Fridges are one of the most underappreciated appliances in our homes – we expect them to run 24/7 without complaint, and the only time we pay them any attention is when they stop working.
They work around the clock to keep our supplies fresh, and what do we do for them in return? Leave the door open too long, load them up with too much food, leave leftovers sitting in the back until they're unidentifiable, and still we expect them to function optimally without changing any of the settings. It's a pretty one-sided relationship, really.
But if you put a little more effort into your quiet kitchen companion, it'll reward you with a long-term affair lasting a decade or more. Here are a few simple things you can do to make sure your fridge still gives you goosebumps.
Keep it clean
Fridges really do get saddled with some disgusting stuff: curdled milk, furry cheese, cucumbers that have sat too long and are bordering on liquid…
Cleaning your fridge isn't just about making it look and smell nice, it's also a food safety issue. Food that's well past its prime is the perfect environment for nasty bacteria that can contaminate the other foods in your fridge, making them spoil faster and potentially making you sick.
Giving it a thorough clean once a year will preserve your sick leave and give you a chance to get rid of anything that's borderline biohazard.
Use unscented detergent and lukewarm water for cleaning, not a multi-purpose cleaner
Cleaning your fridge regularly also helps to prolong the life of its seals, which will have a big impact on its effectiveness over the years. And if you use it as an opportunity to use up or get rid of excess food, it'll allow cool air to circulate more efficiently – a full fridge is an efficient fridge, but an overloaded fridge may not work very effectively.
Winter is the best time for fridge cleaning – the cooler weather means your food won't warm up as quickly while it's out of the fridge, and hopefully your frozen food will stay frozen until you pop it back in. (Plus winter weather is perfect for stews and braises – the best way to use up all the odds and ends in your fridge.)
Use unscented detergent and lukewarm water for cleaning, not a multi-purpose cleaner – food absorbs odours and you don't want your butter to taste like disinfectant! Also avoid abrasive cleaning products as this can damage your fridge.
Feeling overwhelmed by the mere thought of it? We break the task down into easy steps to help you clean and maintain your fridge.
Give it space
Fridges need breathing space as much as the rest of us. If your fridge is squeezed into too tight a spot then the heat it creates can't dissipate, which means it'll need to work even harder – and that'll definitely shorten its working life. Not to mention it'll push your electricity bills through the roof.
"We generally recommend allowing at least 5cm on each side of the fridge, 10cm on top and 5cm at the rear," says CHOICE fridge expert Ashley Iredale.
This is just a rule of thumb, though – check what the manufacturer recommends for your specific fridge.
A fridge that's bursting at the seams is going to struggle to keep everything cold uniformly – some foods might be too cold, and some too warm
And don't forget about what's on the inside: fridges need internal breathing space too. A fridge that's bursting at the seams is going to struggle to keep everything cold uniformly – some foods might be too cold, and some too warm. Either way, it will negatively impact how long your food stays fresh.
Get in the habit of doing a regular purge to clear out your fridge to make sure it can still go with the flow.
Take care of the little things before they become big things
Addressing any issues as they arise is good practice in both relationships and fridge maintenance. Don't ignore the little niggles – if you take care of them quickly, they'll stay little and will keep your fridge happy.
Keep an ear out for strange fridge noises. It's reasonable to expect some noise, but if your fridge is making new sounds or has become much louder, it's worth investigating.
Some little niggles are easily fixed with a repair job. If you notice your fridge seals are looking a little the worse for wear, get them replaced (or replace them yourself) as soon as you can. A poorly-sealed fridge will have to work extra hard to keep its contents cold, so the sooner you can sort out the seals, the less pressure on your fridge.
If your food is spoiling faster than usual, that's a clear sign that something is up. If you've checked the temperatures and adjusted the settings but it's still happening, it could be a problem with the thermostat. Replacing the thermostat could buy you a few extra years before you need to part with your fridge, so it's worth doing.
CHOICE tip: Your fridge's user manual may include some troubleshooting and maintenance tips, so check it out to see if you can sort something yourself before you call a repair person.
Buy an energy-efficient, quality model
No amount of maintenance, cleaning or begging is going to make your fridge last longer if it's not built to last in the first place. Yes, fridges can be expensive to buy upfront, but if you're careful about what you purchase it'll pay off in the long run in the form of a longer lifespan and lower energy bills.
Spending more doesn't always guarantee better performance, but super-cheap whitegoods (like the $429 Kmart Anko fridge) tend to be made with lower-quality components that may well fail faster than products that are built better.
For a budget fridge, you can expect it to last around six years. A mid-range fridge should have a lifespan of around nine years, while a high-end fridge can last up to 13 years.
While you should always try to repair where you can, there does come a point at which it's cheaper and more practical to replace your fridge. Once your fridge is around six years old (depending on the quality), you'll probably find it's cheaper to replace than repair. And since newer fridges are more energy-efficient, they'll save you in electricity costs too.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.