How I Fixed Up My 1950s Refrigerator

A couple of months ago I found a busted down vintage GE refrigerator freezer combination with original ice tray online for about $100. The owner told me it didn’t work but that it should be an easy fix, so I took the risk and drove a couple of hours to San Diego to pick it up. It was in muchhhh filthier condition than the pictures lead on, and had some old wires sticking out of the back, but I figured I’d already invested the time and money to rent a pickup truck and drive out, I might as well just lug it home and see if I could bring it back to life. It’s hard to find the right sized vintage appliances to fit apartment kitchens, and this one was the PERFECT size for mine so I didn’t want to give up. I should note I also drove to Newport Beach, another couple of hours from San Diego, on the same day to pick up a 1950s gas stove that didn’t end up fitting my kitchen. More on that later, but I was extra determined to make the fridge work after that defeat.

Here’s what I was working with.

1950s GE refrigerator Refurb before

Rust, scratches, dirt, grime, and slightly corroded chrome. Not terrible.

But inside was much worse. Rust, mildew, a weird smell, so much grime. What did I get myself into?

1950s refrigerator before

Since this was going to be the place I stored our food I wanted to be cautious about what I used to clean the inside. I didn’t want to use anything that would leave a lingering chemical smell or residue so I turned to the following products and methods, and used A LOT of elbow grease.

First, I removed all of the shelves and drawers and soaked them in my sink and scrubbed the hell out of them. Then I did a whole general scrub down with Simply Green and let it air out with the doors open. I did this a total of four or five times until it was clean enough to move on to the rust and mildew.

For the mildew and rust I used a mixture of good old baking soda and vinegar, a Scrub Daddy sponge, and a toothbrush. The gaskets were still supple and the seal on the doors were good (test with a sheet of paper, if it slides out get new gaskets), so I just I applied the baking soda and vinegar paste and scrubbed over and over until the mildew was completely gone. Some of the rust spots corroded the paint, but I was able to use extra-fine sandpaper to buff it smooth and applied appliance touchup paint over the smaller chipped spots as needed. On the bottom the rust was too extreme so I used a couple of coats of white automotive spray paint. I wouldn’t recommend painting the whole thing that way, but it worked for this small part.

1950s refrigerator Refurb After inside

Now onto the outside! The original paint was mostly in ok condition, so I just wanted to fill in a couple of scratches and bring some lustre and shine back to it. For this I used automotive detailing supplies. I applied several layers of a buffing cream and car wax with an electric orbital buffer. Just as you would detail an old car. I used a chrome polish and superfine steel wool to bring as much shine to the chrome as possible. 1950s Refrigerator Refurb After

And there it is! The only thing was it still had a lingering smell. Not a horrible smell, just that general old freezer smell. The only thing that worked was these miracle Arm and Hammer Fridge-n-Freezer Packs. They’re super cheap so we replaced them every couple days until the smell was completely gone. That took about a week and now we replace it as needed.

The last thing I needed to tackle was the mechanics. After all of that cleaning the damn thing didn’t work. I consulted a few vintage message boards, and spoke to a repair shop, and was confident it just needed a new relay. The problem is the replacement relay for this model is long gone so I had to rewire it with a new universal relay. This was way easier than it sounds, you literally just follow the directions on the package. Definitely consult with a repair shop or the manufacturer if you have questions though.

As soon as I plugged it in the compressor kicked on and I jumped up and down and ran around in circles because WOW WHAT A PAY OFF! IT WORKS!

I know old refrigerators have a reputation of being energy suckers, but our bill and usage hasn’t gone up at all compared to our modern fridge. From my understanding the high energy consumption comes from older models that incorporate an automatic defrost system. This model needs to be defrosted every couple of months, but I simply use a blow dryer and old towel and it takes me about 15 minutes. Another issue of concern for some people is size. It is smaller inside than a modern refrigerator, but we don’t store very much food at once, so that hasn’t been a problem for us.

Here it is living happily in our kitchen! Perfect fit. I love it.

1950s GE refrigerator in modernized kitchen.jpg






DIY: How to Clean Paint Brushes and Which to Use

Unfortunately I didn’t get as much done as I planned during the weekend. I’ve been a bit under the weather causing everything on my to-do list to be pushed back. I’ll hopefully be working on some dining room projects later this week, but for today’s post I’m going to answer some readers’ questions about paint brushes!


Q: Do I need different brushes for different types of paints?

A: Yes! Technically. Natural brushes are recommended for oil-based paints while synthetic brushes are recommended for latex and water based paints. I use brushes labeled for ‘ALL TYPES’ of paints. My personal favorite brand is Purdy.

Q: Why do I keep getting loose bristles in my paint?

A: My best advice for this is to invest in a really good quality brush. Most people think that all brushes are the same and try to be thrifty with their tools. They end up shelling out more money trying to continuously replace cheap brushes, until they get frustrated enough to start investing in better quality tools. A good quality brush set can literally last you years if taken care of and cleaned properly after each use. Your local hardware store should have examples of different quality levels. Buy the best you can for your budget!

Q: How do I clean my brushes? I’m having a hard time getting the paint out.

A: This depends on the type of paint you used. Latex and water based paints can be washed out of brushes using simple soap and water, which is why I like using them. They can be washed out in a bucket or sink and rinsed thoroughly with warm water. I use a plastic detail brush or old toothbrush to get any dry paint pieces out. You can also soak your brushes in hot vinegar to remove old stubborn paint. Let hang to dry, cover, and store.

Brushes used for oil based paints need to be cleaned with turpentine or mineral spirits. This is a much more hazardous and tedious clean up process. Swish brushes around in the cleaning solution until all paint is removed and allow to dry thoroughly in a well ventilated area. Turpentine and mineral spirits have irritating fumes and CANNOT be poured down drains. This goes for the paint as well. Dirty turpentine and mineral spirits can be stored in jars and taken to an appropriate hazardous waste center. Please refer to the instructions on these products for proper disposal.

Q: My brush keeps drying between coats. Should I leave it sitting in the paint?

A: My answer would be probably be no to letting it sit in the paint. It makes cleaning your brush harder because it had time to absorb so much extra paint. I find the best thing for me is to cover the bristles to keep them from drying out. Wrap the bristles in a piece of plastic wrap, a sandwich baggy, or even a piece of foil for longer breaks. For shorter breaks, between 10-15 minutes, I simply use a wet paper towel.

Q: How do you recommend storing paint brushes?

A: A lot of brushes come with a plastic or paper cover. Keep those! They will protect your bristles from damage and dust. If for some reason yours didn’t or you lost them, use the same materials I mentioned in the last question. Use foil, sandwich baggies, or even DIY a new cover out of lightweight cardboard. Just make sure you keep those delicate bristles covered! Protect them from moisture and weather by storing in plastic storage boxes or set aside a drawer in your home.

Housekeeping: Sage All-Purpose Household Spray | DIY Cleaners

This is one of my favorite DIY household cleaning recipes. Vinegar has been a trusted household cleaner for decades and I started using this particular mixture a few years ago to clean our tile countertops and floors to avoid dulling residues. My dogs also suffer from allergies and I wanted to make sure the floors were safe for them too. It works swell on other surfaces as well. I’ll admit I love the Method and Mrs. Meyers line of cleaners because of their scents, but when those aren’t on hand, I fall back on my trusty homemade friend.

In summer I like to add orange or lemon peels. You can easily use essential oils to scent your spray as little or as much as you’d like. They work a little better since the scent is concentrated. I went with fresh sage for this batch because it was over growing and needed to be used.

Get a spray bottle and fill it up. If you’re recycling a bottle from a previous cleaner make sure you rinse it out well before mixing your ingredients (duh).

You’ll need-

Warm Water

White Vinegar

Isopropyl Alcohol

Dish Soap (a drop)

Sage (or your favorite essential oil or herb)

Put your leaves in the bottle and muddle them with a wooden spoon handle. You can also just twist them up or squeeze them in your hand. This activates the leaves to produce their natural oils. Make sure your herbs are very fresh so you get as much scent as possible from them. It’s really hard to completely mask the smell of vinegar but that’s just the price we pay for DIYing it. The smell quickly dissipates when it dries so it’s fiiiiine.

The mixture is easy. 1 part warm water, 1 part vinegar, 1/2 part alcohol.

Add a DROP of dish soap and shake it up.

The sage will permeate the mixture with its oil. Not only does it help cut the alcohol and vinegar scent some but Sage oil also acts as a natural antibacterial component.

There you go! Sage all-purpose spray cleanser.


(You should discard this mixture after a couple days. Otherwise it will begin to smell like pickles.)