It's important to perform regular fridge maintenance before trying these fixes. Your appliance should last for at least 10-15 years before needing replacement, so keep it running well with these refrigerator maintenance tips.
Safety Note: Power Down the Fridge
Before removing and replacing or continuity testing electrical components, power down the fridge. This will prevent damage to the components and prevent you from being electrocuted. Still, some electrical components — like capacitors — will store their charge and should not be tampered with.
- If the fridge is pulled away from the wall, or if the power switch is easily accessible, remove the plug.
- Otherwise, find the fridge’s circuit breaker in your breaker box and turn the circuit off.
- Verify your fridge has lost power by opening the doors and seeing if the fridge lights turn on.
Safety Note: Sharp Sheet Metal
When working underneath the fridge, consider wearing gloves to avoid cuts from the sharp sheet metal. The sheet metal is the thin structural metal where components mount. While wearing gloves may make work more challenging, it’s worth protecting yourself.
When refrigerators experience temporary power outages, they may enter a safe mode. The safe mode protects the fridge's internal components from electrical overloading. You'll have to reset the power to your fridge.
- Unplug your refrigerator. If the plug is too hard to reach, switch the circuit breaker off.
- Wait 5 minutes before returning power to the fridge.
- Once power is back, open your freezer and push the light switch 3 times to trigger a cooling cycle.
- Monitor temperature over the next 24 hours.
Incorrect Thermostat Setting
View the knob or dial that sets the device temperature. Verify it is set on cold and hasn't been bumped or shifted positions. Your fridge should be set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) and above 35 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius). Use a thermometer if you don't have a digital thermostat display.
Incorrectly Loaded or Overloaded Fridge
The evaporator fan blows air cold around the freezer. While the freezer is more efficient when it is appropriately loaded with food, too much food or incorrectly placed food will block the vents and prevent proper temperature regulation. The refrigerator vents allow for airflow between the fridge and freezer compartments. Blocking these vents may result in many issues.
- Locate your evaporator fan and move frozen items further away.
- Unblock the vents. A rule of thumb for frost prevention is to stock enough food to fill the freezer while keeping an inch of space between the food and the walls.
Failing Door Seals
Door seals are gaskets for your fridge, and as they age and fall apart, cool air escapes through the cracks in door seals.
- Inspect your door seals, then clean or replace if necessary.
Clogged Condensation or Defrost Drain
The condensation drain allows excess water in the freezer to exit through the bottom of the fridge. This is usually triggered by your fridge's defrost cycle. Sometimes this water ends up in a drain pan, other times it ends up sitting in the drain where the condenser fan slowly evaporates the water. If the drain freezes, this water will freeze in your system and cause water to find a new way out, often into the fridge compartment.
- Open the freezer and verify the defrost drain isn't blocked by items.
- Move objects in the freezer to allow for more airflow, and wait a few days to see if the issue is resolved.
- Your evaporator fan may not be functioning, and need replacing.
- Check the drain for blockages from crumbs or ice. Remove the plastic cover over the drain hole.
- Use air to blow the lines clear from the bottom, if possible.
- Melt any built-up ice with a hairdryer on low, or use a turkey baster and funnel for flushing warm water down the defrost drain.
One community fix involves installing a metal wire or unfolded metal coat hanger down the drain hole, with the other end attached to the resistance heater. This will remove ice from the drain, and allow humidity buildup (moisture) to always escape the system. See another fixer's solution to high humidity environments.
Follow this guide to replace the drain evaporator clip to facilitate better heating.
Overcrowded shelves can prevent doors from closing properly. If you hear objects moving or resettling each time the doors are open, this is likely the issue. Make sure that bottles in the door or bulky objects aren't in the way.
In freezers where ice buildup occurs, chunks of ice can grow on the door seals.
- Break the ice with a butter knife, and test that the door closes.
This is a good time to defrost the freezer.
Dirty Condenser Coils
At the backside and bottom of your fridge are the condenser and its coils. The refrigerant passes through the coils which dissipates heat during the cooling cycle. As dust and debris pile onto the coils, the fridge becomes less efficient and the compressor must work harder to cool down. In some cases, the compressor may be running constantly in an attempt to cool the fridge.
- Pull your fridge out and inspect the coils.
- Your fridge may have an anti-tip bracket and can only be removed by pulling straight out from the wall.
- Clean dust off condenser coils and fan with a stiff brush and vacuum.
- Work carefully during this task and avoid bending or damaging the tubes.
Failed Condenser or Evaporator Fan Motor
- The condenser fan draws air over the compressor and through the condenser coils. If the fan motor isn't working normally, then the fridge won't cool properly. It's normally located at the bottom of the fridge and blows air onto the condenser coils.
- Check the fan blade for physical obstructions
- The evaporator fan draws air over the cooling coils and circulates this air within the fridge and freezer compartments. The evaporator fan should be running as long as the compressor motor is running. If your fridge only has one evaporator fan motor it's located in the freezer compartment. When the fan fails it won't circulate the cold air to the refrigerator. In this event, the freezer may still get cold while the refrigerator stays warm.
- Check the fan blade for physical obstructions.
- Note: The fan may not be running if it's iced up due to a
- freezer building ice guide
- Rotate the fan by hand. If it doesn't spin freely, replace the motor.
- If it spins freely, test the motor for continuity. Replace the evaporator fan motor if the continuity test fails.
- An unusually noisy motor should be replaced as well.
Start Relay Failure
The start relay is a small device mounted to the side of the compressor. It provides power to the run winding, along with the start winding, for a split second at startup to help get the compressor going. If the start relay is defective, the compressor may run intermittently or not at all, and the refrigerator will not get cold enough. The start relay should be replaced if defective.
- Test Start Relay. View this video and verify if your start relay is functioning.
- Replace the relay if it fails the testing. If it passes, move on to testing the compressor.
Start Capacitor Failure
Sometimes if the refrigerator isn't cold enough, the compressor might be having difficulty starting up. The start capacitor serves as a battery to give the compressor a little boost during startup. If the start capacitor is burned out, the compressor might not be able to start and run as often as it should.
- Test the start capacitor first with a capacitance meter; they don't fail often. If it's faulty, replace it.
Faulty Overload Relay
The overload relay is a protection device in the compressor circuit and is often combined with the start relay. You can find it plugged directly into the side of the compressor. If the fans are running and your compressor won’t start, or if you hear a clicking sound from the unit follow troubleshooting below.
- Check the overload relay for signs of overheating or arcing.
- This may be a hot module, burnt, or rattles when shaken.
- Check for continuity with a multimeter.
Flip the unit over and test again. If there's no continuity, replace the unit.
The compressor is the workhorse of your fridge. By pressurizing the refrigerant, the evaporator is able to create cold air. If the compressor is very noisy when you start it up, it may have been damaged in transit, or you could just have a faulty compressor.
If the overload relay, start relay, and start capacitor pass continuity testing, then you may have a defective compressor.
Test the compressor for continuity. Resistance values vary based on the compressor, so view this video. Values outside of the range or a short to ground will mean replacing the compressor, which is a costly repair. If your fridge is more than a few years old you're better off replacing the fridge instead of just the compressor.