NYC Metro Area’s HVACR Blog

Commercial Refrigeration

When & How to Clean Refrigerator Coils in a Commercial Kitchen


how to clean refrigerator coils

Regularly cleaning refrigerator coils is one of the most effective ways to prevent breakdowns of commercial refrigeration equipment. The coils keep your refrigerators and freezers functioning well by releasing heat. When they get covered in dust and grime, the coils can’t do their job. Dirty refrigerator coils let heat build up that can damage wiring, motors and compressors.

Keep reading to learn how to clean refrigerator coils and how often you should do so.

When to clean refrigerator coils

Like most restaurants and food service businesses, you probably have a refrigerator maintenance contractor regularly inspecting and deep-cleaning your equipment.

However, if you’re only getting that service every six months, a lot of debris can build up in between maintenance visits. That’s why it’s a great idea to inspect the condition of your refrigeration coils at least monthly and remove the layer of dust to improve function and prevent problems.

How to clean refrigerator coils (basic steps)

  1. Unplug refrigeration equipment (see tips below on moving the refrigerator if necessary).
  2. Locate refrigerator condenser coils, most likely behind a grate at the front top or bottom, or at the back of the unit.
  3. After removing the grate, use a stiff brush to gently brush dust from the coils and fan.
  4. Use a vacuum to remove dust as you brush it from the coils (this technique prevents straying dust).
  5. Vacuum the floor under the unit and adjacent area.
  6. Clean the grill cover plate.
  7. Reattach the grate and plug your refrigerator back in.

Keep reading for more details and tips for doing the job of cleaning refrigerator coils safely and effectively.

Tips about moving the refrigeration unit for cleaning

As noted above, you must unplug your commercial refrigeration equipment from an electrical outlet before cleaning the refrigerator coils. This is critical for your safety and for avoiding an electrical shock hazard. This task may require that you move the refrigerator away from the wall.

  1. Get help. Unless the refrigerator is a small under-counter unit, you won’t be able to move it safely on your own.
  2. Support the top of the unit as you slide it out. Some units can be top-heavy and may tip.
  3. Don’t be too concerned about food spoilage. The process to clean refrigeration coils is quick and should take less than 30 minutes.

Tools for cleaning refrigerator coils

Here’s what you need to know about how to clean commercial refrigerator condenser coils without endangering your health or the equipment.

RESPIRATORY PROTECTION. For those who are sensitive to allergens, you may want to put on a dust mask before cleaning refrigerator coils.

FLASHLIGHT. When embarking on your mission to clean refrigerator coils, a flashlight may come in handy. Whether your condenser coil is located at the front floor-level underneath your unit’s doors or at the rear, it can be tricky to see what you’re doing.

SCREWDRIVER. Often the condenser coil is located behind a toe-grill that likely snaps off at the front floor-level of your refrigerator. Sometimes the grill is fastened with screws, so you may need a screwdriver. If not located at the front, the condenser is probably located behind a rear access panel. Best practice is to clean the grill cover with soap and water before reattaching.

REFRIGERATOR COIL CLEANING BRUSH. Though a multi-purpose stiff brush or paint brush may work for cleaning refrigerator coils, it is better to use a coil condenser brush, also known as a refrigerator brush. Gently brush the coils and fan, making sure to avoid damaging the fins.

You can purchase a coil brush at your local home improvement or hardware store for under $10. The cylindrical shape of a refrigerator brush makes it easier to clean between gaps in the coil pattern and remove dust from crevices.

VACUUM & ATTACHMENT. It’s also helpful to have a narrow nozzle vacuum hose attachment designed for cleaning refrigerator coils.

Here’s how to vacuum refrigerator coils: use a simultaneous coil-brushing and vacuuming technique in order to prevent straying dust. This means you will have the brush in one hand and the vacuum hose nozzle in the other.

Vacuum the adjacent area and don’t forget to vacuum the floor area below. Now that you have clean refrigerator coils, you don’t want to undo your cleanup work by allowing periphery dust to migrate back to the coils.

Should you use cleaning products?

Vacuuming coils may be all that’s needed to remove dirt and dust from refrigerator condenser coils. Some refrigeration experts also prefer to blow out dust from refrigerators using pressurized air cans that are often used to clean computer keyboards or more powerful portable compressors. If you go this route, be prepared to clean the dirt and dust bunnies that will scatter throughout your kitchen area.

However, for coils that have been subjected to excessive grease and grime, coil cleaners are available at home improvement and hardware centers and online, including biodegradable and “green” cleaners.

Here’s the problem, though: you want to be very careful to avoid damaging the sensitive fins! If you use the wrong cleaner or the wrong technique, you could do more harm than good.

That’s why if your coils are really grimy (which may be the case in a commercial kitchen), it might pay to leave the deep cleaning to the professionals who have the tools and the expertise to do the job right (and save you the time).

If you don’t already have a refrigeration service contract (which includes cleaning refrigerator coils), read this helpful guide to choosing a service provider: Refrigeration Preventive Maintenance Contracts: How to Find the Right One for Your Food Service Operation.

Refrigeration Preventative Maintenance Contracts