If your GFCI trips, don’t worry — it’s just doing its job. Let's find the source of the trip.
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 tips.
Safety Note: Power Down 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.
GFCIs are sensitive to environmental changes and may result in nuisance trips. You may see more nuisance trips during hot-weather months.
- Reset your GFCI, and power to the fridge.
Faulty Power Cord
One common source of trouble with fridges is the power cord.
- Unplug the cord and give it a thorough inspection.
- Damage to the cord looks like worn-out insulation, kinks, or bite marks. If you notice any of these problems, replace your current power cord with a brand-new one.
- Next, look at the power prongs.
- If they are bent or rusted, replace the cord. If they seem fine, plug the appliance into the outlet and turn it on.
- Plug in another device, like a lamp or clock, to test the outlet.
Faulty Power Outlet
If your refrigerator is plugged into a power strip, unplug it and remove the cover on the power strip.
- Look for any blackened or burned spots on the wires, and replace them if found.
Ice Maker Malfunctioning
The ice maker draws power upon startup, but not normally enough to cause a trip. However, if your water line to the fridge is disconnected and the fridge attempts to start an ice cycle, the GFCI may trip.
- If there's no water supply to the fridge, disable the ice maker.
- If you regularly make ice, verify that your water line is not blocked or frozen, as this could also be the cause of a trip.
- If you need a replacement ice maker assembly, Refrigerator Ice Makers
Not Running a Dedicated Circuit
This means that while a residential kitchen refrigerator does not need to be on a dedicated circuit, using a dedicated circuit is certainly a good idea. Check your breaker panel with — or without — a circuit finder, or consult an electrician to inspect your home's wiring.
Snubber Not Installed
A snubber can be installed to reduce turn-on/turn-off voltage spikes. If nuisance tripping is the only issue, then adding a snubber may fix this issue. Consult an electrician.
Faulty GFCI Outlet
GFCI outlets generally have lives of about 7-10 years and may fail in 5 years. Test your outlet monthly.
- In the event of continuous tripping, replace the GFCI outlet.
- Call an electrician, or cut power to the circuit, then test that the circuit is dead.
- Transfer wires from one unit to the other.
Faulty Circuit Breaker
The circuit breaker is responsible for regulating the electrical current in your home. When your refrigerator is tripping a GFCI outlet, the corresponding breaker or outlet might be at fault.
- Try replacing the breaker in the box with one that’s rated for GFCI.
- If you have a dedicated circuit that operates the refrigerator only, removing the GFCI outlet and replacing it with a standard outlet will solve it.
- Consult an electrician if you are unsure about the electrical testing procedures.
GFCI Wired Incorrectly
Older fridges might not get along with GFCIs as well as newer fridges. If your fridge's receptacle is wired to the load side of the outlet instead of the line side, you may be experiencing nuisance trips.
If your GFCI is tripping often, it’s possible that you’re plugged into an overloaded circuit. If unchecked, this circuit could lead to a fire.
- If you’ve got any other major home appliances or electronics plugged into the same circuit as your fridge, relocate them to another outlet before calling an electrician.
- If your home refrigerator is tripping your circuit breaker, and can't run a new outlet, then move the fridge to an alternative power outlet.
- Verify that the breaker isn't tripping.
- If it trips in the alternative power outlet, call an electrician. They will help you run a new dedicated circuit for the fridge.
A short is usually what causes the GFCI to trip, and if there is a neutral-ground short, the GFCI is doing its job.
- If your fridge trips once, and then constantly, test the plug to see if there's continuity between ground and hot or neutral.
- If there is a short, follow the circuit with a multimeter and figure out what component is responsible. Test each component for continuity to ground. A short looks like 0Ω to the ground.
- This will most likely be the compressor but may be the defrost heater or any other component.
A ground fault occurs when electricity is sent through a different path than intended. Some causes for faults are:
- Bare or frayed wires and insulation
- Water leaks near electrical systems
- Pest damage to electrical systems
- Miswired electrical units
Ground faults that damage your electrical system can be extremely dangerous.
- Test your outlet with a receptacle tester. Ground faults should be inspected and corrected by an electrician.
- Simply replacing the GFCI will not solve the issue of the fault.
Faulty Refrigerator Wiring
Your fridge's internal wiring could be causing your GFCI to trip.
- Unplug and remove the lower back panel of your refrigerator.
- Inspect for damaged wires. If any are found, replace them with new wires and tape them securely in place.
Faulty Defrost Heater
The defrost heater is a safety device that prevents the formation of ice inside the refrigerator. This heater removes heat from the air surrounding the refrigerator coils to keep moisture from settling on them and freezing. Over time, this heater can develop cracks and bubbles and may remove enough heat. When the heater kicks on, it draws a lot of power.
- Reset the timer so that the defrost cycle begins.
- Monitor the GFCI outlet closely as the defrost cycle starts.
- If the GFCI trips in under five minutes, this is a warning sign that your refrigerator’s defrost heater has failed.
In other cases, the heater will run for around 8 to 10 hours and then trip the GFCI outlet. In this case, it's likely that either the heater element or wiring gets just damp enough that it causes the GFCI to trip.
- Inspect your heater element for cracks and bubbles, and check continuity.
- Check the ends of the wires for signs of moisture.
- Replace rusted wire, and create new waterproof connections.
Fridges with defrost timers will likely trip the breaker each time they kick on, especially if the fridge is already in a cooling cycle. This means that the appliance is drawing the maximum amount of power. The switch itself may be at fault.
- Test your defrost switch.
- Consider changing your fridge from a GFCI outlet to a normal outlet.
Faulty Start Capacitor
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 boost of power during startup. If the start capacitor is burned out —and smells burnt — the compressor might not be able to start and run as often as it should.
- Safely remove the capacitor and discharge with a discharge tool.
- On smaller capacitors, you can use a screwdriver to discharge. But be careful as capacitors increase in size.
- 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 the 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.
Faulty Start Relay
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 with a multimeter. View the video above and verify if your start relay is functioning.
- Replace the relay if it fails the testing or has a burnt odor. Depending on your start relay, you may have to test the start capacitor and overload relay first and use a process of elimination. If the other two components pass continuity tests, and your compressor isn't starting, try replacing your start relay.
The compressor — also called the condenser — 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 by following the video above.
- Resistance values vary based on the compressor.
- 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 may be better off replacing the fridge instead of the compressor.
Compressor Inverter Board Failure
Modern refrigerator compressor technology has shifted from single-phase DC motors to 3-phase DC-controlled AC motors.
What this means is that instead of the start relay assembly normally attached to the compressor pins — the start relay, overload relay, and overload capacitor — there is now a sealed motherboard and a lot of wires. The inverter board modulates the power supplied to the compressor and allows for more efficient operation.
This new technology is harder to test, so follow this helpful video.
The inverter board must be tested by the process of elimination.
- First, test the input voltages. The inverter board will have both a 120V AC main power supply voltage and a 4-6V DC voltage from the main control board. Remember to make all voltage measurements with everything connected.
- If one of these voltages is missing, the inverter board will not work.
- Backtrack to find the issue. You could have a faulty wire harness connector, a bad motherboard, or another issue.
- Second, follow the compressor continuity testing from above to verify your compressor isn't shorted and is okay.
- If the compressor is fine, and the board input voltages are fine, then your inverter board has failed and needs replacing.
If there is a refrigerant leak, the fridge won't be able to maintain a proper temperature. Your compressor is likely running non-stop.
- Contact a service technician to inspect your compressor.
- This may result in refilling or replacing your refrigerant, or replacing the entire fridge.
Main Control Board Failure
Finally, if the refrigerator won’t get cold enough, the main control board might be defective. This is not common.
- Check and test the defrost system, cooling fans, and cooling controls first.
- If none of the other components are defective, consider replacing the main control board.
Standards and Codes
While it's a common problem for ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI and GFI) outlets to trip when using older refrigerators, newer fridges seem to have more sophisticated internals that prevent trips. New wiring standards are based on NEC Articles 210.8 and 210.52 and are as follows:
- All commercial buildings/kitchens are required to have GFCI for refrigerators.
- In a Dwelling Unit (house or apartment) refrigerators located inside the kitchen do NOT have to have a GFCI.
- If the circuit feeding the refrigerator outlet is branched to any other outlet, it must be a 20-A circuit. If the circuit feeding the refrigerator outlet is a dedicated individual circuit, then it can be either 15-A or 20-A.
- In a garage or an unfinished basement of a Dwelling unit, the refrigerator must have a GFCI circuit.