlled storage. Unless you’re storing other, more sensitive items along with your refrigerator, opt out of climate control and find a cheaper unit and/or a closer facility.
An amenity that you probably do want to look for is drive-up access. If you search for storage on SpareFoot, you can restrict the search to only show units with this feature. Because a fridge can be permanently damaged by dropping or leaning it too far on its side (more about that later), you’ll want to avoid having to execute any tricky maneuvers to get it into storage. Storing at a facility with drive-up access will minimize the distance moved, and thus minimize the risk of damage.
2. Clean and Defrost First.
If you do a poor job of cleaning your fridge before storing, it could result in such a mess that your appliance will be unusable by the time you retrieve it from storage.
One concern is mold, which can start with food debris and spread through the rest of the refrigerator. Mold is a concern even in a clean fridge, though it’s more likely if you’re storing a dirty one. Another concern is pests. Ants and rodents can be attracted to even the smallest bits of food, and they could damage the electronic components of the fridge.
Before you clean your fridge, remove all food from both compartments and unplug the appliance.
This allows the defrosting process to begin. Use a towel to catch dripping water. To ensure that it’s completely dry, you should defrost for a week before you store the refrigerator. You want to avoid this scenario, as shared by a user on the Whirlpool.net.au forum:
“We had a old bar fridge that we cleaned and then turned off, but we closed after a day or two thinking it was dry. About six months later we found it all moldy and awful when we wanted to use it.”
While the fridge is defrosting, you can clean out the inside and back of the appliance.
Take out any drawers, shelves and other removable parts. You can clean or soak these with warm, mildly soapy water— just be sure to remove all food debris. Don’t use scalding hot water, as it can cause the cold plastic or glass to crack.
Use a mixture of baking soda and water (a couple tablespoons per quart) to clean out the refrigerator and freezer compartments. Do not use ammonia, chlorine bleach or other abrasive cleaning solutions, as they can crack or discolor both plastic and stainless steel.
Pull the fridge out of its nook or compartment so you can access the sides and rear. Wipe the outside down with mildly soapy water. Dust the coils on the back of the machine, either with the brush attachment of a running vacuum cleaner or just a dry cloth.
Disconnect the drainage line from the wall for the remainder of the defrosting period.
To reiterate, here are the two most important take-aways: First, you’re going to need to defrost for at least a week. Second, use mild detergent water on the outside of the unit, shelves and drawers, but only use baking soda and water on the inside compartments.
3. Keep it Upright.
A failed compressor is a common cause of broken refrigerators, and moving a fridge can instigate the issue. When moving and storing your refrigerator, try to minimize tipping. You’re going to need a dolly or hand truck to move it— don’t try to muscle it with two people. Do not move or store the fridge laying on its side. If you do angle it while moving in our out (you’ll likely have to, to get it into a truck), let the unit sit for at least 48 hours before plugging it in again.
Here’s a quick technical breakdown of why this occurs: In modern fridges, high-pressure gas is moved to the condensor as the compressor runs. When tipped over, actual fluids (not gas) will run from the compressor to the condenser. Once the appliance is returned to its proper position, the tubing won’t allow all the oil to run back into the compressor where it belongs. When the compressor is started with oil in the condenser, it’s pushed further back into the condenser coil and onto the evaporator. There, it becomes cold and viscous. It will be unable to return home to the compressor, which fails due to lack of oil.
4. Keep it Dry.
The last thing you want is to reverse all your hard work spent cleaning, defrosting and carefully moving the fridge, by allowing it to get moist inside. At worst, you’ll have mold and mildew, rendering the fridge useless without a serious cleaning later. At best, you’ll get a lingering funk in the fridge that will affect the taste and smell of your food. Not exactly a win-win.
The best way to avoid this is to completely remove the doors on both the refrigerator and freezer compartments. Follow the instructions in the user manual. You can keep the hardware in a plastic bag inside the fridge.
The next best way to do this is to leave each door ajar by wedging an object in between the door and the compartment frame.
This is less desirable because the object might end up bending, indenting or otherwise damaging the seal that ensures the door is fully shut while in use. To help prevent this, choose a smooth, flat object (like a 4″ x 1″ board) as your wedge.
If you follow these steps, you should have a clean and stink-free fridge that’s ready to use when you retrieve it from the unit.
As we mentioned, make sure you wait 48 hours before plugging it back in to avoid damaging the compressor.
This story was updated April 17, 2017.