How To Organize Your Fridge + Make It More Energy Efficient

Learn to stock this major appliance it so it doesn't have to overwork.

November 10, 2015
fridge organizing
ILLUSTRATION BY KIRSTY PARGETER/GETTY

Our fridges let out a collective groan under the weight of everything we stuff in them: turkeys, veggies, pies, sides, drinks, winter fruit and more. And if they’re old or not organized efficiently, you’re wasting energy and money by making them overwork to keep stuff cool. In fact, the costs of an inefficient fridge can add thousands of kilowatt hours (and hundreds of dollars) to your electric bill each year. 

If you’re buying a new, energy-efficient refrigerator, congratulations! But if you want to make the one you have now more sustainable in terms of electricity and utility bills, there are a few things you can do.

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Related: Turn An Old Fridge Into A Root Cellar

First, test whether the gasket on your door is tight enough: Slip a dollar bill in the door, close it, and then try to pull the dollar bill out. If it comes out easily, the door doesn’t have a tight enough seal. You shouldn’t be able to get the dollar bill out. Try cleaning any debris or dirt off the gasket first. That may save you from having to replace it.

Also, keep the coils clean. Depending on the model, they are generally accessible underneath or on the back of the unit. Sharon Franke, kitchen appliance and technology director at the Good Housekeeping Institute, says she uses a long brush to clean hers.

She also reccomends reorganizing everything stored inside to maximize energy efficiency: When it comes to the freezer, the more tightly packed, the better. In the fridge, however, you want to keep it full but not overfull. If packed to the gills, the air can’t circulate enough to cool everything. If too empty, the compressor has to go into overtime to cool the blank space each time you open the door and let warm air in. But by filling up the drawers and shelves while still letting there be a little space above and between items, the less warm air gets in that has to be recooled. Here’s the best way to pack a fridge for maximum efficiency and make sure everything has a place. 

Meats
You want these in the coldest spot in your fridge, often but not always at the bottom, ideally stored in its own drawer. “Many of the newer fridges have individual temperature controls and the bottommost drawer can be set to 29 degrees,” says Franke. “Meat will just get very slightly icy on the surface at this temperature, but it won’t actually freeze.” Wrap it well so it doesn’t ooze juices onto other items.

 

Cheese + Yogurt
Cheese and yogurt can be kept in the same drawer. 

Eggs
Many fridges have special compartments for eggs in the door, but Franke suggests avoiding them. “Eggs should not be stored in the door and should be kept in their original container, where it’s easier to tell how old they are,” she says. 

Milk
Some refrigerators have special milk compartments—called a “chill locker” which. If your fridge doesn’t have that, you want it to be in a colder place. Don’t put it in the door, which is one of the warmest places. Franke suggests the top shelf. “Usually that’s where there’s the most room for tall items like milk and juice,” she says.

Butter
Many fridges also have butter compartments in the door, but according to Franke, “temperatures at the door can go above 40, which is unacceptable for perishable food.” 

Condiments + Drinks
Items like these, which are slow to spoil should be kept on the door. Once juice is opened, it goes in the fridge, but you can store it just about anywhere.

 

Fruits + Veggies
Basically you want to keep things like leafy greens in a high-humidity locker and apples in a low humidity environment. All fridges will have humidity controlled crisper drawers, and many newer, more energy-efficient fridges even have digital displays to set to a specific temperature.

Leftovers
No matter what they are, store these in smaller containers and while they’re warm. Put them as high up in the fridge as possible. Heat rises, and whatever residual warmth is left in the food will transfer to nearby items in the fridge. 

Nuts + Flours
If you aren’t using them on a regular basis, the freezer is the optimal place to store flours and nuts—it prevents them from spoiling.

Dried Spices
Most dried spices are okay at room temperature, away from direct heat and light sources, but Franke suggests putting “the red spices” (cayenne, paprika, etc.) in the freezer. It helps preserve their color and potency. 

Garlic, Onions, Potatoes 
These shouldn’t go in the fridge. If kept at room temperature, “they will have better taste and texture,” says Franke.

Tags: kitchen